Forza Horizon 3 is classified as a racing game, only really it’s not. It’s an open-world adventure game of the (mostly) four-wheeled variety, with a focus on celebrating everything exciting about cars and driving — even racing.
Playground Games’ open-world spin-off the racing-focused Forza Motorsport series places players in charge of their own Horizon Festival, a region-spanning car party. It’s the moment when you’re first handed the keys to a new vehicle, before worries over petrol prices, repairs, traffic tickets, the laws of physics and other nuisances come into play, only stretched out over dozens of hours. The world is yours in a Forza Horizon game, at least the drivable parts, and Forza Horizon 3 has plenty of drivable parts.
With some 350 cars to unlock or discover and a vast stretch of varied Australian terrain to cover, the only obstacles to having an excellent time are figuring out which of the game’s many activities you’d like to do, and remembering to drive on left side of the road rather than the usual video game/American right (something I am still getting used to several days in).
Here’s quick look at the game in video form. I apologise for getting trapped atop a rock, though not really.
While the review embargo is up today for Forza Horizon 3, there are still many things I cannot do or show you. I’m not technically allowed to take my own screenshots of the game, so all I can give you here are marketing shots.
I have played through a couple of Online Adventures with a group of journalists and dev team members, alternating between street races and more creative events like Infected and King, two variants of tag with cars. I had a blast, but reserve judgement of the game’s online until more people are playing — the game’s headstart launch is this Friday, September 23.
Perhaps most importantly for newcomers to the series, I haven’t been able to play the PC version of the game yet. Forza Horizon 3 is part of the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative, meaning players will be able to play on their PC, switch to Xbox One and pick up where they left off. Or they could just play forever on their PC (though online still requires an active Xbox Live Gold subscription).
It sounds amazing, but I can’t tell if it actually is or not until I play the PC version.
I can’t even show you my favourite Forza Horizon pastime, discovering priceless classic junker cars in old abandoned barns. That restriction is understandable, as there is plenty of joy in the hunt for automotive treasures in the Australian relatively-wilds. Best not to spoil the surprise.
What I can say is the essence of the Forza Horizon experience remains intact in Forza Horizon 3. Vehicle handling is top-notch, with tuning and upgrades making significant impact on how your ride handles. The vehicles are gorgeous, and soon the marketplace will be flooded with player-created designs shared freely or auctioned exclusively within the in-game store.
Navigation AI Anna returns in upgraded form, guiding players to the next nearest event of their choice, be it a race, a media stunt to earn more fans and expand the festival, a barn-hidden classic or a bucket list challenge. Though she can be accessed via game pad, Anna is still one of the best reasons to keep that Kinect sensor hooked up. She’s Cortana without all the Cort.
And what would driving be without some sweet tunes? Horizon’s radio stations have expanded this year, offering songs from several different genres, several of which I actually recognised. Nothing like driving a Lexus across a tree-covered hillside with DMX’s “X Gon’ Give It To Ya”. Ooo, I can share the song at least.
On top of the stations, this year subscribers to Microsoft’s Groove music service can have their favourite music from that library integrated into its own radio station, complete with DJs and in-game notifications. Those four people are going to love it.
I could go on about events and races and amazing weather effects, but I’ll reserve those until I can actually show them to you from my own perspective, once the early access launches this Friday.
For now, I can tell you that the third game in the series (on Xbox One at least) hits all the important notes. It’s all about the thrill of the drive, and it’s a larger, longer drive than ever before.