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Forza, maaaaaate!

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    Forza Horizon 3

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    Forza, maaaaaate!

    The third instalment of Playground Games and Turn 10’s popular open world arcade racing series has arrived. Bursting at the seams with the same fantastic gameplay and online features as the previous titles and introducing enough new changes to keep things interesting, Forza Horizon 3 looks to keep fans happy with its new open world, refined racing and an assortment of choices. Oh, and to make things extra exhilarating for us Aussies as a whole, the Horizon festival has come down under. So one begs the question – how does Australia look on Forza Horizon franchise and is the resulting game worth your hard earned dollarydoos? Let’s find out…

    Whilst Forza Motorsport has always leaned towards a more realistic racing, its arcade-style open world spin-off series Forza Horizon does a good job of evoking and embracing more arcade-style gameplay somewhat reminiscent of Burnout Paradise or Midnight Club. The core racing, festival management and exploration gameplay remain essentially intact from Forza Horizon 2, which means that you’ll experience a focus on finding and completing races, championships and an assortment of open-world challenges/actions in order to accumulate fans. Upon reaching various fan thresholds players are then given choices as to how to expand the gameplay areas which will go and unlock additional races and challenges. Players will also be able to increase their driver level by winning races, allowing the purchase of additional vehicles and access to higher level championships.

    As with Forza Horizon 2, the third Horizon title offers up a significant amount of real estate to explore to their heart’s content. As with its predecessor, the open world offers a large degree of freedom, allowing players to drive just about anywhere they wish. The Australian-theme of the game allows for a range of exotic environments that provides plenty of variety. The open world itself features a condensed version of Australiana that stretches all the way from the city of Surfer’s Paradise, down to the sleepy hipster town of Byron Bay, across to the beautiful wine country of the Yarra Valley and of course Australia’s world famous ‘red centre’ and its deserty goodness. The game itself does an excellent job of merging all these locations together and between them manages to incorporate plenty of beach racing, winding rain forest roads, cotton fields and shallow rivers keeping things constantly fresh and interesting.

    Forza Horizon 3 is like most open world racers, there is plenty of content to encourage exploration. Exhibition and championship races are scattered across the large world map, so lengthy sections of driving between races and event hubs is required in order to experience all of the various environments on offer. In addition to the stock standard racing types made up primarily of sprints and circuits, the game also includes bucket list challenges in which players are put behind the wheel of an iconic car and need to meet a specific requirement in order to complete it. Horizon’s signature showcase events are also back, with some truly memorable races against some more unique forms of competition such as a steam engine or a jeep dangling from a helicopter along a set route. There are also bonus boards placed around the map that players can hunt down and destroy for experience and fast travel related discounts as well as frequent barn rumours which allow players to explore a region of a map to uncover special, unique vehicles to add to their garage.

    Although Forza Horizon 3 is most definitely targeted towards being a more arcade-style racer, it still embraces its roots and anyone who has ever played a previous Forza Motorsport or Forza Horizon title will feel an immediate familiarity. The racing features that the series has come to be known for come included with efficient racing lines to follow, an abundance of cars (with a distinctly Australian flavor – shaggin’ wagons, dune buggies and utes FTW!) and Forza’s user-friendly handicaps menu that lets players customize their racing experience by toggling various assists, managing opponent AI, messing with driving conditions and experimenting with other variables to provide an experience across the full spectrum of racing gameplay from straight hardcore racing simulation through to walk in the park easy.

    Forza Horizon 3, as Horizon 2 did before it also implements Forza Motorsport ‘Drivatar’ functionality in which the game watches and takes note of your racing abilities and behaviours into account to create a virtual AI version of you. This will then go and feature in other player’s games, earning you some money for nothing and keeping your friends company. All of the drivers you encounter in the game are the virtual representations of other gamers from around the world, which means when in-game, you will always be racing against other gamer tags mirroring their initial source’s habits which always makes things much more interesting and gives the impression of playing online, even when you are not.

    The game’s online offerings expand Forza Horizon 3’s play time significantly with a range of features that encourage competitive and co-operative online play. Racing online plays very well and during my time with a large array of race types and free roaming, I only ever experienced the game’s silky smooth gameplay very rarely broken up by the infrequent lag spikes (I blame my internet for that more than anything). Clubs from Forza Horizon 2 return and allow similarly minded players to come together to organize events and meet ups, racing or free roaming online is always a blast and rival challenges are short events give the community a series of events/races and encourage players to get the best time/score they can against a global leaderboard. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Forza game without the ability to create, upload and sell designs for custom car vinyls, paint jobs or tuning set ups and these facilities return with greater functionality.

    Forza Horizon 3 is an absolutely gorgeous game to look at with scores of cars to find, purchase and race in that all look phenomenal. The environments, however, need a particular mention with both the assortment of different regions and their excellent in-game representations which match them very closely right down to the minute details such as road signs, corrugated iron fencing, garbage bins and the game’s fauna which truly make it feel as if you are driving on Australian soil. The audio side of the game is, as with every Forza game, excellent with the roar of engines and racing ambience sounding as authentic possible. The game even incorporates more options in the way of radio stations, each catering towards specific tastes and if none of those is to your liking, it also has a Groove Radio station which can be used to stream your own music into the game from OneDrive. In fact, the only real drawback to radio stations is that despite the setting, they don’t seem to feature enough Aussie music, but that’s only a small foible in what is otherwise a great selection.

    As with its predecessors, there is little to dislike about Forza Horizon 3. The game is gorgeous to look at and being a Forza title means the racing is top shelf, highly polished and simultaneously able to cater to all skill levels. The implementation and drop-in/out online features work without a hitch and the game’s Drivatar and multiplayer elements make for a great deal of fun, even in offline settings. There is little doubt that this is far and away the best Forza Horizon title yet and the fact that it is set in Australia, makes it all the more enjoyable for us Aussies. Forza Horizon 3 is an excellent racing game and one that deserves a place in everyone’s Xbox One collection.

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