Xbox One
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
Amazon
$79.99
Available for download now Buy Now»
Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
4.5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
4 Stars
Replay Factor
4.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition (Digital)

Street Date:
September 23rd, 2016
Reviewed by:
Review Date:1
September 20th, 2016
Game Release Year:
2016
Platform:
Xbox One
Publisher:
Microsoft Game Studios
Developer:
Playground Games

Editor's Notes

'Forza Horizon 3 Ultimate Edition' (digital) reviewed. Review was done primarily on a Xbox One S using a 4K HDR display and using the Elite Xbox controller. The digital 'Ultimate Edition' includes the digital version of the Xbox One game, VIP membership, the car pass (for the DLC cars), the All-Stars Car Pack, and some other benefits. As a Play Anywhere title, this digital version is also cross buy, cross play, and cross save with the Windows 10 version. At the time of this review, the access to that version was not yet available (and was not intended to be the focus at any rate). While I did have some sessions with the game on a Day One Xbox One, I mostly took captures from the game while using the HDR mode on a Xbox One S. Those capture are completely off in terms of visual quality and so are not included here.

Images in the review with the 'Forza Horizon 3' watermark are publisher provided.

Introduction

Where other racing games play the waiting game, 'Forza' carries a broad weight that delivers on a yearly basis. Such has been the case since the introduction of the openworld 'Forza Horizon' back on the 360, which was later (2014) followed by the Xbox One & 360 'Forza Horizon 2.' Now, Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios are taking the game to the luscious landscapes of Australia.

'Forza Horizon 3' promises more cars (350+) in a much larger map (double the size of 'FH2') with a daunting number of events, and beyond that, a real change to the game's campaign and co-op structure, as well as a key bit of community driven customization which ought to really affect the nature of the game's racing events.

Forza Horizon 3 Xbox One Review Screen

But simply having a new game in a great series with a host of smart, new gameplay features apparently wasn't enough for Microsoft. 'Forza Horizon 3' will debut as Microsoft's first HDR enabled title (via the Xbox One S and a compatible HDR display and arriving at almost the same time as 'NBA 2K17,' 'FH3' is nearly the first HDR enabled game anywhere). And still, there is more. 'Forza Horizon 3' debuts as one of the first Play Anywhere titles, that means that a cross buy Windows 10 version for digital buyers.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

When I was all ready to write my review for 'Forza Horizon 3,' and I felt good that I had plumbed the depths of the game (at least to the extent that I could), I had another session with the game that threw me a bit. Before I sat down to write the review, I took in a new perspective on the game. Basically, I was trying to illustrate to a colleague the structure of the game, both in terms of the openworld look and feel, when I happened upon a Bucket List Challenge. In this challenge, I needed to get 40,000 Skill points, and after doing some jumps and speedy driving, I completed the challenge, ready to move on to something more in line with what I was explaining. But while racking up those skill points, I related my incredibly poor drifting skills. This lead to a very brief discussion about Ken Block, after which, we took turns with the controller, and improvised our own drift school.

Forza Horizon 3 Xbox One Review Screen 2015 WRX STI

While the in-game construction site was meant to be a playground/obstacle course of all sorts, it turns out that even a single parked truck could be fine to slide around (and into).

And then, stepping back from the controls and watching someone else play the game, that session managed to capture much of my sentiment regarding 'Forza Horizon 3,' but in a much more casual way. Playing in the open country while ignoring all of the events and other map icons, was illuminating. Not only was I able to watch the game's beautiful day/night cycle and see the sprawling expanse of land, but during my prior play time, I had never noticed how much prompting the game did. "Barn Find, Bucket List Blueprint, Nearby Sign, and so on." Meanwhile, we just kept drifting. Eventually, I fast traveled back to a festival and changed the car, a 2015 Subaru WRX STI up (going from stock to around 500hp, and later going from AWD to RWD) but the only event that we played during that three hour session was competing in one of the Outback's Drift Zones.

