Review

Forza Horizon 3 Review

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

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.

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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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floridaskater05

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sweet

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Hordriss

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Long time fan of the Forza series, and I have to say this game is looking awesome.

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AndyVecc011

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xbox is horrible

16 • 
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pgpointon

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@andyvecc011:

Oh dry up and play your games within your own limited horizons. Both machines are fine, both have good games, both have their virtues and failings. Get over it.

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darksouls

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@andyvecc011: Lol

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deactivated-584b982711a1c

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@andyvecc011: Then get stuck with sony. You sound like a 5 year old kid. If you don't know Sony is still in bankruptcy troubles.

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starjay009

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@andyvecc011: Goodness... here we go again !

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Guy_Brohski

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@andyvecc011: You so mad tho.

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sleepnsurf

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@andyvecc011: Yea so is Geystation

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RicanV

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RicanV  Moderator

@andyvecc011: try to provide a little more depth in the future.

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Scipio8

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People who b*tch about Windows 10 stay downgraded because Win7/8 is not supported on Kaby lake or newer chips.

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BeantownSean

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@Scipio8:

Its not supported because MS is trying strong-arm people onto Win10.

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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

@beantownsean: We have known for a very long time now that DX12 would not be supported on anything other than windows 10 though so now Xbox is also DX12 based it just makes sense to keep them on the same playing field. Anyway can't really complain too much when you get 2 for the price of 1. I just wish they did it also if you bought the disc version.

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Jerger_GS

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@deviltaz35:win 10 was free and fine. im it person at work and use 7......at home 8 was fine and 10 is just as fine....seriously whats the damn issue with upgrading for free....

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DEVILTAZ35

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@jerger_gs: The preview program has it's ups and downs but overall it's not too bad. The biggest issue i have had is some of the versions don't like my 144hz monitor. One update even locked it to 24hz which caused all sorts of issues.

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Croxus

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It better be good as i downgraded to windows 10, from win7, preordered it and upgraded to a GTX 1070 for it...

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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

@croxus: You should be good to go , 980ti is perfectly fine for Xbox One ported games so 1070 would knock it out of the park. I thought about a 1080 but now the next gen cards are out just next year so not worth an upgrade now with Volta so close.

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Ragnarocking

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@croxus: Win 10 is perfectly fine as long as you disable that new update that fucks up everything.

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DEVILTAZ35

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@ragnarocking: lol i am in the preview program i don't recommend it if you use a 144 hz screen

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zaselim

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@croxus: i am also looking for this game and i still didnt downgraded to windows 10 and i still dont want to.

I also have gtx1070, great card by the way and loving it.

May be the game will release on the steam like quantum break is about to.

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SimplyTheeBest

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Edited By SimplyTheeBest

@zaselim: I Upgraded to Windows 10, must suck to be stuck with only DX11.2

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wayneextremity

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@croxus: Downgraded? haha

I get that youre trying to joke about it here, but coming from someone who upgraded to Win10 from Windows 7, Windows Ten legitimately gives you a boost in performance for so many new games that support DX12. I got like 120 frames in Doom at 1440P.

To be honest, after you start using it, Windows Ten feels so much better.

8 • 
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DEVILTAZ35

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@wayneextremity: Dependant on the GPU you use though.

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zaselim

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Edited By zaselim

@wayneextremity:

Naa, i did use it as a 2nd boot along with my windows 7 just for quantum break but then uninstall it after 3 days i think. Now that part of my ssd has games installed in it lol

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tonyleo01

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@zaselim: I kept hearing people say they don't like Windows 10, but what's really wrong with it? I was a Mac user for like 10+ years before I was required to use Windows 7 at a job for like 3 years, then I switched to another job that the whole company uses the latest build of Windows 10 that get pushed across the org on the dot. Now I've been with Windows 10 for almost 2 years, and I honestly can't tell if it's worse... or better... than Windows 7.

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ConsoleHaven

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I personally like the brand building narrative. It really justifies WHY the solo challenge is important in the context of a racing event.

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Prats1993

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THE BAD

- Runs at 30fps

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chiefwiggum16

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@Prats1993: So does
Driveclub
The Order 1886
Uncharted 4
Infamous
Sunset Overdrive
and many more

you want a biscuit?

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SimplyTheeBest

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Edited By SimplyTheeBest

@chiefwiggum16: But Horizon 3 is worth buying

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Mickpunx

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@Prats1993: sure thing kid. 30fps is a huge issue isn't it? Oh wait, it's not....at all. And the glitches on PC won't be an issue either

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SirNormanislost

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Edited By SirNormanislost

@mickpunx: i quoted your quote and I'm commenting from my phone which has auto correct i am aware it's wrong

if they had the PC bought for them by rich parents they can still call you peasants since their parents are rich/wealthy etc

i love how you think any of what i said was out of anger, i was just picking apart your comment and pointing out its stupidity (plus it's a slow day at work and I'm bored)

and trying to take the high ground to make me look like the angry one doesn't work when your comments are still there for everyone to read

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Mickpunx

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@SirNormanislost: Hmm, you're creating the perception that you aren't very intelligent.

There's no high ground to take, you are just painting a picture of yourself that is questionable at best. I in fact do have a PC as well, I just prefer my gaming on consoles, it's the whole "peasants" thing that's just a bit old, and people forget that gaming is about games, and people commenting negatively is and always has been a burden of the gaming community. I think if you had been more eloquent in you making a point on my original comment, I might have agreed and retracted my statement, but stamping your feet and calling me a moron doesn't have the marks of a conversationalist. So stick to name calling

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wayneextremity

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@Prats1993: Its considered one of the most responsive 30fps games. i remember when Digital Foundry did an analysis of this with the first Forza Horizon.

Not to mention it looks beautiful. Ive got the demo, and wow.

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ConsoleHaven

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Edited By ConsoleHaven

@Prats1993: not sure if you're being sarcastic or not. The game looks very smooth despite 30 fps as it seems locked there.

4 • 
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DEVILTAZ35

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Edited By DEVILTAZ35

@consolehaven: Plus Xbox S runs a bit quicker anyway so it will hold 30 fps better than the older model. It is exceptionally smooth on a large TV though.

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FBohler

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What the hell is a "kitchen-sink design philosophy"?

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drumjod

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@FBohler: Ever heard the saying "everything but the kitchen sink"? It would mean throwing in everything you can think of without restraint.

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Archangel3371

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Great review. I loved the demo and can't wait to pick up the full game when it launches.

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Daveof89

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Man, I just wish it had VR support... that would be amazeballs

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sephirothsWing

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Edited By sephirothsWing

@Daveof89: that's making me do a sex piss just thinking about it...omg

2 • 

Forza Horizon 3 More Info

Follow
  • 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