Forza Horizon 4 Review – Always Take the Weather With You
Forza Horizon 42nd October, 2018
Two years ago I reviewed Forza Horizon 3 and said that I found it to be a surprise due to the path other racing titles were going. It was a game that just offered a great, fun, time behind the wheels of some fantastic cars in a beautiful representation of Australia. The more I played it after the review, the more Australia got a little stale, though still stunning to behold. It was a bit flat and became a little monotonous. To remedy those concerns Forza Horizon 4 comes to my, and Playground Games' homeland of good old Blighty, a place where beauty is just around the corner.
Beauty truly is a huge selling point of both Britain and Forza Horizon 4. Very rarely has a game truly captured the changing nature of this wet, windy homeland of mine. A place with more character per square inch than any other place I've ever had the fortune of visiting. It's something that the game has admirably captured in all of the four seasons. From the cold chill of winter, as Derwentwater freezes over, to the vibrant colours of autumn as the trees begin to shed their leaves and the world starts to change.
Indeed, I actually find that in the case of racing around and noticing a difference, there are three distinct seasons. Autumn and winter, with spring and summer combined. Indeed, from my experience with the game, spring and summer are practically interchangeable. You may see a few cosmetic changes, such as a few trees are still getting their leaves back and the weather may be slightly wetter, though from my experience I didn't notice a huge difference.
So, for the sake of argument, let's call it three seasons. The changing of these seasons is run through quite rapidly at the start of the game, acting as a sort of tutorial. As you start, it's the same Forza you know and love, the roads are easy, fields and trees are lush and a Deer narrowly avoids surfing on the bonnet of your Jaguar C-X75. Advancing through the seasons and you come to the real game changer - winter. Snow makes your purchase on even regular streets more of a challenge. Your Pagani Zonda becomes the worlds most expensive paperweight, but the world is different. A race you did before now offers a new challenge and the possibility of a new shortcut to victory.
Shortcuts are one thing I absolutely love about Forza Horizon 4. The changing of the world, freezing of water, how cars interact with every patch of land your wheels touch make for a freedom that even the expansive and open Forza Horizon 3 didn't manage. One perfect example is a later stunt driver task - I was constantly running short of achieving top marks because I was following the road. The game actively tells you to stick to the tarmac, leave it for 10 seconds and you've failed. Fortunately, there's a huge chunk of land you can skip right over in around eight seconds. It cuts your overall time down by at least thirty seconds though, making getting top marks easy, provided you can handle the car off-road, which is considerably easier in summer than in the snowy winter or wet autumn.
Granted, even taking a Pagani Zonda offroad in the summer is a foolish proposition. Much like you would expect with the real version, its ability to handle on non-tarmac surfaces leaves much to want. Though the fact you have the freedom to take anything where you like, from a Zonda to a Mini Cooper or a Pontiac Firebird. The sheer number and variety of vehicles is impressive, to say the least. Totalling 450 at launch, it's only set to get better as Playground Studios have a further 52 cars to be released, two per week for 26 weeks following its official launch on the 2nd of October.
In my save I've currently got 83 cars, ranging from the Subaru Impreza that I picked up at the very start of the game to a Triumph Spitfire or, to my most used and favourite, the aforementioned Jaguar C-X75 which has seen 21 hours driving time so far. What I will say is that each and every car (or van) I've had the pleasure of driving in Forza Horizon 4 have felt and handled different to each other, the season of the game and of course the road surface. I won't say that the cars and driving are completely realistic because they aren't.
This is still an arcade racing game at heart and, as such, you are able to take hypercars up mountains that, in real life, can barely make it over a speed bump due to their low ground clearance. Still, every little aspect that makes one car different to the next can be felt here. Particularly so when you go into modifying your cars, further changing them and specialising them to your needs or preferences.
Another fantastic aspect is that each car has their very own skill tree. You may assume that using one car all the time would build up the tree in that singular car, that isn't the case. Almost everything you do in a car that isn't driving in a straight line will generate points, as in previous titles. Keep up your fancy - or destructive - driving and you'll generate a combo. When this ends your points are tallied up and generate global skill points that can be used on any car you like. It's particularly useful as getting points in the Peel P50 is insanely difficult. Everything also adds to the personal fleet of your fleet of vehicles that must be stored in the biggest garage in the world. Certainly not in one of the houses you can buy or businesses you own.
Houses, Speed Traps, Speed Cameras, Drift Zones, Multiple classes of events to enter as well as a host of other side objectives and stories make up and litter this amalgamated map certain parts of the UK. Mostly the north. The idea that bigger is better rarely holds true and Playground Games seem to truly understand that. Forza Horizon 4's land is said to be the same size as that of 3 - although in theory, you could argue that the seasonal shifts multiply this by 4 (3 if, like me, you barely distinguish Spring and Summer).
It's what is on the land that makes all the difference, a lesson that The Crew 2 could have certainly done with prior to developing the game. While you do have some busywork here, in the form of 200 varying boards to smash, everything else actually feels like it has a purpose and more meaning than 'increase your influence to unlock more stuff'. That is the core aim, progression, but everything has a narrative behind it, even if sometimes it's just "show how good you are", with a bit of flavour dialogue to get you started.
