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Review

Forza Horizon 3 Review

  • First Released Sep 23, 2016
    released
  • Reviewed Sep 20, 2016
  • PC
  • XONE
Chris Damien on Google+

Quickly Down Under

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Update: We've updated our review to reflect the PC version of Forza Horizon 3. Please scroll to the bottom of the story to find the updated content. - PB, 9/27/2016, 10:40 AM PDT

However sacrilegious, the ability to launch a Jaguar over a hill and into a cornfield with no risk of mechanical damage is one of the reasons why Forza Horizon 3 is such a blast. As with every well-made open world, Horizon’s lands are rife with distractions; in this semi-fictionalized setting of Australia's Pacific coast, every mile between you and your presumptive waypoint can feature dozens of detours. Before you know it, you’re up five levels, 1 million credits richer, and you still haven’t arrived at the music festival that you meant to reach an hour ago.

Developer Playground Games expands upon the previous game's regional hubs--glorified garages and showrooms to buy new cars--and turns them into their own festivals. Imagine a multi-stage music gathering like Coachella or Glastonbury, except you have to drive five miles to get to the closest tent. Sure, it’s unrealistic, but so is this series’ conceptual marriage of music and cars.

To fit new fans, your handler, Keira, advises you to expand your festivals from time to time. Doing so unlocks more driving events in a festival’s respective region. Whereas the last Forza Horizon’s main campaign path was the completion of tournaments (and is still a substantial mode this time around), there’s a new emphasis on gaining followers in order to open up more events. A single region can offer at least 50 activities by the time you’ve maxed out its potential. Combine all four regions, and you have a campaign that rivals Burnout Paradise's generous to-do list.

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Many racing games in the last decade have cleverly crafted single-player narratives around building the player’s reputation. This has been used to attract fictional rivals and grow an imaginary fan base, the latter being the crux of Forza Horizon 3's main path. It takes the reputation game to its next evolutionary step with a lesson in Branding 101. Without blatantly using the term “influencer,” some of the most effective fan-growing events are themed on positive public relations. No joke--these sections are actually called “PR Stunts.” Once you finish rolling your eyes and accept that it’s a sign of the times, you can look beyond the propagandist window dressing and simply focus on the objectives, such as stringing together stunts or executing a single vehicular feat.

Like Forza Motorsport, Forza Horizon 3’s point-to-point or circuit competitions are never bereft of split-second moments of gratification, whether it’s shaving off a tenth of a second through drafting or executing a sublime drift. Placing first is, of course, the traditional goal, but you can’t underestimate the thrill of making a clean pass against a competitor, even if it’s to avoid placing last.

Forza Horizon 3 transcends the genre’s classic reward designs by pummelling you with dopamine hits well beyond the 12-car races. It’s not unheard of to gain a level, unlock a perk, expand a festival, and obtain a new car in the span of seconds. This can occur at any time, whether you’ve just completed a championship or simply avoided traffic while jetting down the highway. This is what happens when you add a fame-based component to an already robust reward system that includes the previous games’ level progression and skill trees that recognize risky behavior.

That's one way to ruin an Audi.
That's one way to ruin an Audi.

It’s especially compelling if you can get a well-rounded car into a vineyard and spend the next 30 minutes laying waste to grape plantations with e-brake drifts to earn skill points. The skill tree has tripled in size for this Australian excursion. Along with the perks that enhance the ability to get more perks (e.g., improved skill point multipliers, longer skill point chains), you can purchase XP and earn bonuses that ultimately lead to new cars.

Forza Horizon is known for taking sensible liberties in its real-world locations. In Forza Horizon 3’s case, that means being able to drive from Surfers Paradise to Byron Bay in 90 seconds, normally a little over a one-hour drive. Real-world locales like the Kiewa Valley and the Twelve Apostles also litter this eastern region of Oz. It’s a pleasingly subdued version of Australia rather than a caricature of it. There’s no risk of hitting kangaroos, and the local hosts don’t spout slang in every line of dialogue. There’s a generous helping of lush forests and open fields set to the often-gorgeous backdrops of weather and day/night cycles. Those who miss the Out Run-inspired coasts of Italy and the French Riviera of Forza Horizon 2 also get an adequate stretch of shoreline. In short, you won’t ever run out of photo opportunities.

After Colorado and Mediterranean Europe in the first and second games respectively, the shift to Australia is fitting for a driving series that has now made room for more off-road competitions. You have to think 50 yards ahead when planning a dirt jump in a Hummer-like Lamborghini LM002. Your landing, however bumpy or misplaced, can mean the difference between maintaining the lead or fighting to escape last place. The natural unpredictability of off-road driving is a stimulating accompaniment to the more structured asphalt races.

Forza’s three-year-old Drivatar system has proven itself as a viable alternative to traditional catch-up or rubber-band AI. Supplanting generic names with those of your friends and their driving behaviors puts a spin on asynchronous multiplayer. What’s surprising about Forza Horizon 3 is the wealth of social options without your friends’ real-time presence. Familiar features like leaderboards and clubs are now joined with modes that let you curate your own shareable championships and special events using templates.

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These forms of asynchronicity are so persistent--including the option to race a friend’s Drivatar during freeroam--that it’s sometimes easy to ignore Forza Horizon’s 3’s online component, despite the return of King and Infected modes, as well as a capture-the-flag-style mode called Flag Rush. For the most part, they’re worth trying out, if only to help friends (and yourself) knock off campaign objectives. The trade-off? Races and adversarial modes can feel like a hassle at the first sign of rubber-banding or lag, which was evident during a number of pre-release online sessions.

For a game series that associates itself with ever-popular music festivals, it would be an embarrassment if there wasn't a kickass music playlist, and Forza Horizon 3 doesn’t disappoint. The return of Chvrches’, a band that stood out in Forza Horizon 2, accentuates the near-utopic vibe of this spin-off series. Some events have their own pre-chosen song to fit a given moment. It’s hard to beat listening to Richard Wagner while making an epic 500 foot leap into a gorge or hearing Night on Bald Mountain when racing to a haunted house. And thanks to Crazy Taxi, listening to the Offspring during a timed driving contest makes for a sweet trip down memory lane.

The PC version of Forza Horizon 3 benefits from being able to adjust myriad visual options; you have flexibility in optimizing things like lighting, detail, and anti-aliasing. It can be a demanding game, but even a three-year old Razer Blade laptop can run Forza Horizon 3 with performance on par with the console version. High-end graphics cards let you experience Forza Horizon 3 at speeds beyond the Xbox One version’s 30 frames per second, complemented with vibrant lighting and smoother blur effects. It’s not enough to make me regret spending my first 25 hours on Xbox One, but it’s conceivable that the rest of my treks around Playground’s vision of Australia will be exclusively on PC.

With Forza Horizon 3, Turn 10 and Playground Games affirm the series’ status as the driving game for everyone. The new emphasis on off-road options isn’t at the expense of traditional races, thanks to the sheer volume of activities. All the while, Playground Games’ calculated kitchen-sink design philosophy and rich reward system persistently tempt you to explore beyond your comfort zone, whether it’s gifting your first Ariel Nomad buggy or reminding you that stunt races can impress thousands of fans. Enhancing your own brand might feel like a strange motivation to hit the road, but pulling off sick e-drifts on a mile-long series of curves makes the PR work worthwhile.

Back To Top
The Good
Gorgeous environments
Accessible driving controls
Robust reward system
Great mix of off-road and traditional races
The Bad
Minor online performance issues
Unappealing brand-building narrative
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

While exploring all of Forza Horizon 3's modes, Miguel took 20 hours to complete the festival component of the campaign. He’s still crossing his fingers for a Forza Horizon set along the Pacific coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. At least that would be less cliched than setting a Horizon festival in Ibiza. Microsoft provided GameSpot with complimentary download codes for the purpose of this review.
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xboxgameman

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Now watch me wip it.

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TruSake

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Graphics look about 10 years old

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justin12421

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Online stinks in this game, Wish I never bought it. Driveclub online is way more fun and easy to get a game in. "xbox'ps4"PC' owner

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Rufinoman

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I've been tempted by the free Forza Motorsport 6 Apex *Windows 10, and if that is anything to go by, this game should be the mutt's nuts.

Can't wait to get it.

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YoYoma4093

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Best racing game ever! 4K maxed on a 980 Ti and the new patch makes it even better.

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justin12421

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Driveclub is better then this game

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EXxile

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Edited By EXxile

@justin12421: Lol, you're a funny guy.

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Terminator95

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@EXxile: Gran Turismo Own's your Crap Box 0 a@@.

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EQl33t

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@Terminator95: please real sims destroy kiddie GT like AC, hell old ass live for speed is a better sim

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justin12421

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Edited By justin12421

I have a GTX 970 i5 16 gb ram and this is completely unplayable. I am very dissapointed. Flowers and stuff only pop up when I am like 10 feet away in Virtual world. What a waste of 65 dollars

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metin3191

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Is it a joke ? The minimum system requirements of game is very high, even some beast systems cant fulfil. What's amazing about this game ? It isnt reasonable. They must say "Ok guys we did it for pc but only gtx 1080 owners can play it" . But the truth; this game is a shit.

