Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One) - ReviewDan Carreras , posted on 20 September 2016 / 13,981 Views
Test Drive Unlimited was one of my favourite games to release on the previous generation of consoles. Its (at the time) fantastic representation of Oʻahu was pretty groundbreaking, and most open world racing games were left playing catch up long after it released.
Now, 10 years later and we're in the middle of a brand new generation of consoles that have burgeoning player bases. The graphics may have improved, but deep down the open world racing formula is just the same as it was with Test Drive Unlimited; give a player an open world and let them race and explore to their heart's content. Get these two things nailed down and you’re bound to have a great open world racer on your hands.
Forza Horizon 3 is easily one of the best open world racers I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. Conceptually, isn’t too dissimilar to previous Forza Horizon titles; you’re attending an event (the Horizon festival) with a wide range of races to take part in and plenty else to see and do. The twist on the traditional formula comes with the fact that you’re now the festival's manager, meaning that you get to pick where it opens and which locations get extensions once your fanbase reaches max capacity.
On the surface, it’s a minor detail, but one that has far reaching consequences throughout the course of the game. It means that every single race and event that you take part in can be customised. Want to do a street race in a buggie? Sure thing. Want to drive across sandy dunes in an Enzo Ferrari? Be my guest.
The customisability doesn’t stop at the events you're presented with - you can even create and share your own. The player created content that I participated in was concise and fun, and felt little different to courses the development team had crafted. I can see myself coming back to the game from time to time just to see what the community has come up with.
When I first heard that Forza Horizon 3 would be set in Australia I was a little bit worried. When I think of Australia I tend to think of large barren, red-dry plains broken up by stunning beachland and dense population areas. Naturally, such areas are present in the game, but they make up a small part of what Forza Horizon 3 has to offer. Forza Horizon 3 map is split into four key sections: city, desert, coast, and rain forest, and each new area has a huge impact on the game's driving mechanics.
Driving in the rainforest is, as one would expect in real life, nothing like driving in the desert, and the same goes for all of the different locales. If you think purchasing the fastest car will allow you to win each race with ease then you're in for a shock; you'll need to cater your vehicle selection to the track you'll be driving on. You can spend the whole game driving your favourite supercar if you want, but you’ll soon find that it's less than optimal for off-road racing (something you’ll be taking part in a lot!).
The variety of racing styles is what keeps the races exciting as you work your way through an almost overwhelming number of events. Courses set on city streets feel like traditional Forza Motorsports races, while those set in the countryside require you to adapt to a completely different control scheme. Here you're not simply battling against fellow racers on the road, you're also wrangling with a crazy track that has you tearing through fields that offer little in the way of visibility, or shallow rivers that will spin you out in seconds if you're not careful.
The core to Forza Horizon 3’s progression is the amount of fans you have. Every completed event, each race, and a number of other things you do in the game world all contribute to your fan count, and it’s this number that unlocks access to key upgrades, crazier cars, and the big finales; the showcases.
Each showcase is an extravagant affair, pitting you against bigger and better vehicles in a race to the finish line. While these showcases have appeared in previous Forza Horizon games, they are bigger and better than ever here. At one point I was racing a jet fighter through a city as it was coming in low and trying to beat me round corners. Yes it's contrived and a bit silly at times - much like a Top Gear racing skit - and at times your opponent will even intentionally slow down just to make the race feel neck and neck right to the very end, but they're fun spectacles nonetheless. I just wish there were more than a meagre five on offer.
Outside of standard races, one of the game's most enjoyable features are bucket list challenges. With these you must complete a set target with a specific car within a given time. Challenges can range from reaching a top speed to getting a specific drift score within a designated zone. Playground Games has taken these challenges and used them as an opportunity to have a little fun. One, for example, has you racing a Warthog from the Halo series around tracks trying to find the Silent Cartographer within a time limit, all while the Halo soundtrack plays in the background.
Speaking of music, the selection of music tracks on offer via the radio is sublime. It does get annoying that events start with the same track each time, but beyond that there’s plenty of variety and you’ll rarely hear the same tracks when driving about the overworld. You don’t have access to all of the radio stations when you first start out though, instead you unlock them as you gain more fans. It's a shame that the rock channel isn't unlocked until you've played for 6-7 hours though.
The graphics are pristine and gorgeous for an Xbox One game. Driving through the rainforests in the South produces plenty of shadows from all of the lush foliage on display, and while the deserts to the North are rather barren, the superb skybox overhead is impressive enough that I would stop and take it all in at times. Apparently the development staff photographed the real Australian sky all year round to produce the skybox in Forza Horizon 3, and it really shows. Not once during my time with the Xbox One version did I feel a yearning to play the game on PC, which is testament alone to what Playground Games and Microsoft Studios have managed to pull off with the hardware available.
But for all of the good I've detailed above there are some clear downsides to Forza Horizon 3. Consistency in the world is a little off. For example, for a game that pushes you to go off-road as much as possible, you’ll constantly come across trees that cannot be harmed and stop you dead in your tracks (despite there being plenty that can be driven through), which is baffling. This problem is further compounded by the fact that a large number of races (both in multiplayer and single player) go straight through the countryside and never once touch the roads, meaning you’ll need to rewind or restart the race if you do come across an invincible tree that brings you to a sudden halt.
Forza Horizon 3 truly tries its best to be all you could possibly want from an open world racing game and has easily surpassed its predecessors in almost every way. In the 10 years since Test Drive Unlimited changed the racing genre for the better, I finally feel like I've played its spiritual successor, and it was certainly worth the wait.
A graduate in Computing which was centered around Gaming, Dan is a games developer and writer. His first game, Twixel, was released for iOS, Android, PC and Mac in 2015, with the Steam release coming November 18th, 2016. A lover of all things games, Dan has been writing for VGChartz.com for over 2 years, attending conferences and interviewing developers to get the best content for VGChartz readers. His favourite games include Asura's Wrath, S.T.A.L.K.E.R and the Halo Series. Dan can be followed on Twitter at: @Caesoose
This review is based on a digital copy of Forza Horizon 3 for the XOne, provided by the publisher.