I don’t know a huge amount about cars. I know what a muscle car is. I know that fitting 15 people into a Smart Car is probably quite hard. I also know that drifting is about taking something designed to go forwards and trying to make it go sideways. But if you ask me what an exhaust manifold is, I’d probably tell you it was someone tired of doing origami.
In spite of my lack of vehicular knowledge, I do like a good racing game. I enjoyed Rad Racer on the NES and played countless hours of Formula 1 Grand Prix and Grand Prix 2 on PC with my dad as a child. Need For Speed, Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport and so on have all had a lot of play time in my various machines over the years, but the series I have enjoyed the most for some time has been Forza. The amount of options the series’ entries provide mean you can tune the game to be as much a hardcore simulation as you could a light-hearted arcade racer. The Horizon iterations of the series tend to take the game more towards the latter direction, but there are certainly plenty of simulation options for your serious racing enthusiast.
Forza Horizon 3 places you in the shoes of a racing festival organiser (which is a departure from the previous entries in the series) based in Australia. Your goal is simple: put on the best festival ever. This might sound a tall order, but it really boils down to winning races in whatever vehicle you feel like driving at the time, pulling off stunts, and generally breaking the speed limit. As you do these things, you earn fans which in turn unlocks more events and locations, as well as Showcase events (more on those later). Races can be set up however you like, letting you change the number of laps, the time of day, even the type of car permitted in the event. Being put in the role of the organiser really opens the game up, and prevents you from being forced to race a certain type of car in most of the races.
There are also PR stunts, which include racing past speed cameras, pulling jumps of ramps, and completing the Bucket List (a set of car specific challenges). Add to this the Showcase events that will have you racing against jet fighters, and you’ve got a racer with a lot of options at any given time. The game is open world, meaning you can travel around the map as you see fit as you look for an event that takes your fancy. And you’re never far from one. The map is packed with races, secret cars (Barn Finds as they’re called in the series) and other activities but manages to not feel over crowded like some other open world games (take note Ubisoft). I was never bored as there was always something different to try just a short drive away.
There’s also the obligatory online mode, including an online free roam, online races and events as well as a co-op campaign. It really is a very feature rich game. All that would be for nothing if the cars weren’t fun to drive, and they most certainly are. Each class of car, and indeed each individual car, feels different to handle. From the hard to control but powerful Dodge Charger, to the smooth handling of the Jaguar F-Type through hyper cars, off-road, and buggies. There are a lot of different types and hundreds of cars to choose from so you’re bound to find something that’s fun to drive. And because you can choose the type of car you want each race to be based on, you can pretty much pick a handful you enjoy and stick with those. I’d say you’d be missing the point of the game, but it’s great that the game lets you play it how you want.
The game looks gorgeous, as is often the case with racing games these days. The developers know it too, including a feature to take photos in the game and going as far as including photographing all of the cars as an additional challenge. The environment is varied and interesting with a mix of desert, forest and towns, and combines well with the weather effects that shift as time passes. The car interiors are all individually modeled (which is one of the reasons I like to play racers in cockpit) and well detailed. Sound is also excellent, with cars having their own engine sounds (I’m no expert as I said, but they all sound distinct) and the radio gives plenty of soundtrack options. The game also implements Groove Music if you have a subscription to it, allowing you to create your own playlist and pipe it into the game. It’s quite fun to dive up to a festival location and hearing one of your favourite songs played as though it were live. It’s a small feature but one that I liked.
There are a couple of flaws here and there. Occasionally the Groove Music connection breaks down, preventing you from playing your songs of choice. More irritating is when you set up a championship (a series of races across a number of locations). Just like with single races, you can set the championship up how you’d like. This includes which races, number of laps, time of day and such. You can also pick the type of car allowed, but it won’t let you see which cars of that class you have until after you’ve set the championship up, which is a bit of a pain if it turns out that the only cars of that class that you have aren’t terribly good. There’s also the odd spot in the world in which your car can become stuck, and resetting it just puts you back where you were, stuck again. It’s rare but I found a couple of places. On the whole though, the experience is extremely polished.
Forza Horizon 3 is developed by Turn10 and published by Microsoft Game Studios. I played the game on Xbox One and would recommend anyone who is looking for a fun, adaptable racing game. The options will get it as arcade-like or simulation-like as you want, and it will even suggest adjustments to you if you’re doing too well or badly. Obviously it kept telling me to make the game harder. I’m an expert after all.