After what seems like an eternity, we finally have Forza Horizon 3 to spend countless hours enjoying. I’m an avid console gamer and Forza fan so I’ve already spent more than a day roaming Australia, completing championships, bucket lists and other challenges.
Graphics – 10/10
First and foremost, the graphics on this game are second to no console racing game in my opinion, and no other open world game period. I have Forza Horizon 3 on Xbox One (not the S) and even at that this is the prettiest game I’ve ever experienced. Sure, Forza 6 and Apex and some of the other sims might have more detailed car design (honestly not noticeable to me), but those games have almost nothing in terms of world design, the scenery on those simulation racers is always a joke. Like Horizon 2 (and Horizon on Xbox 360), Horizon 3 keeps the tradition of making a fully immersing open world game, with beautiful skies and detailed scenery. Unlike Horizon 2 this came seems to be very nearly 100% open world, there are a couple of places you can’t get through (you still can’t crash into fans) but unlike Horizon 2 you can drive right into the ocean and any lakes you can find.
Campaign Mode – 9/10
I love the new setup for the Horizon festival. Basically, what happens is you are the boss. Unlike Horizon and Horizon 2 where you show up as this no-name racer who has to prove himself worthy of attending you start out as the big kahuna. A very cool feature to start is that not only can you pick a male or female character but you can also pick your name and the game will verbally call you that the rest of the way. I’m sure there will be some names out there that Horizon 3 doesn’t have but the list of names they did have was quite expansive.
Once you pick your name and starting car you set out to win championships and complete bucket lists or other challenges. The way you advance in this game is by earning fans. There are three metrics that matter in this game. The first is fans, you gain fans to open and expand new festival locations and progress in the campaign.
The second important metric is XP, this is what makes you level up, it is independent of how many fans you have and your level just indicates your wristband color and how much you’ve played the game. Every time you level up you get a wheel spin which grants you credits or a free car, I’m not sure what each level started at but I’m a level 110 and for at least the last 20 levels it’s been 20,000XP to level up (this comes very quickly and you’ll level up at least once every 2 races if not sooner).
The final metric that matters are skill points. Different than XP, skill points allow you to unlock perks, just like Horizon 2 these perks are really helpful, there are 3 times as many perks as there were in Horizon 2 and there are rolling perks as well so skill points will always matter, unlike Horizon 2 where the skill points stopped mattering after the first week of playing.
The great part of the Horizon 3 campaign mode is that you don’t have to do traditional races to gain fans. Bucket Lists, Speed Traps, Drift Zones, Danger Signs, these ALL add to your fan total and you can drive around completing nothing but these and gain a great deal of fans. The highest paying events are still the Showcase events (where you race something that isn’t a car), which is odd because I’m still not sure you can lose these events unless you screw up really badly right before the end of the race. One of my biggest complaints with most racing games is that they make you grind through a bunch of repetitive races to level up, Horizon 3 doesn’t make you do this and it’s a welcome change.
There are only two negatives to campaign mode in my opinion and the first relates to co-op campaign mode. This was a feature that was really promoted before the games launch and it’s not as straight forward as it could be. Online Co-Op brings you into another player’s (whoever is hosting it) campaign mode so you can do all the events that they have unlocked. This is a great feature for seeking out danger signs and speed traps but otherwise it’s not so great for the guest user. Only the leader can pick events and when a guest gets a festival expansion they have to back out to expand the festival. This isn’t a problem in itself, I just wish they wouldn’t have billed the feature as a co-op campaign because it really isn’t, you can have a guest tag along in your campaign session or be a guest in someone else’s campaign session.
The second negative is more of a problem with the game in general, like most racing (and other open world games) you’re stuck going through the motions for the first couple races/levels while the game explains things. For a new racer this might be helpful but Forza knows how many previous Forza games we’ve played, they should see that if you played Horizon 2 you shouldn’t be forced to go through the intro section where it teaches you how to accelerate and brake. More-so, if you did the demo this intro section is 100% identical to the demo so it can be a bit boring. Last night I wanted to play with a friend who had just installed the game but it took him over an hour before he was able to unlock online capabilities – it comes after you unlock the second festival site and win a race(championship?) there. If you’re looking to join a club, you need to wait until you reach level 20 I believe (or complete the corresponding number of events).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the new “blueprint” feature in Horizon 3. This lets you create your own championships and bucket list events. Half the times I complete(d) a championship in Horizon 3 they were ones I also designed, if you pick a location and it says a certain type of car on a certain type of map and you don’t want to do that you simply create your own events and race them they count towards earning fans, credits and XP just like a regular championship, it’s a great feature.
