Playground Games' open-world racing sim is back for its third release in four years, and this time around they are taking the fictional music and car festival down under to Australia. With a map roughly twice the size of the one found in Forza Horizon 2
, more cars than ever before and a host of new features, can Forza Horizon 3
maintain the pace that saw both of the previous titles in the series rated within the top five of the TA racing genre? One of the game’s achievements put it simply; this is the Best. Horizon. Ever.
If you need more convincing as to why you need to play this game, read on.
Playground hit upon a winning formula straight off the bat with the series' introduction back in 2012. While many sequels would be content to maintain the status quo and simply switch up the location, a few hours into Horizon 3
and you’ll begin to realise that not only does the game offer all of the things that helped make the series so well regarded, it has also been tuned to offer new features and improvements that put right several lingering issues from previous games.
Similar to the previous releases in the series, Horizon 3
is based around a celebration of cars and music at the fictitious Horizon Festival, which is this time set in the beautifully designed landscapes of Australia where fun is the aim of the game. As a location it's stunningly recreated with hardly any walls or boundaries to get in your way, it's just you and the open roads, tracks, and even fields and beaches if you decide to venture off the beaten path, and with so many different surfaces to race across, it makes for a huge variety of racing throughout the career mode.
The big difference this time around is that you’re no longer just a competitor trying to prove yourself as the number one driver, you’re now the boss in charge of the whole thing, and it’s your job to make this the biggest and best event in Horizon history. In order to do this, you are tasked with growing the festival’s fan base by taking part in the various race types, PR stunts, bucket lists and showcase events, all of which reward you with credits to buy new cars and upgrades. You'll also compete for XP which awards you with bonus wheel spins for credits and sometimes cars. Most importantly, you'll compete to win over new fans. As you hit milestones for fan numbers you’ll be given the ability to expand existing festival sites and at certain points choose new locations on which to build festival sites. Each of those then reward you with even more events to take part in.
The Horizon Festival heads to the beautifully designed landscapes of Australia
Being the boss of the festival comes with added perks, and this is where one of the most noticeable changes from previous releases in the series can be found. In Horizon 2
choices were in play in the form of choosing among 10 different groups of cars when signing up for a championship, but ultimately everything else was decided by the game’s programmers. In Horizon 3
players can now tailor almost every aspect of each race by using the new blueprint system.
Exhibitions, championships and special bucket list locations all make use of the blueprint system to give you total control over the cars you use and the conditions in which you race, meaning that you’re never forced to drive a car that you don’t enjoy. Everything from the weather, time of day, number of laps on circuit races, locations used for championships and the music playing in bucket lists can be edited in the race settings, and you can choose cars based on type, decade, country, manufacturer or even your own custom restrictions.
Once you have finished creating your masterpiece and have given it a name, that location will display your event as an option to race for not only yourself but for other people who come there later. This works both ways, as when you arrive at a location you can choose to use the blueprint system, the default Horizon
race, or pick one that has been saved by another player. Not only does it mean that you only race in events that you consider to be fun, but it also adds a lot of replayablity as you can repeat races you enjoy under different circumstances as many times as you wish.
Showcase events once again provide you with an experience only found in Horizon
Bucket list events also make great use of the blueprint system, allowing you to create and share challenges with other people. Whether it's a fiercely competitive time across the map, a lightening quick pace at a speed trap, or even an amusing leisurely ride around the county in a three-wheeled Reliant Regal or a trip trying to avoid damage in a breakdown van, anything goes. There are already some brilliant ideas available.
As a whole Horizon 3
seems like a much more social experience which is surprising considering Horizon 2
had a lot of social functionality built into it. The ability to try other people’s creations and share bucket lists with friends plays a big part in that, but the biggest addition by far is the ability to play the career in four-player co-op. Practically everything available in the single player career is still accessible with up to three friends, and the best thing is any progress they record will be copied over to their own career afterwards. Unfortunately, my time with the co-op career was limited due to there not being many people online prior to the game’s release, but I did manage to get a quick look with one of the game’s developers to see how it works, and from my experience it was quick and easy to transition between the single-player and multiplayer without any hassle.
Outside of the standard races that make up the majority of the game’s career mode, Horizon 3
has a huge amount to offer. There's an abundance of fun showcase events and bucket lists. Street races and PR stunts now feature a grading system that will have you replaying them over and over again to try and get the maximum three stars. Quite often you'll find that the vehicle you're currently driving won't be suited to the task at hand, but thankfully a new option to have a car from your garage delivered to you in exchange for some credits means you don't have to waste time driving back and forth between the festival sites.
Wet or dry outside, it's always party time at the Horizon Festival
There are more perks to unlock, skill songs where you are awarded double bonus points for drifts, jumps, wreckage and other skills, but aside from all of that, simply driving around Australia aimlessly is also its own simple reward. It’s easy to lose hours at a time while exploring the beautifully created world which is twice the size of any previous Horizon
game. Locations and road surfaces are varied and interesting, weather and time of day are dynamic and each of the 350+ cars has the kind of handling you’d expect from a Forza
game. Some of my most memorable moments have come when just going from A to B or driving aimlessly across Australia.
If you ever get lonely on your travels you can always take advantage of the Drivatars that can be frequently found racing around the world. Just like in Horizon 2
you can challenge each of them to races by pulling up behind one of them and hitting the X button, but this time around you can also team up with them to form convoys which provides you with skill bonuses. Once in a convoy they’ll race around the map following your markers and suggest other locations to which you can race. As Drivatars learn from human counterparts it almost feels like you’re in an online free roam due to their competitive and sometimes unpredictable nature in which they drive.
Racing other player’s Drivatars has also been used in a new and interesting way. If you beat specific key targets in short races, you’ll be able to add them to your own Drivatar line-up where you’ll earn bonus fans, XP and credits. You can a have maximum of four Drivatars added to your line-up, with the ability to fire existing members as you find more active players to maximise the reward.
Horizon 3 is more social than ever
Unfortunately, I’ve not had the chance to fully experience the online free roam and adventure modes yet, but there appears to be many similar features to those found in Horizon 2
. The clubs feature has also returned, giving you the chance to meet up with teammates to go and play together and earn additional XP and credits. Even the auction which has been missing from Forza
games for quite a few years makes a return, although it's quite sparse at the time of writing.
Although the game’s achievements haven’t properly gone live yet, Playground did announce
the list a few weeks ago. The majority of them will be awarded for progressing through the career, taking part in specific race types. collectible hunting and general gameplay. For those of you that aren’t fans of the All Your Race Are Belong To Us
achievements from previous games, there is some good news. There are some achievements for completing exhibitions and championship races at each location, but it should take considerably less time to work through them than last year.
SummaryForza Horizon 3
takes the winning formula from previous releases in the series and improves upon them in almost every way. The expansive roster of cars are all beautifully designed right down to the smallest detail. The setting is stunning with very few walls and boundaries to inhibit your freedom, and now you can experience all of the fun in four-player co-op with the added bonus of being able to customise almost every aspect of each race to your choosing. Quite simply, Forza Horizon 3
is the pinnacle of open-world racers available on the Xbox One.
- Customisable races and events via blueprint
- Four-player campaign co-op
- Large roster of cars
- Excellent location
- One instance of the game locking up at a barn find
The reviewer spent approx. 30 hours racing through Australia, completing the final showcase event and earning millions of fans along the way and earning around 25 of the game's achievements. An Xbox One code was provided by the publisher for this review.