I had a chance to play Forza Horizon 3 a short while ago, and can report that the third open-world racer from Playground Games is an awful lot like the first two. That is to say, it’s gorgeous, slick, cheerful and free-wheeling; it’s realistic enough for a car nerd like me to take seriously, but loose enough for anyone to enjoy. Best of all, it’s not structured around competitive grind but around the enduring and universal joy of exploring a large and beautiful landscape. It’s a racing game for everyone.
There are precious few, if any, of those left. The simulation and motorsport scenes are healthier than ever, thanks to the likes of Assetto Corsa, Dirt Rally and Project Cars, but also more specialist than ever in their appeal. Horizon’s big brother, Forza Motorsport, and Gran Turismo package this experience up for the mainstream, but never fully escape the accusation from everyday thrillseekers that they can be dry and repetitive. Burnout’s gone, Driver’s gone, Project Gotham’s gone, Wipeout’s gone. Need for Speed is off the pace. You can make a case for Ubisoft’s ‘World of Carcraft’ alternative, The Crew, though perhaps it’s a little bit on the wacky side for most people. Mario Kart is pretty much the only pure arcade racer left standing. We need a game like Forza Horizon 3: a game which makes the simple act of driving a car romantic and exhilarating and fun, which channels the spirits of OutRun, Project Gotham and Test Drive.
This isn’t news to Xbox owners, of course, and for them, Horizon 3 will admittedly be as unsurprising as it is welcome. The first game established the single-player blueprint and the second made open-world multiplayer work, so Horizon 3 settles into the comfortable routine of refinement, adding features that mostly belong in the column marked “nice to have”. Here’s a quick rundown of those that stood out for me: