It’s been a little over a month since Forza Horizon 3 came out. I’ve been playing it pretty consistently since then. I’ve gotten better at some things and really started to appreciate others. But after about a month of playing it nearly every day, I find myself asking: is this it?
Set in Australia, Forza Horizon 3 is the open-world counterpart to regular Forza Motorsport. This time, instead of just being another racer in the game, you are a Festival leader, which means that you have far more control over the events and races than in previous Horizon games. The idea is you’re given a car and you can basically do whatever you want with it: race it, explore, photograph it, buy more cars... whatever you want. Live the ultimate car fantasy.
Let me reiterate that this game is absolutely gorgeous. The changing weather is always something amazing to see. It’s so real that you’d swear that you could smell the rain clouds rolling in. Park your car on a cliff overlooking the sea and watch the sun go down. The beaches glitter like gold. Pair the game with a good surround-sound system and a subwoofer and you’ve got something pretty magical on your hands.
As I mentioned in my initial review, making that sweet in-game money is very easy, so you’re usually free to buy whatever car you like and upgrade it with a myriad of different mods that you could only dream of adding to your car in real life.
The different terrains remained especially engaging throughout my time with the game. If I felt like drifting through a forest, I could do that. If I wanted to speed through a city, I could. If I wanted a desert off-road course through an unfinished construction site, I could do that, too. But that’s where some minor annoyances arose.
A few weeks ago, I decided that I had worked hard enough for my virtual money and that it was time to virtually treat myself. I scrolled through all the shiny, shiny cars and decided on a Ferrari 488 GTB. I bought it, put some stickier tires on it and painted it forest green because it was my Ferrari now and I could do with it whatever I pleased.
Driving it around the roads was divine. The power and the aerodynamics fused to create a joyous romp and the howl of that glorious small-displacement V8 filled my tiny apartment. Then, Anna, the disembodied voice of the GPS lady, told me to hook a right off of the highway and onto a muddy road along a lake and all hell broke loose.
No, really: all the tires broke loose because the Ferrari was thoroughly unhappy going off-road. Miserable.
Idiotically, I entered it in a race just to try things out and it was dreadful. Sure, it jumped and leaped like it was supposed to, but it couldn’t get its feet under itself and smashed face-first into trees countless times. I’ll admit that I started getting more lead-fingered with the throttle the more frustrated I became, but the results were still grim. I don’t like losing, and I lost. Badly.
I returned to my garage and selected my Lamborghini LM002 SUV that I had painted camouflage green, because I’m an asshole. Very different experience. Barreling through the woods and leaping across people’s farms: this was easily more fun—and way more practical in the game.
Did I just mention practicality in a video game? Oh, yes. See, Forza Horizon 3 is awesome in that you get to try out a plethora of terrains. But if you’re going to traverse the whole map in one vehicle, something with all-wheel-drive is really the way to go.
Sure, I could take out my Lexus LFA to explore a new place, but as soon as I signed up for a race, it could easily be an off-roader that would have flung my rear-wheel-drive supercar through a river. Where it would drown, along with my good spirits. And so, I found myself thinking it was much more convenient (and pleasant) to explore in something with all-wheel-drive. With that knowledge in mind, the scope of potential cars I could try was suddenly quite limited.
Also, I don’t find open-world games to be as engaging as linear ones in general. I like having a set agenda and an orderly checklist of things to complete. Take the “racetracks” in Horizon 3, for example. There are plenty scattered about the map, but each is so integrated within the open-world roads that when you start racing on them they hardly feel special. Or memorable, even.
I personally like to track my progress on each track in regular Forza Motorsport, and not being able to in Horizon 3 felt like a bit of a let-down.
I played the game pretty much every day for a month. In the days leading up to that one-month mark, though, I could feel the enthusiasm ebbing. I wasn’t as excited to jump on my Xbox after work in the latter days. Even the barn find activities were getting old. You go to this place, drive around it, find the thing. Take out your drone if you need to. Next.
Repetition is where I think Horizon 3's greatest weakness lies. It took me about a month to start finding the game repetitive, especially after I finished the five showcase events, which were easily some of the game’s greatest highlights. (I won’t give them away here, in case you haven’t finished them all yet.)
Am I going to keep playing it? I think so, but it won’t be the first thing I reach for when I’m looking for something to do. Of course, that’s before the snow expansion comes out at the end of this year.