Forza Horizon 4 is hilarious. Every inch of the game caters to that fun feeling. There’s no boredom, no “grind” to get better, no trolling by online players, and hardly any restrictions of any kind.
For example, you can take a Ram 2500 PowerWagon into a street race against retro hot hatches, bullying and intimidating them with the pickup’s size. Then you can race supercars in muddy fields, feathering the throttle while sawing at the steering to keep the vehicle pointed in the right direction. If you want to, you can launch off hillside ramps, catching enough air to clear trees and houses or drift entire roundabouts. The game encourages you to take your favorite car and drive it until you want to switch it out for another car that expresses your motoring tastes. It’s non-stop automotive joy in video game form.
Even casual gaming fans should recognize the Forza namesake nowadays. The racing series that started way back in 2005 and things have changed a lot since the first Forza Motorsport game, which was a semi-simulation experience that was challenging and engaging for die-hard automotive enthusiasts. But back in 2012, the series took a detour away from the realism and went towards an open world, arcade-like experience with the Horizon subseries, which opened up the franchise to a whole new audience by combining music and cars in a fictional festival which takes place in familiar territory. The first Horizon game was set in Colorado Springs, USA, Forza Horizon 2 was in France and Italy, Horizon 3 took place in a miniature Australia, and the new Forza Horizon 4 opens things up to the UK.
The UK is a fantastic setting (despite what my Irish fiance tells me), as a global hub for both car and music culture. Iconic bands and singers honed their performances in studios around Britain before taking on the world, while automakers like McLaren, Aston Martin, MINI and Jaguar are synonymous with the country as well. It’s worth pointing out that racing, too, has a huge following over there.
Seasonal Automotive Delight
So it makes sense that Forza Horizon 4 feels so natural and immersive from the get-go, but there are a few extra things that developers Playground Games have done to enhance that feeling. Seasons change every week, affecting the road conditions and behavior of your car on different surfaces. So one week, a supercar feels is glued to the road, when the next that patch of pavement is covered in ice or leaves, limiting traction and making you want to switch to an all-wheel-drive vehicle, or something with appropriate tires.
In previous Forza Horizon games, winter or rallying conditions were only available through an extra expansion pack, something gamers had to pay extra for. Now you get that experience every week, which adds a lot of value if you think about it. Certain challenges and experiences called #Forzathon are only available during each season, which means you’ll have to check back into the game every week to see what’s new, rather than trying to tackle things at your own pace. Since each event can be customized, you can change the season setting on a per race basis, but not during the free-roam part of the game. It seems like a way to force you back to the game every week to complete a checklist, rather than to just play the game because it’s fun.
The game also populates the world with a bunch of gamers, so you can see them racing around, as well as join them on cross-country adventures and races. Practically the whole game can be played co-operatively with other players.
There’s a lot of game to play! The entire map is littered with events from road racing, to dirt racing, rallying, night racing, drag strips and even a few “story” mode events that involve being a stunt driver for some wacky action movie. You get car after car after car whenever you complete events, as level progress and additional lottery-like bonuses called wheelspins. Of course, if you don’t want to leave things up to chance, you can buy cars with all the credits you’ve racked up during the various racing events, but some cars are exclusively locked behind the wheelspins, making you curse your luck when you see something special spin by. There are also barn finds littered throughout the environment, which you get tipped off to and then scour every inch for a bunker housing a rare old ride that was lost long ago. The game restores the car for you and you can pick it up later, or you can use your accumulated credits to speed up the process.
One downside is that there are no Toyota or Mitsubishi cars; just a few Toyota trucks. This is kind of a letdown because so many racing enthusiasts have the Toyota Supra, MR2, AE86, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or Lexus LFA high up on their list of desirable cars. Fortunately, the 450 cars that are included in the game is enough to let you forget about these few cult classic Toyotas.
The cars are meticulously detailed, and you can get a closer look at them through something called Forzavista, or the dedicated photo mode. You can see the stubbled, Rubbermaid-like, washable plastic on the dashboard of the Jeep Wrangler. Mud splatters and crusts up with a lifelike texture. Reflections dance on windshields, puddles, door panels, and storefront windows. The audio quality measures up a bit below the visual standard that Playground Games set and the Forza series, in particular, has set in previous games. The cars don’t sound as good as they could or as good as they have in past games. It’s a small detail that definitely is noticed within the more hardcore, but casual fans and gamers without high-end audio setups might not notice or care.
On and Off the Road
The cars handle with a few physical liberties. They are easy to slide around so you can get around in style. You gain additional points by fooling around like that on the open road, and during races, and each car has a huge tree of bonuses you can spend those skill points on, increasing how much you earn during the game, giving you extra wheelspins, new cars, or any other appreciable upgrades. Each car feels distinctly different than the other. Old rear-engined cars can be a handful. Mid-engined cars rotate as expected. Front wheel drives plow forwards until you hit something or use the e-brake. You can also modify and customize the cars too. A number of legitimate wheel makers are represented, and bodykits from such recognized names as Rocket Bunny or Liberty Walk.
With so much to do, the game keeps you nicely locked into this car-centric fantasy world. There are a lot of races, you can spot your friends and strangers driving around and join them, and the seasons change every week to keep things fresh. There’s a distinct lack of the musical culture that was found in previous games. Maybe I’ve become so old I don’t recognize or enjoy much of the music, but I have a huge playlist with all of my favorite Forza Horizon jams from the past games and there isn’t one new addition in the new game that’s making the cut.
The Verdict: Forza Horizon 4 Review
Still, logging in to drive your favorite sports car around the British roads, your toughest truck upon the hillsides, or a hot hatch on a frozen lake, is addicting, and there are also the set pieces called showcases, where you do things like race a jet, or drive a rally stage against a team of motocrossers. These events are thrilling and highlights of Forza Horizons. I’d love to see more of them, as chasing a jet through a road course just never gets old. There is even a Halo themed event that brought back many memories. Launching your car, truck or van through the air, or dodging trees as you look for a shortcut to the next event is always a blast though. The game rewards such road manners, be it on road or off.
It’s the presentation that makes Forza Horizon 4 really shine and come together well. Wrapping everything together is a beautiful sheen, menus that pop, and results screens that are full of life. In comparison, Forza Motorsport 7, the last game with the Forza brand, had clunky, slow screens and navigation. This one is much more polished and enjoyable.
The game is one of the best yet, not just for racing fans but for gamers in general. I played it on both an Xbox One (not an S or X) as well as two Windows 10 PCs: a desktop, and my laptop, where it performed very smoothly.
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Q & AThe most frequently asked questions about Forza Horizon 4
Our Final Verdict
Forza Horizon 4 is the best entry in the series – a game that appeals to hardcore automotive enthusiasts with its eye-popping details, as well as casual racing game fans who just want to have some fun with a huge assortment of interesting cars. It’s a smooth ride with lots to do, and you can do it all with your friends too. It’s practically a must-have for Xbox One owners, especially those who love playing with cars.
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|Single Player Experience||9.0|