In real estate, the three most important things are location, location, location. But in the open world street racing game Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One, PC), location is just one of many important things that make it the best racing game of the year, and one of the best overall games of the year as well.
For those who’ve never played a Forza Horizon game, this open world racing series has you driving in point-to-point and multi-lap races on city roads and dirt tracks, as well as random street races, Drifting and other kinds of challenges, and even some stunt events. It also boasts a wide variety of sports cars and off-road vehicles, including, this time around, the Lamborghini Centenario, which would’ve cost you around $2.4 million if you were one of the lucky 40 people who had a chance to buy one.
What sets the Forza Horizon series — and, in fact, the Forza Motorsport series that it was spun off from — apart from many other racing games is that you can enable steering assistance, and similar systems for the braking, traction, and stability, which can make the controls as realistic as a Gran Turismo-esque racing simulation, as forgiving as a Need For Speed-y arcade game, or somewhere in between. These games also have an option to put racing lines on the courses, which tell you where to turn and when to brake, as well as the ability to rewind a bit if you don’t turn or brake when you were supposed to and end up careering off the road into some old lady’s backyard.
In many ways, Forza Horizon 3 feels a lot like its predecessors. It has a ton of cars, events, and customization options, features photorealistic visuals that capture the natural beauty of the landscape, and gives a real sense of speed whether you prefer the cockpit view, the chase cam, or the perspective that makes you feel like you’ve been strapped to the hood.
That said, Forza Horizon 3 does boast some new aspects. Most notably, the aforementioned location: Australia. Well, a shrunken version of Australia, anyway. What this brings to the game is a bit more variety to where events are held. While you still get to race through suburban streets and dirt roads, you also now race along the beach, through the woods of the rainforest, and even in some traffic-filled city boulevards.
More importantly, some races in Forza Horizon 3 have you traversing multiple types of terrain. In one early sprint, for instant, you start off on the beach, then cut through a town, and end up on a muddy trail through the forest. Though it also helps that this has you racing in a wide variety of weather conditions — including beautiful sunny days, torrential downpours, even misty sun showers — as well as all hours of the day and night.
The career mode in Forza Horizon 3 also has a lot more variety in the way the events are set up. First, every event has a set of variations based on the kind of car you’re driving at the moment, as well as other kinds of cars. But you can also change these conditions to your liking, do them as your friends have customized them, or, if you’ve got time to sift through them all, the conditions set by members of the Forza community. Which basically means that if a race is supposed to involve trucks, but you don’t like trucks, you can swap them out for, say, a $2.4 million Italian sports car. And since you can run a race as many times as you like, you could, in theory, play this game forever.
There’s a similar mechanic at work with the “Bucket List” challenges in Forza Horizon 3. As in Forza Horizon 2, these events have you using a specific kind of car in a very specific event. But this time around, you can actually design your own challenges, which you can then send to your friends.
Speaking of which, Forza Horizon 3 also adds the ability to play the career mode with those friends. What this does is essentially turn the career into a friends-only multiplayer mode. Doing this will even contribute to your career’s completion, though, if you’re goal oriented (like me), you can also go back and redo these events again on your own.
Along with a bigger variety in courses and races, the other big change to Forza Horizon 3 is that it has an improved Drivatar system. While other racing games use artificial intelligence to control the other drivers in their single-player modes, the Forza series bases its competition on the skills and styles of your Forza-playing friends. Which is why Drivatar rhymes with avatar.
The thing is, unless your friends were really, really good at racing games, the Drivatar system in previous games basically turned some races into rounds of bumper cars. But that’s not as much of an issue in Forza Horizon 3. While my career path still had me racing against the virtual versions of my Forza-playing pals — even ones who haven’t play Forza Horizon 3 yet — this time, instead of getting jostled around like the puck on an air hockey table, it felt more like the developers went back to using A.I.
Forza Horizon 3 also has a more advanced GPS system. Where before you could mark a place or event on the map, and the GPS would tell you how to get there, you can now hit a button and it will automatically pick the next event for you. And while it doesn’t automatically jump you to the next event, you still have to drive there, this option does come in handy when the map starts filling up with open events.
As advanced as the GPS may be Forza Horizon 3, though, it’s still a bit screwy like it was before. It still does that weird thing where it tells you to turn left, even though there’s no left turn, it’s just that the road itself is turning left. Though I suppose I should just be grateful it doesn’t call me a “pimply, prickly-faced son of a whore monger” and then tell me to take a left off a cliff.
Sadly, a malfunctioning GPS isn’t not the only thing they forgot to fix in Forza Horizon 3. For one thing, if you don’t like the music in the game, and I don’t, you can’t go into the options to turn it off. You can only, for some inexplicable reason, turn it down to 1. And while you can turn the radio off when you get in a car, you annoyingly have to do this every time you get into a new car.
It also doesn’t help that the optional driving line can be hard to see when it’s rainy.
There are also, as there were in Forza Horizon 2, some stretches of the Forza Horizon 3‘s career, especially early on, that are long on Bucket List challenges, drifting events, and stunts, and short on actual races. Which is a problem because while the stunts can be fun, the Bucket List challenges run about 50/50, and the drifting events are all the same and always tedious.
Even with these minor irritations, though, Forza Horizon 3 is still a world class street racing game that has so many events, and so much variety, that it should keep you on the virtual road until, well, the inevitable Forza Motorsport 7 comes driving along.
Along with all of the great real-worlds cars, Forza Horizon 3 also has the Warthog from the Halo games. Well, if you’re a fan of the games or engage in an upcoming event, that is. To learn how the Warthog handles, and has its own races, click here.