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

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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Prats1993

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Yet another great multi platform game for PC. Can't wait to play it in 60 fps, the way it is meant to be played.

19 • 
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Itzsfo0

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@Prats1993: I played it on the xb1...runs fine, looks fine (read the comments above) the game was primarily reviewed on XB1 and w/ the new xb1 "s" the game runs as good as it could easy 48-50 fps without effort solid visuals, night-time driving is great overall game runs pretty well right out of the box so uh...yea really doesn't matter what you play it on (cause I can launch Mario Kart 8 on Wii U for 60 fps steady all..day...long) I can play Dying Light at 60fps on PS4, so fowarth and so fowarth, it really comes down to the title how well it runs, and we assume after a few patches/DLC the game wouldn't get "worse". Personally this is how I think all games should be, launch right out of the gate running solid for "both" platforms. I saw a friend playing today on his PC, I had XB1 just hours before...I saw no huge difference, nothing that made me want to "run out" and grab it on the other platform, this game looks good and runs good no matter what. Not 1 frame-rate dip on the XB1 and I've already spent several hours not to mention if you get it on the PC and enjoy it, more power to you nobodys hating. But personally this game was "meant" to be played however you decide, cause it runs fine on both platforms (as did the other releases) so...besides I've played tons of games that were not 60fps (hell half of the handheld games out there are not 60fps) and they run just fine. I dont quite get the idea of "im running at a slightly improved frame-rate, even though this title can run just fine at 30-40fps somehow it was meant to be run that way" lol I can run World of Warcraft w/ a guild and 40 players on a screen at 38 fps and...game runs fine, the content gets completed, and so it wasnt until this past year or two did I hear people babbling about 60 fps (and even give a shit) about it lol. Oh well thats the comments section debates, spec comparisons and frame rates...meanwhile I'll go do "what was meant to be done" IE play the game regardless of platform, spec, fps - just play. If it runs, as all the games I play DO...then thats all that matters. I can play PC, console or handheld...and 99% of all the games I play, and have played (in nearly 3 decades of gaming) whether it was 60fps or 45 fps or 30fps I enjoyed the content, Xenoblade Chronicles X the 380 hours I invested in that game I know for a fact it wasnt 60fps...close, but no cigar...and the game was fine...we could all talk about Witcher 3 and big open world rpgs on the consoles which we know are not running at 60 fps standard...some upgrades and customization aside...I dont get it...I played all of these games on console[s] beat them, completed no game breaking issues...isnt that whats "meant" to be done ? beat the game regardless of device your currently using ? Enjoy it, beat it...onto next title. Lol, I've had frame-rate issues on PC as much as any other device...and with all the upgrading that goes into those devices...eh to each their own I love all of them no fanboy here but...I don't get the point to debating it..just thank god Forza H 3 came out of box ready and running.

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chiefwiggum16

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@Itzsfo0: ...You honestly expect anyone to read that?

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Javy

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@Prats1993: shut up pc nerd, go make halo maps for xbone owners NOW!!!!

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Mickpunx

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Edited By Mickpunx

@Prats1993: oh no! PeeCee mustard rice alert!

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Prats1993

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@mickpunx: Enjoy that buttery smooth 30fps.

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starjay009

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What a beautiful game ! Loved the demo. Love Forza - the best racing franchise ever. Can't wait for my Ultimate Edition on the 23rd. Will be a blast ! Simply a good enough reason to own an XB1.

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Alucard_Prime

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@starjay009: Same here, took a day off work for this !!!

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starjay009

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@Alucard_Prime: I wish I could do that. But gotta go to work; need some cash after I spent it all on the Ultimate Edition LOL !

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Alucard_Prime

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@starjay009: Hehe no worries bro, at least you'll know something awesome is waiting at the end of that workday :)

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starjay009

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@Alucard_Prime: True that ! :)

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Lastofus234

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any body know what a good driving wheel cost these days i used to love playing racing games with the wheels and pedals

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chiefwiggum16

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No mention of HDR....someone over at gamespot is too poor for a nice tv. Playground Games have solidified themselves as an excellent developer and if Microsoft knows whats best for them. They would lock them up as a great talent.

6 • 
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siarhei

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@chiefwiggum16: May I suggest watching AGG review then? The guy really knows his stuff, and spends time talking about her and how much difference it makes.

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scottyp360

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@chiefwiggum16: I was looking for this in the review too. I'm curious how much of a difference and improvement the HDR adds to the game, or any game really it would help be a determining factor as to whether or not to upgrade my tv and console in the next year or so.

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siarhei

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@scottyp360: According to AGG review on YouTube, her is very noticeable.

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EXxile

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The Forza Horizon franchise is by far my favorite racing series on the market, and my favorite in a very long time. Friday can't come soon enough.

Side note: Anyone still waiting on a code to get the Halo Warthog? I am.

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rasterror

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@EXxile: I already got mine. It came sometime last week.

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VanquishRE

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@EXxile: My code broke gg. Won't download and disappears from my ready to install after redeeming it.

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acerock980

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Edited By acerock980

@EXxile: They sent me 2

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EXxile

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@acerock980: And here I am still waiting on mine lol. Damn.

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acerock980

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@EXxile: I'll give you the extra one if you want it.

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EXxile

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Edited By EXxile

@acerock980: Really? Man, I would love to have it if you don't mind, and it would be really appreciated as well. If you want, you can message me here.

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acerock980

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@EXxile: Yea just send me your email or whatever and I'll send you the screen shot of the code

2 • 
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EXxile

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@acerock980: Again - thank you

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phili878

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The last time I played a car game was with my voodoo2 12MB GPU back in I think 1995. I had a blast. Maybe it is time to get back to it....

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MegamanX97

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Never bought a racing game in forever. Pre-ordered this one because it looked amazing. Can't wait to fire it up!

2 • 
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stickybun

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The demo was so goddamn fun. One of the few games I pre-downloaded.

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haven't played a good racing game in while might get this

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Edited By DeadP00l

I have the ultimate edition preordered. I'll be tearing up the streets all weekend. I can already tell a lot of hours will be put into this game. Thinking about a wheel/pedal purchase.

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Edited By Bread_or_Decide

Xbox having a great fall season. First the Slim does 4K right and now here come the games.

20 • 

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 Rating122 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