This is even true for the series of activities you do for a streamer, where the sole goal is to increase your following by racing on her stream to increase her following. It takes a nice story where each level talks about an influential racing game. For example, the as you work through these events the game will talk about titles like OutRun, Smuggler's Run and Ridge Racer. It’s a surprisingly classy mention of some truly classic racing games, ones that were at least inspirations to such as this.
Racing games are rarely if ever ones you go to for a strong storyline. Forza Horizon 4 doesn't have a strong story either, it's simplistic, but it has a lot of smaller elements that just help to grow the world and give you at least some sense of place within it. I think the only problem I really have is just how basic the progression is represented - influence. At the end of every race and with every combination of skills you perform, it's in your face as your influence ticks up. It may not be as blunt as The Crew 2's 'followers', even though it's effectively the same thing.
It's a minor complaint at the most. There are only a few other minor complaints that I have with Forza Horizon 4. First, and this almost seems too petty to write down - too many of the cars sound a little too similar. I'm genuinely pinching at straws when I say that it's a shame that engine sounds weren't unique, but with a roster of 450 cars, that is literally too much to ask. The only problem with some of them is they sounded muted, leaving much to want.
I still have to clarify this by saying the audio design, from a large number of cars to the radio stations, with their commentary that reflects on your previous escapade, is utterly fantastic. There's also something glorious about just stopping still and listening to the sounds of the countryside, which also vary from season to season. It's these small details that truly make the world feel alive, even if it is a little too picturesque. The UK - and Edinburgh - I know have their flaws, including rubbish tipped at the side of the road, graffiti and more. I know I'm probably picking the smallest things now, though that is a testament to the exceptional job Playground Games has done.
Much like with the previous Horizon, I'm not completely enamoured with the blueprint feature. However, one of my points in that review was that the ability to create your own routes would make for a considerably better feature. Playground Games are working on this and it's something that will be released at a later date for all Forza Horizon 4 players. This will truly add the unlimited options that the original blueprint feature was purported to do.
Online I can't really speak much about, though I'll likely make a mini-review of the online play post-launch. At the time of writing, I've only been able to get into a few online races and I've never been able to find players for the side-games which have you playing tag, king, zombies or some other random name that indicates a fun little competition with others I wish I was playing. The most I've seen online at any one time in a game session is 23, myself included. What is impressive is how seamless the online aspect is, with players dropping in and out with no issues, and all the functionality of the single player (rewind feature) kept intact.
Naturally, it is pre-release where the only people who are playing the game are those reviewing it and those who bought the ultimate edition and got a head start. I have participated in a few 'Forzathon' live events, which I now take to avoiding. Why? Because frankly, they're a bit rubbish. You and whomever else is in the game are tasked to simply rack up points by performing a series of challenges, though they're seemingly always drifting, speed traps and other similar mini-challenges that you can just perform yourself solo in the game, not having to rely on other people actually participating to achieve anything.
Technically speaking, on the PC, Forza Horizon 4 is near flawless - it runs perfectly and has full support for any resolution you can throw at it. It even requires less of your hardware than Forza Horizon 3, despite looking so much better. The only thing I did notice is that on ultra-settings, it hogs RAM like a monster. The most I've seen it use was just under 12GB. I've got 32GB in my rig, making it no issue for me, but be warned if you want to play on Ultra settings. The only other complaint I can see some people having with it is that the game has a locked frame rate of either 30FPS or 60FPS. Personally, though, I'm more than happy with a game running at 60FPS.
With Forza Horizon 4, there's a sound argument to be made that Playground Games have honed their craft to a near perfection. While there's little doubt that the core gameplay of Forza Horizon 4 hasn't fundamentally differed at all from the previous outing in Australia, the inclusion of seasons, the improvement in graphical fidelity and the sheer quality of content lets it surpass the previous Forza Horizon. Forza Horizon 4 is my favourite and, arguably the best racing game you can play right now.
PC version reviewed (copy provided by the publisher). You can purchase the game via Microsoft Store and enjoy it on both Windows 10 PC and Xbox One.
Forza Horizon 4 is nothing short of fantastic. With a host of content, backed by a fantastic roster of cars that tread the fine line between arcade and simulation perfectly. While the amalgamated UK may be a little too pristine, not completely reflecting reality, it's such a stunning and enjoyable place to race around that any issues are washed away in the utter fun you're having. Forza Horizon 4 is, without a shadow of a doubt, the pinnacle of the series and arguably the best racing game you can buy.
- Seasons system is fantastic and completely changes the way you have to drive, how the world looks and feels
- One of the best looking games around, with a fantastic representation of (parts of) Britain
- Fantastic roster of cars that all have their own unique feel and personality, which can be further personalised
- An outstanding collection of events and challenges that, which all about racing, have their own personal stories and place in the world
- Seamless online integration that doesn't impact on features that would normally only be single player
- Spring and summer seem to act as one super-season, with little to distinguish them from each other
- Some cars have almost muted engine noises
- Fozathon events are a bit rubbish and don't truly reward personal achievements