The Forza Horizon series is about as big as it gets for arcade racing games. The next game in the series, Forza Horizon 3, is releasing soon for the Xbox One and Windows, and the game takes you to Australia where you'll face other cars in street races, off-road adventures, and on racetracks. If that's not good enough, developer Playground Games has thrown in races against trains and speedboats as well.
The Forza series is known as a simulation racing game, one that replicates driving in the real world. This appeals to hardcore driving game enthusiasts, but for many others it leaves a gap that the arcade Forza Horizon series fills. It's definitely more appealing to beginners. Forza Horizon 3 lets you switch to simulation mode if you want a more realistic driving experience, but we enjoyed this game a lot more in arcade mode.
Your goal is to establish the Horizon festival - the titular racing event - in Australia and of course you do this by winning races and drawing in the crowds. That means you get to enjoy the vast, open world of the game as you roam around looking for races and PR stunts. The main "story" of the game is based around you setting up the Horizon Festival in Australia, and progresses with the number of fans you have.
(Also see: Forza Horizon 3 PC Requirements Announced)
The game starts with you at the airport and your first goal is to drive the amazing Lamborghini Centenario to the festival site. Of course you don't get to keep it. Like many other games, Forza Horizon 3 throws you a carrot right at the beginning and then takes it away so you feel like you must earn your way to the top. Nevertheless, Forza Horizon 3 has one of the best intro sequences in racing games. Soon you get in a crazy off-road race against a car ferried by a helicopter and once you win, the game begins.
Forza Horizon 3 has plenty of experiences to keep you entertained for a long time. From driving by the sea and on the beach, to cruising on freeways, or winding two-lane hill roads with trees on either side, and even some crazy off-roading, it's all a part of Forza Horizon 3. If that wasn't enough, just wait till you launch your cars off cliffs to land them as far as possible. That's like long jump for cars, and in the game it's called a danger sign.
Successfully landing these jumps, triggering speed traps, and maintaining high speeds in certain zones earns you a lot of fans. That lets you expand your festival either by setting it up in up to four locations or expanding existing festival locations. If you do this long enough, you'll trigger a showcase race, such the one against a helicopter right at the beginning.
We loved these races but we enjoyed roaming around just as much. All we'd do for hours on end was just drive around Australia in Forza Horizon 3, trying to discover as many roads as possible, driving through grass, forests, and even mountains, exploring the world.
Even if you don't want to race there is just so much to do in Forza Horizon 3. You can discover up to 13 beauty spots, where you see important landmarks in the game. You can head to obscure places on the map for barn finds - where you find classic cars that your team can restore for you to drive. The game gives you skill points for things like driving at high speeds, drifting, wrecking property, among others. You can spend a lot of time trying to land a high score. There are a total of 150 fast travel boards and XP boards to be smashed. You could just try looking for these. We spent far more time doing these things rather than racing.
The Bucket List is one of the best features of Forza Horizon 3. These involve things like experiencing speeds that defy belief with the Koenigsegg One, or trying to get to a "haunted house" in an Oldsmobile 442. The former will make you whoop in delight once you go past the 350 km/h mark while the latter has you making your way through a dense forest at night, with a haunting soundtrack playing in the background.
These were some of our most memorable moments in the game. We should reserve special mention for Forza Horizon 3's music. As you unlock more radio stations, you get to hear a wide variety of great music across genres. We enjoyed most of the FM stations in the game and also the fact that DJs react to events in the game. If you ace that speed trap for three stars, the DJ will mention that you're the person he'll go to if he ever needs a getaway car. Our favourite radio station was Timeless FM because it played some awesome classical tracks and its DJ totally dislikes the Horizon Festival, which was good for more than a few laughs. The only problem here is that all radio stations start repeating songs after a while and there isn't a way to shuffle between songs and genres.
The races in Forza Horizon 3 have enough variety to keep you entertained. Circuit races tend to get boring very fast, as we felt they were getting repetitive. Off-road races, however, offer a lot of variety both in terms of the course and the challenge. Off-road courses will make you drive through tar roads, grass, gravel, dirt, and water (yes, you can use your car as a speedboat) - all in the same race. Our favourite races, however, were street races.
