Forza Horizon 3 is the latest in the open-world, arcade-sim racer series developed by Playground Games. If you didn’t already, you should check out my review of Forza Horizon 2 because it sets a tone for my expectations. A hint: these expectations are very high.
What was immediately apparent, at least for me, is that this game is built upon the brand new core physics engine powering Forza Motorsport 6. For those of you that wanted a little more sim in your arcade racer, this works out beautifully, ensuring turning driving assists off sees a little more skill required. However, since these physics are based in reality, they do fall apart a bit when you have a ridiculously powerful car. This isn’t surprising, and I thought I’d put that warning out there for anyone thinking about 1500 HP in a normal, road-going vehicle. Speaking of which, here’s where I issue you another word of warning: if you are ONLY into on-road and paved racing, you’re going to find half of this game entirely inaccessible. Fortunately, I don’t mind getting dirty and wet at all, and the handling physics seem nigh identical to Forza Horizon 2 and particularly in respect to Storm Island. In simpler terms, it still feels good… even when you’re driving a Warthog from the year 2554. Drivatars themselves are much the same as established before: sometimes too human which equates to sometimes annoying. To wrap up gameplay, one more very positive note is worth making: progression in this game is entirely non-linear, letting you pick what cars you want to drive at all times. This means that instead of having to deal with slow, lousy cars to get to the fast ones, you can simply hop in a decent vehicle to get acclimated, and continually progress into whatever next vehicle suits your fancy. This open-ended approach is something I hope Forza Motorsport 7 will adopt.
Open-world games are generally associated with massive sundry lists of things to do, and Forza Horizon 3 does not fail this stereotype in any way. Even in my race to the final showcase, I found I had only done 1/3 of what the game has to offer, which is impressive considering how often I chased down little things along the way like Barn Finds and Bucket List challenges. From street races to dirt races to rainy jungles, the size and scope of this scaled down Australia is nothing short of impressive. With plenty to do, plenty of cars to do it with, and no shortage of real estate to do it on, the lover of cars is quite literally in a digital playground as the developer is aptly named.
The sheer amount of graphical know-how that Playground Games has managed to squeeze out of the Xbox One in an open world is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Somehow, they managed to minimally sacrifice debris physics from the predecessor, and completely overshadow it with the use of massively superior water physics effects and dynamic rain drops. There is a clear superiority this game maintains over just about any other open-world racer, and its tasteful use of artificial vibrancy creates a superficial appeal here that rivals its own realism with a sense of allure, and one only needs to start the game to find this out. It gets so immersively beautiful that you might accidentally think you’re a real boat. I also had little-to-no gameplay framerate dips, though I must note that I am on the Xbox One S. The only noticeable quibble I did have, however, is the draw distance pop. This gets a little too noticeable at speed sometimes, and while understandable with what they accomplished, it still stands out in a bad way. Moving into audio is two highlights. The first is that the cars sound fantastic, and have clearly been remastered for existing cars as well as new cars being clearly fresh recordings. The second is that the music choices, while not as exhaustive in selection as its predecessor, are clearly aimed this time at eliciting a sort of clever contrast. From Bust a Move to Trials of Halo theme fame to Hungarian Dance No. 5, don’t be surprised if you find yourself actually turning up the music with a smile.
This game scares me. It scares me because it’s so close to perfect that the next entry either risks being stale because there is not enough room for improvement, or massive changes to the series will need to be made which can cause a huge loss of interest. Sure, the physics fall apart when you slap mid-thousands of horsepower into a normally road-legal vehicle, and some draw distance pop can alarm you visually, but this game is brimming with everything a car lover could ever want. If you love cars and somehow don’t love this game, you either don’t actually love cars, or you have no pulse. If you’ve been looking for a definitive, arcade-sim racer, it’s right here, mate.
I give Forza Horizon 3…