FORZA HORIZON 3 [Race-Off Review]: Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!
GEEK – The Champ. Is. HEEEEERE! I feel like I’ve painted myself into a proverbial corner. Even before it was officially announced, when the GHG congregation was discussing who would potentially be covering and reviewing upcoming “big games”, I immediately chose Forza Horizon 3. It took me a whole second to decide.
Forza Horizon is not only my favorite racing franchises, it’s one of my favorite gaming franchises. Hell, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “Oh, I love Forza Horizon. And I don’t even like racing games”, I’d have.. well.. about 15 bucks, to be honest. I’m in a corner though, because I have to condense a long list of great things to write about into this article. But I’ll do my best here. Let’s break it down.
Graphics: I was so happy when I found out this game wasn’t coming to 360. As beautiful as FH2 looked, it was ultimately held back having to still run on a next gen system. No longer. The game is stunning. Screenshots really do not do it justice; you have to see it in motion and play it to really appreciate just how much attention to detail is packed into this experience. The water and rain effects from Motorsport 6, the dynamic lighting, the lush jungles, smoke effects, reflections, sand physics.. I can’t stress enough the fact that you really have to sit down and play it for a while to really appreciate just how gorgeous this game is.
Gameplay: Cars handle beautifully and accurately, or at least how I’d imagine they would. OK look–I’ve driven off-road in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, and have streetraced a bit, so I can at least vouch for some of the cars’ (i.e. BMWs, Acuras, Jeeps, Range Rovers) faithful handling. The variety is ridiculous and unparalleled. After the first few races, you get introduced to the Horizon Blueprints, which let you take the race that you’re about to have and turn it into whatever the hell you want. Want to turn this entire game into a modern rally game? Go ahead. Into a sports car or supercar festival? Again, your call.
The game gives you an unparalleled level of control. Players can turn it into whatever type of racing game you want at any time, especially when you start expanding your festival to different sites (and upgrading said sites to unlock more races and events). That being said, between that, the online features, the different difficulties, adapting drivatars, car clubs, and champion, replayability is not something you need to be worried about (take it from someone that was still playing FH2 last week).
Sound Design: I was always satisfied with the FH2 sound design, but I always felt like some cars felt like they were missing a certain “kick” when accelerating and switching gears. Well, no longer; muscle cars feel and sound like muscle cars, same with F-150s and top-tier hypercars. When racing in the outback and caught in a powerslide or drifting, you can actually hear the dirt, sand, and pebbles pelting and hitting your wheels and car; when it starts raining and you’re racing in the rainforest, you can hear the wheels sloshing and straining through the mud. It’s unreal. As far as the soundtrack is concerned, there’s basically something for anybody with its stations: Hip-Hop, EDM, Drum & Bass, Classical, Alt Rock, Indie Rock.. You get the idea. That’s without mentioning the addition of Microsoft’s Groove music service. Not going to mince words: I didn’t even know that existed, but A.) The game comes with a “no strings” 14-day trial and B.) I know I’ll be playing this game for a while and the service is actually pretty cool so far, so I might stick with it.
Cons: I hate it when reviewers don’t mention any cons. Even if you give it a perfect score, c’mon, there has to be something.. Sooooo.. Hmph.. *drums fingers on table*… OH! Nitpicking, but it would’ve been cool to have a simple create-a-driver feature. I’m not asking for something like in WWE or NBA 2K, but I look nothing like those preppy, Abercrombie and Fitch-wearing, “OMG YAS, I LOVED COACHELLA”, trust-fund baby-looking mfers that are available in the preset images.
Ha–either way (along with Inside), Forza Horizon 3 is in contention for GOTY. 5/5 Racing Bibles.
NERD – Great fun and an enjoyable racing experience, with a few bumps in the road.
Yeah, that’s how I’m choosing to start this; with a single line giving my overall opinion of Forza Horizon 3. Why not, most will try to paint a picture with elaborate words and fancy phrases, all building up to their overall thought on the game. I’m going the simpler route and just giving my opinion right off the bat. Now, it’s up to you to decide if you keep reading or not. The correct answer of course is to keep reading to see why I came to this conclusion.
I’m not a mega fan of the series like Felipe, nor have I played FH1 or much of FH2. I am more of a Forza Motorsports fan; hell, even a Need For Speed fan, especially Most Wanted. I gave FH3 a run, not only because it looked pretty good in trailers and had some pretty solid information coming out of E3, but also because of the new Xbox Play Anywhere initiative that Microsoft has started for all their exclusive titles. The ability to play it on my PC was easily 50% of the draw to this game, since I knew my rig can easily out-render an Xbox One and make this game truly shine. And that it does.
