Forza Horizon 3

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Forza Horizon 3
Forza horizon 3 cover art.jpg
Standard edition cover art featuring a Lamborghini Centenario and an airborne 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor Race Truck
Developer(s)Playground Games[b]
Publisher(s)Microsoft Studios
Director(s)Ralph Fulton
Producer(s)Adam Askew
Designer(s)Martin Conner
Programmer(s)Alan Roberts
Artist(s)Benjamin Penrose
Release27 September 2016[a]
Mode(s)Single-player, Multiplayer

Forza Horizon 3 is a 2016 racing video game developed by Playground Games and published by Microsoft Studios for Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. The game features cross-platform play between the two platforms. The game was released on 23 September 2016 for Ultimate Edition players, and 27 September 2016 for standard and Deluxe Edition players. It is the third Forza Horizon and the ninth instalment in the Forza series. As with previous Horizon games, Turn 10 Studios assisted Playground Games in the game's development. It is set in a fictional representation of Australia.

The game makes use of the Drivatar technology from previous Xbox One Forza games and features a four-player co-operative multiplayer campaign and cross-platform play, as it is a part of the Xbox Play Anywhere program. Additional content has been released in the form of updates, car packs, and two world expansions, which also include additional cars.

The game received universal acclaim from critics upon release. On review aggregator site Metacritic, the Xbox One version holds an average critic score of 91 out of 100, based on 91 reviews, making it and the Windows version of 2021's Forza Horizon 5 the joint second-highest-rated Forza Horizon titles to date, only behind 2018's Forza Horizon 4 and the Xbox Series X and Series S version of Horizon 5. The Windows version holds a score of 86 out of 100, based on twelve reviews.


Forza Horizon 3 allows players to race in a fictional representation of Australia. Here, the player drives a BMW M4 to a destination.

Forza Horizon 3 is a racing video game set in an open world environment based in a fictional representation of Australia.[2] The gameplay world is about twice the size of its predecessor, Forza Horizon 2,[3] and the game contains locales and regions based upon their real-life Australian counterparts.[4][5] While previous Horizon games have depicted the player as being one of the racers of the Horizon Festival, the player is now the director of the festival, and their role is to expand it throughout Australia by completing races, challenges, and stunts to earn fans.[3][6] By expanding the festival, the player can unlock new areas, challenges, events, and racing courses.[7]

Three types of racing modes are available in the game: Exhibition, Championship, and Rivals. Exhibition is a single race at one location, whereas Championship contains multiple races dispersed throughout the gameplay world. Rivals is a versus race against the player and an AI opponent, where the player has to compete in a time trial to beat the time set by the opponent.[8] Added in Forza Horizon 2, players can also participate in Bucket List Challenges. During Bucket List Challenges, the player is given a task to complete with a specific vehicle such as reaching a certain speed limit, for example.[9] The newly introduced Horizon Blueprint feature allows players to customise races and Bucket List Challenges.[3]

Apart from races and Bucket List Challenges, the player can engage in numerous other activities. Breakable boards called "bonus boards" can be discovered around the gameplay world; when driven over, they award the player with experience points or a discount on fast travelling.[9][10] As players progress through the game, they will receive notifications informing them of barn find rumours; when found, the in-game mechanic will restore the barn find for the player to use.[11] When performing driving stunts with a vehicle, the player is awarded "skill points"; if enough skill points are acquired, they can be used to purchase certain perks.[12]

Returning from previous Forza games, Horizon 3 features an implemented driving AI called Drivatars, which learns and mimics the driving abilities of Forza players.[13] Drivatars are found throughout the gameplay world,[14] and they appear in races as opponents, where they can be adjusted by game difficulty via the player.[9] Apart from standard races, Drivatars can be challenged to a head-to-head race. If the player wins the race, they will be able to recruit that Drivatar onto their racing team,[14] which allows the player to earn additional experience points, fans, and in-game currency.[6] The player can also recruit Drivatars in a car convoy. When in a car convoy, Drivatars will follow the player, and they can be upgraded by skill points to perform certain tasks throughout the game.[15]

