On paper it seems like the same old song and dance when it comes to annual franchises, but with the Forza brand, every new year comes with a new surprise. After every other year’s fantastic offerings for simulation fans, a new contender enters the ring and that contender is Forza Horizon.
Making our return for the third annual Horizon festival, this time, we’re given the reigns as we take charge of this massive event for the first time. Moving the festival to Australia, we decide where the festival goes first and how each event is set up. You’re not just a part of this festival, but you are effectively its core as you set the route for what is undoubtedly the most ambitious instalment yet in either of the Forza franchises. Setting up in the Australian landscape, Horizon 3 sets us up near the coast as the game runs us through the ins and outs of what the game is all about, taking us through the now well-known set of introductions that Microsoft has been showing off the past few months. But what comes after? Quite frankly, that’s completely up to you. The goal is to level up and gain fans to expand your festival, but the game gives a sense of freedom as you progress, even giving you the option to choose which festivals take priority as you unlock them all. There’s plenty to do and variety is the key word here, but you are in total control of your career.
Horizon consists of a wide range of events, ranging from standard circuit and point-to-point races to skill-based challenges that are performed on the go. With Horizon Blueprint the game gives you an extra layer of control as the player is able to customise the vehicle class and weather conditions for each race, personalising your campaign to your liking, including the ability to save your blueprints and sharing them with the community. Like driving supercars the most? You can do that, but in all honesty what makes Horizon 3 great is the fact that the game pushes variety and openly admits to wanting to introduce the player to all the different classes available. I mean, driving a Lamborghini Centenario across the highways and landscapes is fun, but it’s hard to deny I didn’t have the best time performing stunts in the Reliant, with the obvious hilarious results.Outside of events, what exactly is there to do in your spare time? A lot, actually. You could challenge Driveatars on the road, set up convoys, performing skill chains, exploring the world, searching for barn finds and much more. It’s a long list, and that’s not even taking the fact that you can join your friends and/or other players in all these things. Want to spend time with your friends racing in events? That progress will carry over to your career and no time is ever wasted. Your game is in a constant state of flux, gaining xp to level up, fans to upgrade your festival, credits to finance your car hoarding and skill points to unlock perks, it’s all there for you to work on as you work through your Forza career both offline and online with your friends.
Admittedly a frequent complaint within the genre is the fact that many open world racing games include a hollow game world that ultimately doesn’t add a lot to the formula. Does Horizon 3 fall into this category? Absolutely not. With different types of environments, carefully crafted event routes, excellent showcases and plenty of familiar landmarks to uncover, Forza Horizon 3 embraces the open world format in open arms, creating a map that’s filled with both style and substance.
But, speaking of style, what is the visual presentation like? Running at 1080p/30fps it’s quite a technical feat that the game runs as well as it does on current hardware. Combining excellent geometry, a lush colour scheme, detailed textures and dynamic lighting, Horizon 3 is as much of a joy to look at as it is to play. A notable feature here is the game’s sky, which was composited using captures of the actual Australian skyline with a custom 12k HDR enabled rig. You’re looking at the actual Australian sky here and for those who have never laid eyes on it, it’s quite a beautiful thing to see.
To return to the matter of 30 frames per second, I’m sure a lot of you are disappointed about this matter, but the fact is that Playground has done a great job at making the most of the situation. Carefully tweaking latency and other systems, Horizon is up there with Sony’s DriveClub as the smoothest 30fps experiences in the console gaming market. Keep in mind that at the time of this review we don’t have access to the Windows 10 version of the game yet, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Xbox One version of the game plays smoothly and is simply gorgeous to look at.
But how good is Forza Horizon 3 in comparison to its predecessors? Throughout the Horizon trilogy Playground Games has effectively embraced the concept of trial-and-error, crossing off all of the stuff that works, and what doesn’t, resulting in a game that leans on its predecessors and uses that knowledge to create an overall experience that is born out of the best aspects of the first two games. More diverse, more addicting, Horizon 3 is the product of both Playground’s successes and missteps.
My expectations for Forza Horizon 3 have been quite high over the past few months, but after hours and hours of gameplay, extensively delving into each gameplay feature, it’s safe to say that Playground Games has managed to shatter every single one of them. Providing a deep, fun and addictive gameplay experience, Forza Horizon 3 is one of the best racing games of the generation.