Forza Horizon is a series that could have been an utter failure. However with the dedication of its development team at Playground Games, and the financial backing of Microsoft Studios it became hugely popular and critically acclaimed for its fun and vibrant open world racing. Forza Horizon 3 takes the known and loved roots of the series, digs them up then plants them in Australian soil before pumping them full of graphical enhancements, stunts and wild Aussie energy.
The introductory sequence as always is a bold self-admiring testament to the incredible visuals and the variety of environments on offer. You drive the 2017 Lamborghini Centenario along The Great Ocean Road, soon diving into the Yarra Valley to showcase the incredible forests, after which you’re mysteriously warped into a monstrous Range Rover for some offroading. You soon learn that some vehicles cope better racing along Byron Bay than others, as you fly through the shallows, the other drivers hastily engaging windscreen wipers in your wake.
You are quickly introduced to a highly enthusiastic Australian, and a cool, likable Irish woman who act as your personal advisers. Then you’re prompted to customise your appearance and to pick from a roster of fantastic of pre-recorded names. I almost went for ‘Master Chief’, but figured ‘Commander’ would roll off my satnav A.I’s tongue better. Silliness aside there are numerous ordinary names: Tom, for example.
Didn’t I say? You’re the boss now. Thats right, the game has changed and it’s now up to you to grow the festival from a niche indie do, to a world renowned party. To achieve this all you have to do is play the game – not much strategic depth, but you came here to drive fast, win races and knock over picket fences- not play an events management simulator!
Graphically Forza Horizon 3 has no competition. It runs at 1080p as you would expect, however the lighting and textures are breathtaking. The dynamic weather system creates billowing clouds which shower down on the road making the tarmac glisten. The windscreen wiper animation captures in impressive detail individual droplets of rain being shunted away to briefly reveal the route ahead. Its when the rain subsides and the sun’s rays pierce the clouds that Forza Horizon 3‘s graphical superiority becomes evident – and as the ensuing sunset bathes the world in its orange glow the lines between reality and art become closer than ever.
Playground Games even implemented a photo mode where you can take high definition screenshots of your car overlooking Byron Bay as the sun sets; or maybe in the Outback at one of the numerous beauty spots. With Forza Motorsport 6 we saw incredible graphics, but now they can be shown off properly, away from the race track.
The impressive visual clarity is rivaled only by the wonderful audio: the unique engine sounds are enough to make a car enthusiast drool, and the crunching noise of crops giving way under tyres is unbelievably satisfying. Its the intricate attention to detail such as the shrill wheel screeches and the clicking of gear changes that really adds immersion to the experience.
Then there’s the music: a collection of radio stations built around a rich array of musical tastes ranging from hip-hop to heavy metal and back via the classical era. If none of that is for you then there is also the option to download your Groove music playlist into the game! The radio stations are all built around the festival vibe, making every road trip feel like a celebration and causing every hub to feel alive as the music blasts from bassy speaker systems.
Forza Horizon 3 plays much like it always has; being accessible and satisfying in equal measure to rookies and racing veterans alike. Tampering with difficulty and assists changes up how cars behave under your control giving you plenty of opportunity to alter the challenge. Each assist removed equals a credits bonus making winning that much sweeter.
Cars all feel unique and react differently to the environment, and with so many new environmental factors including puddles, sand dunes and jumps this changes up the experience so that the same race can play out in a variety of ways depending on the vehicle. There are more race types than ever in more locales than ever, with sprints, lapped races and offroad variants forming the basis of championships whilst street races and crazy showcase events offer exciting twists to the gameplay. Also along the way are PR stunts: a mixture of speed traps, drift zones and jumps which fill the open world with further things to conquer.
The game itself is clinically organised. Races and PR stunts provide you with money, fans, skill points and experience points, each of which further your advancement through the game. Everything runs like clockwork with numbers constantly crunching around your screen, it plays into my sense of constant progression but despite this I find myself tiring quickly of the races on offer. The option of doing exhibition races before unlocking a championship based around the same tracks stretches the game rather thin.
However this is remedied by the seamless online coop, where a friend can join the festival to help you better your furthest PR jump or add some unpredictable twists to championships. Experiencing a game such as this is best with company, especially when the occasional glitch causes one to get stranded atop a rock like a beached whale.
Online multiplayer is as hilarious as ever with an all new arena mode: Flag Rush, joining a roster of fun, varied competitions. Thankfully this time ghosting is more dynamic and prevents crashed players from ruining everyone else’s game. Also by awarding players on their clean racing and skills as well as their finishing position, the competitive nature of events becomes more tactical and less destructive. It levels the playing field so that newcomers aren’t instantly crushed.
Unfortunately online advantages to those who have more skills unlocked seems detrimental to the balancing, introducing bias on the side of more experienced players. I found this especially annoying in the voting system where some were allocated two votes, making me feel short changed whenever I was voting for the next championship – a small complaint in an otherwise exceptional racer.