The third exhilarating installment to the top open-world racing game franchise from Microsoft's Playground Games
Forza Horizon 3 blends together the encyclopedic and obsessive technical knowledge that Forza is known for with a slightly more arcade approach to gameplay. The Forza Motorsports series has always been built with the gearheads in mind. The rich tuning options and meticulous approach to all the technical specifications and various modifications could be intimidating. If Forza proper is about celebrating a deep an abiding love for cars, Horizon was about celebrating what it feels like to be behind the wheel. Horizon 3 continues that trend by dropping you in a lovingly rendered version of Australia and just setting you loose to play.
Because while Forza Horizon 3 builds their system off the series' impressive physics engine and provides a huge selection of cars and trucks to choose from, the real protagonist is the setting itself. This vision of Australia is jaw dropping in both its scope and authenticity. Great care was taken to recreate real life landmarks in precise and minute detail. That in and of itself is an impressive task, but Horizon 3 takes things further by encouraging you to explore. This isn't just a static backdrop for your races. It's a vibrant and living environment that encourages you to dig deeper. It also takes a refreshing approach to narrative, in large part by stripping it largely from the game altogether. The very small cast of characters retreat into the background, allowing you to focus on what you want to do without trying to nudge you in a particular direction. As hand-holding and omnipresent narratives become the standard in triple A gaming, Forza Horizon 3's stripped down approach is somewhat blissful. You can choose what activities to engage in and at what pace. There's little in the way of signposts pointing you to the next particular hurdle.
That's not to say there's a lack of things to do. The massive environment is positively littered with activities that range from major tournament races to stunt challenges to activities used to unlock dream cars. There's a progression system in place, but this is a game that rewards you for doing what you want to do. A gated system blocks you from progressing further into the world, a bit of a disappointment given how open and liberated the game is otherwise, but discovering a new area is still a joy. From beaches to rain forests to the barren outback, the setting is broad and vast and beautiful, and unlocking new territory genuinely feels like a thrill.
All told, the series of races that should constitute the fundamental structure of this racing game aren't it's main appeal. Instead it's a living playground, one that encourages you for acting however you want. That it's tied to the exceptional AI and handling mechanics the Forza series is known for is just icing on the cake.