Australia might be the perfect place to host a series of racing events, especially when said racing events often feature more than your standard race cars. Forza Horizon 3 embraces Australia’s expansive and eclectic biomes to keep races feeling fresh and exciting no matter how many times you race them, by providing you with just as wide a variety of motor vehicles to fill 2 or 3 games alone. Variety is the secret ingredient here, but Forza Horizon 3‘s insistence on not taking itself too seriously is the always important seasoning you sprinkle on top.
Australia, at least this semi-fictionalized one, is host to this year’s Horizon Festival, a semi-annual event host to all sorts of racing goodness. Races range from street races to dune buggy races, and even some more outlandish races. Early on, Horizon 3 has you race through jungles and deserts against a helicopter carrying a Jeep. It’s a perfect representation of what you’ll see in the proceeding hours.
In Horizon 3, your character is the host of the festival, meaning you get to make decisions regarding where to race next, or what kind of cars will be available for the next race. In some ways, Horizon 3 is a tycoon game. If Playground Games had fully committed to this idea, allowing you to make far more granular decisions, the experience of being the showrunner would have been much better. Instead, it focuses far more on the racing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (it’s a racing game afterall), but one can’t help but wonder what could have been had the developers allowed a bit more freedom in that regard.
That said, racing being the star is a wise move, after all there’s a lot of racing to be done around the countryside. Races take place at several venues around the map, offering various landscapes to drive through. Though some are infinitely more interesting than others – jungles are way cooler than city streets – each offers unique challenges that are specific to their region. For example, city streets are narrow and require tight handling, while sandy beaches mean worse traction. All vehicle types are able to be used in each area, though obviously certain cars are better suited for specific types of road. Driving a Lambo through the jungle can be immensely frustrating yet hilarious at the same time.
It should be noted that slowing down and trying to take in the scenery should be mostly avoided. On a purely technical level, Horizon 3 appears to be a total knockout, especially while driving. However I found a few instances of areas feeling bland and without much character. Surprisingly, this tended to be some of the more densely populated areas. The city, for example, struck me as particularly boring. Little about it feels like Australia. It provides the streets to race upon, but unfortunately this area in particular felt boring. While cruising along the beaches and dunes of the Outback, I also wished there were a few more particle effects, but this is such a minor gripe, it’s hardly worth mentioning.
250+ cars means a lot of the cars are going to begin to blur together. As someone with little interest in cars and motorsports, I began having a difficult time differentiating between similar cars. It quickly became a game of examining stats and finding what meant the most to me. Since I’m a pedal-to-the-metal kind of driver, I had to find a car with better handling than speed. Finding the perfect car early in the game was really difficult for me.
But over time, I learned to play by Forza‘s rules. I learned that those arrows on the ground were crucial, but sometimes you’d have to cut corners just right to win the race. I learned that taking a corner fast and slamming into a barrier is going to cost you the entire race. I learned what to do, and what not to do. Understanding how to drive in Horizon 3 is key to success, which might sound obvious, but I’m not a racing aficionado.
Horizon 3 makes losing a perfectly reasonable way to finish a race. Because you’re running the festival, you’re tasked with generating a fan-base, and to do this you need to participate in races. Obviously, finishing first gets more fans, and you’re able to open additional venues faster, but losing just slows the process, it doesn’t stop it. Opening venues is the best way to unlock cars, as it gives you immediate (and free) access to more cars. Finishing higher in races will allot you more credits (in-game currency) which can then be used to buy cars. Cars range in price from under 10k to over 2 million, giving you plenty of reason to save over time.
Forza Horizon 3, above all else, is a racing game that celebrates racing, and all types of it. It’s a fantastic, full-throttle experience with loads of options to customize the game to your liking. As of writing this review, we have not had a chance to play online (or on PC), but Horizon 3 offers the chance to play through the campaign – that is making money, fans, and decisions for the festival – cooperatively with your friends. It’s an interesting concept that I’m unlikely to revisit after reviewing, but only time will tell.
Please note this review score is subject to change should the online features or PC version prove troublesome.