One of the best racing experiences out there… when it works.

I struggled for the longest time deciding how I should score Forza Horizon 3. The open world racing game is, by far, one of the best games I played this year, but only when it wasn’t crashing or experiencing framerate hitching. This review was put aside until after the first patch for the PC version was released, in hopes that it would alleviate some of the major issues I have had with the game. While the patch seems to have helped (or I am still sub-consciously avoiding doing the things I know for sure will crash my game), it has not worked for many others that are still playing the game.

To back things up a bit for those who do not know, Forza Horizon 3 is an open-world racing game set in Australia. You can purchase or earn all types of cars from the mundane “everyday driver” type of vehicle to rare, super exotic sports cars. You take part in a huge number of varied events from street races, to off-road races, to skill challenges, to fantasy fulfilling bucket list challenges, to the over-the-top Showcase events against boats or trains, and everything in between. Part sim, part arcade racer, there is literally something for everyone in Forza Horizon 3. Sim enthusiasts will enjoy being able to tweak, modify, or even outright replace almost every part and aspect of their cars. Arcade style fans will simply let the game auto-upgrade their vehicles for them. No matter what type of driver you are, you will undoubtedly find at least one car you enjoy driving out of the few hundred that the game offers by default. The cars all have unique handling mechanics based on things like their type of drive shaft, their weight, how they were tuned, and numerous other real-world factors.

A staple of the Forza franchise has been the always stellar decal and livery creator. This is where you, or someone much more talented, can create literal works of art for your vehicles. This trend continues in Forza Horizon 3 where the decal editor is easily the best I’ve seen or attempted to use. For those that lack the talent, Forza Horizon 3 allows you to download and use liveries created by other users. From simple paint jobs to a recreation of Mario 1-1, there is no shortage of customization options to fit your particular tastes. Once you have your car looking beautiful, you can hop into the game’s photo mode at any time to snap a picture of the action. The photo mode allows users to create stylized shots of their cars or the environment with a touch of automatic post-processing for good measure. Of course, you can always just snap a screenshot the old-fashioned way if you want something that is closer to how the game looks during actual gameplay.

While I did not get to experience Forza Horizon 2 and its European backdrop, Forza Horizon 3’s Australian setting looks and feels absolutely brilliant. There are no fewer than four distinct areas in the game which include a barren Outback area, a skyscraper filled city, a more suburban seaside town, and a lush forested area. Each area is visually impressive in its own way. The forest bathes your car in shadows as you speed your way through a series of winding roads and a canopy of trees. The coastal area allows you to race through the sand and surf, kicking up sprays of water as you jockey for position. The Outback offers the perfect opportunity to test your skills in off road and dune buggy racing. Then there is the city that feels like more “traditional” racing venues with plenty of sharp turns and flat terrain.

Progress in Horizon comes quite naturally. You start by upgrading and unlocking Festival locations in each of the major areas in the game. The more you race, the more experience, money, and fans you earn and the more you can upgrade your Festivals. The more you upgrade your Festivals, the more races you unlock. Every time you level up, you spin a virtual wheel for a chance at more free credits or free vehicles. If you don’t win a car, it’s not a big deal because you’re more than often given a chance to purchase a new car prior to races, or you can jump on over to the in-game auction house to try finding a good deal from other users.

Aside from fans, the other major earnable currency you will earn are skill points. These skill points turn into perks that you unlock every time you fill up a little meter at the top of your screen. These points are then used to unlock things like a drone you can use to scout nearby areas for collectibles, unlocking new horns, the ability to earn more experience while doing certain maneuvers, having your vote count for double in online events, and the list goes on. For the most part, a lot of the skill point unlocks are put towards things that allow you to earn more skill points and thus earn more unlocks. It’s a bit of a weird cycle but ultimately it doesn’t really matter too much what you invest your points into. Skill points come from doing almost anything in the game. Driving fast? Skill points. Smashing up fences and knocking over garbage cans? Skill points. Taking a jump at speed? You’ve got it: Skill points. Chain them all together for big combos and watch as you fill the meter in no time flat. The only way you won’t earn skill points is if you break that chain by crashing into large or immovable objects like other cars, houses, trees, or if you somehow flip onto your roof.

When you aren't trying to advance through your personal events and campaign, you and some friends can join up in some online adventures. Beyond being able to cooperatively complete the campaign together, you can engage in online free roam, engage in a few mini-game type events, or just compete in a series of races. Campaign co-op is limited to just four players but the online events can see up to 12 players racing against one another. Yes, this game also supports cross-platform online between the PC and Xbox One release, which I think is pretty damn cool. The online seems to have its own set of sporadic issues and did not work perfectly for my friends and me. One day we were able to play just fine and the next day would find us encountering disconnects all at different and random times. This could very well be the fault of Xbox Live or at least Live connectivity on the PC and not necessarily the fault of the game itself.

