High Quality. High Performance.
Microsoft has had a tough time selling us on its first party library as of late. Being a primarily Xbox gamer, even I can admit that. While the latest Gears and Halo were entertaining games, Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 left a lot to be desired. With the announcement that Xbox’s subscription service, Game Pass, would include all future first party titles on the day of their release, I recently got behind the wheel of Forza Horizon 4 and left my backlog in the dust. While often overlooked during conversations about first party dominance, Forza Horizon 4 is one of the best brand exclusives out there right now and a much needed win for Microsoft.
It’s easy to be intimidated by the amount of activities that flood the map of Great Britain as you conquer a race here and challenge there. It only takes a short while where that intimidation turns to excitement as you realize that you have so much more to take on. Horizon’s more arcade approach to driving and speed can turn any activity or challenge into pure racing bliss. My first day with the game had me relaxing on the couch for just over 14 hours, surrounded by empty snack wrappers and several empty cans of Iced Tea. Forza Horizon 4’s solid and seamless multiplayer also meant that I could enjoy this with friends and total strangers, while never once having this feature feeling intrusive or tacked on.
Topping the Australian outback was going to be a tough challenge no matter where this year’s racing franchise was going to take place. The sheer variety offered in Horizon 3 was staggering and yet, Playground Games managed to pulled it off. Much of this variety I speak of is due to the game offering up the entire map playable across all four seasons. While you can draw some strong similarities between Spring, Summer, and Fall, it is when the game shifts to Winter where it becomes the most different and most challenging. While some of this may seem at the surface to be purely cosmetic, you can drive across now frozen lakes to new locations or take on events that are only offered in certain seasons. Even the sheep that you can chase around will see their wool sheared during different times of the year and the same can be said of the height of grass fields that need to be harvested. The seasons can be as drastic of a change or as subtle, it all depends on where you look.
While the first few hours of the game will introduce you to how each season affects your driving capabilities, you will only be able to revisit a specific season under a few different conditions; custom races and weekly resets. This means that if you started playing the game around its release, you would enter into the Autumn season alongside everyone else, awaiting the eventual turn to Winter the following week. Custom games will allow you to change the season to reflect your preference, so there is always that avenue as well should you not be able to wait to tear it up across ice covered lakes.
Horizon 4’s seasons will offer up new races and challenges across Britain in the form of 26 different activities. While there are large scale events like Dirt, Cross Country, Street Racing or Drifting, much of the smaller bite-size activities come in the form of customizing your car, broadcasting on Mixer, or smashing records via the Speed Trap checkpoints. Completing each of these activities will reward Forza credits, new outfits for your racers, additional quick-chat phrases, or Forza Wheel spin tokens for its lottery reward system that offers new cars, celebration dances, and cash prizes. I have to admit, doing whatever I could to earn some bonus spins became an obsession, even If my spin only rewarded me with a new pair of shoes after passing over a high profile and very rare new ride.
Among all the race types and challenges, you will also have narrative quest-lines that see you driving as a stuntman for a local movie production; complete with some new audio segments via the radio stations, or satisfying the video game fantasies of a popular streamer looking to capture footage of the history of racing games. These missions offer some interesting situations and only look to complement the stellar driving systems at play. Adding to these missions are showcase events where you’ll test whether you’re faster than a speeding locomotive or outrun the destruction of a Halo ring via the Halo Showcase Experience, an event so amazing that I completed it with a grin from ear to ear. While it is unclear why I can outrun a fighter jet given they don’t have a race track to follow, these events are larger than life spectacles that look to offer something I haven’t seen in the genre. Given that Playground games is intent on adding new content, I’m hopeful for more events like the ones offered here in the near future.
While some racing games lock their content behind a flurry of first place finishes or must-win tournaments, Horizon 4 consistently moves the experience forward win or lose. This means you can experience the wealth of content the game has to offer regardless of your skill. Now, having said that, you will earn cars and rewards far faster through hard work and some expert driving. Forza Horizon 4 is meant to be fun and accessible and the vast array of settings also compliment this focus. You can adjust the amount of assistance you receive in breaking, traction control, and stability as well as changing the difficulty for the Drivatars that race alongside you. This accessibility does come with a catch as the more assistance you pile on, the less bonus credits you will earn to purchase new cars and houses that you can use to fast travel.
While you can shell out some cash to instantly travel around the map, you can freely travel to any property you purchase in-game. These locations go for anywhere from a few hundred thousand credits to a cool 15 million. This will either frustrate you as it forces you in some ways to drive the entire distance of the map, or it will give you something to work towards by purchasing property in certain areas to make up the distance. As I only stuck with the free house you are given after completing the first stuntman course, I ended up using my travel time to track down landmarks, hidden cars, and the variety of on-ground billboards that can either grant you additional credits or lower the costs of fast travelling bit by bit. Forza Horizon 4 has so many activities and races that I would often just drive the entire map picking off each one that came my way.