Online Mode – 9/10
Online is much like it was in Horizon 2, you can choose to do an online free roam where you join an open world and can pick which events you participate in, you can also do online adventure which is like online road trip from Horizon 2. You join a lobby where everyone has to pick the same class of vehicle (D, C, B, A, S1, S2) and you drive from race to race without choosing a new car and your earned XP determines where you finish in the championship. At the end of each championship the lobby votes on what class/location they’d like next. Unlike Horizon 2 it seems they also have championships that are entirely playground games (Infected, King, Capture the Flag) – these are fun but they aren’t racing so you might get bored with this quickly if people keep voting them.
I docked one point from my online mode rating because they still don’t have car soccer or cat & mouse. I don’t know why these game types have ceased to exist past Forza 4 but they really need to bring them back.
I used to complain that I couldn’t change cars between each race (as some races in a championship will be on-road others will be off-road) but now I realize that not only does that not fit the whole “road trip” mentality but it takes a lot of the challenge out of the racing, anyone can bring a purpose built racer, the challenge is to bring a car that works for all types. With Horizon 3 it clearly tells you what type of races to expect so you won’t be blindsided with off-road races in an S2 car, you also get double the time to vote for a championship that you did in Horizon 2. The other things you can blueprint are bucket lists, these are really fun but might be useless unless you have some friends who really like hard bucket lists. Basically what you do here is pick a car, pick a challenge (Speed trap/zone, damage, skills, etc) and then try and complete that challenge as fast (or with however high a score) as you can. Whatever benchmark you set is the mark someone else has to beat in the same car you did it in. If you feel nice you can bump up the time to complete or lower the necessary skills but if you want to make it super hard for your friends you certainly can.
Music – 10/10
There are 8 radio stations and a Groove music channel in Horizon 3 from which to choose. This is way more than Horizon had and even more than Horizon 2 had. The Horizon series has been known for its wonderful music selection and Horizon 3 is no different. I guarantee if you don’t like the music at first, give it a month and you’ll be humming right along with it. If worst comes to worst and you really don’t like any of the stations, you’ll be able to stream your own music through the Groove channel.
Car Selection/Customization – 9/10
Horizon 3 has a ton of cars right from the get-go, being set in Australia there are a lot of cars (and barn finds) that you might find roaming the outback in real life. I haven’t actually checked (which is hilarious) but I heard that Volkswagen decided not to partake in Horizon 3 so if you’re a big fan of their cars you might be disappointed, though I’d be shocked if they didn’t make a return at a later date through a car pass. My favorite cars in racing games are often the ‘joke’ cars, in Horizon 3 we get the Isetta Bubble Car and the Reliant Regal (not quite the Robin but good enough) three-wheeler. They’re just as silly as you might imagine.
Typical customization returns from Horizon 2 with the addition of body-kits. Most of the cars that could have a body kit in real life have that option in Horizon 3 and it allows for some pretty unique looking rides. Just like Horizon 2, it seems you can make every car (except for the Reliant) four-wheel drive which is much appreciated, after playing Horizon 1 on backwards compatibility last month I remember how useless it is to drive around in a 1200hp Venom that’s rear wheel drive.
As with any new game there are obviously a couple bugs to fixed. Remarkably with as big as the maps are the Horizon series always seems to be among the least buggy releases I’ve ever played. I’ve only noticed a couple bugs so far; I’ll list them here:
- Occasional a Drivatar doesn’t start at beginning of an online co-op race (if you start behind it you have to avoid it)
- Drivatars randomly get stuck on nothing in the map. I’ve seen this a couple times where a Drivatar would be stopped in a field or on the side of the road just revving their engine, appearing to be frozen.
- Skill-point gauge no longer shows. For the first many skill points I got a gauge showing me how close I was to earning a skill point & when I did earn it, recently the gauge has not appeared for me.
- Drivatar difficulty does not always seem to work. On many occasions there is a Drivatar right behind me (within 1-2 seconds) in campaign races, even if I set the difficult to new driver. This is clearly a glitch, I’m very skilled racer and with the Drivatar set to new driver difficulty none of them should finish even remotely close to me, this could be frustrating to a new racer just learning the game.
I’m not worried about these glitches long term, the game has been released for less than a week and these are very minor bugs that I’m sure Playground Games will fix quickly.
Conclusion – 9.5/10
I’m giving Horizon 3 a 9.5-out-of-10; it is very nearly perfect. Though I bought the Ultimate edition so I could play early and get a 6 free car passes and VIP status (double wheel spin credits) the overall game is no different whether you have the regular or ultimate version. Amazon had a 20% discount for pre-ordering (and if you buy it within 2 weeks of release) so I only paid $80, at that price it’s hard to see how some other games can charge $60 for what you get. Horizon 3 is the bargain of the century.
One of the best things the Horizon (Forza) series does is how it treats loyalty. I was Tier 8 at the release of Horizon 3 and had played Horizon 2 and Forza 6, as a result I got 10 free cars just for my loyalty. That’s a real big thank you gift for being a Forza veteran. In addition to the cars, you can get Forza rewards in-game credits every week.
If you liked the other Horizon games or want an amazing open world racing game you have to get Horizon 3, there is no legitimate reason not to.
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