The player can upgrade and tune individual parts of their vehicles, with body kits for vehicles being available to the player as well.[16][17] Additionally, Horizon 3 includes a vehicle cutsomisation option called "Upgrade Heroes," which utilizes both tuning and body kits to alter both a vehicle's performance and appearance, though the cutomisation preset is limited to a certain number of vehicles.[18] The colour of vehicles and its collective parts can changed, with the player further being able to design liveries for vehicles.[16] These liveries can be sold through the game's transactional system, which also includes an auction system to bid on cars from other players.[3][19] A total of 350 vehicles were available at the game's launch.[3]

Horizon 3 offers a co-operative campaign for up the four players and supports cross-platform compatibility.[15][20] The game also includes a multiplayer open world mode supporting up to 12 players.[16] In multiplayer, players can compete in standard races, though they also have the option to play various kinds of minigames with their vehicles.[6][15] As from previous Forza games, players can join clubs, where they have the ability to compete against players of other clubs in races and minigames.[15]


Forza Horizon 3 was developed by UK-based Playground Games, the developers behind previous Horizon titles. Additional work was provided by Turn 10 Studios.[1] The game was designed using the ForzaTech game engine, which is used to develop most other Forza games.[21] The development team started conceptualizing about the creation of Horizon 3 in 2014 initially after Forza Horizon 2 was released.[22] The team desired to give players more freedom in Horizon 3, which wasn't as prominent in the previous game of the series.[23] The team also aimed for Horizon 3 to be of better quality, therefore they sought to improve and reiterate many aspects of the game over the previous title.[22] This caused Playground Games to minimize the amount of loading screen time in Horizon 3, as it could damage the game's impression of being persistently high quality.[24] Creative director Ralph Fulton felt that Horizon 3 was a "generational leap" over Horizon 2 because of the work the development team put in to better improve the game.[22]


Clockwise from top left: Surfers Paradise, the Outback, The 12 Apostles, Yarra Valley. Australia's diverse scenery was one of the main reasons Playground Games selected the country as the setting of Forza Horizon 3.

Playground Games initially started with a broad range of locations for Horizon 3, with the list of locations narrowing with more research.[22] Because of Australia's largely diverse environment, the development team ultimately made the decision to have Horizon 3 set there, as they also considered the country to be a possible setting for future Horizon games.[22][25] Mike Brown, a game designer at Playground Games, thinks that the team made the correct decision to select Australia as the setting, describing the potential of the setting as "perfect".[25]

To help create a convincing gameplay world, a team was sent to Australia to take thousands of photos for reference to help import into the game, with these photos consisting of plants, rocks, and road details, among many others.[26][25] Playground Games stated that they explored and represented every ecologically distinct part of the country in Horizon 3,[27] with the gameplay world consisting of six distinct regions, alongside more effort being put into simulating iconic areas of the country, such as The Twelve Apostles.[25] Fairly obscure details were also implemented into the game, such as the colours of Australian phone boxes and garbage bins, as well as native wildlife also being included.[28][25] The gameplay world, however, is somewhat geographically inaccurate, with locations in real life existing in different geographic areas in the game.[29] According to Brown, the explanation for this inconsistency was to create a better gameplay experience for the player.[25]

Ralph Fulton, speaking in an interview with MCV/Develop, explained that Playground Games desired to help celebrate Australian car culture and familiarize the culture to people in other parts of the world, thus multiple Australian car models were incorporated into the game, with Fulton adding, "[Australia's] culture of Ford vs Holden, and V8s and Utes isn’t immediately familiar to everybody north of the equator, but we did feel it was really interesting and colourful and would add to the game."[22]

General design and technology[edit]

After the success of the recreation of Cote d’Azur and Northern Italy in Horizon 2, the development team talked about and tested new technology prototypes for several months to help enhance the visual scenery for the project. Among these prototypes was an HDR sky system.[22] As an idea, the team thought of pointing a high-resolution camera at the sky for hours as a time-lapse. A test was then conducted in Leamington Spa, England. Lighting artist Jamie Wood admitted that during the test, there was more variety in shooting a camera at a sky than the sky design system that was used in Horizon 2. With Playground Games taking these aspects into consideration, three teams of two were sent to Braidwood, New South Wales to capture Australia's more specific skies, clouds, and sun rays. From October 2015 to the summer in the southern hemisphere, the teams performed the shooting process using HDR cameras. The cameras took thousands of photos with frame interpolation over 24 hour periods, alongside the lenses and light sensors needing to be cleaned regularly. Videos of the sky were also taken, with the footage being about 30 days long overall.[30] The shooting process took place through various weather conditions and times of day to resemble a "dynamic weather system" in the game. This further meant that camera exposures and filters had to be changed frequently to adjust to each time of day. The footage of the sky was then imported into the game.[26] Because of the sky footage, days were longer in Horizon 3 than its predecessor, and clouds also correlate with weather systems in-game.[30]

