It has happened again. We have arrived at the next release from Playground games with the latest instalment of Forza Horizon. I must say, after the highs of Forza Horizon 3, I was not overly excited about going to Britain to race, and the ideas of seasons had almost turned me off the game. I was especially concerned with it releasing later in the year and putting it right into the beginning of the crazy season I was concerned. Forza Horizon 3 was my favourite game of 2016, so for me, the fourth edition in the series had a lot to live up to, but here we are, I received a review code for the game before release and put in a full 24 hours on the game before the Ultimate edition hit stores and it is still all I can think about nearly 2 weeks from my first race.
I feel the important place to start in this review is the differences between the fourth and the amazing third edition of the series. I really felt number three was a near perfect game. I am not going to rattle off the differences. Rather, I just want to point out how smart they are with these changes. From the point I jumped in I was blown away with the feeling that Playground Games have taken what works in the series and polished it right up. Then they have listened to player feedback from three reworking and redesigning these parts of the game until they were the best parts. Trees, for example, now have thin or thick trunks. In the third instalment, they varied in thickness which meant you were always unsure if that tree would break under the front end of your car as you ploughed through it. In Four, that frustration is completely removed because if you get stopped dead by a tree, it is your fault, not the games.
One of the biggest changes is the introduction of seasons into the game. Like I mentioned before, I was not looking forward to seasons going in, but once I experienced these in the game, I completely understood why Playground games have introduced this into the series. In three, the map could completely feel stale after 100 hours gameplay, and that number is for the casual, imagine you put 1000 hours into the map? With seasons you are essentially getting a new map every week for 4 weeks. Now eventually the repetition will return, but this should slow that aspect. Seasons really do make the world look and feel different. This leads to changes in your gameplay beyond the visual and handling. You really need to use different cars and tune them differently to enjoy and prosper in each season as they change. This change happens weekly so it feels like the right balance of time for the players and overall I welcome this change now I have played it.
I will be honest, Forza Horizon 3 felt like an extraordinary long campaign that was pretty well balanced for grind versus length, but I could have totally done with the end coming a little sooner. In Forza Horizon 4 the end game is where the fun is, where the game leaps alive with fun and craziness. You get to Horizon life, which is the fourth editions end game, really quickly compared to the previous version. This change pushes you through the four seasons as you push towards qualifying for Horizon life, all in all, it takes a casual player about 6 or 7 hours to complete. Once qualified for Horizon Life you are in the shared world which will change seasons weekly bringing you new challenges to keep you going. What they have also done, at this point, is place the driver level at the fore by making this number your end game progression rather then it being more for bragging rights in the previous. Finally, this number has meaning, and I enjoyed seeing it increase on the road to being a gold level driver.
Something that isn’t new, but is the star of the game, is the freedom that Playground games give you to progress through the prologue of the game. This continues as you progress through end game on your way to the gold Horizon life level. You can level up in Forza Horizon 4 however you like. If you are a rally fan, like me, just do the rally or cross country events and you can level up as far as you want. Drag racing your thing? Just keep out driving, or at least trying to outdrive your opponents and you will continue to level. At no point do they force you to drive a particular style to progress through your driver level. The only time this is ever done is if you want to do the weekly challenges, however, this does not stop you from levelling up your driver at all. You are continually rewarded for doing whatever style of racing you choose to race. It is honestly the most open system of progression I have ever come across. Like Nissan Skylines more than the overpriced Zonda? Then that is what you drive, it is completely up to you.
In a game about cars, you would think that customisation would be a huge part of the game, however, it isn’t the car customization that is the mechanic that stands out to me in this game. As I mentioned before, you have the freedom to play this game however you want and to whatever end you want. Choosing the right car for you is just the beginning. You have the chance in the fourth edition, like the rest to customize your difficulty to whatever degree you want. If your winning races easily then slightly up the difficulty of the Drivatars or take a driving assist off. Finding it too hard in a type of race then add some driving assists back on. If you are racing the longer events and really want a challenge, turn damage from cosmetic to simulation. There are so many different ways to adjust the difficulty in the game you can easily get lost in it. The major positive for this system is making it harder or easier results in greater and lesser rewards for that race. You are completely rewarded for making the game harder as you get better at the game.
Forza Horizon 3 felt amazing and really rode that line between arcade and simulation well. This made it inviting for none racing fans and feel like home for racing fans. It was something that was just expected for the fourth edition of the series and honestly, this was the part of the game that truly blew me away. I still don’t understand what they have done, but Playground games along with help from the Motorsports team at Turn 10 studios have made Forza Horizon 4 feel leaps and bounds better to drive than the previous instalment. Especially once I adjusted the settings to suit my driving, I felt like I could control the cars more than the third instalment and each car had even more of a personality than before. It is just a dream to pick up the controller and drive that car that suits you over and over again. I suspect it is a combination of everything we have talked about before this point, but whatever it is, thank you playground games and Turn 10 Studios for making the game feel this great.
