Review

Forza Horizon 3 Review

  • First Released Sep 23, 2016
    released
  • PC
  • XONE

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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.

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Now Playing: Forza Horizon 3 - Video Review

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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.
498 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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XHawk222

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Minor online performance issues... Wow, yeah, REALLY a big deal that you have to point out, seriously, you guys really HAVE to have something negative to say huh? Otherwise it'll make you guys feel bad yourselves or something?

I'm not even going to say too much about the narrative, apart from what I've said over and over again, which you prove especially with a game like this, which is a racing game. You guys ALWAYS have complaints about narrative, why? Becaus3e somehow you always keep thinking you're experts on that, instead of just games?

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k9kal85

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Edited By k9kal85

@XHawk222: These are the same reviewers who did Forza 6's review and the only negative thing they said was replays weren't 60fps. I think they gave it a 8 because of it.

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SimplyTheeBest

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@XHawk222: Welcome to sonyspot

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PIXEL8

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Another racing game. Meh.

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SimplyTheeBest

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@pixel8: Something sony doesn't get great versions of...

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I_P_Daily

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@pixel8: It's so meh that it made you come in here and make a comment, and the only thing that was meh was your comment congrats.

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Guy_Brohski

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Edited By Guy_Brohski

Great job Microsoft and Playground games! We need more fun games like this, I can't wait to play this.

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darksouls

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I'm glad that this game got this high of a score. I'm buying it day one for sure!

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DI0_BRAND0

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- BAD

Unappealing brand-building narrative

Narrative???????????????? from A Racing Game??????????????????

Say "I just didn't want to give 10"

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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

@di0_brand0: The narrative is shockingly bad it deserves to lose a point :). Personally i would deduct 3 points because it is so bad.

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jaswri

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Edited By jaswri

@deviltaz35: It's not as bad as FH2. "Congrats you just bagged our top prize". 2 years of hearing that after a wheelspin. I'm finding Keira quite amusing at the moment (Warren not so much except when he was pissed). She's got a very dry sense of humour.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@jaswri: lol i remember that. Nothing is as bad as bloody Ken Block on Dirt 3 though :) .

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DEVILTAZ35

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@jaswri: Strangely it seems to be more they wanted to promote the fake aussie accents in the demo. After getting the full game on the weekend , it's not as irritating due to the open world nature of the game. I guess in the confines of the demo it's just much more noticable.

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SimplyTheeBest

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@deviltaz35: But you can't it's not on sony platforms

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DEVILTAZ35

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@simplytheebest: Can't what? I got in on PC / Xbox never said it was on PS.

It is a cool game it's just a shame the demo has too many awkward voices in it that ruin the experience. It's not as pronounced in the full game as it is in the demo.

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SimplyTheeBest

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@deviltaz35: What voices? There are volume sliders.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@simplytheebest: It was just more noticable in the demo , doesn't bother me in the same way on full game anyway. Anna is really cool too as a guide in the car.

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deactivated-57f32804787f2

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wow lol I'm so happy I didn't buy a playstation4 ....xbox has done it again!!! well done Microsoft. Better exclusives, better online free games, better online services. Xbox is rocking!!! Looking forward to spending another year on the xbox then move up to the new xbox to play proper 4k games. Well done.....cool I can buy 1 copy of this game and and play it on my laptop when I'm away on holidays.!!!!! and at home on my xbox all for the price of 1@

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DEVILTAZ35

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@walkingwalking1: PS4 has some good games to recommend and in the sales they have had recently you could pick up the heavy rain dual combo pack with Beyond two souls for only $20 or so . Can't wait for Horizon Zero Dawn on the PS Pro and Detroit :Become Human. I like the Playstation for these sorts of obscure games but i game on Xbox and PC as well. Just whatever has the games i want to play really.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@walkingwalking1: i just did a deal with a store and got all 3 dark souls games so that is the rest of my year tied up :)

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wolvklaw

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@deviltaz35: No game collection is complete without the Dark Souls trilogy that's for sure :-)

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DEVILTAZ35

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@wolvklaw: haha true , it is a shame that Demon Souls is only on PS3 though. What is with that? Brilliant game.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@akassassin11: Thanks , i haven't played them yet though as i was playing Forza Horizon 3 on PC and Xbox. It is really cool how it just carries on either on console or PC on where you were up to.

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SimplyTheeBest

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Edited By SimplyTheeBest

@deviltaz35: Been there done that, welcome to late 2016

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DEVILTAZ35

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@simplytheebest: Sorry i think i missed this one , what did you do : )

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SimplyTheeBest

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@deviltaz35: all 3 Dark Souls games.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@simplytheebest: Oh lol , yeah i have the first two on PC but not the third.

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SimplyTheeBest

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@deviltaz35: I have the first two on PC and the mod to run Dark Souls in VR with the Rift. I have all 3 on Xbox One as well.

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TysonTalksBad

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@walkingwalking1: why not just buy a PS4 and enjoy its games as well?

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Xgamer82

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@tysontalksbad: That's exactly what I did. I will enjoy all the good exclusives that both consoles have to offer.

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sethfrost

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This sounds like a FlatOut review.

I don't mind mindless arcade racers, but I grew out of those kind of 'racing games' decades ago. Today, I just prefer Raceroom Racing Experience, Assetto Corsa, or DiRT Rally (or the good old SimBin games).


Giving a game a 9/10 because you like to plow through cornfields, with no damage to the car, listening to the game's own soundtrack, you like, earning fake skill points for fake achievement confetti - that is as shallow as it gets.

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Guy_Brohski

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@sethfrost: It's better than pretending to have fun in Driveclub, confined to a boring 10 ft wide roadway.

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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

@sethfrost: You can scratch the paint and crack the windscreen ;)

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TysonTalksBad

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Edited By TysonTalksBad

@sethfrost: So basically you don't want him or any other reviewer for any other game to give a good score when they enjoy a game....

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DEVILTAZ35

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@tysontalksbad: No it's obviously like Golf where the lower the score the better and the more recommended it should be someone buys it so in that case this game is a -10 :)

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jaswri

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@sethfrost: Don't buy it then. Judging by general critic responses it's gonna be as much fun as the previous 2 titles. If it's not your cup of tea then so be it.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@jaswri: It's actually much much better. Wait until you see some of the scenery :) . I am using the Halo Warthog at the moment lol

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Guy_Brohski

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The best racing game on current gen, by far.

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borkgordon

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@Guy_Brohski: Is it that much better than horizon 2?

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@borkgordon: Yes , much bigger and more diverse. Be careful not to get stuck on rocks trying to enjoy the ocean scenery though. The big Aussie Ute doesn't favour well perched on rocks . Alot of wheel spinning but going nowhere :).

The Warthog is awesome to drive in the game too , powersliding a warthog had me grinning.

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@Guy_Brohski: Without a doubt

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plaintomato

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"Enough winning, boss! Give somebody else a chance!...Just kidding, keep it up!"

I have suffered through so much canned praise in video games, I don't know if I can take it any more.

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strothers101

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GTHO Phase III. Super Roo levels of credibility.

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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 Rating119 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