The lighting effects (including light direction and length) in Horizon 3 are calculated with real-time computing, which helps simulate a realistic sun in the game. This aids in generating shadows situated on how light is distributed and occluded based on surrounding objects and substances. The game also uses a voxel-based global illumination system to calculate the bouncing of light, which is also used with real-time computing. The sky, other sources of light, and occlusion data is used to assist in which surfaces light bounces onto. This helps light accurately blend into darker areas of the game.[30]

High-dynamic-range rendering (HDR), played a key role in the visuals of Horizon 3. Originally, there wasn't any thought of incorporating HDR while developing the game, but due to the development team discovering the HDR output of the Xbox One S, it was decided to start programming the feature. "ForzaTech", the video game engine used for Forza games,[31] was found to be a perfect match for HDR, as the light rendering of the game engine was perfectly set up the incorporate the brightness gamut of HDR. To help investigate the feature, multiple televisions that supported HDR were bought. The development team later discovered that the televisions displayed HDR variously, which added much more intricacy to the process of developing the feature.[22]

Car models were mainly developed with the help of CAD data exchange with the car manufacturer, but for cars that didn't support CAD data exchange, designers had to use more expertise in order to simulate them more accurately. Another issue was trying to track down cars for modelling details, especially rarer and older cars, with it sometimes taking upwards of weeks to locate some of them.[22][30] As with the Lamborghini Centenario, the cover car of the game,[32] a photographer was sent to Italy to take thousands of photos and measurements of the car. Using help from the images and measurements, a mesh of the car was modelled with Autodesk 3ds Max. As the car also consisted of 620 different types of materials, Playground Games desired to simulate all the materials to the "sub-pixel level", with designers of the game's Centenario having to figure out which materials had to be placed in areas of the car.[30]

The beach and sea were found to be an important racing area for the development team, therefore much effort was put into allowing the sea to realistically interact with the beach. To help assist in developing the sea, Playground Games contacted game developer Rare, who was working on Sea of Thieves at the time. As both developers were working on creating the sea in their games, they decided to share computer code, of which both developers improved and reiterated on.[30]

Gameplay design[edit]

While in a conference hosted by, Ralph Fulton explained in a presentation that "humans form their first impressions incredibly quickly", elaborating that people form their opinions on someone within the first three seconds. He acknowledged that first impressions can change the way someone recognizes a game, with Playground Games conducting a study of first impressions before developing Horizon 3. Two groups of test subjects both played the same Forza game for the same amount of time, but one group played in a sports car and the other played in a regular car. When asked about their experiences playing the game, the group that played in the sports car rated the game higher in multiple categories. As a result of such observations, Playground Games spent a large part of their development cycle (about eighteen months) developing and curating the first few scenes of the game. In February 2015, it was decided that the first few scenes would be split between the opening drive and the first of the game's events, with the decided route for the opening drive being finalized a month later. By June 2015, the decided route was being tested and concept art was drawn for the scenery that the player would see during the opening drive, although some concepts had to be adjusted or removed such as the rainforest in the game being made less dense. Problems also emerged with the car that the player would be driving in during the opening sequence, the Lamborghini Centenario. The Centenario resulted in being too fast for the player to observe the scenery as intended, requiring changes in the route and terrain. As the opening drive also went off-road, a cutscene had to be instituted to switch the Centenario with a buggy to accompany the rougher land. Additionally, the first event after the opening drive had to be pushed back for further improvement, prompting modifications to be made to the opponent vehicle.[24]

During the development process of the four-player cooperative campaign, the goal of the project was to enable all players to play with "as little friction as possible". This made the development team generate a list of goals for an organized campaign. The team then developed a list of issues that influenced the campaign when assessing their project design. The major issues mainly were:

  • Players could be hours apart in campaign progress
  • As races could have specific requirements for cars based on the restrictions the session leader has set, players with fewer cars may not reach those car specifications
  • Players with lower skill levels may finish races in lower positions
  • Although players are able to play without any sort of communication between each other, the one player leading the game session has to also guide players throughout the game

