September 30, 2016

Forza Horizon 3 - Review

When the debut trailer for Forza Horizon 3 was shown at E3, my first thought was not about the cars or gameplay, it was purely about the location, Australia. Having spent the last few weeks driving across the game world and experiencing everything, does it meet the tough Australian standard?

While Horizon 3 does give you a semblance of a story to follow, It does not have events that change how things play out, its more that as you progress, things can improve. This time, you are not a random racer attempting to be the Horizon champion, something that was the trend in the first two games, but now you are the boss, the big cheese, making decisions and shaping the festival. What it really means, outside of selecting new locations for the festival is that you can choose the events and shape them to what you want, which is perhaps the best addition to the series.

Customization is really the word here, you can now change up the races, making your own and sharing them with friends, on top of that you can now craft your own bucket list challenges and while the start points are fixed, the type of event that you have is entirely up to you, including the weather and music. The other big addition in terms of customization is the cars themselves, while the increase in cars is much greater than the previous entry, at least the initial on disc content, now you can add body kits and really change up how the cars look. Of course, you can still paint the cars however you want, or download a range of community made options, but the body kits are the biggest addition.

Speaking of biggest, the world of Australia is massive, from the sandy beaches of Byron Bay, through to the farm land of the Yarra Valley and to the Outback as well, there are a lot of locations to discover. While the world of Horizon 2 did contain many great locations to explore, the size of Australia is just amazing, with a lot of the fun places to be found, once you leave the roads behind and that is in part thanks to the lack of walls. Of course, with the lovely open spaces, there is a need for better cars and while its tempting to take the latest and greatest super car off road, there is a whole new range of cars. The buggies are the new cars and when you take them off road, they can really shine as they take control of the land and water ways.

Of course, driving around on your own is really only part of the package, the meat of the game comes from the events, be they the standard events, or the ever impressive showcases. Races return in both point to point and circuit options, but this time you won’t have to complete a championship at each horizon hub, you can simply choose to do single races and other events. The speed traps are back, as well as the speed zones but now they are also joined by drift zones and danger jumps and while the new challenges are welcome, they are all much more of a challenge across the board, thanks to the star system on them. Gaining a single star will net you a small reward, but getting two or three stars will see a much larger reward granted to you, so the draw to try and get the best score or longest jump will see you trying over and over.

Though, while there is a level of polish across the events, locations and detail on the cars, there is a big letdown with the drivatars and the cars that drive around the world. The Drivatar system has been around for a while in the Forza games and in Horizon 2 they were just there, but here, I found more instances of them randomly appearing near me and driving far more erratic than in the past. Of course, given that they are based of real world drivers, it makes sense that they each behave a little differently, but their behaviour in races is pretty normal, but on the open roads they drive very crazy. The regular cars on the road are pretty normal, but the game seemed to be content to through loads of them around the speed traps whenever I was attempting to best my speed, while not as frustrating as the drivatars, crashing into cars that appear randomly was annoying.

Even if the cars randomly popped up around me, they still looked pretty amazing, which is a detail that carries across to most every other part of the game. The cars that you can drive are all detailed with such attention to detail, it is impressive to see, but when you tie that into the detail that you can see around all the locations, it becomes even more so. Each of the regions are distinct enough that you will never think you are somewhere else, the high ride buildings of Surfers Paradise are objects that you can see from quite a distance, but then driving up alongside them, they stand tall and look great. The best compliment that I can give the visuals is that it feels like Australia, living here all my life, driving around country roads, leaving the asphalt and hitting the dirt roads it feels like I could be driving around my own town. However, there is a downside to the visuals, there is a level of pop in on objects in the distance, which can distract from time to time, be it trees, houses or even cars, the pop in is noticeable and the only real flaw on the visuals.

When it comes to audio, Horizon 3 has such a great mix, between the cars themselves, sounds of the country and crowds at the festival hubs to the music on the radio stations. While I am not a car guy, I can appreciate the noise that each of the cars makes as you blast down the roads at insane speeds and then drift around a tight corner, while dodging oncoming traffic, it really does sound nice. Most of the previous Horizon channels are back, with one now dedicated to Australian music, but the big addition is Groove, which is the Microsoft streaming service, while the default playlist will select current popular songs, you can also choose to play your own music, making it much more personal. The biggest change to the radio stations this time though, is the addition of skills songs, they will randomly be selected and when you drive around while listening them, all skills points earned are doubled, giving you even more of a boost.

Forza Horizon 3 is a game that without a doubt, ranks as one of the best racing games ever created, it continues the legacy of past games, but brings in much more than just some new cars. Australia gives a chance for new events and cars to shine, but at the same time highlights the country, if you are looking for the truest video game version of Australia, you will find it here. FH3 is worthy of your time, no matter how steeped you are in car culture, so jump in, start the engine up, crank up the radio and enjoy it.

Thanks to Microsoft for supplying the game for review.

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