There is a lot to love about Forza Horizon 3 for the Xbox One. Things like lush Australian landscapes to drive through, sweet drop-in online racing, hundreds of muscle, vintage, and exotic cars, and some of the tightest racing controls this console generation, but there’s also a lot to be desired.
Forza Horizon 3 feels like some of the most basic RPG grinding without a worthy pay off. Coming off the summer of No Man’s Sky, Forza Horizon 3 does not have an exciting user experience in an otherwise stellar racing game that gives would-be drivers almost everything they could want.
The story of the game is that, unlike the last two rounds, you are now the head of the Horizon Festival, a week-long (or month-long?) party of music, definitely some Molly, and racing. A game where you deal with zoning laws and call insurance firms wouldn’t be thrilling, so your job in Forza Horizon 3 is to race, win fans, and expand. I don’t think there’s a festival like this anywhere on Earth, especially one whose daredevil CEO promotes more than their PR firm, but the hyper-reality of Horizon is fantasy fulfillment of the mild Dan Bilzerian variety.
On paper, racing to grow a festival sounds like a great video game excuse to get behind the wheel — which, in Forza Horizon 3, is a legit thrill — but the execution of expansion is bizarre and hollow.
The goal is to take over Australia with the Horizon Festival, but you never really see your efforts pay off. The festival gets more packed visually, but without a linear narrative, stakes for the game’s colorful characters, or an identifiable personality of your own — you can pick preset faces and names for your avatar, but it’s a silent husk otherwise — the experience of Horizon 3 is empty and thus, unfulfilling.
You race to win, you win to get fans and money, you get fans and money to expand Horizon, and you expand Horizon so you…keep racing to win. It’s a hell of a loop if you really love cars and want the 350+ whips available — I bought my dream car, the Nissan GT-R the instant I could, and no racing game has ever really done a three-act story well. Late-2000s’ Need for Speed tried, bless them. But, as racing games evolve across the board, laps lose their thrill when there’s nothing to lose. In Forza Horizon 3, you lead Australia’s biggest party. What if that were taken away from you?
The point of Forza and other racing games like it, such as Gran Turismo, have never been story. It’s access to cars you’ll never in your life be able to drive. Racing in gorgeous Australia against strangers online is something Forza Horizon 3 does extremely well and should be celebrated for. It’s the other big half of the game, the making of a festival, that feels less like a party and more like work without significant reward.