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Hands on: Forza Horizon 3 is excellent, but lacks polish on the Xbox One

Forza Horizon 3, the latest installment in Microsoft’s long-running racing series, is nearly here. While it isn’t scheduled for wide release until September 27th, anyone willing to drop about a hundred bucks on the Ultimate Edition will be able to jump in this Friday. In preparation for this early launch, we clocked over a dozen hours behind the wheel on the Xbox One version to get a clear picture of just how well this racer holds up.

Just like the previous Horizon spinoffs, the moment-to-moment gameplay in Forza Horizon 3 is fast-paced, varied, and exactly as deep as you want it to be. If you want an arcade-y experience, you can crank up the assists, ignore most of the nitty-gritty, and live the ultimate speed demon fantasy. But if you want something more sim-like, you can dive deep, customize just about every aspect of the cars in your virtual garage, and decide precisely how you want your cars to control and perform.

With 46 reviews aggregated at Metacritic, the Xbox One version currently has a very impressive score of 90/100. Over at our sister site IGN, the game received an “amazing” score of 9.5/10. There’s no doubt that the Xbox One version is well liked, but we’ll have to wait patiently to see just how well the PC version holds up under scrutiny.

The realistic car models, smooth animations, and lively sound design all add up to form a very immersive racing experience, but the highlight in my mind is undoubtedly the environmental effects. Dirt kicks up when you drive off-road, droplets splash on the screen when you drive through standing water, and dirt accumulates on the underside of your car.

None of that is revolutionary, but it’s handled here with exactly the right level of restraint. What truly makes this game stand out from countless similar games is the expert execution of the thousands of tiny details. From the automatic detection of the player’s name to the over-the-top mid-race cutscenes for showcase events, the dev team’s passion for Horizon shines through.

With all of that said, I did run into a variety of technical issues over the course of my time with the game. It’s common to see stutters during the loading screens, and gameplay isn’t immune from dropped frames. A few notable instances in the open world popped up for me, but the overall impact was minimal. I still felt in control of my car at all times.

In addition, I experienced a few crashes back to the dashboard, some unresponsive menus, and a challenge prompt that refused to appear until after I relaunched the game. It’s also worth noting that the draw distance and anti-aliasing aren’t great on the console version, but both of those small distractions are easy to ignore while you’re going 150mph in the Outback. The rough edges were disappointing to see, but they didn’t come anywhere close to ruining the game.

If you’re sensitive to performance issues and occasional bugs, it’s best to hold out for a few patches. Otherwise, Forza Horizon 3 offers an incredible open world that’s well-suited for racing fans of all types.

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