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.
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Javy

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Wow gamespot gave a positive review on xbone game??? I though you guys were kissing sonys flat ass? Oh well another xbone exclusive with good review

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PinchySkree

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@javy: Platforms: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

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deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

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@javy: or maybe it's just because the games usually suck? nah, must be conspiracy. *put's tinfoil hat back on*

27 • 
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Xenro4

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Wow, this game looks amazing. I played the hell out of the original game, but missed the 2nd one. Will probably just skip the 2nd one now because this one looks so nice. Love the fact you can customize stuff in this one.

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blprater

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@Xenro4: Don't skip the second one, its a great game. Buy it, play the shit out it and pick this one up after some price drops!

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SimplyTheeBest

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@blprater: And get your butt kicked online by everyone who bought it at launch

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scottyp360

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So where are the MS fanboys crying that gamespot are xbox haters? I guess they disappear when a review releases that contradicts their argument.

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Javy

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@scottyp360: yeah im so surprise by this review i can't even type my comment

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SimplyTheeBest

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@scottyp360: sonyspot removed a point for it being published and owned by MS

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scottyp360

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@simplytheebest: This is exactly the type of comments I was expecting. I always find these comments to entertaining. Like do people actually believe in these conspiracy theories, and if so, why do they care so much about one sites review?

The funniest part is when gamespot's review correlates with other reviews on the internet. I can understand if gamespot's review is an outlier (like if everyone rates a game around 8 and gamespot is at a 6) that looks a bit suspicious but when their review score is in line with the consensus then the "xbox haters, Sony fanboys" arguement is kind of moot. People also forget the gamespot was one of the only sites to not score the last of us in the 9-10 range

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Sam3231

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@scottyp360: I concur with SimplyTheeBest post. The phenomenon you are describing is due to the fact that most people can't get over their first branded TV or stereo headphones thus skewing future generations opinions of Sony products resulting in multiple review outlets overrating them.

Sonyspot more like Sonyworld.

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deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

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@simplytheebest: lol. there we go.

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xantufrog

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xantufrog  Moderator

Looks pretty great. I'm definitely tempted. Waiting to hear how it performs on PC and then I might dive in!

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starjay009

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Edited By starjay009

@xantufrog: PC version will always have issues ! I am a PC gamer mostly and Forza 6 Apex Edition wasn't that great in terms of performance on my brother's Win 10 gaming PC although I have worked around most of the issues by some tweaking. Same thing with this one. But I prefer playing it on the XB1. Game still looks gorgeous and runs much stably.

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deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

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Uh... standard version (59€) releases in 27th in my country, but for 99€ i can buy the Ultimate Edition, which i can buy to access the game already in 23rd.

This is a new level of absolute bull$hit. Here i was thinking about buying a racing game after a long time, but i gotta reconsider. "Wanna play a new game this weekend?! PAY UP EXTRA, MOTHAFAKAAAH!"

This is MS Market on PC that i'm talking about. Plus i don't trust MS Market. I had few games that sinked with Games For Windows Live Store account when it was shut down. That will inevitably happen again for the MS Market, so i'm not stupid enough to add games anymore to any Windows market account. Waiting for Steam version.

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SouXouX

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@groowagon: So you won't buy it because other people get to play it a couple of days ahead? Wow, you just WANT to be negative don't you?
When games release on different continents with a couple of days in between each other at the SAME price, does that give you a rage as well?

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deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

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@souxoux: You just WANT to misunderstand me, don't you? I would buy the Ultimate version, if i were to buy this game, but since it's not in Steam, i will not buy it. What i'm saying is that it's an unfair business model to make the most expensive version to have an early access, especially when it's weekend between the normal release.

There's no reason why those other versions couldn't be released the same time. The reason they do this is to boost the sale of the version with the highest profit. I'm not saying the Ultimate version is bad value, i'm just saying there's no reason the other versions are released later.

Having early beta access is a different story, since the game is not yet final. We're talking about a final game here with different release dates for no other real reason than making bigger profit.

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EXxile

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Edited By EXxile

@groowagon: You're making it sound like the Ultimate Edition is only to get 4 days early access but in truth that's just an added bonus since the Ultimate Edition includes a SteelBook, the Forza Horizon 3 Car Pass, VIP Membership, and the Motorsport All-Stars Car Pack. I think the only thing you'll be missing if you're buying the PC version is just the Steelbook.

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deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

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@EXxile: i know! it's just that early access should've not been one of those things. they are monetizing on the weekend access. that's what's happening here.

