By rights, Forza Horizon should be the poor cousin of Microsoft’s driving games, having been spun off from the company’s flagship Forza Motorsport franchise. However, where the parent game takes itself very seriously (and feels antiseptic and squeaky-clean as a result), Horizon has never been shy of injecting a bit of anarchy into proceedings. The third game in the series builds impressively on Forza Horizon’s strengths: it’s all about the simple joy of driving the world’s most exotic cars like a total lunatic.
Forza Horizon 3 moves the action to a virtual Australia, which proves to be a petrol-head’s paradise. As well as containing wonderfully diverse environments such as rainforests, the outback, beaches and the city of Surfer’s Paradise, it boasts a giant map which is roughly twice the size of the one in Forza Horizon 2. As before, it centres on a fictional event called Horizon, which melds driving and partying, but this time around you are cast as the festival director. This is essentially a device to make you feel like you’re defining how the game is played, but it does add a layer of customisability to many aspects of the game.
British developer Playground Games hasn’t made any radical changes to Forza Horizon 3’s base gameplay: it’s still an open-world, arcade-style driving game in which you find vast numbers of activities including multi-lap races, cross-country point-to-points and Bucket Lists (which are varied challenges that allow you to win some extremely exotic machinery). There are also gloriously over-the-top Showcases – the first has you racing a jeep suspended from a helicopter, and you might find yourself taking on an express train – and Barn Finds, in which you must employ detective skills to track down old classics rotting away in outhouses. Plus there are some new activities: Danger Signs, which encourage you to perform implausible but satisfying jumps; Drift Zones, which reward you for driving sideways; and Convoys, in which you can honk your horn at other cars and persuade them to join you in dashes across the countryside.
On top of that, there are countless random activities to chance upon: smashing XP boards helps you level up quicker, speed cameras must be blasted past as quickly as possible, and you often encounter random cars which can be challenged to impromptu races. Hooliganesque driving, such as performing deliberate near-misses and smashing fences and road signs, brings rewards in the form of Skill Points which can be cashed in for perks. As festival director, your responsibilities don’t really extend beyond winning races and generating new fans which, in turn, allows you to open new festival sites and expand existing ones. But fear not: there’s no tedious admin involved.
"The perfect retort to regimented, track-based games."
Forza Horizon 3 does a fine job of blurring the distinction between solo and online play. It’s the first game in the series to allow up to four people to take on the campaign mode co-operatively and, like its predecessors, it populates your game-world with cars controlled by 'Drivatars' whose driving styles are supposedly based on those of your Xbox Live friends. It’s easy enough to jump into full online play, taking on your real-life mates in events or championships, or just cruising around en masse in search of random activities.
The game’s disparate elements gel nicely into a whole, which lets you make the most of the virtual-world ability to drive in a manner which would get you swiftly locked up in real life. The roster of cars is impeccable, with over 350 vehicles spanning supercars (the first car you drive is Lamborghini’s outrageous Centenario), rally cars (there are countless different Mitsubishi Evos and Subaru Imprezas), buggies, pumped-up pick-ups with 800bhp engines and muscle cars. Handling is very much arcade-style, naturally, but when you get off-road, you have to pay close attention to the contours of the terrain.
Forza Horizon 3 also looks sensational, and its visuals can even be improved if you run it on an Xbox One S through an HDR TV. Playground Games even spent ages modelling Australia’s spectacular skies, and there are nine excellent radio stations to choose between.
If you dream of driving in a manner that is pretty much impossible anywhere in the real world these days, behind the wheel of cars that you’d count yourself lucky to even see on the street, let alone sample, then Forza Horizon 3 should be your ideal game. It’s the perfect retort to the prevalence of regimented, track-based games populated by those who fancy themselves the next Lewis Hamilton.