If I’m entirely honest, I have never played any of the previous Forza Horizon instalments. Mainly because while beautiful, I’ve been yearning for a glamorous return of probably my most favourite racing series, Burnout. Forza’s Horizon series has always been Microsoft’s fun, non-simulation style of racer – which is great that Playground Games recognised this demand from gamers that don’t want to grind out long hours in time trials and tests to forward their progress – sometimes you just want just to drive. I am glad to say that Forza Horizon 3 is a stunning and exciting journey through an Australian dreamland.
Developer: Playground Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also Available On: PC
Release Date: Out Now
Racing games are never really about the story or campaign, adding the concept of stories in driving games has been met with a laundry list of criticism in the past. Poorly scripted, bad acting, predictable story, or just plain unnecessary and although there is a campaign in Forza Horizon 3, there isn’t much of a story at all. The best way to think about its campaign is a digital travel companion. Along with your ride through the Australian countryside, your progress is assisted by “Anna” – your intelligent companion GPS. Upon completion of your first race, you open a sponsored car festival, these festivals are where you can purchase new cars and open up challenges all around the map that Anna can assist you in getting to. The campaign is irrelevant because it’s only a matter of completing enough races/earning enough fans to open up more festivals and challenges.
Festivals begin small but develop much larger over time, unlocking more challenges with the more fans you earn. Besides single instance races, challenges can involve tournaments across multiple races earning points to become the winner of the competition. More simple challenges such as stunt jumps, high-speed markers in the form of speed traps, drifting zones and bucket lists. There is no evil driver that is looking to take you out because of some revenge scheme, no debt that needs to be settled, all you have to do is love driving. You can assemble a team by defeating other drivers around the map by challenging them to a short race. Drivers are very wittingly given names of players from your own friend’s list and random players. Assembling the team merely helps in boosting the amount of fans you earn after completing events, but it’s a nice little gimmick to engage in.
Alright, Let’s Drive
Multiplayer itself once enabled has such as clean and smooth transition going into Free Roam. Of course, you can set up races to which there will be a pause or delay to get the race going, but there’s hardly any waiting at all with it. Like in Burnout Paradise, there are multiplayer campaign tasks you can take with the help of other players (they don’t have to be on your team which is great too). But who you add to your team, as long as they progress in level, their own individual boost as they progress in their campaign will reflect the boost that assists you with those that compose your team.
Getting back to the Bucket Lists, they can come in a sort of time trials with a designated car to use to complete the challenge or being created by the player directly. Or you instead make your own by selecting a particular type of challenge and then you just race. You set the high score by finishing the challenge yourself and close it by passing the finishing marker. Once completed, you title your challenge whatever you want, then save it and share it out to the Forza community. Not many may play your specific challenge, but you earn more credits and gain more fans just by creating and completing these bucket list challenges. To return to the concept of the campaign again here is the best part of all this; races, challenges, bucket lists… you don’t necessarily have to win to earn anything.
You’re Gonna Need Shades
Forza Horizon 3 is simply beautiful – the cars, views, its sky, everything is just amazing to look at. Many times I found myself just parking and turning the camera around to admire the views and the vast skyline. On your map are markers called Beauty Spots – these are viewpoints with small panning camera shots with a little anecdotal excerpt by your announcer while rewarding you of some fans. Changes in weather and time of day add the accent of beauty in Horizon, though weather change is only limited to mild rain. Snow will come to Horizon in upcoming updates though this has players scratching their heads. Mainly the idea of snow is rather alien to Australia. It would have made more sense to expand the element of snow to another set of festivals in other parts of the world, but that’s all right because it already looks spectacular.
Among the beautiful things you’ll see in Horizon are ‘gems’ called Barn Finds – these are bonus cars that you’ll find hidden away in barns scattered about the land forgotten but waiting for you search for and restore them. These are classic and vintage cars rather than supercars, but great little treasures you’re rewarded with (but don’t forget to throw it into the first person view to get some amazing visuals as some in-car camera angles). It makes using the Photo Editor function so much more worth your time investing in even just to make yourself some gorgeous backgrounds for your desktop.
No Mistakes Here
You might play this game with the idea of a perfectionist, but in truth you can’t mess anything up. It doesn’t matter if you finish first in every race or if you come in last. Either way, you’ll still get cash, earn fans and gain levels it doesn’t matter what you do, you still win. It may be difficult if you’re like me to stop yourself from restarting an event just because you hit a turn wrong or hit a tree, just try you not to worry. Plus there is the rewind function that has been in the Forza series for some time now that can help you control your frustrations. Even if you finish last or maybe you don’t score so high, just finish up and try again.
There are distinct differences in the way the various types of vehicles drive, but they aren’t sharply dramatic if you stay within the same class of car – Though a Corvette does certainly drive differently than a Nissan 350z. Trucks drive like trucks, and sports cars drive like sports cars, it’s as simple as that. You can change your car’s specifications to improve performance in all types of ways. Tires are the easiest way to see the difference, but there is more than your average racer allows. You can manage many configurations for your engine to change acceleration times, gear shifting intervals, and so on. And there are slight cosmetic changes that can be made where some pieces can be adjusted. These can influence drag and wind shift along the surface of the car to change its aerodynamic shape as well as can overall weight can too.
Finally, there is paint. Forza introduced their paint shop feature in Forza Motorsports 3, and it’s been a great success that has carried into the Horizon series. Not to mention as in other Forza series games, Horizon 3 also pulls your designs from your previous games in the Forza series. It’s organised as other paint programs are, though there are some functions I wish were expanded. An option to import designs like uploading to their website, link them to your profile to pull them into the game would be fantastic, but alas that is not here. Create, share, or just make designs have done part of your own. There is plenty to work with here to make some great designs no question.
Let’s return to the heart of Horizon 3, driving. You’ll drift, jump, race and do it all with style. It’s your “style” that earns you a skill score and skill scores lead to gaining more experience and therefore… earn you your driver level. With your driver level climbing, you’ll be able to spend particular skill points into a small skill tree of enhancements for your driving experience broken into three segments. You can distribute points for bonus credits to spend on more vehicles at festivals. Another gives bonuses to earn more fans towards events you compete in and the last adds bonuses to earn more skill points for stunts you perform while driving. It works to your benefit obviously to help you advance faster, but it feels rather minimal.
But one last feature I’d liked to mention is the use of the Anna companion with the Xbox Kinect. There aren’t many games that utilise the Kinect since it now appears that Microsoft has, for the most part, abandoned its use, but here is a great accompaniment and very easy to use. Just call out to Anna and she’ll give you simple suggestions towards tasks you can achieve. Just pick one from the list, say it out loud to Anna or use the D-Pad to make your selection, and you’re off. Anna will route on your destination for your best path, and much like real life GPS devices and apps, sometimes the route can be altered. It’s easy to use that incorporates well into the game so if you have a Kinect, this is a decent chance to put it to good.
Horizon 3 isn’t Burnout Paradise, where I met fellow TPoW comrade Mike Jackson racing for hours, days, weeks and months through the insanity of Paradise City, but if you’re looking for something like it, Horizon 3 is a great start. With a multiplayer campaign that allows players to jump in and out anytime they want to embark on adventures through Australia, Horizon 3 can provide hours of entertainment and looks damn good doing it.