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Players enjoy nearly unlimited freedom and locale in ‘Forza Horizon 3,’ the series’ best game yet

Forza Horizon 3 is an open world racing video game developed by Playground Games and published by Microsoft Studios for Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. (Handout/TNS)

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By DANIEL PEREZ | Shacknews.com | Published: October 14, 2016

Microsoft took a risk with its “Forza Horizon” series back in 2012, which brought the series’ iconic driving mechanics to an open-world setting. The series originated in Colorado, then went international when the Horizon festival found itself in Southern France and Northern Italy.

“Forza Horizon 3” continues the festival’s international journey within the great Outback of Australia. But this time, instead of being a participant, you’re the boss of the entire Horizon festival, thus giving you even more control over what you do, who you race, and where you go. With nearly unlimited freedom and an equally nearly unlimited locale, I found this to be the greatest iteration of the “Forza” series I’ve ever played.

 

Welcome to the Outback

Things appear to be going very well for the player in the “Forza Horizon” world as they now find themselves to be the boss of the entire festival, which has expanded to Australia in “Forza Horizon 3.” From the start, the player is tasked with being in charge of festival locations, what kind of objectives can be carried out in races, and what kind abilities you want to unlock, among other things. Thankfully, the only way to improve your festival is by completing lots of races, stunts, and additional activities which is much better than having to sit behind a desk all day signing stacks of paperwork.

Fans play a huge role in “Forza Horizon 3” as the only way you can open a new festival site or expand them is through the power of the people. I earned fans across nearly every activity in “Horizon 3,” and the larger my festivals, the more activities popped up all over the map within a particular region. Let’s just say that after playing “Forza Horizon 3” for nearly a week, I’m kind of a big deal in the virtual world as I’m beloved by millions of digital people.

The progression system is very gradual as you’re going to sink many hours into this game in order to earn enough fans to complete it. Just like an RPG, you’ll earn fans fairly quickly in the early portions of the game, but the late-game progression gets slow as it’ll take several races to earn enough to reach a milestone. These milestones kept my eye on the prize throughout my experience as it tracked the amount of fans needed to open or expand a festival, or to take part in crazy Showcase races. These races vary in what they offer, but I’ll never forget their experiences as taking on a jeep being towed by a helicopter or racing against speed boats has left a lasting impression on me.

 

Bloody beaut

Australia features a total of six different ecotypes, and they’re all gorgeous. I was able to drive from the beautiful skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise, to lush rainforests, get wet and wild across sandy beaches, and bounce around the Outback. Unfortunately, I didn’t spot any wild kangaroos jumping around during my gameplay, but they did pop up in various cutscenes.

The open world of Australia is twice the size of the European environment in “Forza Horizon 2.” After spending countless hours in “Forza Horizon 3,” I can tell you that I have yet to experience every little inch of Australia and I’m often impressed with what I discover, like beautiful vistas, historic sites and breathtaking environments. “Forza Horizon 2” already blew me away with its environments and views, and “Forza Horizon 3” continues this tradition by wrapping a downright beautiful world around a massive game. And if you’re anything like me, you’re going to love its new Drone Mode, which allows you to explore the world freely with a remote drone to take in the game’s beauty without having to be behind the wheel of a vehicle.

 

Grab your mates

Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games have made a lot of improvements to the “Forza Horizon” series in its latest iteration, but its social aspect is its biggest improvement as in addition to offering 12-player multiplayer, 1000-player clubs and seamless matchmaking, players can now take part in co-op races with their friends for up to four players. And since it’s an Xbox Play Anywhere-supported title, both PC and Xbox One players can take part in all of these social game modes with PC players even being able to play without needing to be an Xbox Live Gold subscriber.

I found the social aspect of “Forza Horizon 3” to be completely seamless as I was able to join a friend in a co-op game with great ease, created and invited other racers to my Club, and take part in multiplayer matches and convoys without any issues. For those who prefer to keep to themselves, “Forza’s” iconic Drivatar system is present once again, which seamlessly integrates your friends and other players’ driving abilities into virtual racers.

One improvement to the Drivatar system I enjoyed was now having the power to hire and fire my friends if they’re not working hard enough to earn me those sweet, sweet credits. Hiring a Drivatar is as easy as completing a head-to-head race against it, although the game needs to specifically tell you a driver is available to hire, thus not allowing me to randomly hire anyone as I’m driving around. You’re only able to hire four drivers, so you’re going to have to make the tough decision of literally firing your friends if they don’t make the cut.

 

Best. Forza. Ever. Period.

While racing games might not be for everyone, I feel “Forza Horizon 3” is good enough that anyone can pick it up and enjoy. The game adjusts its difficulty depending on your performance, allowing players to decide whether or not they should be playing against more challenging drivers, and its lineup of stunts has something for everyone. I can either hit a ramp to launch my vehicle across a ravine, or I can challenge my driving skills to hit a speed trap going as fast as possible. And with online leaderboards, there’s never a moment where I’m not challenged to do better than my previous score.

After playing every game in the “Forza” series, I can say without any hesitation that this is, by far, the best “Forza” game to date. The open-world driving mechanics are seamless, the amount of content is vast, and the social game modes deliver the most variety the series has ever seen. While previous iterations from the “Forza Horizon” series were used to first introduce and fine tune the open-world mechanic, “Forza Horizon 3” feels like the series grand crescendo as all of that work has lead up to the best “Forza” game I’ve ever played. I already was a big fan of the “Forza” series, but “Forza Horizon 3” is beyond anything I could have ever imagined for the series. I can’t wait to discover more of its beautiful world.

Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox One
Online: forzamotorsport.net

Forze Horizon 3 (Microsoft Game Studios)
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