Third Time's The Charm
Written by Jessie Seilhan
Forza and its Horizon spinoffs are known for visual quality and automobile quantity, but so are all driving video games. The good ones at least attempt to hit both of those targets, but where Forza Motorsport comes off clinical in its execution, Horizon is the chance for a studio like Playground Games to inject some personality and style into the series. The prior two titles have attempted this with music festivals, crazy races, and a living world that can be seamlessly driven across, but in Forza Horizon 3 they finally nailed the one thing most racing games almost never achieve: addiction.
There have been open world racers before, and games like Ubisoft’s The Crew have attempted to give you a sprawling expanse to explore, but not since Burnout Paradise has a game understood progression like Horizon 3 does. You start the game in a hurry, roaring through the beautiful Australian coastline en route to the hub of your music festival. Yes, you are running the show this time and get to pick the location, events, competitors, and more across the various habitats Down Under has to offer. But back to the coastline, where you transition from a super fast sportscar to a jeep, as the game highlights the luscious vegetation Colorado and France were lacking. From there, you hop into a dune buggy, seamlessly moving to the sand and roaring toward the finish line. And while you never have this vehicle swapping experience again in the game, the feeling of seamlessly moving from one exciting moment to the next is exactly what makes Horizon 3 so much fun.
Everything in terms of progression about the prior games returns, meaning the persistent XP gathering from doing every possible action is back. Just driving from event to event will level you up as you slide, hop, speed, and smash your way from the sandy dunes to the farmlands. You will drive past (and into) hundreds of other racers along your way, all of which have names borrowed from your friend’s list and the greater community, making the rival challenges more fun, even if it is an asynchronous multiplayer that is using their Drivatar, a simulated amalgamation of that person’s real skills and ability. You can now add those players to your festival crew after besting them, earning credits and XP for their journeys along their own gaming sessions. The whole thing feels extremely organic and requires little to no work from you, another hallmark of a well-designed progression system. And since the reverse is also true for your Drivatar, logging in after an absence immediately rewards you with a bounty from your ghost’s accomplishments in someone else’s game.
The game has a few multiplayer modes if you want more direct competition, but it also has a giant open world lobby where you and a bunch of other players just play the game normally while also hopping into races against one another. It’s a sort of casual, low stakes mode that doesn’t force you into heats without your acceptance and will simply populate your regular game with other real people if that’s all you want. But the single-player has such a diverse swath of terrains and vehicles that no two races feel the same, and those over-the-top head-to-heads against helicopters and the like are better just by being set in this new territory.
A game like Forza Horizon 3 is not for racing purists, as you won’t find the real-world tracks and locales that games like Gran Turismo sweat every detail over. But the cars are real, the landscape is accurate to Australia, and the feeling of driving is fantastic. Xbox One owners absolutely must play this game and PC gamers should as well, and you can do both buy buying the digital copy on either platform, as FH3 is a part of the Play Anywhere promotion Microsoft is running. All of your progress is synced between the two, you can race against anyone on either system, and if your PC is powerful enough, you can experience some of the greatest visuals ever put into a game. Still, even at it’s worst, FH3 is a hallmark for the genre and should not be passed up.
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