There aren’t many open world racing games that are as fun to play as Playground Games' Horizon series has been over the years. Back in 2014, when I reviewed Forza Horizon 2, I said it “raised the bar” and was the “cream of the crop in the genre and best in its class”. Forza Horizon 3 capitalizes on its predecessor success in every way imaginable and delivers another superb open world racer. This time we go to the beautiful landscapes of Australia.
Graphically, this is the most impressive looking Forza game to date and arguably the best in the entire genre. The landscapes are just eye candy to gaze upon. Compared to Horizon 2 the visuals take a noticeable step up primarily due to the diversity of the map and the new lightning system. Whether you’re cruising the beaches of Surfers Paradise, speeding through the lush forest of Kiewa Valley or just simply doing some off road driving at Ormiston Gorge the world begs to be explored and traveled.
The lightning system at work here also adds to graphical fidelity. The lighting looks amazing during the day but at night, especially during wet weather, the system really shines. The sound work is also second-to-none. Horizon radio returns and its diversity and sheer number of tracks should appeal to fans of all genres, but it goes a bit further this time with the inclusion of Groove Music. If you have a Groove Music subscription, you can use it for music in the game to personalize the experience further.
To accompany the beautiful setting and track list is an impressive catalog of over 350 cars, all which are highly customizable. Unlike the Motorsport series, Horizon 3 doesn’t ask the player to get too involved in the intricacies of car racing and has a more arcade racer feel to it. Fine tuning is here in its fullest if that is your cup of tea, but it’s just not as essential to success as with the Motorsport series. I’ve spent over 60 hours driving in the world and more than half of it wasn’t actually spent racing. That’s because developer Playground Games does a spectacular job of surrounding you with other non-racing events that are really fun to try to beat.
Returning events such as the Bucket List challenges allows you to attempt to beat high scores in some of the premier vehicles, speed zones challenge you to keep your speed above a specified MPH, and other activities such as the showcase events have you racing jets, speedboats, and even trains. There’s a lot of content here but the game doesn’t overwhelm you with it all at once as you unlock more events as you progress.
The Horizon Festival returns again but with a few significant changes. The campaign doesn’t get in the way as it doesn’t go much deeper than building a huge fan base and festival by completing races and the previously mentioned activities. This time around however, you get to run the festival as opposed to just participating in it. You can choose the types of races, time of day, weather, and other elements that fits your style of play. Classic race types such as circuits, cross country, sprints are accompanied by new street races and midnight races that add some variety to the mix. The control the game gives you over your races is one of my favorite additions as it adds a good number different possibilities.
Co-op campaign mode has also made its debut in the series. The whole game is playable in co-op and all progress transfers over to your single player as well. Online matchmaking is as seamless as it has it been in the past making jumping in and out of online sessions quick and simple. Community options offer ways for drivers to meet up and start sessions as well. You can join or create your own club of drivers, go to car meets with random online players, or just simply do an online roam and explore the world with up to 11 friends. Whether you are a solo driver or like to cruise in a crowd there is a lot here for you to do.
Horizon 3 does an excellent job of making progression fun. Experience points are awarded for literally everything you do from driving over 100 mph, drifting, drafting, participating in races and even destroying the environment. Your experience is tied to a skill multiplier that increases the longer you chain together skills without stopping or crashing. Skill points are awarded upon leveling up that can be used for dozens of different upgrades on the new skill tree.
As expected the well-received Drivatars have made a return this year. Drivatars take driving data from your friends list and creates an AI driver to drive for them based on their skill. I still really appreciate this system as it allows for unpredictable drivers on the road and makes the world feel more lived in even when playing single player.
The game runs at a locked 30 frames-per-second so performance was never an issue at all. The PC version is unrestricted and is the best way to experience it if you have the hardware, but this version is certainly comparable.
Forza Horizon 3 is an absolute masterpiece. You’ll be hard pressed to find an open-world racing game that is this visually stunning, sounds this phenomenal, has this much content, and most importantly; this fun to play.
Writer for Darkstation since 2014. I've been playing games my whole life and starting writing about them in 2010. Outside of gaming I enjoy anime and watching my Philadelphia Eagles let me down every Sunday. Follow me on Twitter @jsparis09