The game is rounded out by some very solid musical selections across a variety of radio stations that range from lengthy classical pieces, to more modern rock and indie, to rap, to electronica, and more. In a bit of an oddity, you have to unlock the radio stations via campaign progression. It doesn’t take too long to do but it did seem a little odd that this had to be done at all. Both PC and Xbox One players can opt to use Microsoft’s Grove Music to listen to their own songs while racing. They can also use Groove to stream any of the songs available through that service if they opt to subscribe to it. I do not subscribe to Groove, nor do I use it, so I cannot personally say how well this particular feature does or does not work. Vehicles all sound amazing and it’s honestly incredibly hard to find any fault with the audio in this game.

Now, when the game works, it’s absolutely incredible. It’s easily one of the best racing games I believe I have ever played. The setting offers a ton of variety, there are literally hundreds of vehicles to choose from, and thanks to the ability to create and share custom races, and the fun could literally go on forever. Hell, I even have fun just going around in free roam, finding classic cars in barns, finding new points of interest, or spontaneously racing my convoy to various locations. The problem is that the game, namely the PC version, has had some major issues. I had no fewer than 16 crashes just in the first five hours of the game’s launch!

Since then, I have experienced even more crashes, but the frequency of them occurring has certainly gone down. Now, I do not know whether I should attribute this to the first patch that was released for the game or because I have learned to avoid doing certain things in the game that I knew to crash my game almost without fail. Things like customizing the look of my car, namely at the first Festival location, would typically result in a crash. I actually missed out on a couple of car purchasing opportunities because the game would crash trying to load in custom liveries.

There are areas in the game, namely the big city, Surfers Paradise, in the northeast and the forested area in the southwest where the framerate would begin to hitch. Now, I could maybe attribute some of these issues to my hardware, which is admittedly not the greatest. I’m content with 30FPS in this game as that seems to be the most stable for my setup, except in these two areas in particular. However, I keep seeing others having identical issues. People with much better hardware than I am are also experiencing the random crashes. People with much better hardware are also experiencing the random framerate drops and hitching. I see these posts on forums like the official Forza forums, on NeoGAF, and on Reddit. Every person in my group of friends that own and play Forza Horizon 3 have had issues that range from difficulty just getting the game to launch, to random crashes, to issues with online, and issues with stable performance.

This is, without doubt, one of the worst PC launches in recent memory. This is from someone that played Batman: Arkham Knight on launch day and then proceeded to beat Arkham Knight prior to it being pulled from Steam for fixing. The thing is, even with all of these issues, I have struggled long and hard with how to score this game. I have thought in my mind about how this game could fit the bill being scored at 2, how it could be scored a 3, and how it could be scored at a 4. As I said, when the game works, it’s incredible and I would have no problems scoring it a solid 5 out of 5 with no questions asked. The obvious catch here is that the game doesn’t run without problems. It has been better about stability lately but again, I do not know if this is because of changes I have made to how I play or changes from the game’s first patch.

There are people who have reported having worse performance and stability since the first patch, so I do not rightfully know what is going on with the behind the scenes development of the PC release of this game. After internally wrestling with what score I should give Forza Horizon 3, I have decided to give this game a 4. It’s not a solid 4, it’s not a 4 given with my full heart and soul behind it. It is a 4 given because I love the game when it works. It is a 4 given because even with the crashes, I have sunk countless hours into the game so far. I am still finding new things to do, events to unlock, and cars to win. It is a 4 given with the hope that Turn 10 and Playground Games can put together some solid patches that, at the very least, stop the random crashing that still plagues the game to this date.

Bottom Line
Forza Horizon 3 is, without a doubt, the best open-world racing game on the market. It looks are stunning. Its sounds are rich and impressive. Its driving and handling can be tailor fitted for novice arcade racers up to veteran sim drivers. It’s full of content that could, theoretically, never dry up. It's just flat out fun to play! The only problem is that the PC version has some significant issues when it comes to stability and smooth performance. The perfect racing game does come with a catch, it’s just unfortunate that the catch in this case can sometimes be literally game breaking.

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Forza Horizon 3 (Developed by Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios; Published by Microsoft Games)
Starting at $59.99 (USD) for PC (Windows 10 only) & XB1

Forza Horizon 3 Standard Edition was initially purchased prior to launch for $59.99 from the Microsoft Store. After launch, a review copy of the Ultimate Edition ($99.99) was provided to us for review purposes. This has not impacted either our experience nor score in any way.