These are 'illegal' races in the game where you drive down winding roads in the dusk. Forza Horizon 3 looks gorgeous in general, but particularly so when it's raining at night in the game. Some of these street races take place in this weather, and all of them are at night. Overtaking all kinds of fast cars on two-lane roads with no streetlights feels great, probably because it's something most of us can't even imagine doing in the real world.
Barn finds - where you search for abandoned classic cars - are one of our favourite things to do in the game. Forza Horizon 3 points to a general area where the barn is rumoured to be. Once you get there, you'll have to scour every corner of the map to locate the hidden barn. At times we just stopped somewhere, turned the camera around 360 degrees and spotted a tiny building in one direction. That is how we found most of the barns. This is true for the rest of the game as well. You can spot any random thing on the horizon and just drive to it.
The gameplay is engaging, and it helps that Forza Horizon 3 is also stunning to look at. Even if you hate driving a certain car, you'll find yourself admiring its looks. Not only does the car look realistic, down to little details like the "Pininfarina" text on a Ferrari, but details like a reflective coat of paint mirroring the surroundings are just stunning. Droplets falling on the windscreen during the rain feel so real that we almost reached for the wiper knob. The way the game transitions from day to night, artificial lighting in tunnels to natural lighting, is beautiful.
We're really surprised that Playground Games managed to make Forza Horizon 3 look so good on the Xbox One, but all these beautiful graphics come at a bit of a cost. We noticed some stuttering in the game and at times the console just froze for 10 seconds or so while playing. It resumed soon after and, thankfully, we did not lose progress. We also noticed texture pop-in at various places resulting in foliage and trees appearing out of nowhere.
As far as driving is concerned, every car in Forza Horizon 3 feels different. While the Audi R8 felt excellent on city roads and highways, it wasn't fun to drive at all on dirt tracks or mountain roads. If you're racing on winding roads, the Nissan GT-R is a much better choice. We didn't find ourselves sticking to one car for too long. There's one catch here though. If you start a race that requires you to select a different car, then you're stuck with it after you finish the race. To switch cars back to the one you'd prefer, you either have to go to a festival site, or pay 10,000 credits, which is annoying.
We also got annoyed by how you can bump into some trees while driving through other trees. When you're racing through a thick forest, that can cause some real troubles. Thankfully there is a rewind button in the game that lets you quickly turn back time and avoid the damage.
Not surprisingly, the main "quest" in Forza Horizon 3 can feel like it's on the back-burner at times. There's no real incentive to pick up on the main story, and no penalty for just driving around and doing whatever is fun. The in-car virtual assistant does suggest that you race or find bonus boards once in a while, but that's about it. Opening new festival sites gets you cool new cars while progressing through the game unlocks showcase races but otherwise you can progress at your own pace having fun.
Forza Horizon 3 is about as good as arcade racing games get. There is enough variety in races to keep you engrossed for hours, and because it's an open world game with plenty of collectibles, you'll enjoy playing even if you don't want to race. It's very beginner friendly and has some stunning visuals to boot. It has some minor performance issues such as freezes and long loading times. Certain types of races such as the closed circuit track races get boring real quick, but other than that it is a solid game overall.
In so many ways this feels like a vastly improved and polished instalment in the Forza Horizon series. That makes us wonder where Microsoft will take this series after this. In the short term we can perhaps expect some expansion packs but what about the next instalment? Perhaps adding different kinds of vehicles and a different location will work, but the biggest challenge will be topping what's been achieved with Forza Horizon 3.
Rating (out of 10): 9
We played a review copy of Forza Horizon 3 on the Xbox One. Forza Horizon 3 will be available on the Xbox One and Windows 10 on September 27 at Rs. 3,999.
Hear us talk about all the amazing things we did while playing Forza Horizon 3, featuring some awesome Bucket List challenges, danger signs, and our favourite cars on Orbital: The Gadgets 360 Podcast. You can either subscribe to it via iTunes or RSS or just hit the play button below.