If I were asked to describe Forza Horizon 3 in a nutshell, I think I'd pretty much say that it's like a much-lamented Top Gear challenge, in Australia, with your friends and random drivers culled from the population of gamers playing the game across the world. I'd also add that it's a lot of fun, and I really mean FUN with a capital F.U.N.
There's something gloriously madcap about being able to hit the open world of Australia with over 450 cars to drive, push them to the limit in a mix of brilliantly designed events. There's something beautiful about hitting a dune in the Outback at 200MPH in a Bugatti Veyron and landing a sweet jump that gives you 3 stars.
Your Horizon Festival
After a brief tutorial race, which is basically just, foot to the floor and burning rubber to get to the Horizon Festival start location, so you can see some of the sights and get to grips with a nicely tuned badass ride. You get to choose your character, male or female, and pick a name or nickname. There's a lot, and even my name/nickname were amongst the choices. Happy days!
Once you've done that it's time to make a name for yourself, not as some random driver in the biggest Horizon Festival to date - nope, for this game you're the BOSS. That's right, you get to call the shots, earn fans, and kick ass yourself in the various races, PR stunts, challenges, and events that litter the huge map that makes up Australia.
It's your Horizon Festival and you get to play it how you choose.
Choosing from a plethora of activities solo, cooperatively with up to 4 friends, and in an open server with random folks from around the world - you can do what you want. Tear it up across the Outback racking up Skill Points from various stunts, doughnuts, drifting, big air, wrecking fences and small scrub bushes. You'll soon be levelling up, getting a spin of the Reward Wheel for cars or cash, and picking from three 'Skill' trees.
You get to put points into the Boss tree, that opens up extra rewards and bonuses for being the Boss of the Festival. Or there's the Instant Reward tree which does what it says on the tin, pick up some sweet bonus cash, or some more XP to the next level. The Skill tree itself gives you various extras, and opens up one of the best things in Forza Horizon 3 for me: Skill Songs.
These are tracks that play on the in-game radio and whilst they're running they allow your multiplier to hit x10 or 12 (if you bought the upgrade) for successful skill chains. The great thing is one the Skill Song is near the end you can land the chain, then start the chain again and once the song is over you keep the chain as long as you don't hit anything, or break it. So if you're good you can chain at least two lots of x12 multiplier.
There are Exhibition Races to choose, stunt jumps, speed traps, speed zones, and other surprises for you out in the game's massive world. You can enter Championships, unlock Car Clubs, Forza Horizon Clubs (like a Clan) and complete the Bucket List.
Showcase events return, fancy racing a jeep? Sure you do, how about a jeep slung under a chopper as you roar from checkpoint to checkpoint, or a speeding train? Yeah, Showcase!
All of this is playable by yourself, with friends, or with randoms.
What you do in co-op feeds back into your solo game too. If a friend finds a Barn Find you haven't found yet, it's OK, when that Barn Find turns up in your game it'll appear on the map without you needing to search for it, because, you already found it previously.
So what do I do?
You race your custom collection of cars, unlocked for free, or with sweet cash. You race them in the events described previously, level up, get fans and open new festivals, or upgrade previous ones. As you unlock more festivals, and upgrades, you get to do more cool stuff. It's pretty simple.
All the while you're heading to the Final Showcase event and the end of the Festival. There's a story, which takes back seat to the actual gameplay - it's really there to give you an end goal.
My typical session with Forza Horizon 3 was this: Do a couple of Events, find a Bucket List challenge (like drive the Ariel Nomad at high speed to the end marker through the forest in a time limit), hear a Skill Song and rip around somewhere pulling in sweet score, hit a few PR Stunts (jump a crazy distance in the car) and run a Championship.
Upgrade or open a Festival location.
Blueprint for Success
When you get to a certain point in the game you'll unlock Blueprints, these are events you can design and pick a variety of settings for. Change the time of day, weather, camera, and even more as you make the ultimate Hyper Car Speed Challenge Bucket List race for example. Pick a point you want to go to, give it a name, and then race there as fast as you can to set a time. Share with friends or randoms, have fun!
Exhibitions, Championships, Bucket Lists all can be blueprinted and it's never been easier.
As well as the Autoshow, Car Clubs, Events, madcap driving, Photo Mode, there's also Drone Mode which lets you fly around with a Drone. This can highlight Barn Finds, XP boards, bonus boards, and more as you explore the map. It's a great way to see the sights.
Playing with Others
Even when you're playing solo you'll be driving around with other divers, culled from your friends list or randoms. You can challenge anyone to a head-to-head race and winning those gets you cash, rewards, opens up street racing and more. At times you'll be told a new driver would be awesome for your lineup, so you can challenge them. You can even sound your horn at other drivers and get them to join you for a convoy, just to go somewhere in a group, or a little impromptu race to x-point.
Win and you get to hire them (up to 4) to your driver lineup and then they'll earn you cash and XP as you play the game.
You can hire and fire your friends/randoms as you want to create the best team for your Festival.
Just remember that your Driveatar is out there too, you can be hired/fired just the same.
I've always loved the AI design of the Driveatars, and they're really good in Forza Horizon 3. At times it's like playing with human players.
You can also hit online sessions, go into an open world adventure, or find a cooperative campaign to play with your buddies.
Adventure Mode brings back some fan-favourite gameplay such as Infection, and a variety of other events. I've not dived into that too deeply yet because I've been having way too much fun racing, playing co-op, and just generally enjoying the game's deep gameplay - especially the car customisation, including some beautiful paint jobs.
I could probably spend another 1000 words just on the multiplayer, but I'm not going to.
Forza Horzion 3 is also the first Xbox Play Anywhere title. When you get the Digital version of FH3, you'll be able to play it on Xbox One and on Windows 10. You're able to play, save your progress at any time, and go to your other platform where you can pick up where you left off. You can also play with your friends if you're on Xbox One, and they're on Windows 10. That's something pretty damn good right there!
Under the Hood
I've not experienced a single frame drop even when taking the Veyron over 240MPH. Everything is gorgeously fast, and the graphics are downright beautiful. The dynamic weather, day/night cycle and the level of detail is simply breathtaking at times and the various regions of the map are brought to life in a superb way. If you're into beautiful games, Forza Horizon 3 is right up there. It keeps a blisteringly fast pace even when there's a ton of stuff going on at the same time, and so far I've not seen any annoying tearing, pop-in and other artifacts often associated with open world games.
The game also features highly detailed car bodies, interiors, and more for every single car you can see, drive and own. The cockpit camera is one of the best I've seen for a car interior yet.
There's a great spread of radio stations in Forza Horizon 3, from punk, rock, electronic and more through to classical via Timeless FM. Timeless is also a fantastic way to earn Skill Points from a Skill Song, since some of those can last nearly 10 minutes.
I can't do a review of this game without mentioning the sound, it's fantastic. From the screech of tires on the different surfaces, the roar of the various engines, and the crash as you accidentally smash into something or someone as you're driving the various races - it just sounds spot on. The Forza Horizon 3 team have done a brilliant job on the sound design.
Play it Your Way
Custom Difficulty options are back for this one, there's a lot of them, and it allows you to tailor the kind of experience you want from the driving. Prefer arcade, got you covered, prefer simulation, got you covered too. A mix, guess what: got you covered.
So there you have it, there's a lot more to talk about, but only so many words.
The bottom line here is that Forza Horizon 3 is a game you really need to play if you have an Xbox One. If you're even the slightest bit interested in this kind of racer, get it, it won't leave you wanting.
It might leave you wanting more.