When it comes to racing games, I’ll openly admit I’m never the first to put my hand up for a review. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them on occasion, but I’m simply not a big enough car fan to care about the subtle differences between each iteration of a sim, or willing to waste my time on yet another failed attempt at a story mode. Also, full disclosure: we do have writers who fit that criteria, and this game was originally assigned to one. However, after more than two weeks of failed attempts trying to download and install the game on Windows 10, the rage became too much. I had to rise to the occasion, belt up, and take one for the team. In turn, just so we’re on the same page, my favourite racing series is Need for Speed Underground, and I’ve driven a Subaru WRX for the last decade, so I know a thing or two about cars.
The absolute best thing about Horizon 3 is that it can be played and enjoyed by everyone. Not only does it provide a dynamic play space that’s accommodating for newcomers, but there is a good level of depth for avid racing fans too. If I could sum up this game in only two words, it would definitely be “good vibes.” I won’t lie and say the game being set in Australia doesn’t sweeten the deal, but the diversity of terrain seen throughout the open world that Playground Games has crafted is truly fantastic. It’s essentially a game about creating a huge festival and spreading it across the east coast of the country, ranging from locations such as Surfer’s Paradise to the Yarra Valley and even The Outback. There is so much to see and do, although it’s worth noting great liberty was taken during the construction of this map.
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever played a racing game with a better introduction. It’s absolutely ridiculous in all the best ways possible, and is immediately convincing you’re in for a good time. As soon as you begin, you’re dropped into a Lamborghini Centenario, and it’s away you go. The message straight-up is drive fast and have a good time—also that there’s the option to push “Y” to rewind, which works great if you’re playing casually and don’t want to restart a race. What’s so incredible about this particular opening sequence, though, is how it seamlessly swaps you between several different types of cars and terrain, providing an introduction that not only gives you a good idea of what to expect but sets the tone perfectly. It is super slick, ultra exhilarating, and one of the best experiences I’ve had with a racing game.
In Horizon 3, the main objective is to expand your festival by gaining fans. The more races, PR stunts, showcases and challenges you complete, the more fans you will obtain, and this enables you to upgrade your festival and unlock new locations. This is not a traditional racing narrative where you start from the bottom with a rubbish car and have to work your way to the top. You will have access to some of the most incredible cars in existence from the get go, and from a much broader variety than most racing titles. As someone who has never dug deeper into Forza title beyond a demo, what really blew me away is just how socially integrated everything is. The game has fantastic multiplayer options and community support. Even if you’re someone who prefers to play solo, you can still share in the experience with others.
I know the Drivatar feature has been around for several years, but as someone who typically prefers single-player, I really enjoyed being able to compete against AI versions of my friends—not to mention simply passing them by while on the open road or being able to recruit them as a driver. Another feature I especially liked is that when you do want to play co-op (with up to 4 players), any progress you make comes back to your own game. I have a young family, so scheduling time to do a complete playthrough with a friend is almost impossible these days. This feature is perfect for those in similar situations. I’m also a big fan of how much can be shared, from car designs to upgrade configurations. There are automatic pathways for those who just want to race, but I personally enjoyed seeing what others have built.
As I mentioned earlier, everything about this game spews good vibes. It’s the type of experience which you can easily lose yourself in for days at a time or just casually pick up every now and then for an afternoon of fun. For me, what I enjoyed most was the ability to use the Auction House to purchase a model of WRX similar to my own, upgrade it to its max potential, and then hit the Outback. Forza Horizon 3 also has a really comprehensive set of radio stations you can listen to while driving, but what got me was the ability to create playlists on my phone using Microsoft Groove (14-day free trial) and play my own music in-game. While I unlocked all the locations, off-road and rally racing is what I like best, so this is where I spent most of my time—driving a WRX, listening to tunes, and having a straight-up good time.
If I had to offer one criticism, it would be that the game is so loose about having fun that the sense of progression feels somewhat lacking beyond the expansion of the festival (you can basically drive whatever you like from the start). I also didn’t really care about the whole “influencer” plot line and the goal to build a fanbase. Horizon 3 was basically just a huge toy box to me, and that’s okay. The driving itself feels great and is a fine balance between a sim and arcade, and I’d be remised not to mention how stunning the game looks. It’s easily the most visually impressive title I’ve played on Xbox One. I also have to admit it was good to do some left-hand driving for a change. As far as racing games go, it is the complete package with mass appeal: it looks superb, plays great, and has lots of robust features and connectivity.
Forza Horizon 3 is certainly one of the most robust racing games ever released, but what I feel sets if apart from other games in the genre is its mass appeal and good vibes. Whether you’re a newcomer to the series or an avid racing fan, you’ll be grinning from ear-to-ear from the opening sequence. The variety of what’s on offer here is truly impressive, and the icing on the cake for all us Australians is that it’s set in our own backyard. Not to mention, the game is visually stunning and chock-full of great features and ways to connect with other players. However, what personally stood out to me about this game is how it consistently empowers its players to have fun the way they want, and, as such, this is the best time I’ve had with a racing game in more than a decade. I have no reservation in recommending it to anyone.