Review: ‘Forza Horizon 3’ Is For Both The Casual Gamer And The Hardcore Racer


Playground Games

The racing genre seems crowded. Not only do action games such as Batman’s Arkham Knight feature a heavy dose of racing, but getting behind the wheel and rushing to a finish line is an integral part of most open-world games (Watchdogs 2 is right around the corner). Racing games have an uphill battle to expand beyond the virtual grease monkeys that will pick up every possible title, and Forza Horizon 3 does just that.

Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One)

Artistic Achievement

The Australia depicted in Horizon 3 is jaw-dropping gorgeous. The draw distance is admirable, and while there are slight pop-up issues at times, mostly with vegetation, things are generally moving so fast you’re either crashing from gawking at the sunset behind a mountain, or flying off the beach and into the water just so you can watch the waves crash against your car. The jump from Horizon 2 to Horizon 3 isn’t as impressive as the one we experienced in the hardware changeover, but the setting is still stunning. Forza Horizon 3 Creative Director Ralph Fulton explains how they got Australia to look so damn Australian to Heavy:

Once we’d identified the areas we wanted to include, we sent teams to research each on location. They drove the roads, filming in HD everywhere they went, and they stopped to photograph everything we’d need to build the game: road surfaces, buildings, fences, trees, rocks, everything. We use a cutting-edge technique called “photogrammetry” which allows us to turn hi-def photos of objects into game-ready 3D models and that’s how the rocks and tree trunks, among other things, look so realistic in our game. We also created an entirely new technique for capturing authentic Australian skies using a custom-built, 12K HDR camera rig and we camped for the entire summer in a field capturing everything the sky did during that time. These images were brought back to the studio and fed through a custom process that streams the data into our system, producing the most dynamic, evolving skyscapes ever seen in a game.

This attention to detail shines through. Every inch of the environment looks painstakingly crafted with love.


Horizon 3‘s 4K upscaling belongs under innovation. This is one of those games, along with Gears of War 4 that is going to sell Xbox One S’s. Yes, the game looks great without a new, expensive TV, but it’s going to jump to another level with the higher resolution.

Watch this dude gush over the 4K beauty:

Horizon 3 also innovates in a genre that has done it all and seen it all by making its Australia the most coherent living world I’ve experienced in a driving game. Need For Speed: Rivals and to a lesser extent Horizon 2 executed the basic idea of an active world, but the ease of hopping in and out of your friends’ games in a co-op session is truly painless and wonderful. The fact that you can complete missions together and have your results save to your world is damn refreshing. Finally, finally, this has been done and done well when it should’ve been an industry standard years ago. In general, the multiplayer suite of Forza Horizon 3 is so good I feel like I’m taking it for granted.

The Forza 6: Apex and look better.


The game oozes quality. Yes, the interface and basic systems are the same they’ve been for years, but the load times of said menus, garages and maps are virtually non-existent. The team at Playground Games has refined the Forza experience to a fine polish. If this is your first foray into the series, things can be a little overwhelming at first, but the devs have added a little more hand-holding than usual in the first few hours of the game so the new user can grasp the information thrown at them. This sends the player across the continent, through the menus and introduces each system in a smooth way that is definitely to be admired. The game never feels like a grind, or as if its recycling material to artificially lengthen its gameplay.

Forza Horizon 3

Playground Games

Staying Power

Some racing games, such as Need For Speed Most Wanted (and even the regular Forza series to a lesser extent) seem finite. Yes, you’ll eventually finish all of the challenges, then head back to beat your best times, because that’s what racing is all about, but this title seems to avoid the grind that other racing games devolve into. The pure joy of racing your customized car is rarely lost, and showing off your creations online either through a new paint job or unlocked set of customizable frames, won’t get old anytime soon. Especially if you have a dedicated crew that’s down to explore every nook and cranny of the map.

Bullsh*t Factor

Like most games under the Microsoft banner, there are plenty of potential add-ons to make your experience “better.” You can purchase a VIP Pass, which will double your cash bonuses when you spin the prize wheel after you level up, and you can drop a good amount of cash (if you want to) in order to unlock more cars at the start of the game, but none of this will hinder your experience. You can absolutely enjoy the game without picking up these little shortcuts (especially now that the Auction House is back).

Final Thoughts

I don’t like pure racing games, I really don’t. I was kind of dreading this review because I’m not someone who gawks at a car or is into tuning suspensions in real life or virtually. I’ll accept the racing segments in larger games such as Grand Theft Auto, but whenever I pick up a racer, I rarely feel satisfied until I complete the entire game, then I’m left with nothing to do. Forza Horizon 3 allows me to embrace the inner car nerd I never knew existed. It doesn’t shoe-horn in exploration, it pats you on the butt and lets you know that you can drive through that pineapple orchard with your Tesla if you want, and you might just be rewarded for doing so. There was a point where I was in a race and I decided to drive through a railroad tunnel simply because I could, and that’s a great way of summing up Horizon 3: do whatever you want because you can. There’s no wrong way to play this game, which is ultimately just another racing sim. It brings the joy back to just screwing around and having fun behind the wheel of a virtual car.

Verdict: Clear Your Calendar