With each issue, the team brainstormed a list of possible solutions, picking the solution that produced the least conflict between players. For the first issue, a screen appears that informs the player of how many fans they earned and festivals they can upgrade or open whenever they leave a cooperative session. If players also completed races in a cooperative session that have not yet been unlocked in their single-player session, the race will appear as "completed" on the UI in single-player. The second issue was considered more straightforward, which introduced a rental feature that allowed players to borrow the session leader's car during a race. For the third issue, every race was converted into a team race between the players and the AI opponents. A point system was then added for every opponent beaten. This created a structure that allowed inexperienced players contribute to the campaign even if they beat only one opponent. Although the fourth issue wasn't part of the team's original goals, it did come up often during testing phases. To resolve the problem, a feature was implemented that notified the session leader's actions to all other players whenever the leader did something, such as starting an event.[7]


The 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS was featured in a Porsche downloadable car pack.

Forza Horizon 3 was announced on 13 June 2016 during Microsoft's E3 Xbox briefing.[2] The game was released on 27 September 2016.[20] Owners of the Ultimate Edition version of the game received access on 23 September, along with six downloadable content car packs, and access to exclusive cars and events.[33] The game also made use of Groove Music to play custom soundtracks, although the feature became limited to music and playlists uploaded to their OneDrive cloud storage only after 31 December 2017 when Microsoft discontinued the Groove Music Pass. The OneDrive music streaming feature in the game was later disabled on 31 March 2019,[34][35] effectively limiting players to the in-game soundtrack as with the other Forza Horizon games. Vehicles manufactured by Volkswagen were absent from the game due to licensing issues.[36] Forza Horizon 3 and all its downloadable content were removed from the Microsoft Store after reaching end-of-life status on 27 September 2020.[37]

Downloadable content[edit]

Several downloadable content car packs were released. While most packs featured a small collection of cars, some packs were themed, such as the Motorsport All-Stars Car Pack. This pack included several race versions of popular sport and super cars, such as the Dodge Viper GTS-R, Nissan GT-R and Chevrolet Corvette C7. One pack was manufacturer specific, the Porsche Car Pack. This pack features the 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS and two other 911 variants from various years, a 1955 Porsche 550, a 1960 Porsche 718, a 2016 Porsche Cayman and a 2017 Porsche Panamera. Additionally if all expansions are purchased players can unlock an event to trigger an additional Porsche barn find. Another car pack featured real life modified cars used by the Hoonigan brand, including a third generation Mazda RX-7 drift car, Ken Block’s Ford Mustang ‘Hoonicorn’, and a Chevrolet K5 Blazer owned by BJ Baldwin, among other cars.

On 13 December 2016, the expansion Blizzard Mountain was released. Players who purchased the Expansion Pass received the Blizzard Mountain DLC, alongside the Hot Wheels expansion. Blizzard Mountain allows players to experience snow conditions both at the foot of and up to the peak of the titular mountain. Weather changes during play, ranging from clear skies to near whiteout conditions. The expansion comes with nine new DLC cars, including a barn find. Players can also buy the pack separately through the Microsoft Store, alongside the Expansion Pass as well.

On 9 May 2017, Turn 10 and Playground Games released an expansion pack, in collaboration with Mattel's Hot Wheels, named Forza Horizon 3 Hot Wheels,[38] which includes a new area located off the coast of Australia that is constructed with real-world scale Hot Wheels stunt track pieces. Included are ten brand new DLC cars, including a barn find. Several iconic cars from the Hot Wheels franchise are included, including the Twin Mill, while manufacturer speciality cars such as the 2010 Pagani Zonda R, the 2016 Jeep Trailcat, a Chrysler Hemi Hellcat powered Jeep Trailcat (a customised Jeep Wrangler) and the 2007 Toyota Hilux featured on Top Gear's North Pole special.[38] Players who purchase the Expansion Pass can access this expansion pack for no additional cost.

