Gaming: Forza Horizon 3 Demo - Impressions

Demo available on Xbox One
The Forza Horizon series has a great history of throwing out a good demo for players to try out. Not only that, but the demos are generally pretty expansive and give the players a solid taste of what to expect from the $60 racing title. With the launch of the third game in the series hitting stores at the end of the month, Playground Games has put out the latest demo on Xbox One (it won’t be available on Windows 10 until shortly after release). As a fan of open world driving games, I knew I had to give it a go. So today I’m proud to present my thoughts and impressions on the latest taste of the Forza spin-off series.

I’m really happy to say that this has minimal opener chaff, and they really hunkered down on getting the player into the action in a slick new Lamborghini. The intro section has been designed well and it gets the players right into the game’s controls and handling with minimal pressure placed on the player and some environmental eye candy to soak in. Anyone playing will almost immediately notice just how smooth the game runs despite the lush world presented. It may not be that coveted 60fps, but it is an incredibly rock solid 30fps with a tasteful dash of motion blur. This is definitely a title where the high fidelity graphics are a worthwhile trade-off for the most optimal performance. This demo is really no slacker with better overall polish and optimization than many recent games at launch.

The visuals are easily one of the nicest things about the overall experience. Near photorealistic textures littered liberally throughout the varied environments such as nature-rich back roads, an absolutely breath taking beach, and rougher more rural pathways. None of them appear lacking and each are gorgeously complemented by one of the most breathtaking skyboxes I’ve ever seen -- each picturesque vista framing the real centerpiece of any racer -- an exquisitely, and painstakingly modeled 1:1 scale example of refined engineering. The cars spare none of their finest details--their form absolutely uncompromised--and with a push of the pause button, any player can take a quick break to frame a simply sublime snapshot. The picture mode puts the framing and focus into the player’s hands with robust options like shutter speed, contrast, and saturation to play around with. I actually used it for every picture in this review, with no experience in photography.

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Not a single detail is spared on the car models

The gameplay itself is almost equally as fantastic. Each vehicle feels just right. The sports cars feel like a dream of speed and precision on the paved streets with less grip on rougher terrain. A big enough splash into shallow water can knock you off course if you aren’t careful. The more rugged trucks and buggies taking it like a champ, with the buggies having a noticeably lighter weight to them in terms of how gratifyingly they fly off jumps and cliffs with little worry of losing control on impact. All of this with the Xbox One’s controller feels highly tactile, offering some solid and nuanced rumble. Players can delve in further by messing with the game’s difficulty settings. Things like ABS, damage simulation, and manual shifting can be toggled along with settings for Forza staples like rewinding and the driver line. Making the game harder to play will reward the player with a better credit multiplier.

There’s a variety of different challenges present even in its limited demo form, so no player ever has to hop into this title completely blind as to what they can and will be doing. There are more traditional offerings like closed circuit and fixed point races, both allowing you a bit of freedom to go off track and cut some corners, so long as you hit all the checkpoints along the way. There are also modes designed to show off the real fun of the Horizon Festival like races where you’re up against an aerial vehicle, bucket list challenges involving fantasy fulfillment, and stunt challenges that send you drifting through the streets or flying straight off a cliff. It feels like there’s a bit of everything even for people who aren’t fans of traditional racers and all of these will earn you credits, fans, and experience. How much of those you’ll get will depend on overall performance and ability to do things without crashing into something, like drifting, swapping paint with a rival vehicle, destroying signs and foliage, or even just driving clean. These little skill bonuses also continue outside of set events, so as long as you’re having fun, you’re earning money.

Surprisingly, there are multiplayer elements available in this demo, with even the single player populated by Drivatars: AI representations of both strangers and people you know. They offer a bit of unique flavor with gamertags displayed above, giving you a passive sense that these are special. They are missing from the unlockable multiplayer offering, however, and swapped out for real people in an online free roam. It’s all working well and the servers feel stable. Likewise, match making for races is rather solid with no identifiable lag.

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The overall presentation is so gorgeous I can’t even think of something remotely snide to say.

This demo really offers quite more than a mere taste. It honestly feels more like a small bite out of the overall product. There’s enough present to leave a real hunger for more with enough incentive to jump back in despite having to start back from square one. It’s something incredibly refreshing, especially in a world where demos are often traded out for limited access beta tests. At a whopping 18GB and a price tag of 'free', it left me eager to pay the $99 for the “Ultimate Edition” of the game, no question. If you own an Xbox One and aren’t already playing this, you’re seriously missing out on some of the best the console has to offer.

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- Vanyel