I quickly gained access to one of my favorite cars, the 2005 Subaru WRX. I immediately took it out for a spin, zipping across the blacktop only to take the WRX to its natural habitat, the dirt road. After beating my competition in a rally race, I went to my house to use the credits I’ve earned to make the car faster and handle better. Before I realized it, the season changed from autumn to winter. Offroad racing in the snow? There wasn’t a better way to try out my freshly improved rally machine. Ladies and gentlemen, Forza Horizon 4 is here to not only remind everyone why the series is the best racing sim out there but also bring a new bag of tricks to the festival in one of the best games to come out this year.
Each year, Playground Games and Turn 10 take turns releasing a new entry in the Forza series. Turn 10 works on the proper entries in the series, a more methodical take on racing where you race in pre-determined courses across multiple disciplines. Playground Games took the established formula and made a, well, playground out of it and making the series open world in a beautiful environment to speed, jump, and race through. This year’s entry moves from the Australian Outback of Horizon 3 to the gorgeous English countryside.
The variety to the map is astonishing. One moment I’m driving across long stretches of road surrounded by bright and colorful fields of flowers and the next moment I’m swerving through the mountains. There are a couple of small towns to discover, all with distinguishable English architecture. Again, Forza Horizon 4 is downright beautiful… while in motion. Car models are all spot on, but when you stop to smell the roses, you’ll notice some of the cracks. If I’m completely honest though, you probably won’t notice or care, and I’m being nitpicky. I’m playing with an original Xbox One, so there are better hardware options out there if you want the most beautiful racer out there.
I made mention of a season system in the opening, and man oh man is it a breath of fresh air to the series. Weather effects have been in the series for a time now, but Horizon 4 ups the ante by having a full seasonal system to play in. Racing in the heat of summer is different than during the dead of winter. The wet spring season makes cars control completely different than usual. Not only is this visual, but actually affects the gameplay. Driving across a frozen lake is definitely an experience unlike anything I’ve been able to play in a racing game. The changes in the seasons are based off a real-world timer. So you get to play in the summer for a few days at a time before the air starts to crisp and the leaves fall to the ground. All racing games need to implement this system going forward.
So, this is a racing game, right? I might as well report that the act of racing is, as you might expect, incredible. The Forza series is known for rivaling Sony’s Gran Turismo series, and Horizon 4 wisely doesn’t change much to that formula. The controls are tight, every time I crashed into a wall, it felt like it was my fault, and every time I passed a fellow racer, I jumped for joy in my glory. Each car feels distinct just like in real life. I will say that my American brain can’t get used to driving on the left side of the road and I crashed into oncoming traffic far more often than I’d like to admit.
There are hundreds of cars for you to collect. I mentioned my WRX. I’ve been lucky enough to drive several of them in my life, and Horizon 4 does a fantastic job at replicating the kickbacks and tight turning capabilities while driving a Datsun makes me wonder why I ever stepped foot in the car. The hundreds of cars come from dozens of manufacturers, each with different model years of the same cars. Don’t worry; there are dozens of exotic dream cars that you would expect. Lamborghini and Bugatti fans, you’ll have plenty to enjoy.
There are different types of races for you to progress through. Dirt races, cross country races, road races, stunt races and more pepper the map begging for you to partake in. Timed events that will change with each new season will have you wanting to return to Forza Horizon 4 every so often, just like in other living games. These have new rewards for fulfilling certain goals, such as getting third place in a series. Each race type has its own progress that also affects your overall progress level. I spent the majority of my time in the dirt races because of my love for Subarus. After each race, you’ll earn credits to spend on new cars and upgrades as well as grow your influence, basically fans. Each race is hyper customizable. You can make races as easy or difficult as you want, each with their own advantages and bonuses. Blueprints return from Horizon 3 allowing for more customization, including changing what kind of cars can race.
Customization is the theme of Horizon 4, and this allows for an infinite amount of replay value. I’ll be the first to admit it, I love racing games, but I’m not a gearhead that understands the finer aspects of tuning and racing. Before each race, you can fine-tune your car’s tire pressure, boost, suspension, and more that can change the outcome of your race. Again, I don’t know much about this part of specing cars but, luckily, there are millions of others out there that know more than I do. At any time, you can reach a server and choose a pre-made tune of whatever vehicle you are driving made by members of the Forza community. Yes, you have to have the in-game credits to be able to use them, but I went from topping out at 120 mph to over 200 mph because of these community builds.
Forza Horizon 4 does have a basic story, but it’s not much more than giving a reason for being here. Like in the past games in the Horizon series, the Horizon Festival returns for a new batch of drivers to show why they deserve a spot on the roster and earn followers and fans. I quickly grew disinterested in the story, even when the festival organizers would speak to me. After gaining a certain amount of followers, you’ll be invited to a showcase race. These are extreme races against insane opponents. I don’t want to spoil all of them, but I did race against a train in a dune buggy. These races are showcase moments for Horizon 4 and I when each race began, my jaw dropped after learning what I was racing against.
Is there anything wrong with Forza Horizon 4? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the graphics are rough at times. Some textures were flat, though you won’t notice when you’re racing over 100 mph. I also wasn’t a fan of the stiff animations from the avatars you’ll be looking at in cutscenes and celebrations. Speaking of celebrations, you will earn new dances and clothes from random wheel spins every few levels. I was constantly disappointed when the wheel looked like it would stop on a new rare car, only to end up on a new dance, quick response, or item of clothing. Do I really want those? Sure, but I’d rather have access to a new car to drive.
Forza Horizon 4 is one of the best games this year, just like every year. I didn’t even mention the co-op racing, time trials, and hidden barns in the game. The amount of content in Horizon 4 is staggering. The newest entry won’t change the minds of those that don’t like the series, but the addition of a new seasonal system changes the dynamics of the open-world racing. The series tradition of a gorgeous map, tight controls, fun racing, and an infinite amount of customizing return. Even the slight missteps the game has is no reason to skip out on one of the best racing games of all time.