Australia: a country where seemingly every creature is out to kill you.
Spiders, snakes, crocodiles; they’d not think twice about taking your life given the chance. Suffice to say, as wonderful as I’m sure it is to live there, I won’t be migrating any time soon. Despite my reluctance to travel to a country where I’d always be scared of a spider biting my arse while I’m on the dunny, I’d be a fool to not accept that its varied terrain makes it the perfect setting for an open-world arcade racer. The clever people over at Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games must have been ecstatic when they realised this. After all, it plays a large factor as to why Forza Horizon 3 is pretty much flawless.
Starting with you opening your first festival hub on the coastal shores of Byron Bay, Forza Horizon 3 casts you as the boss. This is your festival, you’re in charge, and so after the obligatory barrage of introductory events you’re free to decide where your next hub is located. Whatever order you decide to unlock them in, eventually you’ll have four bases at your disposal, giving you access to a wide range of events across gorgeous looking sandy dunes, dense woodland, inner-city streets and shimmering shorelines. Combined with a full day and night cycle and the odd bout of heavy rain, it makes for a racing experience that keeps you on your toes, holding your interest like it has you in the palm of its hand. The scenery changes, the asphalt under your wheels becomes dust and then dirt, challenging you to keep control of your car as undulations violently attempt to throw it off-balance. Every moment of Forza Horizon 3 is a thrill ride to be savoured, and there’s a near-endless amount of events and activities for you to do.
Structurally, Forza Horizon 3 resembles the original title much more than its sequel. Gone are the cross country drives to series openings, and being the head honcho, wristbands are redundant. Events are once again littered around the expansive map, your progression measured by the number of fans you’ve attracted to the festival by your vehicular endeavours. Barn find locations unlock as you progress, and illegal street races become available as you emerge victorious from impromptu head-to-head battles. All the while you aim to smash fan milestone targets, one after the other, allowing you to upgrade your hubs which in turn unlocks yet more events for you to participate in, including new Showcase events which are as tense as ever. It’s a change that I think fans will appreciate. It feels more rewarding and respectful of your time; you’re never more than a minute away from an event or a “PR Stunt”, such as a Bucket List Challenge or speed camera. And as if that wasn’t enough, Forza Horizon 3 then goes one step further by introducing user-created content.
Every event marker, including those for Bucket List Challenges, can be used to create your own events without a fuss. Don’t like that the pre-set Horizon Festival event wants you to use off-road vehicles? Change it. Make your own so that you can use your favourite car. You could also change the number of laps, the time of day, the weather, the default background music or even whether or not the rewind feature is allowed while you’re at it. If you’re proud of what you’ve created you can share it with your friends, or, if you lack even the smallest of creative sparks, an assortment of other players’ creations are available for you to take part in. How you play to accumulate the many fans that are integral to your progression is truly up to you. You could feasibly complete the entire game using just one car aside from the slew of events where a vehicle is provided for you, if you really wanted to.
Being a Forza game however, obviously there are a huge number of cars available, and so it’s unlikely that you would want to restrict yourself to driving just one. I’d actually go to the lengths of saying that Forza Horizon 3 features one the best car line-ups ever, prompting you to strive to develop a garage that would make even Jay Leno envious. From the cage-like Ariel Nomad to the definitive Ferrari LaFerrari, there’s a car to cater for everyone’s tastes, wants and needs, and with the usual array of Forza customisation options you can tweak and modify them to your heart’s content. Some players may want to customise their rides to hit the performance sweet spot; others may just want to create their own fancy liveries. Whatever the case, I’m sure they’ll be glad to find that the Auction House has returned so that they can sell their masterful creations and hopefully make a profit. Failing that, they can always just sell the cars they no longer desire, and those looking to buy may even be able to pick up one of the very rare, bonus-laden cars than can only usually be attained at the mercy of the Wheelspin gods upon levelling up.
But Forza Horizon 3 isn’t all about regurgitating gameplay structures and features from previous incarnations within a new setting though, if user generated content wasn’t enough of a sign of that already. New to the table is a smattering of The Crew-inspired challenge jumps called Danger Signs, as well as drift zones and head-to-head “Midnight Battles” that aren’t entirely fresh but add nicely to Forza Horizons 3’s list of things to do. The assortment of radio stations available has been expanded and you can even play your own playlists with Groove Music if you’re a subscriber, although you lose the opportunity to gain double skill points during one of the new random Skill Songs. You can also now recruit team members by winning specific head-to-head races, enabling you to drive as a convoy in free-roam which can boost your skill point scores and make finding destructible bonus boards and barn finds easier. Admittedly there’s nothing revolutionary, but all the new features add to or enhance the gameplay rather than detract from it. There is one new feature that will be a biggie for whole lot of players however; campaign online co-op.
Backing up the series’ usual online free-roam and new online adventure modes, players can now finally switch between single player and online co-op, continuing their campaign as they go, and it is fantastic. There are a couple of caveats – one being that only the online session’s leader can generally start events; the other that without the crutch of the rewind feature, a handful of tracks can be extremely punishing – but they don’t really sully the experience too much. In fact, they’re minor inconveniences in what is otherwise the best way to experience the game. And, truth be told, the position you finish doesn’t seem to have too much of a bearing on the amount of credits, XP and fans you gain anyway – just completing the event gives you the brunt of the rewards it has to offer. Forza Horizon 3 just wants you to have fun, no matter how you want it or where you want it. At that, it succeeds with aplomb.
Forza Horizon 3 then, as you have probably already guessed, is something rather special. It’s probably as close to perfection as an arcade racer could possibly be. The visuals are simply phenomenal, the sound effects and soundtrack bring aural pleasure to your ears, and the gameplay is infectiously addictive. It’s the type of game that you sit down to play and before you know it three hours have passed in what seems like the blink of an eye. Even then, you’ll carry on playing, promising yourself that the next race will be your last, but it won’t. Trust me, it won’t. I’ve been there. Forza Horizon 3, with its sublime handling, unparalleled open-world and more content and features than you can shake a stick at, is a class-A drug without any downers. And once you’ve had a hit, it’ll be hard to escape its grasp.