Let me finally talk about car customisation, as mentioned before this is usually front and centre for a racing game. In Forza Horizon 4 it is in a weird place, a place I really like but weird for a racing game. Car customization is huge in the fourth instalment, you can do anything to your car like previous versions of the game. However, in the fourth edition, it feels like it is an aspect of the game you really need to go and find. The result is it doesn’t feel forced upon people who don’t know the difference between race and dirt suspension. If you do and that is important to you then you have a deep rabbit hole to jump down indeed. If not, there is no point where you have to even upgrade the car but if you do decide you want to the auto-upgrade is the easiest option and it works perfectly. This balance is great and rewards people who hunt it out and doesn’t make those who don’t feel worse off for it.
If you are a game designer and you are not sure how to appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers then please have a chat to Playground games, in every part of Forza Horizon 4 they have proved themselves, masters of this art, over and over again. Speaking of art, once again you can make your car look however you want in this edition of the series. The options you have to design a great livery for your car is way above my knowledge or artistic talent so for me to just pick from a massive library of user-created liveries is easy and rewarding for me and the designer. However, if you are like my mate Josh who is handy when it comes to art, you can easily lose two or three hours of your life to this game and come out with a unique, beautiful masterpiece of a livery that you can then share with the world. No matter your skill level you will get a lot of enjoyment out of this system and it really is an important part of the game.
Speaking of beautiful things, Forza Horizon 4 just simply looks glorious. No matter what you are playing it on the game is polished to an insane level and you will not be disappointed in its look at all. The seasons are where the graphics really do shine, driving down the same road in winter compared to spring are a contrast of visuals of the same location we just don’t see I many games at all. Spring is the highlight for me; the vibrant colours in the world are just an amazing sight and caused me to crash on many occasions. However, the most amazing visual scene I had in the game I have only had once, I loaded into the game, it was night and a thick fog had rolled in. At this moment of the game, I was honestly floored by the way the world had transformed and how alive the world felt just through the graphics. Moments like this are all through the game, you may not be getting the game for its visuals but it is the perfect icing on the cake for a near perfect game.
It almost goes without saying but Forza Horizon 4’s sound and music design is top of the class. The car sounds help with your driving experience and really give you the feeling of driving super powerful cars or not so powerful cars as good as any car game on the market. Numerous times I found myself cornering and not worrying to much about how the car looked and what direction it was pointing, but rather, listening for the loss and gain of traction knowing that between that and the amazing rumble in the controller I was able to get out of that slide at the right time and power on down the straight with ease. The music again is wide in variety and a great fit to the mood of the game. A great edition for the fourth instalment of the series is streamer mode which makes the content twitch, youtube and mixer friendly. The only downside to this as of right now is the fact that you have to turn on streamer mode every time you turn the game on.
For endgame players, the Forzathon series of events is where you will live. Forzathon offers you daily and weekly challenges to earn Forzathon points along with racing series and live events. Weekly challenges ask you to buy a specific type of car and the race it well over different events or styles. The daily challenges are designed to get you to quickly try out all the content. The shining light in this is the Forzathon live events where every hour, on the hour, a new event is launched and once at the location you are tasked to play with others to build a total score in 3 different challenges. You have fifteen minutes to complete these. This is a great and fun way to get everyone together and have fun. It is also a great chance to interact with others on your server or show off that glorious paint job on that ultimate car you have. I tried not to miss a Forzathon Live event whenever I was playing. The hope is they don’t get repetitive but at this stage, they are still enjoyable.
So Forza Horizon 4 is a near perfect game in my eyes. What holds it back might be one of its biggest strengths at the start. There is simply so much to do in Forza Horizon 4 that you may never do everything in the game unless you are super hardcore. With the road map of future content, including creating your own tracks, the number of things to do in this game could be infinite. This provides an issue with the overlay for me. Especially on the map, I can sometimes spend more time then I am comfortable with trying to find what to do next. The map very quickly gets overwhelming, with so many races and events, I just straight miss things or don’t know what to do next. This is extended to the menu system at times too. Too many times I found myself lost trying to find the difficulty level, the tuning section or the weekly challenges. I feel like I didn’t see the later until the 20-hour mark. At no real stage did I ever feel at one with the menu or the map.
Another area that suffers from the too much being a bad thing is the new cosmetics you can get for your car and driver. Playground Games has made a very deliberate move to pull your driver out of the car for different points of the game, like the end of race scenes and beauty spots. This allows them to give players emotes and clothing to show off. The problem with this is there are way too many options and it feels like an attempt to add prizes to the wheel spins so you aren’t getting everything too quickly. At the end of the day, I only want a handful of the items and I get frustrated when I get five pairs of shoes in five spins. Houses were the other inclusion in this part of the game, with only one festival location this time the houses act as your fast travel points, while fun and give you something to spend all your credits on, it still feels like a mechanic put in the game to extend its overall life.
