Forza Horizon 4
Since 2012, the Horizon series has helped shape the Forza series into something greater than it was before. It took the series from being focused on things like in-car exploration, track-based racing, and a lighter-hearted simulation approach that was far more user-friendly than most into a more open-world affair. The Horizon series has opened the door to more casual racing fans who may not want a simulation-centric game, but still want to enjoy a high-quality racing game with a lot of content. Each entry has added to the overall presentation – whether it’s revamping the soundtrack, adding more in-depth world to explore, or throwing in all manner of crazy events to enjoy.
Now, after six years, the fourth entry in this sub-series is out to further refine the wheel without reinventing it. Barn finds, challenge events, sign boards full of bonuses, and fast-paced racing action all return. The scope of the adventure is much larger, with sub-stories being thrown into the mix. The journey to get into the festival’s new season-based structure feels longer than before, and does require you to find a happy mix of doing well in races while still exploring the world around you.
Discount boards are gone, but in their place are influencer boards. The best way to move up the ranks is to be an influencer for the festival as a whole, and boards can net you either 1,000 or 3,000 users and get you that much closer to the set goal to move onto the next season. Each season has its own set of events – and different terrain awaits you for each season. If you want to knock out a series of hilly races, then doing so in winter is going to be a lot harder than doing so in spring or fall. You will have the same track layout, but the blend of ice and snow make for tougher traversal.
Weather has been a part of the series before – with it playing a fairly major role in what made Forza Motorsport 7 into the best overall entry of the mainline series. However, it has never played as great a role as it does now. Each season gives the fictionalized England you inhabit a different feel – with autumn’s bright colors standing in stark contrast to the more muted feel of fall. Whether you’re racing through leaves in autumn, or feeling the brisk winter air as it zooms by you, each season looks different and offers its own challenges for races.
Much like Project Gotham Racing 4 a decade ago, Horizon 4 uses weather in a lot of ways that enhance the experience. For core races, you have to be sure to pick vehicles that can hold up to rainy or snowy conditions. Ideally, going with an all wheel drive vehicle makes this easier – but those wanting a tougher challenge can go with a rear wheel drive vehicle if they so desire. Vehicle size also plays a part as larger cars can manage trickier terrain better, while perfect weather is best-suited for smaller and more nimble vehicles.
When it comes to something like searching for a barn find, the season you choose to do so for a particular location can make a big difference. Trying to find one on a hilly mountaintop area may be possible in the snow – but it’s going to be a lot harder. Waiting until the next season to find it makes for an easier journey and also makes possible locations much easier. When you’re in the winter setting, not only does snow obscure the ground, but it will also get in the way of your visibility – making it much harder to see any buildings.
Horizon 4 mixes up the challenges that have become legendary in the series by adding in a bit of a sub-story option. You can now choose to take part in a story about being a stunt driver – offering up a small slice of what made things like the Stuntman series so fun without any of the frustration. Now, things like giant stunt jumps that were once a bit odd without any context have some context to them – and you still have amusing absurdities like outrunning a plane or driving off of cliffsides to enjoy.
The biggest core change to Horizon 4 is Forzathon. It’s another new feature and allows you and any player roaming the world to tackle a single goal. This can be as simple as racking up a ton of skill points in a designated area, or as challenging as dominating a drift zone. This gives the game a greater sense of community while still adding in a new layer of competition to the goings-on. The racing action is about as fun as ever – but the game’s difficulty scales more for the player’s skills. Before, you could change the difficulty of driveatars on a whim – and while you can still do that, if you find that you want a greater challenge, the game will automatically prompt you to up the difficulty if you’re steamrolling people. It’s a small change, but one that helps ensure healthy competition both off and online as you’re forced to get better or be left behind.
Visually, Horizon 4’s weather system also results in the most stunning graphics the franchise has ever seen. The environments live with ever-changing seasonal touches – like falling leaves and increasing snowfall. The car models themselves change over time with not only damage, but also buildup from snow, mud, and dirt – and it’s even more intricate than before and now builds up more on tires than just the cars themselves. The world within Horizon features a more lived-in feel too, with damage to structures that helps it feel real – and given its massive size, that’s good to see.
When it comes to music, the Horizon series truly has been the best racing series since the PGR days. Much like that series, a ton of European dance and pop acts are featured to help craft a party-going feel that fits in with this taking place at a festival. However, while that series featured Lily Allen, this one has showcased CHVRCHES and allowed their music to reach a whole new audience with gamers. The variety on display is impressive too, as you also have some rock and even classical music available to listen to if you so desire. If you want to turn the radio off, you can – and it does allow the in-game carnage to tell its own story. The sound of the cars smashing together during an intense race comes alive without the soundtrack blaring, while the sounds of the festival’s fireworks can only truly be heard without the radio. As with all of the Horizon games, listening with a quality headset or home theater setup brings out the best in the experience.
Forza Horizon 4 is the finest entry in the Horizon series so far. While the game’s future has yet to be written when it comes to post-release content – which did allow Forza Horizon 3 to deliver an all-time great experience with its Hot Wheels DLC – its present is fantastic on its own. If you’ve enjoyed the series before, you’ll want this one right away. If the Horizon series is new to you, then this is a great one to start with – as it’s very user-friendly and allows you to tweak more of the world now than ever before. It has a lot of content, controls like a dream, and looks and sounds fantastic. Forza Horizon 4 has all the ingredients to deliver a fulfilling experience for quite some time.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Forza Horizon 4 for the Xbox One provided by Microsoft Studios.