Review: Forza Horizon 4

Motorhead

Almost everyone has one or two hobbies that they are passionate about and/or obsess over. Music, film, sports, whisky, anime, and so on, there seem to be just about as many fanbases for things as there are, well, things in existence.

One of the more common hobbies amongst many is cars. While I personally see cars simply as tools to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, others see them as intriguing machines worth revolving a part of their lives around. It’s hard to blame them, though – the automobile hobbyist culture combines collecting, customization, and just plain showing off into a perfect storm of addiction.

For those that don’t have the funds to fill a garage with hundreds of different cars to fiddle with, modern tech has provided the ability to do so virtually. Racing and car-focused games are a massive chunk of the gaming sphere, with the genre easily being one of the most popular to this day. Games are created to cater to every level of player, from the more arcade-racing focused casual fan to those who want to dig into the nitty-gritty of tuning racecars to get the best performance out of them.

The Forza franchise is one of Microsoft’s key exclusives, with the Forza Motorsport series in particular aimed towards the fans of simulation racing – realistic driving and physics with the aforementioned deep-dive into fiddling with and tuning your cars. The other series within the franchise, Forza Horizon, aims more toward hitting a middle-ground between casual and fanatic, offering a somewhat more arcade-like experience with some deeper options for those that want to use them. The Horizon series also has an open-world presentation, rather than just offering up a series of racetracks like many traditional racing games, presumably targeting the series toward a wider audience.

Developed by Playground Games and published by Microsoft Studios, Forza Horizon 4 was released on October 2nd, 2018, for Xbox One and Windows 10 as an Xbox Play Anywhere title. The Windows 10 version was played for this review.

How Fast Time Flies

Much like past Horizon games, Forza Horizon 4 is set during the “Horizon Festival,” a racing festival that takes place in venues all over the world. For this game, the Festival is being held in the United Kingdom, which meant that I found myself often running into NPC cars while exploring as I kept trying to drive on the right side of the road.

This time around, though, the Horizon Festival is a year-round event, bringing in the new gimmick for Horizon 4: changing seasons. The opening fifteen minutes of the game gives you a quick taste of all four seasons, putting you in quick vignettes through multiple racing scenarios as a crash course introduction. From there, you’re put into the opening “story” part of the game that takes around five or six hours to complete, letting you explore and race in each season for an hour or so each. Once this first cycle is done, you move into the game’s main server, where the in-game season changes once a week in real time.

Seasonal changes have a notable impact on the game, in both obvious and more subtle ways. For example, the winter season will obviously introduce slicker roads and will freeze lakes, allowing you to drive over them. Less noticeable may be the impact it has in going off-road; without foliage in the way, it can be easier to navigate your ways through forests.

Stepping outside the seasonal gimmick, Horizon 4 at its base is a racing game with just so much stuff to do. Enjoy street racing? There’s an entire series of races for that. Maybe off-roading is more your style? Here’s another series. Cross-country? Stunt driving? Just want to drive off some cliffs? Check, check, and check. Every time I found myself getting bored with one part of the game, I could drive off elsewhere and do something completely different.

If you somehow get bored of all the premade events and races the game gives to you, you can enter “Blueprint” mode and create your own. Forza Blueprint allows you to create races with your own rules (car type, car class, etc) and, if you’re so inclined, own race paths. I can’t say I dove much into Blueprint creation during my review time, but jumping online brought me through some interesting player-created races that really felt outside the norm.

The only issue I had with car type and car class specific races was in the early game when I barely had any cars unlocked. Many multiplayer sessions I jumped into were Blueprinted for a class of cars I had nearly no selection in, often sticking me in a beater car that was just no fun to drive.

