Forza Horizon 4 brings the sights and spectacle of the Horizon Festival to the shores of the UK, disturbing the peace and serenity of the sweet north with screaming V8’s and smoking tires. Oh, and enough British cult references to keep even your grandad happy.
Now, I was a little skeptical going into this title that the phrasing “Seasons change everything” would be little more than a gimmick that the studio would invest a whole heap of time into and we’d end up with Forza Horizon 3, in the UK. Thankfully, my skepticism has been laid to rest. Forza Horizon 4 takes the proven formula and hits it with nitrous.
The setting, a picturesque interpretation of the north of this fine country is honestly perfect for what the title wants to offer players. From scenic B-roads to city streets, perilous hills to rolling beaches, there really is a little for everyone here. Unlike it’s stiffest competitor this year, The Crew 2, Forza Horizon 4 doesn’t set out to give you the biggest map in the genre, what it does do, however, is give you the most action per mile you’re going to find anywhere.
Whatever your automotive poison, you’re bound to find something you’ll love to do in Forza Horizon 4. If you’re a fan of a quick point to point sprint, the Street racing events have you covered. Looking to throw some of the worlds most famous rally cars down the side of the mountain and hope it sticks? they’ve got you covered there too. Even if you want to spend your time avoiding races and simply seeing what some of the greatest (and the worst) cars ever build has to offer, there’s more than enough simply scattered about the map to give you something to do at near enough every corner.
With regards to races, there are 4 distinct series’ within Forza Horizon 4 for you to conquer on your way to becoming the greatest driver Horizon has ever seen. Road Racing is the standard bread and butter event, consisting of sprints and circuits created from the roads of the Horizon Festival. There’s a fantastic level of variety available, with long flowing sprint races, tight, technical circuits and everything in between. There’s enough track variety here alone to get you trying out different cars and classes to find the perfect combination before you even get down to the other series’ on offer.
Working along a similar vein, the Street Series is a set of races that also take place on the open roads, but with one rather considerable difference. Traffic. These races are ‘not strictly sanctioned’ by the festival, but at the same time, no one is going out of their way to shut it down. Made up of primarily point to point races, these events take place on the open roads, in the dark, with the lovely residents of the north to avoid. Unlike the Road Racing Series, you won’t be finding any nicely placed barriers, and the bright yellow checkpoints are replaced with some considerably clearer red flares.
The Dirt and Cross Country series is where things take a turn off the beaten track. Dirt races make use of the maps considerable dirt roads, and have a nice rally cross vibe to them, without being that serious. the Cross Country series will see you blasting through fields, over hills and jumps on courses set within the heart of the countryside. There’s a lot on offer here, and with the insistence on being able to install rally suspension on near enough everything, you’re not limited to taking a hulking great SUV or some specially tuned rally machine. Want to live like that madman who turned his Ferrari F40 into a rally car? Oh, you can.
These series’ are all part of what has been affectionately dubbed Horizon Life. Horizon life covers every single aspect of the title and serves as your logbook for the type of Forza player you are. Purely a racer? Your stats will reflect that. A master livery designer? Your stats will reflect that. Mixer streamer? Bit weird, but your stats will reflect that. There really are points available for everything in Forza Horizon 4, but not to a point where it feels pointless. Everything has a purpose, and an incentive to give you the feeling of working towards something substantial. Be it a new car, cash, wheelspins, or to a lesser extent, more cosmetics. You’re rewarded for your actions, which gives those players into the more niche aspects of the series a nice boost, and those into everything even more reason to keep playing.
That’s really what Forza Horizon 4 offers. Complete and total freedom. I was able to lose a good hour simply drifting around the map, and gaining rewards for what would have otherwise been an exercise for simple fun. Despite literally everything having its own path, the game doesn’t feel directionless. There’s always something for you to do, and when you’re done, there’s something else. The bigger objectives in the title, like buying all the properties, can be worked towards in so many different ways that it never really feels like a grind. The only real issue that there’s simply so much to spend your money on that you don’t really know where to start.
Those after actual events outside of the races will, of course, have the variety of zones to conquer, from drift to speed traps, all with their own progression. Those wanting to kick back with a little more direction, however, can take part in Horizon Stories. These events come as a set of 10, each with their own tiered star system to showcase your talents. The first one you’re introduced to is the Stunt Driver story, where you take the place of a stunt driver in a movie that is legally distinct from that famous spy who likes his martini’s weird. Later, players can buy their way into the World’s Fastest Rentals, a business opportunity, described as one of many, however, no others are currently in the game, so I dare say we can expect more in the future. Additional stories have already been confirmed as part of the title’s drip feed. These give you a nice change of pace and allow you to drive some of the more weird and wonderful vehicles available alongside some of the most prestigious cars ever produced.
Finally, the ever popular Showcase Events are once again present in Forza Horizon 4, with the title offering some of the biggest and most impressive showcases yet. The first on offer is a race against a hovercraft, one not too dissimilar to those that used to cross the channel before the turn of the millennium. This is a nice change, as it puts the hovercraft on the same route as yourself and leaves you the task of not only overtaking but ensuring you’re not smashed into oblivion by several tonnes of marauding hovercraft. Those after something a little more British can take on the challenge of the Flying Scotsman, and those wanting to take a trip to another world can race their Warthog, accompanied by Cortana, to the Pelican Evac point. The one disappointment here is that the race against the dirt bikes is identical to that in the prologue, and feels a little lazy in comparison to the rest.
