Reviewed on Xbox One. Copy supplied by publisher.
I admit it; I’m not a huge fan of racing games as I’m generally terrible at them. Typically, I’ll lose interest before I can develop any skill. I have dabbled in racing simulators over the years, including a few titles in the main Forza series, but Forza Horizon 3 is the first open-world racing sim that I’ve played and stuck with.
The main story is a fairly standard racing affair. You’re one of the heads of the ‘Horizon Festival,’ and it’s your job to attract fans, allowing the festival to grow and expand, by winning races or performing PR Stunts. These stunts typically include totally believable things like driving 300 km/h through a speed camera in the middle of Surfer’s Paradise. Which is fun, but most will find that their suspension of belief needs tuning (unless this is a commentary on the lack of punishment for celebrities that break the law, in which case bravo Forza).
Earning fans means you can put on Showcases, the highlights of the main festival. These are crazy stunt races designed to attract as many people as possible. The first showcase has you racing a helicopter from the beach all the way through a rainforest, and the showcases only get bigger and crazier.
What’s most obvious is that Forza Horizon 3 is a beautiful game, and I’m not just saying that because it’s set in Australia. The cars are as shiny and detailed as ever and the game boasts over 350 of them, including plenty of Australian classics like the legendary Ford XB Falcon from Mad Max. With the custom paint-jobs you could almost have any iconic vehicle you want. My favourite was this featured design:
Whether you’re in a Lambo or a panel van, the landscapes feel exhilarating to drive around. The main areas are Byron Bay, the Kiewa and Yara Valleys, Surfer’s Paradise, and the ‘Outback.’ The attention to detail is impressive throughout each area’s impressive; my favourite moment was finding an overgrown road leading to an abandoned home. While the locations aren’t even close to being topographically perfect (where’s the Railway bar in Byron?), it at least allows for some great backdrops for the races.
These locations allow the open world nature of the game to be fully realised. One of the first things I did was driving a luxury car off-road and into the dense rainforest. It’s a testament to Lamborghini that their cars still look great even when crashing into tree after tree. A new drone mode has also been added, where players can use a drone to explore the map rather than their car. It’s faster than driving but unfortunately it doesn’t allow you to explore anywhere that you couldn’t go with a car which is simply more enjoyable.
I was concerned about long drives to get between races, as most open-world games are often void of anything engaging between activities. Forza Horizon 3 fills the gaps with the return of Skill Chains. Earned skill points can be spent on perks or rewards, and are a fun way to encourage terrible drivers like me to practice different techniques like drifting or crashing through fences. Guess which one I excel at.
Each area brings a new type of racing, preventing the game from becoming too monotonous. Surfer’s Paradise features tight, urban circuits and the Outback has bumpy rally tracks. Each player’s campaign can be unique as you can customise any of the main races with your own options or another player’s design, so you can play to your strengths or create even more challenging races.
The transition from single-player into online co-op is seamless, and from there you can continue your races or hoon around Byron with friends. Online is where I discovered the one thing I am actually capable of winning: party modes. Infected, Capture the Flag and King are surprisingly good game types for delivery vans, and are great for quick and casual fun.
The one issue with every race is the lack of a countdown. Races start instantly, and without those moments to prepare it’s much harder to prevent over-revving, which is frustrating when every other racer gets a smooth launch.
Drivatars make a return, copying a real player’s behaviour and using that as a basis for the game’s AI, but I struggle to see any actual affect it has on gameplay. I’m sure my Drivatar doesn’t slam in other cars in order to get around corners like I would, but it could be interesting if that happens on occasion.
What I’ve always appreciated about Forza is how customisable the difficulty is. I always start off with a lot of handicaps, like assisted steering and the guided driving line. I would like to see the option to restrict the rewind ability more, rather than just have it on or off, as currently I rely on it too much, but do terrible without it. But as I (slowly) adapt to the controls, I increase the difficulty, moving away from the arcade handicaps and towards the tougher simulation options.