Horizon 4 also offers up a number of other customization options, depending on how in-depth you want to go with the game. You can create your own paint designs for your cars and share them online for others to download. You can go in and tinker with each of your car’s tunings (which I honestly didn’t even attempt to mess with, as I know near-nothing about cars). Hell, you can set your car’s controls to be more arcade-like or more simulation-like, earning you more cash per race if you opt for a more difficult driving style. Surprisingly, I found myself more comfortable setting steering to “simulation,” as it felt as if I had more precise control using more subtle inputs.

For those who are really ready to settle into the game long-term, you’ll be pleased to know that every single car in the game has its own skill tree you can level up. I’m sure most sane people will pick their go-to vehicles and spend skill points on them, but if you’re a completionist, get ready to be here for a while. Luckily, skill points are rather easy to collect, as you can earn them simply by driving well and pulling off clean drifts just driving from place to place on the map.

Speaking of driving place to place, this may be an odd complaint for a game focused on driving, but I found myself really wishing for an easier fast-travel option on the game’s map. You’re able to spend a bit of money to travel back to the game’s central hub at any time, but if you want to go anywhere else in the early game, you have to drive there yourself. You can spend your hard-earned money on houses to use as fast-travel points, but that also means taking away from your car fund, which doesn’t seem worth it unless you’re absolutely rolling in cash.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Horizon 4’s passive online multiplayer. When you’re connected to the internet, you will be playing on a server populated with other players, with whom you can jump in and out of multiplayer at any time. Having the option to race against AI or other live players at any time is a welcome option, although I was never able to get other players to join in on my races (although this is likely because the selection of other players was sparse during our pre-release review period).

If you prefer to play solo, though, you can absolutely do so without having to worry about player interaction at all. Other players in the game can’t actually affect you unless you specifically start up a session with them, to the point where they’ll ghost right through you if they come in contact with you. There doesn’t seem to be any benefit nor penalty for playing either multiplayer or single player, so feel free to play however you wish to.

iHateRadio

Many recent PC releases have been straining my current system, so it was a welcome surprise when I booted up Horizon 4 and it immediately recommended Ultra graphical options to me.

That said, when set to max graphics, this game is beautiful to look at. The cars are lovingly rendered and the environments look great, with the seasonal shifts giving them some wonderful variance. Speeding down a straightaway watching the world whip by while seeing the reflections of trees sliding across my car’s windows all contributed to the great sense of speed the game often offers. My only real complaint graphically would be the designs of the human characters. To be fair, you don’t see them often, but they stand out dramatically against the design of the cars and environments, looking kind of rough.

The audio here is mostly licensed music played back on your car’s radio. You have access to a few radio stations ranging from rap to rock and classical, and I mostly stuck to the rock channel. Unfortunately, it feels like the setlist for the channel isn’t quite long enough, as after a few sessions of playing, I started hearing the same songs over and over again. It became repetitive to the point that if I have to hear “Safari Song” by Greta Van Fleet one more time, I will scream.

For The Car Guy In Us All

Overall, Forza Horizon 4 is a stunning and varied game that’s very open to players of all levels of skill and interest. Hell, it managed to make me a fan, and I can say I’ve never had the slightest interest in car-focused games (as well as my documented dislike for open-world games). The sheer amount of things to do kept me from ever getting truly bored, and the number of options to tune the game to your liking definitely makes the game feel more welcoming than the hardcore simulation racers I typically hear most fans of the genre talking up.

There were a few things that annoyed me enough to keep this game from being perfect, though. Early races can feel limited due to the lack of available cars, having no real options for fast travel unless you pony up cash to buy in-game houses, and the in-game radio stations being more repetitive than anything iHeartRadio owns came together to rub me the wrong way.

Fortunately, two of those three complaints vanish once you put some time in, and you’ll have no trouble with that what with everything else available to do. This is the rare review title that I can see myself regularly coming back to in the future. Despite not being a car guy, Forza Horizon 4 is just plain fun, pure and simple.


~ Final Score: 9/10 ~


Review copy provided by Microsoft for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Feature image sourced from official Forza Horizon 4 website.