One conclusion that could be drawn here, is that 'Forza Horizon 3,' by way of features found in its predecessor and features unique to the new game, is fun to play for an hour, or ten hours, or a 100 hours. From casual mischief to passionate obstinacy, 'FH3' plays like a fantasy, one in which troublesome constraints can be dialed in based on the user's whims. This adaptability applies to the game's difficulty, which allows for so much flexibility and scalability in terms of how the cars handle, how challenging each turn is, and how breezy or ruthless the Drivatar powered AI is.

The campaign structure is malleable, with divergent and looping choices that should send different players in different directions, at which point, they can then pick how best to grow their fandom. I found this new Festival structure to be a welcome change and one that kept me doing the things I wanted to do (and trying more cars, skills, and stunts to boot). It's not mind-blowing or anything, but it's a welcome spot in terms of balancing freeform and structured gameplay.

More radical to me is the game's Horizon Blueprint event design. At the very least, each race can be modified to feature more (or fewer) laps, a different time of day or surface moisture level, and a completely different set of eligible car restrictions. When coupled with the game's more fundamental difficulty-based set of adjustments, the Blueprints are powerful tools for really making the game be what I want. There are pages of smart templates as well as more granular options, and the finished, named result can be something shared with the rest of the community. Likewise, that means that community blueprints are there for the taking.

I'd say that there is a lot there to digest and experience, especially as the game seems to offer both a vast array of choices to play with while still offering more than just the tools. But the key for me is that this kind of easy design option, one which gives a nice peak into some of the developer's methods, cuts through one of 'Forza' series biggest flaws. Basically, for a series which features such a strong variety of wonderful, interesting, and customizable cars, I've always been saddened to not have more events tailored to each special car. Winning or buying something new, from a crazy Woody barn find to stock everyday driver has meant in the past, having at best one sad category of events (beyond just driving around) with which to enter the car. When playing in leagues, we could always come up with all sorts of interesting shootouts, but the career modes were quite hollow in this respect. No more.

Forza Horizon 3

It doesn't have to get to an all-time "which car is better level" all the time either. It could just be, I'm loving the car I'm in and I don't want to change just now. I picked up one of the unique 'Horizon' variant cars, a black Ford GT in a prize spin, and after making a few more modifications of my own, I was driving it when I took on my first Bucket List Blueprint.

After a few seconds of thought, I had an idea. What's something I love to do in this game? Pass traffic (oncoming or otherwise) at crazy speeds. I quickly had a Bucket List event built on making 10 Ultimate Near Misses in 71 seconds down four lanes of backwards (forward traffic on the left side) and my new Ford GT.

It wasn't just fun setting this event up. It was fun beating my own challenge. Once this game is out in the wild, I expect great things from the community.

With so much variety on tap, I do feel like there is one issue that occasionally would nag me. In spite of the wealth of touring cars and race cars, and so on, these sleek performance lovelies would feel a bit inadequate when leaving the tarmac or else, leaving the earth all together. These mighty racers would often go all 'Casino Royale' on me while was running around trying to do things on the map. (Like take off through the danger signs.)

Forza Horizon 3

I have a capture of my finally managing to launch one of the Corvette race cars onto a farmhouse roof in order to smash a XP sign. The car made it harder than it needed to be, but it was still fun and challenging. (The video is of too poor quality for a number of reasons, like the HDR capture issue). Hitting water or bumpy terrain was more jarring in these cars while the off-roaders and even the AWD and rally style cars, like the Focus RS, could easily shrug it off. Obviously, the street beasts aren't untenable, but even something as simple as being in the Outback at night, and needing some extra lights on the car could prove to be distracting. I suppose the short of it is that between the game's two cover stars, the new Lamborghini Centenario and the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor, I found the Raptor more useful and fun off-road, and many circuit races have such sections. And though I can't be certain, I do think the Bucket List events of 'FH2' were more electrifying.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Before I plunge headlong into the game's HDR features, I think it's important to outright state that 'Forza Horizon 3' is a visual stunner, and that's thanks to many happy attributes. The landscape of exotic and remote locales, found in game's like 'Far Cry 2' and 'Uncharted 4' are extremely attractive to me. The 'Forza Horizon 3' Australian setting has this quality to near maximum degree. It's very much a case of oftentimes feeling a tug to just stop and enjoy view.