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EXxile

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@metin3191: I can't speak for the PC version, but the game plays wonderful on the X1. The game is the complete opposite of "shit"

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jujufreeze

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Edited By jujufreeze

Between Mario Kart 8 and Forza Horizon 3 I'm set

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luzarius

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Another racing game with no hot racing babes in it. How dumb. How do you make a racing game without racing babes? God damn it.

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Terminator95

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@luzarius: Like NEED FOR SPEED !

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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

Why is there no mention of the brilliant HDR implementation in the Xbox version? Vibrant lighting on PC pales into nothingness compared to HDR. Granted HDR would be amazing on top of the other PC visuals but at this stage there are no plans to include it in the PC version.

This game looks exceptional on the XboxOne S on a 65 inch 4k HDR tv.

I would honestly take these HDR enhancements over the superior framerate of the PC anyday .

I am not knocking the PC as a platform , i use a 980ti myself but the visuals look flat by comparison.

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wolvklaw

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Edited By wolvklaw

Seriously why does every good review have to turn into Sony vs Microsoft? Neither is going anywhere, both have their pros and cons. Play what you enjoy playing and go on with your day. If your only a PlayStation player why the hell even look here? If you hate racing games, why the hell are you reading this? If you are a true gamer, you have all the consoles and enjoy a variety of games. No one said you had to stick to one...you can own them all and be quite happy.

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wolvklaw

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Edited By wolvklaw

Simply the best racing game I have ever played. There is no contest right now on any other system or even on the xbox one. A fun and exciting game and a great change of pace.

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ziggens

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Uh how about minus 1 point for no offline multiplayer?

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Arguyle

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I tried. Seriously. PS4 racing sim are sooooooo better. Period.

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SodApOpPIMPski

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@Arguyle: said nobody ever

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ninja2481

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Edited By ninja2481

@Arguyle: lol

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Arguyle

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Edited By Arguyle

@Arguyle: Sorry, actually this is not even a racing sim. My bad! This is more what should have been Need for Speed.

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Nine-Eight-Nine

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@Arguyle: Racing sims on a console, aahahahaha.

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topgun182

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@nine-eight-nine: Gran Turismo

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EQl33t

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@topgun182: i wouldnt call gt a sim, really if you only race on console you just now got a glimpse with AC and PC, if you play with a controller and the game (sim) caters to controller users its not a proper sim . like trying to play a flight sim w/o a flight stiick. old live for speed on pc is still better than GT or forza for ffb and physics. this game is dope though better than the crew.

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topgun182

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@EQl33t: I have driven every major driving game, sim, arcade, whatever you want to call it. I have owned a G25, G27, and now use T300RS or TX wheels. LFS was not better than Forza 6 Apex in my opinion. FH3 is not a sim. Gran Turismo is as much as it can be. I also think 6 Apex on the PC is better than Forza 7.

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EQl33t

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Edited By EQl33t

@topgun182, just talking ffb and physics u think forza is better than lfs on a wheel? forza still doesnt do self aligning torque right, is made ground up for controllers(i understand its their $ base),and the ffb dull, i mean most guys i talk 2 play with wouldnt even put any forza in the sim category (iracing,rfactor2,AC,PC,Richard burns,Dirt Rally etc)but to each his own.

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topgun182

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@EQl33t: I said Forza 6 Apex.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@nine-eight-nine: There is Asseta Corsa , I haven't played it though.

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EQl33t

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@deviltaz35: if you have a proper wheel get it esp if u have the x1x its way smoother than the x of coursebest ffb on console the road feel is superb

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CraZkid37

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Only got Forizon 2 this past Holiday and started playing it a couple of months ago. Having a blast, even more fun than the first one. The details of this one came out around the time I started playing I believe and since the first showings I couldn't wait to get it as well. Glad it's getting a reaction as good as it sounded. Would have gotten it regardless, but yeah.

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Forza Horizon 3 More Info

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  • First Released Sep 23, 2016
    released
    • PC
    • Xbox One
    You’re in charge of the Horizon Festival. Customize everything, hire and fire your friends, and explore Australia in over 350 of the world’s greatest cars. Make your Horizon the ultimate celebration of cars, music, and freedom of the open road. How you get there is up to you.
    8.5
    Average Rating117 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Forza Horizon 3
    Developed by:
    PLAYGROUND
    Published by:
    Microsoft Game Studios
    Genre(s):
    Driving/Racing, Simulation
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Everyone
    Mild Lyrics, Mild Violence