Forza Horizon 3 continues where the previous entry left off in the most direct way possible. This isn’t meant as an insult, but an homage to the daydreams of driving and all it entails. An activity that many people would call a rudimentary chore. But for those who still appreciate the motoring pastime with enjoying freedom, this game does a fantastic job of letting you do wherever you want, in a larger-than-life road tour.
Ever since the first Horizon arrived on the Xbox 360, the concept of open-world driving games always came with some sort of obnoxious catch. Most titles that came before was usually exuded a gritty atmosphere tied to a premise of completing objectives, with the ultimate goal of lighting up some underground circuit or exacting vengeance from a street kingpin. And thankfully, once again, FH3 resists falling into the same exhausted tropes.
No, FH3 doesn’t stray from its predecessor and Australia is pretty much yours to explore almost immediately. It helps that after creating your avatar you’re introduced to the great outback by racing in a Lamborghini Centenario, readying you to the biggest car festival yet. Whether or not you identify at least one thing is clear: this game is a celebration of petrolheaded fantasy.
Compared to the holiday spent in southern Europe, exploring the better parts of mid-eastern Australia has a nicely rural and more adventurous vibe — covering a vast expanse that’s roughly twice the size of the previous title. Taking direct landmark cues from the metropolis of Brisbane, Byron Bay, Gondwana rainforests, and harsh red interior deserts. Another dynamic is the changing weather which is unpredictable, and something that the mainland series woefully lacks even in its sixth iteration.
On top of these elemental touches FH3 is engaging to play over again, because there are few restrictions to adhere to when playing. You won’t need to worry about how you get to your next destination or which mission to focus on; hell, it doesn’t matter who reckless you are since there’s nothing you can be penalized against.
For example, want to drive a $335,000 Rolls-Royce Dawn right off a cliff? Sure thing. Water folding in a LaFerrari? Good to go. Yearning to carve the corners in a quick, three-wheeled Reliant Supervan III? Who’s going to stop you? With literally no rules on how to satisfy non-racing curiosities, the world (and a growing roster of over 350 cars) is your potentially absurd oyster. Of course it would technically be better to pick the right car for the job, but who needs practicality when barreling through dense vegetation on a whim?
There’s also no median on how to gain points either. Drive with precision and tact and you’re rewarded in healthy multiples without a conceivable limit, or carelessly crash through fences and weave like you’re drunk in traffic. The scoring is seemingly equal in theory with numerous driver perks and unlockable handicaps that keep bonuses coming. For staunch perfectionists and the inexperienced, you can utilize the rewind feature (the do-over) and skip things back a couple of seconds.
All of this vehicular tomfoolery makes sense when you realize how transparent the plot is. You’re the showrunner of a globetrotting summer festival that is about music, big engines, growing fanbase, and localized mayhem to come. Playground Games knows the plot is throwaway and that’s OK, because it’s all in the service of offering you as much liberty as possible. You start out doing some simple races and recruiting members (drivatars), but soon more activities open up from creating event races, speed camera challenges, and showcases that involve helicopters air-lifting vehicles and racing freight trains.
Things will get even more ridiculous when you get bored of CPU racers and go online. The matchmaking is seamless, and had some variants that went beyond the usual aspects of racing such as Infection, Capture The Flag, and Team Races. As a whole lag and random dropouts were nonissues, and the experience fells amazingly integrated if you just want to cruise around with other human beings.
Nothing is daunting because nearly all of these activities can be done at your leisure, and there isn’t a rush to do anything. Some of the best things in the game you’ll come across occur by accident from picturesque scenery to barn finds, inevitably either your navigation assistant Anna or trusty mechanic Warren will chime in, and Keira who works in PR will inform when time is right to make big moves.
Presentation-wise, FH3 is one of the more polished titles to grace the Xbox One, and beautiful at first glance on the console. I’ll openly admit that the lighting and dynamics bring a vivid lushness to Australia, an environmental trait that Forza Motorsport mildly sacrifices for technical simulation. As far as audio goes, each vehicle portraying its own symphony of force is expected — an approximate representation if you know your engines — sounding like heavenly gospel.
It wasn’t yet available at the time of the writing, but FH3 is one of Microsoft’s first Play Anywhere title, which means picking this up on the Xbox One automatically nets you the Windows version, and vice versa. but those with the appropriate PC gear should expect considerably improved visuals – up to 4K if your graphics card can support it – and more stable framerates. But the game is expected to run faithfully on either platform, so there’s nothing to fear from console/PC harmony.
It’s obvious that Forza Horizon 3 is keen on doing absolutely everything that it’s actually pretty stupid. Yes, this spinoff series relishes in making even the dumbest, ludicrous, and most inconceivable scenarios a reality; yet it remains so genuine that it’s nearly impossible not to love it, even just a little bit. To be fair, Horizon has always thrived on the do-anything approach, and FH3 continues to embrace its formula head-on.
Even after a week of playing I honestly don’t know if this game has an end. But I guess none of that really matters as I launch a 1940 Ford Deluxe Coupe off of sand dunes…for no reason at all.