You’d think I would’ve taken my own advice after reviewing Forza Horizon 2. Just like that game, Forza Horizon 3 is an open-world game that is better if you take it in at a varied pace. It’s tempting to just blaze through as many of the different races and options as quickly as possible so you can level up, earn credits to buy cars, and earn fans to unlock more events. And I played that way for the first five or six hours. But trying to plough through a Horizon game is a bad way to go. The events get repetitive. The open world that separates the events becomes a hassle to traverse because you’re just trying to get on with it already. Even the car painting and design aspects fall to the backseat if you’re just trying to build yourself up as quickly as possible. But if you lean back a little bit and just kind of see where the road takes you, Forza Horizon 3 might be the most enjoyable game to bear the Forza name thus far.
Most of the features and options from Horizon 2 map right onto the new game, but the biggest departure is the world itself. Horizon 3 is set in Australia, and it’s a much better place to drive than the European locale of the previous game. It’s got great variety, from beachfronts to rainforests, deserts to downtown. It’s got a solid mix of paved roads, dirt, and fields full of stuff for you to jump over and smash through. The game also looks great, with nice weather effects and lighting that helps tie the whole thing together into a pleasant package.
The catch is that a lot of the race events get pretty repetitive. Each one initially opens up with exhibition races as the main event, and a rivals mode that lets you race the same course in a time attack mode. Eventually the track opens up for championships, which mostly just lets you race the same course again with the same kinds of car and class options, but you have to bundle it up with other courses to build a multi-race championship. I found that to be overly redundant.
Racing is one of the fastest ways to turn the crank on the game’s different methods of progression, though, since you’ll earn credits that you’ll need for new cars and upgrades, experience points that raise your level to get you more credits and cars, and fans, which unlock additional events. Showcase events, the ridiculous races against non-cars that have been a staple of the series all along, are back. Racing against a set of speedboats or trying to beat a train is a cool idea, but in practice these showcase events feel like time trials with enough rubber-banding in them to make every race seem close… but in reality they feel difficult to fail if you’re showing any skill at all out there. As a result, they come off as a neat idea with no teeth that’s only gotten older and less exciting as the franchise moves on.
The other earnable points you’ll need are skill points, which turn into perk points when you fill the skill meter, which in turn are used to unlock frivolous things like additional horn sounds, nice bonuses like making your vote count for double in the game’s online mode, and necessary features that shouldn’t be locked away at all, like the ability to fast travel around the world. There are so many different “skills” to perform in the game that you more or less get a skill combo going by doing… anything. Driving fast? That’s a skill. Smashing through a fence? Skilllllllssssss. Catching any air at all? You’d better believe that’s a skill. This means that the fastest way to earn skill points is to just drift in circles through a field that has a hill and a lot of bushes in it, giving you things the smash through and a hill for catching some air. I’d be a little more up in arms about the skill-less skill system if it wasn’t so much fun to drift in circles in a field that has a hill and a lot of bushes in it. If you manage to crash your car into a thick, invulnerable tree or ram another car, your skill combo breaks and the points you’ve been building up are lost.
The game also has a set of online modes that you can start seeking out whenever you like. Online Adventure lets a large group of players get together and take on events. Some can be races, others are more playful and less focused on just getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. Online freeroam… you know, it lets you drive around the world with other players and do… stuff? Co-op campaign lets a smaller group get together and knock out the game’s events in team races. If I sound a little vague on the actual features found in the game’s online mode, that’s because I had continuous problems getting connected to other games. Frequently, the matchmaking process would just run for 20 minutes or more without actually finding anything, and the games I did get into didn’t run especially well, making player cars skip across the track with lag while the AI cars don’t quite move right, either.
On that note, it’s worth mentioning that the PC version of Forza Horizon 3 has the potential to look great, but the recommended and “ideal” specs are pretty stiff. Even in a situation where you meet those requirements, getting the game to run at a stable 60 frames-per-second seems like it can be a tall order. If anything, the game seems like it was built to be locked at 30fps. On the Xbox One, where the game is more or less locked at 30, you’re given a terrific sense of speed in the faster cars. But the game looks great at higher frame rates, provided you’ve built a PC powerful enough to actually handle that.
It’s a fantastic-looking game that takes some of the best simulation-style driving to be found on a console and plops it into a great open world. Parts of it could be less repetitive and the PC version seems like it probably needs a patch or two to help smooth things out a bit, but those end up being minor complaints peppered into an otherwise delightful experience. Just do yourself a favor and try to cruise around from time to time instead of just banging through one event after another.