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EXxile

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@groowagon: How is that a bad thing though? Especially if you're the one buying the Ultimate Edition, you're spending more money for essentially the additional content, but getting 4 days early access is not a bad thing - it's a bonus. I'm buying the UE for the additional content, not the early access. If someone is buying the Ultimate Edition PURELY on the 4 days of early access that's on them for being a fool. I mean, the actual release date for this game is September 27, so it's not like the people buying the regular edition are getting shafted, because they're getting it on the actual release date.

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deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

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@EXxile: it's a dirty trick to give a new big title a WEEKEND access for the most expensive version of the game. i'm not saying that the other content is bad value, i'm only saying that the weekend access is a down right dirty trick.

you are saying that it's a nice bonus. you think monetizing on early access should be more common?

do you know why the actual release date is 27th? so they can pull this off. it's not like someone forced them to release it on 27th... game is obviously ready for launch already in 23rd...

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EXxile

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@groowagon: Meh, agree to disagree. Games usually don't release on Fridays, so either the 20th (today) or the 27th as a release date make sense. Tuesdays are a common release date for games universally.

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deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

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@EXxile: you don't agree that early access alone should not be monetized on, if someone were to do that?

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EXxile

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@groowagon: No, I agree with you on that. If this were to become common practice then I would have to be on par with you.

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deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

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@EXxile: ok now we're on the same page then.

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EXxile

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@groowagon: In the case of this becoming a common occurrence, then yes.

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Alucard_Prime

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@EXxile: Indeed!

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starjay009

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@groowagon: That's what you call incentive bro. If you pay a lot of money, you need a very good reason to do so; in this case, that would be getting to play this beauty this Friday itself compared to those buying the cheaper versions of the game.

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deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

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@starjay009: having an early access is not one of those things, though.

imagine if some big game like Halo would be sold for 150€ to get a months early access. would that be fair?

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VH0515

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Edited By VH0515

@groowagon: It would be fair to the people who are willing to pay for it. It's not shady building m, it's just done to increase margins for a certain amount of time. Of course though, a month out is unrealistic, a week though wouldn't be.

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TysonTalksBad

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@groowagon: it's 4 days. quit crying.

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deactivated-5bda06edf37ee

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@tysontalksbad: i'm not crying since i'm not even buying. i'm just point out that it's a shady business model.

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TysonTalksBad

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@groowagon: nothing shady about it. It's 4 days. It's a better incentive than most game trying to sell season passes.

You are crying. Quit.

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zinten

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already got the ultimate ordered cant wait to play it in 2 days.

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OC40

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@zinten: I have never played FH, but I expect to purchase this. Have you purchased the UE for other FH games? I'm leaning toward the UE, but I am not sure. Any insight is appreciated.

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93ChevyNut

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Was planning on buying this anyway, but still glad it reviewed well. My G920 with H-shifter is ready!

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deactivated-5afeea4d8be41

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The demo was great, I look forward to playing the full game.

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Prats1993

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As someone who lives in Australia this looks nothing like Australia, lol.

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Highhate

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Edited By Highhate

@Prats1993: I mean, Australia is pretty big. Are you certain that this game looks in no way like any part of Australia?

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Prats1993

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@highhate: It looks like someone from the art department stared at pictures of Australia in magazines and postcards. It works in the context of a game environment but it doesn't exactly look "real".

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starjay009

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@Prats1993: Well the development team camped in Australia to gather real data on the terrain, road ways etc. So you telling us they are wrong ?! Well.. it's a game, and of course it won't incorporate everything just like real life. But the Australian essence is indeed there.

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Alucard_Prime

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Same reviewer of Forza 6, so I gather you enjoyed this more than the already incredible Forza 6. I'm also more a Horizon fan now, glad to see this spinoff series evolving on its own....I'll be playing this one for hundreds of hours

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@Alucard_Prime: I loved Forza Horizon 2 but I think FH3 does a better job in holding your attention after the campaign credits roll. I'm not keen on comparing Forza Motorsport with Horizon given their fundamental differences but I do anticipate putting in more hours into FH3 than Forza 6.

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EXxile

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@Alucard_Prime: Same. I actually prefer Horizon over the Motorsport series now. Horizon is just too damn fun.

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Savior4Life

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Not one mention of car customization. It's only what most people are interested in seeing. Or no mention of PC performance/options either. Good job GS.

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siarhei

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@Savior4Life: if it doesn't make the car go faster, why mention it? ;)

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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 Rating121 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Forza Horizon 3
    Developed by:
    PLAYGROUND
    Published by:
    Microsoft Game Studios
    Genre(s):
    Simulation, Driving/Racing
    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