The Forza Horizon festival is back. Microsoft Studios, Turn 10, and Playground Games have brought us to Australia for Forza Horizon 3. Is it still a party or is it time to turn out the lights? Get in, buckle up, and hang on. We’re going for a ride.
“May as well be here, we are as where we are.” - Australian Aboriginal Saying
While the first Forza Horizon took place in one area, a fictional Colorado, the second took place in a mishmash of France and Italy. Taking the concept of different landscapes, Playground Games settled Forza Horizon 3 in Australia. There they could take a slice of very different environments and put them in one place. You start with the Byron Bay hub, a beautiful coastline, and rainforest area. You're able to race around in open scenic beaches and shaded wet forests.
Next, well that's up to you because you are in charge. Yup, you. Unlike the first two Horizon games, you are not a driver who's earning their way in or invited to the festival, you are the boss this time around. You have an assistant who "handles the operation and paperwork" your job is to make the Horizon Festival fun enough to attract fans and drive. More fans equal more areas that open up and bigger hubs that open more races, Bucket List Challenges, and PR Stunt areas.
So back to your choices. Once you garner enough fans, through racing, completing Bucket List Challenges, and scoring stars in PR Stunts, you unlock Surfer’s Paradise or The Outback (of course!) your choice. Surfer’s Paradise is all about racing in the crowded big city streets, while The Outback is a wide open desert full of dirt roads.
Whichever you chose, the next time you amass enough fans you will have the option of opening up the area you didn’t choose the first time and the last area, Yarra Valley. Yarra Valley is wine country, with not only fields of grape vines, but other farming, such as palm trees.
I have some friends that live in Australia and they say the game overall has the right vibe, though one did mention that bush area as you head out to The Outback should be more gray than brown. The map is an approximation of Australia so don’t go into it thinking it will be photo-realistic recreations of actual locations or size correctly. The map is big enough that it does take several minutes to get from one side to the other, so there's plenty of room for racing.
"Out in the bush, the tarred road always ends just after the house of the local mayor." - Australian Observation
The racing in Forza Horizon 3 is just like its predecessors, a mix of a pure simulation and pure arcade. This gives players the option to adjust it how they want it to play for themselves. Want to just mash the gas and go? You can. Want to sit and tune each gear to perfection? You can. It’s been a winning formula for the series and there is no real need to change it.
What has changed is who is in charge of the festival. As I said before you are. We’ll dig into what that means for racing beyond just choosing areas. First off you can create your own races. Each race hot spot on the map has three pre-set sections: Exhibition, Championships, and Rivals. Exhibition is a one off race event for that location. Championships are a series of races that start with that location and continue at other locations. Rivals pits you in a one-on-one race with another player’s Drivatar to beat their set time for the course.
The Exhibition and Championship options have a secondary option of letting you create your own race at that race hot spot. You don't get to chose the course, but you can set all the parameters. Your options include things like the number of laps (if it is a circuit course), time of day, type of weather and car class or type. Once created, you race it. If you don't like it you can go back and change things. If you do like it, then you get to name it and post it for all of your friends to race.
"A determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop" - Robert Hughes, art critic, and author
But that's not the only thing you can create. While there are pre-set Bucket List Challenges scattered around the map, so are Bucket List Blueprint Points. These blueprint points allow you to set up your own challenges. Anything from racing from that point to any other point on the map in a set time to skill challenges or drift zone challenges to damage control races (keep your cars damage to a minimum), and more. It's up to you.
All of these creative options really open up the game to a huge amount of variety and replay, depending on how many of your friends play.
“A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour.” - Unknown
Is Forza Horizon 3 fun? Frankly, I'd say that's an understatement. I've had to tear myself away to eat, sleep, and go to work. I have a co-worker who has the game too. When he comes in we spend at least ten to twenty minutes talking about what we've done in the game the night before. He's even (finally) considering getting an Xbox Gold membership so we can play online.
I have played the online and while the racing is fun, it's the games I enjoy. Two of them are variations on the game of tag, but oh, they are a blast! Infected, where one person starts as the infected and everyone else tries to stay away. The person that stays uninfected the longest wins. King, where one person is the "king" and everyone is trying to take it from them. The person that is King the longest wins. The last game is Flag Rush. In Flag Rush, flags and goals randomly appear on the map. Grab a flag and try to get it to the matching goal, be careful, though, other players can take the flag from you and score the goal themselves.
Lastly, you can play co-op through the festival's campaign with a friend. Every event you complete, and fans you earn, count towards your own single player campaign,
Developer Playground Games has again driven it right into the winner's circle. Forza Horizon 3 is the most fun you can have tearing up the countryside and blasting down roads without having to worry about speeding tickets or going to jail. There is just so much packed into it. I can even have my in-game assistant call me by my actual name. They have a huge list of real names and nicknames that she can use when talking to you. The only problem is that "Tracy" is in the women's name category despite it being a dual gender name (and its historical origins as a man's name, but whatever, I've been dealing with this battle all my life).
There are some missteps. I have seen frame-drops, but never in a race, mostly in cutscenes. There is an in-game drone you can use to help scout locations or find hidden barns with forgotten cars inside. While it's a nice idea, it's kind of lame, since you can't get much higher than about 10 feet off the ground. At that height, you can't even clear the trees. I think one of the biggest things overlooked, and this is just a personal observation, is on the in-game radio. Just like Forza Horizon 2 you unlock radio stations as the game progresses. These cover a variety of styles and one station is nicely dedicated to new Australian artists. BUT there is a serious lack of rock and roll. Yes, they have the Epitaph Records station, but that is mostly their own artists. No, what I'm talking about is "RAWK" as in specifically Australian rock like AC/DC, Silverchair, Spider Bait, Rose Tattoo, Inxs, Midnight Oil, The Angels, Jet, and Wolfmother. You can, in one way, create this dream station, but you have to have a subscription to Microsoft's Groove Music Service. If you are a subscriber you can create your own custom playlist and have that as a station on the in-game radio.
Still, the faults I've had have been minor. The fun I've had has been major. Just like past Forza Horizon games (or even the main series, Forza Motorsport for that matter), I don't think I'll ever really be done with it, there is so much to do, and we've only gotten the first downloadable car pack. There are more cars and other DLC on the way.
Playground Games has taken an awesome production speed demon of a car that Forza Horizon is and tricked it out with all the turbos and body kits and dubbed it Forza Horizon 3, and it is pure speed. I give Forza Horizon 3 a 5 out of 5.
Forza Horizon 3 is rated E for Everyone for Mild Lyrics, Mild Violence by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
For more information see the official Forza Horizon 3 website.