Of course, all of this can be done with friends. You can race as a team, fighting for points against a team of Drivatars, or against each other, and anyone else who thinks they’ve got enough to take you down. Connecting with your friends is nearly seamless, with the game dropping you into your friend’s session without you even having to pull over. Want to simply drive around together? You can. You can tackle everything the game has to offer with your friends, making this the perfect title for a band of mates looking to kill a few hours in inventive ways.
There are of course some new features added to the online experience. Most notably, is the living world, with other players present in the game, replacing the Drivatar drivers you’d find in the previous titles. This, at first, sounded like a recipe for disaster. thankfully, it’s quite the opposite. Players are ghosted unless in your convoy, actually giving the convoy system so purpose, and you’ll find that players are, generally, just here for a good time. You’ll easily find people tackling drift zones who’ll want to run some tandom drifts with you, and before you know it, there’s 4-5 of you running a drift train throughout the British countryside.
This is amplified by the addition of Forzathon Live. A chance for players to earn more Forzathon points, the event’s spawn globally, with a blimp blasting music and instructions for players in the area, before setting a series of challenges for the group to complete before time runs out. It really helps to make the game feel like a community, and the changes to the Forzathon within Forza Horizon 4 are very, very welcome. Often you’d feel like you’re getting a bunch of meaningless tat. Now, you can choose your rewards. Each week as a weekly challenge, accompanied by daily challenges. These all earn you points, which you can then spend in the Forzathon store. Buy yourself the Weekly car that’s on offer, some wheelspins, or simply save your money for when something catches your eye.
There has been some outcry about the changes to the Rivals system, which I must admit, is an oversight on the part of the developers. Rivals were something that even friends could get behind in the previous titles, and not simply bragging rights for being the fastest in the world. It would be nice to see this return, and with changes made to Forza Motorsport 7 following fan outcry, it’s highly likely we’ll see the mode return to where it was.
The team adventure mode splits players into teams and plays upon the weeks season, and events accordingly. It’s a little marmite, as some players want to have the control to change seasons and set restrictions, but personally, I have no real issue with it. It would be nice to see the more casual adventures allow the ability to change, but with the ‘competitive’ outlook the mode claims, and the ability to unlock league points, I think keeping it to the current form is best. Giving players a fully level playing field, in the same conditions and events to really set a precedent on mastering the weather, especially with Seasons being such an emphasis.
The thing is when the team said that “seasons change everything” within Forza Horizon 4, they really weren’t joking. The map might be the same, but each season feels very different from the other. Winter is, of course, the biggest outlier, with the lake freezing over for ice races and general dicking about, but the other three do feel like more than just a reskin of the map. Summer is blistering, with warm sticky roads and lush, green fields. Spring is typically wet, with some deep mud for you to trawl your rally cars through, and autumn is about as British as it gets. Orange leaves, Grey skies, and absolutely pissing it down. Those of you who make it to level 20 of the Road Racing series and unlock the Goliath event, a race around the map will fast learn just what a difference the seasons make to the title, both in terms of gameplay and aesthetics.
Graphically, is where Forza Horizon 4 really shows off its power. The world is the best looking open world available in a racing title today and by quite a margin. There’s none of the somewhat cartoonish textures and appearances that you can find elsewhere, the world, from falling leaves to snow banks, blooming trees to harvest-ready crops, everything looks like a photo opportunity. Of course, a gorgeous world is worthless if the cars inhabiting it look like trash. Thankfully, much like its predecessor, Forza Horizon 4 has some of, if not the nicest car models available on the market today. Gorgeous exterior appearances are continued within the cars, with fully modeled vehicle interiors, even the boot and engine bay in an increasing number of cases, really help to set the title apart from the competition.
The title runs well on both older Xbox One consoles and more modest PC specifications, but of course, the best experience is for those playing on either the Xbox One X or a high-end PC. Xbox One X players have a choice, they can choose to experience Forza Horizon 4 in either 1080p at 60FPS or 4K at 30 FPS. It’s nice that players are given the choice, but of course, it would be great for the title to be able to run in 4K at 60FPS. Sadly, I feel we’re a few years off that.
The biggest let down within Forza Horizon 4 is the sounds. When the sound is right, by God is it right. Screaming through a tunnel with turbo’s chattering away and 12 cylinders reverberating around you is certainly a thing to behold and makes the purchase of a surround sound headset so much more worthwhile. Sadly, there is the issue of some cars simply sounding the same, when the reality is that they should sound absolutely nothing alike. Most of the issue is between engines of a similar orientation, such as BMW and Nissan inline 6 cylinders, as well as some of the little 4-bangers that sound closer to rotaries than piston engines. It’s not that the sounds are inherently bad, but you want that difference. It’s one of the defining characteristics of the brand, and to have it blend so seamlessly with the rest is a little disheartening. As I said though, when it comes to a soundscape, and you’re in a car that sounds as it should, holy mother mercy does this title sound great.
All in all, Forza Horizon 4 is a must play title for petrolheads and racing fans. There’s enough to do here that almost anyone can find something they enjoy enough to stay. There are titles that come out and try to claim a slice of car culture, but this is arguably the first title to really capture the heart of it, and that’s a simple love of motoring. There’s a subtle acknowledgment that people all like different things, and that’s reflected in what’s on offer. You name it, you can drive it, you name it you can do it. Just so long as it doesn’t involve a Toyota or Mitsubishi. Forza Horizon 4 sits quite comfortably at the top of this year’s racing title list, and it’s going to take something quite special to knock it off.