After playing games exclusively on PC and Nintendo 3DS for most of this console generation, I made the decision earlier this year to buy an Xbox One S. Somewhat predictably, it doesn’t see a lot of use since PC is still my platform of choice, but if one game was the exception to that trend, it was Forza Horizon 3. I wasn’t expecting it at first, but what I thought was just going to be a fun little diversion turned into one of the best games of the year.

The problem is that it’s hard for me to explain what makes Forza Horizon 3 so good because I don’t have much to compare it to. I freely admit that racing games outside of Mario Kart and similar arcade racers aren’t really my thing. Simulation racers have never been something I’ve been interested in, mostly because I’ve never been willing to take the time and actually learn how to play them.

Forza Horizon 3, while not quite as serious as many simulation racing games, is still a step above what I’m used to. It can boast open world driving with a huge selection of real-world cars that you can tune and modify to your heart’s desire. You can also choose not to do that and just drive the cars without making any modifications, which was more often than not the route I chose to go.

Maybe that’s why Forza Horizon 3 is one of the best games of the year. In a world where there’s a clear distinction between arcade and simulation racers, Forza Horizon 3 seems to blur that line well, offering something close to simulation-level customization for those who want it and a path of less resistance for people like me.

Regardless of where Forza Horizon 3 falls on the arcade/simulation spectrum, it’s hard to argue with the end result. The game drops you in Australia and tasks you with expanding the Horizon festival by winning races and pulling off ridiculous stunts to attract more fans. It doesn’t hold your hand much after that initial introduction – once you’re given your mission, you’re free to progress through the hundreds of events however you like.

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There’s so much to do in this game that, at times, the world map can seem overwhelming. You’ll be participating in a number of different events, including regular races where the goal is simply to finish first and speed traps which have you racing through checkpoints as quickly as possible. Drift zones challenge you to rack up as many drift points as you can and danger signs will send you off a ramp and careening through the air in an attempt to spend as much time defying gravity as possible.

There are also special Bucket List challenges, which put you in a specific car and give you an often-times difficult mission to complete. These can be addictive to complete on your own, but there’s also an online component that allows you to create your own Bucket List challenges and share them with your friends.

In fact, the online modes in Forza Horizon 3 are surprisingly deep, and many nights I would find myself online in a co-op world with my friends, or competing against them in a mode called Online Adventure. As time went on, I found myself playing alone less and less, which definitely wasn’t what I was expecting at the beginning of my time with Forza Horizon 3.

There’s so much more to the game than what I’ve described here, but trying to cover everything would likely make for a longer-than-necessary article and would ruin some of the fun for those of you who haven’t played it yet. For the sake of keeping things relatively short, I’ll say this: there’s enough content in Forza Horizon 3 to keep you occupied for weeks on end, and the vast majority of it is worth your time.

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I do need to spend some time on how beautiful this game is, however. One of the main reasons I switched to PC at the end of the Xbox 360 and PS3 era was that I was craving a higher level of graphics fidelity. My PC is still significantly more powerful than my Xbox One S, but even the PC elitist within me can’t deny that Forza Horizon 3 is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. There are some environments that made me turn to my girlfriend and ask “are you seeing this?” with wide eyes.

Forza Horizon 3 is not just the best looking game I’ve ever played on a console, it’s one of the best looking games I’ve ever played on any platform. It helps that in-game Eastern Australia has plenty of varied environments to drive through. Whether it’s the outback, the city, the rainforest, or the coast, Forza Horizon 3 has plenty of beautiful environments to explore in a massive number of beautifully rendered cars.

Of course, other games have entered the picture since I first started playing Forza Horizon 3, and as is usually the case, I put down the game in favor of new ones I had purchased. Writing this makes me want to pick up that controller again and return to Australia. There’s so much left to do – maybe I’ll do some Bucket List challenges or jump into some Online Adventure.

Then again, maybe I’ll just hop in my Lamborghini and cruise through the Australian outback with no other goal than to go as fast as possible. After all, that’s the beauty of this game: even though you may have all sorts of events to complete, sometimes the best thing to do is to hop in a good looking car and go for a drive. Nothing quite matches that feeling, and that’s what makes Forza Horizon 3 one of the best games of 2016.

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Throughout the month of December, we’ll be highlighting some of the best games of the year here at SlashGear. The idea is not to eventually crown one as the best of them all, but rather to really dig into what makes these games so great. You can see previous articles in the series in the timeline below, and more are on the way, so stay tuned for the rest! If Forza Horizon 3 sound like your kind of game, you can buy it now for Xbox One.

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