In the now (seemingly) annual Forza release schedule it's once again the turn of the younger, party-loving Horizon series to give people their dose of car porn and speed thrills.
...cars are beautifully modelled and the scenery, even when not in motion, is all very decently rendered, backdrops and skylines being particularly beautiful to cruise along to.
Of course, no one actually plays Forza for characters or plot, and you can soon settle down to smash through the outback. As it happens this is endless fun. Despite all the races and events on offer, I often found myself just choosing a direction and driving, smashing and bouncing across the scenery. As it is a Forza game the driving itself is solid and satisfying, with cars being more controllable and on the drifty side than its brother, the Motorsport series. Cars feel weighty and handle noticeably differently, with ground and surfaces seeming to be more of a consideration this time round – taking your million-dollar supercar off road doesn't always end as well as you might hope. It's still a proper racer though, and drafting behind other racers to slingshot your way past is still essential to victory.
Speaking of victory, I do have the same problem I always have with racing games, in that one difficulty is far too easy, whilst the next one up exponentially increases the AI’s speed and they leave you in this dust at the start line. However considering the best answer to this is to perfect your racing line and cornering, it's not necessarily a criticism. I still have to say that the much vaunted 'Drivatar' system is not all that noticeable, they all follow essentially the same racing line and seldom crash.
It being a Forza game, it looks fantastic, cars are beautifully modelled and the scenery, even when not in motion, is all very decently rendered, backdrops and skylines being particularly beautiful to cruise along to. It's not much of an obvious visual step over the last game but small touches in texture and lighting help it look that bit better. The day/night cycle returns as well as rain which, while not as game-changing as Forza 6 or realistic as Driveclub, still looks pretty impressive and does warrant driving more carefully. The damage model is still pretty poor (almost non existent beyond slight crumpling) though - you sort of feel like 200mph crashes should have some visual effect.
It's not just a pretty face either, there's content too. The world is the biggest yet with nearly all parts of the map accessible, and with collectable (well, smash-able) boards dotted all over the map there's reason to explore. Each area of the playspace contains a good amount of races and 'PR events' (speed cameras, drift zones etc) to complete, and races have different game modes to complete them in, as well as unlockable harder 'street' races (often at night), not to mention new 'Blueprint' races which let you set them up yourself, car type, length etc. Everything is available in multiplayer too, which you can swap to easily from the start menu. With car customisation, tuning and the return of the auction house, you should never want for something to entertain. The levelling system has also been expanded, giving more choice of rewards and bonuses.
It has its problems, but they're more irritations than anything else. Playing with damage on feels unfair, as the AI do not take damage and can take you out. The impact physics are very rigid too - clipping a tree root will stop you dead.
Speaking of being taken out by the AI, the freeroam map always has drivatars around with you, but frankly they're a menace – they turn and overtake without a warning or a care, which is very frustrating when you have a high skill chain or are going for a speed target. There's also little visual difference between trees which can and can't be destroyed, though you learn to tell them apart fairly quickly.
The PC version has some widely documented framerate issues but I did not experience any on console, though it does sometimes take a surprisingly long time to save changes in garage. There's also a slightly unexplained hiring system, which routinely asks you to go find a drivatar and challenge them to a (easy and cheatable) race to hire them, but because it takes them from your friends list it mostly brings up level 1 players you'd never want to hire anyway so it seems a bit pointless.
Forza Horizon 3 essentially just builds on what came before, but hones it and adds enough new content to make this a definite purchase if you enjoyed the last one, or just want a fun colourful racing game to trash the Australian outback with.