As far as the performance of the game, I must say that I have not had a crash on PC, except a few times on loading up where it dropped back to the desktop. Once I was in I was in, but I have heard of issues of the game hard crashing on PC. It felt silky smooth on PC, high frame rates and never a sign of slowing down. I also played the game on my Xbox One S and the same could not be said. I have not got an Xbox One X to try it on but I suspect it would run fine, but on the S edition of the console, frame drops, especially in cutscenes, were a common occurrence. I feel like the issue was very noticeable in cutscenes but it didn’t seem to affect the gameplay at all. Otherwise, the game is a joy to play but just be aware of those issues if you jump into the game.
Going into seasons my fear was some seasons would be better than others which would mean there are just some weeks that I would not play the game. The fear has not become reality, yet. Playing through the prologue one thing was clear, the seasons play very differently and this is a great thing until you get to winter. Winter in the prologue was the only point where I truly felt the grind of playing Forza Horizon 4 and it was where I spent most of my time because gaining influence and just getting around the world felt hard. Towards the end when I finally understood the season and knew what cars to drive it felt a little bit better but as soon as I could leave this season I did and never wanted to look back. I didn’t like Blizzard Mountain in Forza Horizon 3 so it is no surprise I didn’t like winter, but it will be interesting to see how it feels to everyone when winter rolls around again in week 3. I keep picturing the scene in Game of Thrones where everyone is panicking and screaming “Winter is coming”.
In Forza Horizon 3 I was very critical of the Ultimate edition of the game for not including the season pass. The pricing model of the third instalment of the series was, to be frank, disgusting. The Hot Wheels expansion was one of the best bits of content I have ever played but so many people missed it as it was locked behind such a large paywall. Forza Horizon 4 has done this better but I still need to question the inclusion of 2 DLC car packs on day one. Just doesn’t feel right to have them there day one, even though they are part of the Ultimate edition it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The VIP pass, which isn’t needed, or wanted in my case is just there in the Ultimate edition, I would really love to be able to turn that off and just experience the game as it was intended to be played by the developers. The grind is so good and the credits are so plentiful that the VIP pass is just noise in the overall picture of the game.
When we get to the actual multiplayer modes in the game, you can see what Playground games are trying to do and to be perfectly honest, they do it really well. Once again they aim for more variety is better and I think they are right. As a standard, you can race other people individually or as part of a team in all the ways you would expect but Playground games didn’t just stop there when they easily could have. Never would I have thought I would be playing a zombie game, tag or a capture the flag style mode in a racing game. These modes are actually fun too, I have only played with randoms so far, but to play these as a community will be insane. Multiplayer still relies on Xbox’s multiplayer system outside of the game which is always janky at best. Also, a strange part of the Team Adventures is that at the end of a match you can’t just quit, you need to load into the next match and then exit, which screws with the balance of the team and adds to peoples waiting times. Overall though I can see myself playing more multiplayer in Forza Horizon 4 then I have in the past games.
When it comes to forcing you out of the game to do simple things that should be just done in games the club process is yet another example of this. What is weird is we had a club in Forza Horizon 3 but this was not able to be brought across to the fourth edition. Instead, I was taken from the game itself and dropped in the Xbox club system that I have never used before to create our club. There was no warning that the club tag was taken till after it took the long attempt to create it, leaving us with a club tag that made no sense to our club name and every time I tried to change to a better one it would say success and revert to the old one. Still to this date I have not gone back into club mode because it is such a hassle. I really just want this content to use the Xbox backbone if needed but do it from in game.
From the moment I jumped into Forza Horizon 4 I honestly didn’t want to leave the world that I had stumbled into. Yes, it is pretty, but it was the feel of the game, the smart changes from the previous version and the adaptability to my needs that just made the world feel like a home. Outside of the over supply of cosmetics, the need to take me from the game to do things and the sometimes overwhelming feeling I got whenever I tried to find something Forza Horizon 4 is a near perfect game for Playground games yet again. When most people would say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” Playground games seems to have actively sort out what was only ok in their series and made sure that they were not just good parts of the game but outstanding. The changing seasons are a huge risk and while we will need to wait to see how they really are looked back on, from what I have seen so far they are game changing in every sense of the word.
As always, if you are a racing fan or a Forza fan you are getting this game and probably already playing it with the ultimate edition. If you own Xbox Game Pass then you will have this game for free on the 2nd of October, which is completely nuts. If this is the case you need to at least give this game a go and see if it hooks you or not. If you are not one of the people in the above category and you are unsure if this game deserves your time in this season of so many big titles then I hope you have found something in here to help you make up your mind. I believe that everyone should at least give it a go and with it being in Game Pass that is the perfect, cheap way to get in and give it a go. At worst you will lose $10 but get access to another 100 games that you might just fall in love with for the month anyway. This has been one of my favourite games of the year and I hope you all can find something to enjoy in it too.