Revisiting Forza Horizon 3: Third Time and Still Charming

Has it been nearly two years already? You know what they say, time flies when you’re having fun. That’s the operative word when we take a look at Forza Horizon: fun.

When the original game launched in 2012, it looked like a crapshoot. To spin off from the main franchise and create a new experience appeared risky at first glance. Yet, here we are six years later (im)patiently awaiting the fourth title.

While the formula itself appears simple on paper, few games have actually nailed it down. Combining an open world adventure with car culture is no easy feat. As opposed to creating a fictional world, the folks at Playground Games decided to keep Forza planted in reality. As a result, Horizon allows all players to let loose in a way Forza Motorsport doesn’t.

We’re on the cusp of release day for Forza Horizon 4. In seven days, Ultimate Edition owners will have first crack at the open world racer. As we draw closer to the day, we’ve decided to peer into the past and revisit the third entry in the series.

What It Did Right

Let’s start with the obvious standout: coming to PC. As the first fully-fledged Forza title available on the platform, it made an impact. For those with a capable machine, running the game beyond the specs of the OG Xbox One was a dream come true. Did we mention the option to play the game in 60fps? Yes, you read that right — FH3 had plenty of wow factor right off the bat.

That’s to say nothing of the set location: Australia. With a map twice the size of the previous game, the land down under fit right in. There was a wealth of variety in the game world, something the franchise is known for. Whether speeding down the streets of Surfers Paradise, or making your way through the Outback, there was plenty to see.

Then there’s the cars. To date, there are 515 cars to tour the Australian territory in. That’s a lot of metal any way you look at it, and of course there’s a sizable Aussie influence. There’s plenty to do before you even step foot in a race — though you’d have little choice at first as the game tossed you into the action, wheels first.

Playground Games went out of its way to make FH3 an epic unto itself. While previous games focused on you, the player, as an up and comer, the third entry switched things up a bit. You were now in charge of the Horizon Festival and its success. That became all the more apparent when we factor in Horizon Blueprint.

While the game has its own wealth of pre-made events, Blueprint put you in control of the action. You could change the route, time of day, and whether the race happens under the sun or the pouring rain. You’re also able to define the cars eligible for the event and the restrictions — everything is at your fingertips.

The feature extended to the returning Bucket List as well. With it, players were able to choose the type of event, conditions, name, and even the music used. Best of all, the events can be shared with friends to help make it a success.

Moreover, there’s the returning Auction House and Storefront features. Both allowed the community’s best to show off their work, albeit for a small fee should they choose to do so. With both returning from a long hiatus, last seen in the Xbox 360 era, it goes without saying they were one of the more celebrated features.

Beyond what the base game offered, there were two worthwhile expansions. The first, Blizzard Mountain, was a wintry adventure atop an all-new playground. As the name implies, you were playing against the elements here. We’re talking snow, ice, extreme elevations and blizzards — all firsts for the series. It felt like a natural evolution of the original game’s rally expansion. While there are no co-driver callouts, it feels like an entirely different experience.

If that weren’t radical enough already, the next expansion dialed things up to 11. Last May saw a rather unexpected addition to the game: Hot Wheels. Further expanding the Australian playground, this adds a series of islands connected by — you guessed it — orange tracks.

With loops, corkscrews, boost pads, and mega jumps, there’s no denying the insanity here. Did we forget to mention the giant mechanical T-rex? Then there are the nine suitably insane cars, four of which represent the brand itself.

It was some of the most senseless fun ever had in a racing game that prides itself on not being super serious.

Of course, there’s one other thing the third entry did right: Porsche. That’s right, the Stuttgart brand made its grand return to the series and is now here to stay. Seven new cars made way in the pack, headlined by the then-new 2016 911 GT3 RS.

At the end of the day, Forza Horizon 3 did a lot of things better than its predecessors.

What It Did Wrong

As unthinkable as it may seem, we’re struggling at this point. The first thing that springs to mind is the lack of Volkswagen. As Brian Ekberg described, the two parties were unable to reach an agreement. This was the first time the German automaker missed an appearance in the franchise since 2005.

There’s also the unfortunate issue of the game world feeling a little empty at times. Compared to the likes of the first two games, there doesn’t seem to be as much going on. Many of the open spaces are great for getting insane hypercars up to speed, but there aren’t as many memorable spots.

Not having Porsche in from the start is a downer as well. We can’t help but wonder how much the Stuttgart brand would have eased the pain of its parent company’s absence. Still, we can’t be too harsh here as EA’s stranglehold on the brand was still alive and well. It would soon come to an end in 2016, and good riddance.

On a personal note, we can’t shake the feeling that if any Horizon game were to include a real-world track, it was this one. The arguments for and against this are more than known, but imagine heading out to Bathurst for a track day…

What Forza Horizon 4 Will Do Better

Where do we begin with this one? For starters, dynamic seasons are at the forefront of the fourth entry. Factor in the UK as the game’s prime location and it makes for a perfect marriage. The demo that’s currently out gives players a brief taste of what seasonal play will be like, and we can’t wait for the real deal.

Seasons will rotate on a weekly schedule giving players plenty of time to take in the sights. FH4 is perhaps the most anticipated entry in the series to date, and for good reason. Horizon has proven its potential time and again, and 4 promises to dial things up another notch.

How, you ask? You’ll be able to buy houses for one. Taking a page from one of our favorite open world racers, Test Drive Unlimited, this will add depth to the game. After all, haven’t you ever wondered where your character stays when you’re not driving? Adding on to that, you’ll be able to buy businesses as well. For example, you’ll be able to run a taxi service using a souped-up Austin FX4 — think modern Crazy Taxi.

There’s also one of the most promising features, the route creator. While not available at launch, we can expect it to arrive in the first major game update. In Ralph Fulton’s own words, PG wanted to give players “pretty much complete freedom” to do as they please. Players can set up point-to-point and circuit routes anywhere on the map, and you’re not limited to the roads either. You can go anywhere, create the route you want. We couldn’t be more excited to put the feature through its paces.

We don’t have much longer to wait. UE owners have first crack at the game next Friday, whereas everyone else has to wait until October 2.

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