Like many others, I have been looking forward to seeing what Playground Games has brought to the table with the latest installment in the Forza Horizon franchise. When the announcement was made at E3 earlier this year that the setting would be in Australia, I was ecstatic.
The freedom that games such as this offers you in terms of deciding how you will play the game, what adventures you will embark on, and if you will keep it a solo experience or delve into co-op campaign battles with your friends, is always refreshing.
There is a beautiful balance of arcade racing versus racing simulation in Forza Horizon 3 (FH3) which is coupled with a vast customization system, meaning that no two experiences in the game will be the same. You can choose what to do, when you want to do it, in the style that suites you the best.
When comparing the size of FH3 to its predecessor FH2, you have approximately about double the terrain to cover, along with a huge number of additional activities that can keep you entertained for hours such as party games, barn finds, cruising cross-country, car customization, the auction house, player-created liveries to download, the list just goes on and on.
You start off by picking a character from a reasonable list of options and a predetermined list of nicknames which is what your assistant Keira will call you throughout the game. A neat little addition is also being able to customize your number plate to add a bit more of your own flavor to the game.
You are the festival boss, drumming up followers for the event, however you don’t have to co-ordinate everything, this is simply a way for the game to show you what you can progress onto next if you wish. Your job is to participate in races, stunt events, bucket list events, speed traps and various other challenges to get more fans to want to attend the festival, in turn creating new festival outposts around the country and opening up more events for you to participate in. Once you have enough fans you can either open up another festival spot or upgrade the one you are currently at and unlock a new wave of events to complete.
There are 350 cars to start with, with the Warthog from Halo being one of them, given as a reward to gamers who played the Master Chief Collection. Whilst it’s an awesome experience getting to race around in the Warthog, one thing that disappointed me slightly was it doesn’t drive like the Warthog should. All 4 wheels don’t turn at the same time which changes the dynamics of the vehicle, none the less though, it’s still awesome fun.
There is a strong focus on encouraging you to get out on the road and not spend too much time in the menus, with the return again of your trusty navigation system: ANNA. However, keep in mind that you will have to get used to cars coming at you from the correct side of the road because in Australia, we drive on the left hand side of the road, the way it’s meant to be.
Keira, your assistant, will prompt you with the races and events that are available for you to participate in, including showcase events with cars air-lifted by a helicopter, racing against freight trains, you know – just an average day in the world of Forza Horizon.
There is a much stronger focus on off-road racing in FH3 than you would be used to in FH2, with a huge variety of landscapes for you to tackle. Long sandy beaches (look amazing at sunset), rivers, rain forests, muddy banks and slippery slopes, dirt tracks and paved roads, outback terrain and much more. The further you progress the more of the amazing Australian countryside and coast line you get to see.
Drivatars are back again so you can be as social as you like or choose to just interact with AI and you can actually recruit your Drivatar friends to race for you, and fire them at will, to earn bonus rewards. To drive the roads against other live gamers you need to go online which is a seamless process where I experienced no lag, however it is slightly frustrating when you first jump on excited to play with your friends to find out that there is over an hours’ worth of solo play that must be completed before you can join them.
The Xbox live party allows you to jump in with three others mates for campaign co-op instantly regardless of if they are on the Xbox One or Windows 10 PC, and the progress you make carries back over with you to your solo campaign. In the online Australia mode 12 people can join up and cruise around on a cross-country adventure, stopping along the way to compete in races or chill out in various party games such as King, Infected or Flag Rush (effectively Capture the Flag), which also allows you to rack up even more XP based on the way you drive, or crash, your way to the various destinations. Oh, and don’t worry, you can rewind by a couple of seconds if you make a mistake in campaign.
The time of the day and the weather you are racing in will dictate just how messed up your shiny car will be when you reach your destination as it gets covered in mud, has sand flying up on the windscreen, rain beating down on the hood etc., and when talking about how the cars look it’s important to note how they sound – they sound exactly how they should, from the engine down to the screech of the tires. As always, the attention to detail in this area of the game has not been overlooked by Playground Games and adds another layer of what I like to call ‘Awesomeness’ to the experience.
