When Playground Games and Microsoft Studios get together, you know that can mean only one thing; a new addition to the Forza Horizon franchise.
Well team up they have, to bring us Forza Horizon 4. I was a big fan of Forza Horizon 3, though that may be because I’m an Aussie and love just about any game that features the world’s smallest continent. In any case, Forza Horizon 4 takes us on a high-octane, high-speed journey through the United Kingdom, and boy, does it deliver!
If you are only interested in knowing whether this is the best Forza Horizon yet then I’ll give you the answer now; yes. Forza Horizon 4 is the best in the franchise, and one of the best games I’ve played this year. For those who wanna know why, read on.
If you’re coming in fresh and have never played a Forza Horizon game, I’ll give you the run-down. Forza Horizon is basically a giant festival of racing. You have a ton of cars to acquire, race with, and fine tune. Then you have festivals to enter, including a bunch of different race types that will take you all over the country or region that the game is based in.
For those more familiar with Forza Horizon, then the heart of what makes it, well, Forza Horizon, is still there. You’ll spend plenty of time racing at high-speed around this fully online-connected world, competing in events, discovering classic cars in barns and taking on a variety of challenges. You know what to expect from the franchise, and it’s all there. I don’t wanna pay lip-service and repeat things you already know. What I want to do is tell you more about where the game has changed, because that’s where it truly shines.
A Race for All Seasons
This time around, besides using the UK as the backdrop, is that we get dynamic seasons. We’ve seen dynamic weather before, but this is the first time we get to experience the full effects of seasons changing. You’ll go from autumn, to winter, to spring to summer; you now how the seasons go. In any case, the seasonal shifts have a noticeable impact on the racing action, and the events you partake in. Taking on an event and course that you did in summer is vastly different to taking it on in every other season. That’s where Forza Horizon 4 absolutely gleams.
The change in racing action, going from sliding around in ice and snow in winter to thrashing through the mud of spring, enjoying the superior traction gained in summer to then spinning your wheels through fallen foliage in autumn, is a thing of beauty. If you think that the way you race in summer is going to get you through a race in the middle of winter then prepare to be shocked because the changes to the terrain will impact your racing.
It isn’t just the changes to how your cars handle in different seasons though, it’s the way the visuals change without compromising quality. I may not have ever visited the UK, so can’t comment on accuracy of the surroundings, but what I can say is that they look AMAZING. Forza games always looks stunning, but Horizon 4 takes the cake in the visuals department. For those with with the Xbox One X, you’ve got two options available to you. Quality – which will render the game in native 4K at 30 FPS, or Performance – which will render at 1080p with super sampling but give you 60FPS. If you’ve got a super-badass TV like the Samsung Q9F that has a freakishly good 4K upscaling engine, then you could easily get away with Performance mode,take the 60FPS, and let the TV upscale for you.
That being said, I predominantly played in native 4K 30FP,S and was frequently left gobsmacked at how good the game looked. The countryside will fly by when you’re zooming around at 300km/h, but look into the distance and you’ll see an impressive representation of a watered-down UK that looks glorious. Having the seasons change and seeing that represented across the environment adds to the thrill, and is something I look forward to every time.
How to Win Races and Influence People
Anyway, enough about the seasons. You can’t just drive around and wait for them to change like the weather does. Well you can, I’m a reviewer not a cop, but when push comes to shove you need to get on with it. You need to gain influence in order to enter the biggest events of each season, which is done by entering events covering road, dirt, street, and cross-country racing. That’s not all though. If you’ve ever wanted to unleash your inner stuntman, then you can in Forza Horizon 4.
That’s right, there’s a story in there where you’ll become a stunt driver for movie productions. This is honestly some of the most fun you’ll get to experience in the game. Taking a classic racer or modern supercar across the environment and completing outlandish stunts is a welcome distraction from the racing events. Besides, going hell for leather at a windmill, lining up the gap in it and flying some 300m through the air not only gains you influence, it’s crazy fun.
Each season also has a special showcase event. These again require a certain level of influence before you can enter, but are not to be missed. I’m not going to spoil them, but lets just say that you may find yourself racing against a hovercraft…
More Cars, Please
Aside from gaining influence you’ll gain credits, and spins on the old bonus wheel. Both of these allow you to build up a collection that can surpass 400 customisable cars, and also allow you to change your clothing and winners celebration. Yeah, I use the dab, so what? [Editor’s note: Ben is now cancelled. As a person.]
But it’s the cars that take center stage here, and there is literally something for everyone. I was lucky enough to get access to the James Bond Car collection DLC and, being a big Bond fan, I just had to bust out the classic Aston Martin DB5 and put my guy in the White Bond Tuxedo. Whether the old Ford Escort is your go-to, or a ridiculously fast Lamborghini is more your style, you will not be short of options. Also, given the seasons change, you’ll wanna build up a collection of cars fit for the different types of races. I’d go so far as to say that, now more than ever, building up a decent collection is paramount to succeed across the different challenges of Horizon 4.
World of Drivers
Now, let’s have a chat about the multiplayer. Alas, the days of local multiplayer are well and truly dead. There is no local multiplayer in Forza Horizon 4 so if, unlike me, you’re lucky enough to have real friends, don’t expect to be able to invite them over and play together. If you wanna play with your mates, tell them to stay the hell away from your house, fall into their own couch, and join you online. You can compete with (or just cruise around with) up to 12 other players. But that isn’t where your online interactions end. No sir, all those other non-traffic cars that are cruising around the game world? Yep, they’re all other players!
This is one giant connected world, filled with real people playing in real-time. Thankfully a ghost mode is enabled; unless you’re actually in a race with real players you’ll drive straight through them. C’mon bro, you know I can’t hit your ghost cars. But I’ll take some ghost chips.
Just because you’re in a connected world doesn’t mean you have to actually play with real people though. Thankfully, Playground Games and Microsoft have realised that some of us are anti-socials beings. Every event you enter, you have the choice to do it solo against AI, co-op, or against a full fleet of players. Since I hate interacting with real people, I mostly stuck to playing against AI.
Make no bones about it; Playground Games have gone all-in with Forza Horizon 4. It is a game with a bold vision and better gameplay options. It could have all gone horribly wrong, but this is a studio showing they have mastered developing for the Xbox, and know exactly how to milk the consoles for every last bit of power to deliver something truly special.
With the additions of seasons and visuals that bring the wow-factor, Forza Horizon 4 sits atop the pile as the best racing game on Xbox and, arguably, across any platform today.