Graphically, it’s hard to disagree that the game looks phenomenal. Microsoft’s decision to finally ditch Xbox 360 support as well as include Windows as an option really gave this game a chance at amazing. I have everything cranked to full and was hitting the 60fps limiter while the view had my jaw dropped in awe. Playground Games definitely put time into this game, as many times in the past, you’d see artifacts or lower resolution textures that look good at a distance, but up close the buzz is killed. Not so with FH3. On top of how good the game looks, your driving even affects the terrain and surroundings. Not a huge amount, but it’s fun to see ferns, bushes, trees, and even signs and billboards get destroyed and punched into bits when you go through them. These elements make it all the more fun to take a slight detour off the path and blaze a new trail.
Even driving in the sand or dirt has you leaving a path of your tire tracks. It doesn’t do anything to improve your driving or affect the ones behind you, but its little details that just add to the experience. Sadly, there are some places where the graphics hit a rough spot. I noticed that resizing shapes and objects in the paint editor sometimes leaves them with a pixelated look. I generally expect this when scaling something up in size, but I saw it happen when downscaling a shape, which shouldn’t be an issue if the processing is down properly. No worries– it’s still fun to take your car canvas into the editor and create your own masterpiece, or use one that was created by another user.
While I choose to play Forza Horizon 3 on the PC, I am using the Xbox One controller to play the game. The keyboard and mouse combo is fine for a lot of games, yet racers need the variable controls that this provides. For this “Saint”, FH3 is like the “Need For Speed” arcadey brother of Forza Motorsports. While there are options to bring it to a sim style feel, as a far more forgiving racer, it still doesn’t have the full simulation feel of the FM series though (as it likely shouldn’t). After driving mid-race on your way to the first venue, you must pick your character. I agree that the selection is terrible! I’d call it creation, but you aren’t creating anything. Instead, you pick from a lineup of faces–all meant to provide a male and female of each race. Even the name portion makes you either pick a first name to be used in dialogue, or a list of nicknames. When you finally start choosing races and modifying your cars, you’ll notice the range of races from stunts (to get attention) or actual exhibition races (along a set course), which eventually allow you to decide the details of the event.
These Horizon Blueprints Felipe mentioned open up the potential for races in the main campaign, as well as with your friends online. And of course alongside the race customization is the car editor, as mentioned earlier. Here you can go through various performance upgrades, design choices, and custom paint options. The performance upgrades are the usual fare of “stock”, “street” and “race” versions. It’s too bad they didn’t attempt actual brand upgrades, but that would have taken longer to compile for all the possible cars and then assign a rank and price.
Beyond performance you can, of course, choose exterior upgrades in the form of new bumpers, wings, wheels, etc. They definitely missed the mark here. While the wheels do have a lot of options, even going so far as to provide actual brand/models to pic from, the bumpers and such are very much lacking. Most cars only have 1-2 choices aside from stock, and they aren’t any specific brand/model; just the usual “upgrade” or “Forza” brand choices. Reminds me of the terrible choices that old NFS games included. I’m still glad they gave the option to do as much customization, but wish they would have gone further with the cosmetics.
I do love the audio in this game, with engines and exhaust setups really sounding nice. Busting through the wilderness as mentioned earlier is not only fun to see, but also fun to hear, as the foliage shatters and the debris bounces around your car. And the ambient sounds of the world are done well too, giving you a proper feel of the area you are driving through — whether it’s the beach, the city, or even out in the country. As you progress you get to choose two radio stations to be part of your festival, which also unlocks them for tunes while driving. And each festival lets you unlock two more. I know Felipe mentions the several choices, but NO METAL?! For now, I’ll just flip it to “no radio” and use Spotify in the background instead. I havent gotten to the point of using Groove yet, so can’t say how well that works.
So if you read all the way through to this point, you now know the “why” for my initial single sentence opinion of the game. There are some faults, but nothing game-breaking, although once the game was redeemed through Xbox.com, finding the game and getting it installed in the Windows Store was a pain. I eventually figured it out, which came as a tip from Reddit: regardless of the version you purchase, you go to the base version to find your install button. And even on my Xbox it didn’t show up as installable (or even owned) until the early release time period started. Not everyone experienced this issue though, so I think it was a glitch that I ran into. (No worries, though, as I was still able to play early.) Again, Forza Horizon 3 is an extremely fun game for those that enjoy a racer that isn’t super serious, but still has a lot of the super serious racer qualities. And if you have a decent PC gaming rig, get the digital version so you can play it on there as well. 4.5/5 Racing Bibles.