FH3 is the first game to offer high-dynamic range (HDR) support on the Xbox One S which provides better contrast (brighter whites, darker blacks) creating a crisper image. If you own an Xbox One S and plan on playing FH3 in HDR it’s important to ensure you have the correct set up. For all the details on that please click here.
Any given region can offer you sometimes up to 50 different activities once you have completed upgrading everything. When you put that together over the four regions, that is an awful lot of stuff to get done when you are just focusing on the campaign.
The Skill Tree and Perks are now three times more extensive than in FH2 enabling you to have even more customization towards the way you play the game as you progress through the Skill Tree and gain more perks to unlock even better perks. You also have the ability to purchase XP as well as earn bonuses that get you closer to owning even more vehicles.
The wheel spins are back as you progress through the levels, offering you cash and vehicle rewards and for those that prefer to get their rewards whilst on the road though, even more point and XP boards have been placed around for you to find and collect, along with barn finds which hide the classic cars that are available for you to collect once you discover their approximate locations and then track them down among the sometimes very dense vegetation.
Dynamic lighting coupled with the host scenery is what really takes your breath away, with locations such as Byron Bay, the Twelve Apostles, and Surfers Paradise along the way to showcase the beauty of Australia. Maybe I am a little bias when it comes to my opinion of how gorgeous Australia is because I am an Australian myself, but that does not take away from the fact that it actually is simply stunning.
What’s the one thing you want when cruising down a highway staring out across gorgeous beaches and dense bush land? A cranking music playlist – that’s what! FH3 does not disappoint in this area either. There is a large variety of radio stations to listen too and as the festival boss you are required to sign on different stations, eventually ‘unlocking’ them all. So you have the ability to choose the ones you are most interested in upfront and unlock the others at a later time.
When it comes to the ‘Aussie’ accents that you hear in the game, I must say I was a tad let down by this. Not because they were terrible, but because they were astoundingly cliché. Any Aussie who plays this game will be saying to the person next to them “We don’t sound like that!”. The actual fact of the matter is depending on where you are in Australia accents vary ever so slightly and the reason I say that the voice acting in FH3 is cliché is because they seem to have been taken purely from the outback variant of our accent which is usually what the rest of the world does. That is a small part of our population and does not actually reflect our overall accent accurately. Whilst you may have had a pre-conceived conception that Australia is mainly desert and rocks, FH3 is about to teach you better (although the accents try to convince you otherwise!).
You are not forced into listening too other characters’ life stories either, which I really appreciated. Your character is effectively a mute, never speaking and your interaction with other in-game characters is minimal. Your assistant lets you know what’s up next, ANNA your GPS is there when you call for her, and there is no concern of being pulled into some predetermined story line where you have to save your brother, or stop a gang of thieves etc., it’s just you, your car and the road when playing solo.
Turn 10 and Playground Games have not disappointed, and I don’t think anyone thought they would. Forza Horizon has always been impressive and diverse in the magnitude of activities you can undertake without having to be restricted to playing the game the way someone else wants you too.
Another notable change in this iteration of the franchise is the steering wheel compatibility seems to have had a lot more attention paid to it than previous installments in the franchise, as the controls feel a lot smoother and handling has improved dramatically. This is based on using the same steering wheel (the Thrustmaster Ferrari 458 – yes people, laugh it up) for both FH2 and FH3.
The Season Pass for FH3 has already been announced, coming in at $35 USD, with the first of two expansions arriving this holiday, so there is plenty more content on the way to keep you entertained if you somehow manage to work your way through everything that you have on your plate already in this game.
For PlayStation 4 owners who have a gaming capable PC and are disappointed at the delay of Gran Turisno Sport (GTS) until 2017, this is certainly a great option to keep you entertained until your GTS lands next year.
In conclusion, FH3 is a rocking time, with STUNNING graphics, tons of customization and a never ending list of things to keep you occupied. I could have rambled on for several more pages talking about the different aspects of this game in detail and why I’m so impressed but that would kind of defeat the purpose of you getting out there and experiencing it for yourself. I highly recommend FH3 to anyone basically as you don’t need to be a fan of racing games to be able to enjoy what FH3 brings to the party. Well done Playground Games, well done.