Forza Horizon 4 is the most breath-taking racing game I have ever seen. Trust me when I tell you that I don’t say that lightly. As somebody who has played every Forza entry since Forza Motorsports revved its way onto the original Xbox console back in 2005, I was beginning to – for lack of a better term – experience franchise fatigue. While the Forza Horizon series certainly has a lot more to offer fans in terms of things to do, the novelty of an open world racing game was beginning to feel stale. So what exactly is it that makes Forza Horizon 4 feel like a breath of fresh air in a series that’s been around for thirteen years? I’m glad you asked.
When Phil Spencer took the stage at this year’s E3 to show us Microsoft’s massive line up of games, he made a point to show off their AAA studios reassuring fans that they have heard the call for new IPs and exclusives, and they are working hard to deliver. Among developers like 343 Industries, Ninja Theory, Rare, The Coalition and Mojang stood long time Microsoft collaborators Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games. For those of you who didn’t know, Turn 10 Studios was the original developers (alongside Microsoft) of the Forza Motorsports franchise. It wasn’t until the release of Forza Horizon back in 2012 that the UK based Playground Games was brought into the fold. With Turn 10’s knowledge of car games and Playground Games’ love of open world settings, it seemed like a recipe for success, and it was.
Fast-forward six years and four entries, and it feels like the formula has been perfected. The moment you start the game, you’re thrust into brief events that highlight all of the different offerings the game has as far as single player racing goes. You can choose between cross-country, road racing, dirt racing, or the non-festival sanctioned street racing. And once you’re finished with those, there’s plenty of “side quests” to play through including, barn finds, drag racing, speed zones, danger signs, beauty spots, and the tried and true bonus board hunting that requires hours of patience and no shortage of ingenuity to complete. That’s a lot of game to play, right? Yeah, but that’s not even half of what this latest entry offers gamers.
In addition to the main storyline (and I use that term loosely) of the game, which sees you making friends and becoming the Horizon Festival champion, Forza Horizon 4 has introduced for the very first time, narrative based gameplay in the form of four different stories that have you joining a drift club, driving cars for an Internet streamer, showing off fast cars for a business, and doing stunts for a big budget driving flick. While all of these side stories are optional, it brings something to the game that makes you feel more involved in the world, thus providing more incentive to keep playing. It’s an interesting strategy on the part of the developers and, at least in my opinion, it paid off.
Speaking of world, Forza Horizon 4 takes you to the United Kingdom, where you participate in a Horizon Festival that lasts an entire year, while allowing players to drive through various conditions brought on by dynamic seasons that can be seen transitioning at different points throughout their cycles. Why it’s taken them so long to introduce a feature like this is beyond me, but I’m certainly glad they did. The first things you’ll notice in the fall are the colors. All the different shades of red and orange you find in the falling leaves are stunning to say the least. Then there’s the winter. While winter isn’t exactly the colorful spectacle that fall is, the game allows players to decide how much or how little they’re going to enjoy it. You can buy a nice Jeep or a Land Rover and put some snow tires on there, which will allow you to traverse the roads easy enough, or you can be an idiot like I was and try to drive a Ferrari 458 Speciale, while simultaneously trying to get enough speed to make the jumps and finish the danger signs. On a more positive note, while the snow can be fun to drive around in for the first few minutes (if that) winter does allow you access to places you can’t get to during the other times of the year. That being said, if you’re a completionist, make sure you take advantage of this time by smashing all of the signs on all of the islands while you can. As for the spring and summer, they both have things about them that are interesting and fun, but there’s not exactly a lot of variation when it comes to road conditions and driving techniques. Instead of focusing on not crashing or racking up those skill points, take a minute to enjoy just how beautiful the scenery in this game is.
Now for the cars . . . Forza Horizon 4 boasts a catalogue of 450 cars, a number that will most likely increase as more downloadable content is released. Among those 450 cars are all of the usual big names like Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ferrari, Jaguar, and so on. What the developers did differently this time around is throw in some cool off road vehicles like the Ram PowerWagon, Defender 90, and the Toyota Hilux. Unfortunately, the catalogue is limited to vehicles with four wheels, meaning that while you still have to face planes, hovercrafts, and dirt bikes in the showcase events, you still can’t drive them. Oh well, maybe next time. You do, however, get to take a spin with everybody’s favorite UNSC super weapon Spartan 117 the Master Chief in a special Halo showcase that puts you in a warthog and lets you experience a thrill that I haven’t felt since the Maw. That’s right in one of the showcase events, the world of Forza Horizon 4 is re-skinned to look like it exists on a halo ring. The soundtrack plays, Cortana plans your your escape from the Covenant, and speaking of Covenant, there are plenty of banshees flying around as you make a mad dash through castles, neighborhoods, over jumps, and back to the beach. And yes, it is just as much fun as it sounds . . . really . . . I’m not being sarcastic there.
Usually I close these reviews with things I didn’t like about the game. While Forza Horizon 4 is far from the perfect game, its flaws are hardly anything worth writing about. The weather can be a hindrance at some points, and a few of the danger signs are incredibly difficult to score on. However, what I consider flaws, others might consider challenges. After sinking about 35 hours into this game and reaching level 87, I was certainly glad to be done with it when I had finished everything I was able to. That being said, I will still be eagerly anticipating whatever add-on is released in the future, because this is a world I definitely won’t mind returning to. Whether you’re a fan of straightforward racing games or the more open world car games of yesteryear, Forza Horizon 4 has something for every racing fan of every skill level. Speaking of open worlds, if the rumors are true and Playground Games really is working on the next entry in the Fable series, the beautiful landscapes of Forza Horizon 4 are a good indicator that everybody’s favorite chicken-kicker is in good hands. From the rolling hills of Astmoor to the sprawling city of Edinburgh, this latest entry in the Forza Horizon series packs all of the usual thrills with plenty of new content well worth the extra hours you might and probably will put into it.
Reviewed by: Josh Pederson
Played On: Xbox One