As you are ripping through challenges in an effort to unlock each of the 450+ vehicles offered in this years release, you don’t have to take on the challenge solely on your own. Forza Horizon 4 allows up to 72 players to exist in the same server, spread out across the map and each car will be able to ghost right through you instead of having a physical presence on your roads. This allows the prospect of multiplayer to be present for those who want it and less intrusive for those that don’t. As you progress to your second year, you’ll unlock a wide array of multiplayer modes such as Team Adventure that sees you on one side of Team Blue or Team Red as you complete in events alongside other players for bragging rights. Forzathon, an event that pops up every hour sees a mass amount of players come together to compete in drifting, jumping, or speed challenges. While this event can be exciting due to earning a special currency to unlock rare items, or the fact that so many cars are in one place, it lacks a true sense of self-accomplishment and the events themselves are just not that interesting.
Players are able to create custom races called Blueprints that allow you to set the terms of the race and season for each of your events. You can also invite players to specialty mini-games like capture the flag or zombies vs survivors, but I rarely would see more than 2 or 3 players join these modes. While the options available can create some fun co-op or competitive modes to enjoy with a large group of people, you might have to seek out players through the Looking for Group feature through the Xbox Dashboard. Regardless of having a few players or a large group join your matches, the fact that you can race alongside other players while making progress in your own game is something truly special and allows multiplayer to assist in your progress rather than hinder it.
Anyway you look at it, Forza Horizon 4 is a stunningly beautiful game. From its gorgeous open world, its highly detailed cars, or its colorful between match locations, everything on display here is absolutely incredible. On the Xbox One X you can swap between 4K at 30 FPS or a 60 FPS setting if you are willing to forgo the 4K resolution for some 1080p action. Obviously, the Xbox One S only allows the 1080p visuals, with some occasional drops in frames, but frankly, the game is stunning on either platform. Much of my time was spent in the 4K mode via my Xbox One X as the 30 FPS didn’t bother me and it allowed the game’s visuals to truly shine. While I did check out the 60 FPS setting, I found that some textures for things like buildings and trees were extremely bland and while you are usually screaming past these things at breakneck speeds, the lack of detail can be very noticeable should you take the time to look up close.
PC users can max out most settings depending on their rig and while it can exceed the visuals seen on the Xbox One X, it does so by a fairly small degree as Digital Foundry found that both Xbox One X settings are comparable with most High or Ultra settings found on most PC set ups. That being said, if you do have the rig to run this at full Ultra settings, it is beyond stunning. What allows Forza Horizon 4 to maintain these high quality visuals is that the Xbox One X was the lead platform this time around instead of how Horizon 3 had a patch to include the visual upgrade to the 4K powered, Xbox One X.
While cruising around Britain, you can select from six radio stations with the majority of them featuring their own personal DJ. These personalities, such as The Pulse’s (my favorite) Amy Simpson, will gain additional dialogue as you win races and unlock new events. Each of the half dozen stations features some great music with tracks you are either already well aware of or some potential new favorites. While there are far too many different bands to list here, you’ll be treated to music by Beck, CHVRCHES, Dreamers, Marshmello, The Killers, Kendrick Lamar, The Sugar Hill Gang, The Foo Fighters, and a ton more as each station has around 20 songs. Apart from the music, the voice acting is typical of the racing genre with people super excited about your ride and the challenges that await. I also appreciated how Horizon 4 didn’t overdue it with the car talk or the “your car is an extension of your soul” nonsense that The Crew 2 seemed to do every five minutes.
I’ve been extremely positive on this years Forza and it’s for a good reason; It’s damn good; however, there are some small issues I have with the title. If you were looking forward to playing co-op through the entire experience, you don’t really get to do that until you’ve put a few hours into the title to get past the “testing” phase of each season. It’s a small gripe as this only lasts a few hours, but it can certainly sting if you’ve installed it alongside a friend and now have to wait a bit longer to play together. As I’m not terribly great at racing games, I’ve had to swap from normal to easy depending on the challenge as I found the Drivatar’s AI to be far more aggressive on Cross Country races than any of the street races or the other smaller size events, thus making the AI somewhat inconsistent.
While I still wish there was a way to test drive each car before you’re required to drop a lot of credits on them, as I’ve wasted a considerable fortune on buying some mediocre rides, I eventually found a stable of vehicles that controlled to my liking and gave me the confidence to rise up to the challenge. Forza Horizon 4 does allow you to upgrade your vehicles by boosting your acceleration, top speed, and various other tweaks to your car’s overall performance, I just wish that I knew a bit more about how the upgrades actually affects my vehicle instead of just highlighting that it makes my car’s overall score higher.
The seasons are a fantastic new addition to a series that Playground Games have fine tuned to near perfection. While some gamers may be upset with how accessible this years installment is with its participation reward system, this only means that more people get to enjoy this series and given that it is also available through Game Pass, it just allows the Forza community to grow past its passionate fan base. Forza Horizon 4 is hands down the best of the series and quite simply one of the best racing games ever made.
Forza Horizon 4 was downloaded by the reviewer through Xbox Game Pass.
All Screenshots were taken on an Xbox One X.