The game has special spots on the map which sort of do just that, as they momentarily frame some local vista taken from real life, but these moments don't do the landscape justice. (I need something like horses from 'RDR' or 'MGSV.')

The cars are brilliant, even if the carryover effect from prior games nags at me. (Here's that same 2015 interior from 'Forza 6' for example.) Little details, like the custom plates, the rims, the paint designs- these feed into my expectations quite well. I do wish sharing images of the game was easier. As both a reviewer and a player, I really want a smooth one button capture option. (I settled for the Chatpad button with very cumbersome results.)

Performance was impressive all around, though as of yet, I haven't gotten to try the game on the PC. It's 30fps on console, but it felt smooth. Pop-in was kept to the lower detail levels. Initially, I was frustrated by the HDR function, but as it turns out, there is a second, HDR specific brightness setting in the option. Once I adjusted that, I found the game's day/night cycle to be marvelous. (The detail in some of the loading screens is excellent, but with my display I have to be very careful about ambient light.) Flying through a field or smashing into a tree, will bring things back down to earth. Searching for Barn Finds will reveal some very samey looking buildings. A certain Italian dinosaur car looked like it had just been thrown up out of a much uglier game.

The game has a drone mode that is neat and useful. If it could be expanded some more, that luscious world could be a fun one to fly around.

I must admit to being disappointed with the festivals as a growing presence. What I mean is that the growth of each festival site, while opening more events, wasn't as dramatic as I expected. But then again, maybe I was thinking of achieving Mega City I levels of change.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

I think from a home theater perspective, the game is softer in timber than I would like. And yet, there is a lot of noise and sound production on display at any given moment. From the radio stations, which are unlocking under the auspice signing each station, to the happy and helpful crew of NPCs (not to mention the new, more intelligent ANNA) to the individual car notes and ambient sounds, it's a crowded game. Road sounds seem to be the loser here, but the loss is ruinous.

I'm not sure that the Groove station was ready during the review period. If I can get it to work with OneDrive like it's meant to, that could be big. I did enjoy in-game music selection, with Epitaph and Horizon Pulse getting the most play. The nickname part of the game (Hello "Brian") worked great (something like this is needed in 'NBA 2K17'), and I never felt like ANNA needed to be outright silenced (which could have be done easily). Those are big plusses. (Spotify support , however unlikely, would be extremely welcome.)

Frankly, I was interested in unlocking Skills, and really couldn't muster much interest in unlocking custom horns.

Replay Factor

Forza Horizon 3

The game offers online four player co-op, which I elected not to test for the review, but I think it could be a killer feature, especially after doing some passing the controller around. The potential of new events both already in the game and via community blueprints is tremendous. The Forzathon alone might really keep players engaged. The cars selection included in the game is immense, and I found that acquiring more cars (DLC or normal) has an interesting affect all those roaming Drivatars.

I'm not a fan of the early access perk for the game as whole, or any of the accelerators, but the car DLC is ok by me. The Ultimate Edition content then makes sense for anyone who is ready to pour hours into the game, or knows that playing online (even if it's just beating Rivals) is going to be a regular thing. Great racing leagues will be born, and there's room for both serious and arcade audiences.

Both the Ultimate Edition All Star car pack and the Forza Loyalty cars have a way of helping to quickly build a versatile garage. It's akin to getting a little more extravagance with a dessert, but these cars also tap into past 'Forza' games heritage.

Final Thoughts

The worst thing about 'Forza Horizon 3' is that it may have stolen me away from the 'Forza Motorsport' series for good. There's an important freedom to be found in the Australian festival racing, and the land is a gorgeous one when alight or after the rain. For those of us on the HDR train, this is close to must-have demo material, but it's tremendous fun on top of that. Playing casually or with a crazed glint in my eye, 'Forza Horizon 3' is a fantastic playground.

Multiplayer Mode(s)

  • Online Co-op
  • Online Versus

Motion Controls

  • No

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Amazon
$79.99
Available for download now Buy Now»

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