On 1 August 2017, Forza Horizon 3 players received the fictitious Quartz Regalia from Final Fantasy XV through the in-game message system, while Final Fantasy XV players received an Xbox Live message with a code to redeem the car.[39] It was free DLC for those who've played either game on Xbox One or Forza Horizon 3 on Windows prior to that date.[39] According to Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata, Forza Horizon 2 was used as a reference for the road trip aspects of the Final Fantasy game, which lead to Square Enix's partnering with Turn 10 to bring the fictional car to Horizon 3.[40]


Forza Horizon 3 received "universal acclaim" from critics for the Xbox One version, while the PC version of the game received "generally favorable" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic.[41][42] Until the release of Forza Horizon 4, it was the most-acclaimed Forza Horizon title to date and the only Xbox One console exclusive to have a Metascore higher than 90.[45][46] It was the seventh top selling game in Australia in 2016.[47] More than 2.5 million copies of the game were sold.[48]

Miguel Concepcion from GameSpot also gave the game a 9/10, stating, "Turn 10 and Playground Games affirm the series' status as the driving game for everyone. The new emphasis on off-road options isn't at the expense of traditional races, thanks to the sheer volume of activities."[5] Colin Campbell of Polygon gave the game an 8.5/10 saying that "Through a superbly realized version of Australia as well as a wide variety of terrain, cars and challenges, this free-roaming car simulation offers a valuable playbox. But it also managed to muster "cor blimey" moments that made me feel a whooping rush of speed and liberation."[1] While criticizing the game's scoring system as being too easy to cheat, GamesRadar+ liked the music selection, saying that "Not only is the included licensed tracklist superb, there’s also a station dedicated to – and a free trial for – Groove Music, so you can set up playlists of anything on there".[8] Game Informer enjoyed how unique each car felt to drive, specifically singling out the off-road racing as "some of the best I’ve experienced in a game".[11]

Destructoid praised the arcade-style racing in compariosn to the main series, writing, "Horizon scratches a completely different itch than the more serious and simulation-focused main Forza line of games. This is a lighthearted affair where it kind of matters if you win, but it maybe matters more that you do cool stuff along the way".[12] IGN felt the detailed world helped bring the new setting to life, "The attention to detail, for example, is magnificent... The road markings, the street signs, even the garbage bins with their multi-coloured lids. It’s eerie, really".[13] The Guardian felt the game catered to higher level player with simulation settings, "The difference between the default mode for the steering and ‘simulation’ may not seem significant at first, but it does become apparent after extended driving – and certainly when you’re trying to stop a Koenigsegg Regera from swapping ends on the loose Australian Outback dust".[17]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Ceremony Category Result Ref.
2016 Guild of Music Supervisors Awards Best Music Supervision In A Video Game Nominated [49]
The Game Awards Best Sports/Racing Won [50][51]
2017 British Academy Games Awards British Game Nominated [52]
Multiplayer Nominated [53]


  1. ^ The Ultimate Edition for the game was released on 23 September 2016, while the standard and deluxe editions were released on 27 September.
  2. ^ Additional work was provided by Turn 10 Studios.[1]


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  28. ^ O'Connor, James (27 September 2016). "'Forza Horizon 3' Depicts a Better Australia Than Australians Deserve". Vice. Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  29. ^ Serrals, Mark (15 June 2016). "Forza Horizon 3 Is A Bit Confused About Australia". Kotaku Australia. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
  30. ^ a b c d e f Stuart, Keith (18 October 2016). "How Forza Horizon 3 became the most beautiful game on Xbox". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  31. ^ Makuch, Eddie (7 April 2015). "What is Microsoft's "ForzaTech"? [UPDATE]". GameSpot. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  32. ^ Ziegler, Chris (2 March 2016). "There's a new Forza game being announced at E3 this year". The Verge. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
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  34. ^ "Groove Music OneDrive Streaming: FAQ". 15 March 2015. Archived from the original on 15 March 2019. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
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  36. ^ "Forza Motorsport - Forza Motorsport Week in Review 8-26-16". Retrieved 24 October 2017.
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  40. ^ Schommer, John (27 July 2017). "Heavy Metal Affliction - The Regalia". Forza Motorsport. Microsoft. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
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  49. ^ "Seventh Annual Guild Of Music Supervisors Awards February 16, 2016 At The Theatre At Ace Hotel In Los Angeles". Guild of Music Supervisors Awards. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
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  52. ^ "British Game - Overcooked". BAFTA Games Awards. 9 March 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  53. ^ "Multiplayer - Overwatch". BAFTA Games Awards. 9 March 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2021.

External links[edit]