My knowledge of cars doesn’t go too far past tire and oil changes, battery swaps or other simple maintenance such as windshield wiper replacements. That still doesn’t stop me from enjoying fast supercars or taking long cruises down the road and appreciating the sights. That’s what makes the Horizon series so amazing. It highlights the fun aspects of simply driving and exploring your surroundings. Forza Horizon 4 is no different, but it takes it even further with a lot of new changes.
This time around the Horizon festivities have been moved to a fictionalized version of Great Britain. The new setting is just as stunning and meticulously crafted as the vehicles it encompasses. While the map size is only slightly larger than in Horizon 3, there is much more ground to cover here. One of the first things I noticed was the verticality of Britain in comparison to previous installments. There are mountains and hills scattered everywhere that allow you to experience the world in new ways, while also giving the series a larger sense of scale than before. The British countryside is filled with gorgeous landscapes that beg to be explored and with the built-in photo mode there are plenty of different ways to capture your favorite scenes. The beautiful city of Edinburgh serves as the main city hub. Some of the most memorable moments I’ve had so far have just been exploring the remarkable world developer Playground Games has created. Forza has never looked better.
Horizon 3 fans may remember the Blizzard Mountain DLC that introduced a winter weather system. This time around, Playground Games has doubled down on weather and implemented a brand new system that features all four seasons. During the introduction, in true Horizon fashion, the game gives you a preview of what to expect, so you get to experience all the seasons right off the back. Seasons change weekly, an another layer of depth to the game that fans will surely appreciate. Graphically, Forza Horizon 4 really gets to show how impressive it truly is as you see the the world transition throughout each season. During the warmer seasons you’ll see more bright, lush scenery, while winter features more desaturated areas, covered in ice and snow.
My favorite thing about the new weather system wasn’t just the change in scenery, but more importantly, how each season change the way how you drive, and also where you can travel to. For example, during the spring you’ll run across a lot of lakes that aren’t accessible during free roam or races, but during winter those same lakes will freeze over, allowing different races and exploration opportunities. During summer some of lakes dry up and have races set up in their place. Changes likes these come into play during each season, and there are also other unique seasonal events and rewards.
First few hours serve as a tutorial, but after that the game opens up completely, and allows you to join in the new “shared world” experience. Drivatars have played a huge role in the past, but they have been replaced with actual human drivers on servers up to 72 people. The whole game can be played this way and it’s probably my favorite new feature, as it makes an already energetic world feel even more alive.
I’ve only played in sessions with about 30-40 people so far and it has been a blast, so playing in full servers will surely be exciting. Seeing real players driving around and doing the same insane stunts that I attempt all the time not only adds to the festive theme the game has but sometimes it’s just downright hilarious watching people crash. There are appreciated countermeasures that prevent you from crashing into other drivers (in the free roam only) to counter grieving.
The entire game can be played with friends. Other social features return, such as clubs. This being a Microsoft Studios published game, they have been integrated with Xbox Clubs which allow you to manage and interact with club members even when you aren’t playing. Horizon 4 is also available on Xbox Game Pass for those who subscribe to the service, making this a perfect time to jump into the series for newcomers who might be on the fence.
There is an extensive car list of over 450 vehicles available with tons of variety. I tend to lean towards off-road racing so vehicles, like my current favorite the 2014 Lamborghini Urus concept, are more my preference, but of course supercars, like the 2012 Hennessy Venom and the new 2018 McLaren Senna, are here for those with the need for speed. Attention to detail not only applies to the world, but also to the vehicles. Every car I have come across is an accurate visual representation of its real-life counterpart. Vehicles feels like they have the appropriate weight associated with them and handle accordingly.
The Horizon series has always put a bigger emphasis on the fun portion of driving as opposed to the realistic simulation approach the Motorsport series is known for, but Horizon 4 blurs those lines. The driving feels incredibly authentic and there are plenty of customization with very intricate options available for those who really want to get into the particulars of their setup. Fuels systems, ignition, intercoolers and a number of other parts can all be tuned to your liking.
The game also sounds phenomenal. Horizon radio is back with fan favorite stations, like Hospital Records and Bass Arena. These stations have always been great, so I normally would play music all the time, but I found myself occasionally muting the radio to just listen to car and environment sounds. Tires burning out and high speed collisions just sound amazing and immersed me more into the world.
How you drive, not what you drive, is what matters in the series, and Horzon 4 takes a step further in a number of different ways. The skill meter returns and takes account for everything, and I literally mean everything, that you do in the game. Performing high jumps, maintaining high speeds, crashing into fences, small trees, drifting, burnouts, etc. will earn influence points that allow you to level up in different ways. New to the series are individual car skill trees with unlockable features.
You don't have a skill tree for your individual driver, though, and I found the car skill trees to lack diversity. Most of the cars have the same skills with only a few minor differences which makes the system feel a tad underwhelming. Fortunately, unlocking new things isn’t solely tied to skills points because of a new leveling system that is integrated into activities and races. Instead of simply earning credits for wheelspins and car purchases when you complete things, each individual race and activity, such as a cross country, circuit, drag races, danger zone and speed traps, or even taking pictures or streaming on Mixer, all have their own levels that can be increased to unlock cosmetics, cars, emotes, horns, and a ton of other items.
Horizon 4 also takes customization up a notch by allowing you to suit up your driver. Clothing items are available, as well as the aforementioned emotes. Of course it’s not comparable to RPG-like customization by any means, but it is surely a good start. This time your character isn’t put in charge of the festival, but must work his/her way up in order to advance to each round. One of the new ways to do this is participating in Horizon Stories.
Early on you are asked to be a stunt devil for a movie, so you’ll have to perform pretty insane stunts in order to complete the story chapters. Later on you’ll participate in stories that have you do other things, such as test out supercars for business clients. One of the more unique stories I played had me drive in classic cars from other games, like Crazy Taxi and Sega Rally. There’s a slight narrative in each story, but they don’t really feature anything different than you would find in other activities, but they do mix things up a bit.
On the other hand, the Showcase events are very different and feature some of the most exaggerated over-the-top moments in the game. My only issue with these events is that I wished there were more of them - much more of them. One of my favorite events is the new Forzathon Live hourly events. They encourage the whole server to meet in one area and team up to complete activities together. Finishing a Forzathon gives you exclusive points that can be used to buy unique items in the Forzathon Store. Also new to the series is the ability to buy property. Houses scattered around the map can be purchased to unlock rewards, as well as new vehicles.
There’s never a shortage of things to do, but sometimes it can easily become overwhelming as there’s always a new race, barnhouse find, speedzone or something else unlocked and that really clutters up the map. Thankfully, you can filter out anything you aren’t interested in, but the sheer amount of activities that pile up on your to-do list could have been spread out more over the course of the game.
Playground Games continues to set the standard in the genre and Forza Horizon 4 is no different. This is open world driving at its absolute finest. The spectacular visuals and stellar roster of cars are great, but the shared world and new weather system is really what makes this one of the best open world racing games this decade.
Writer for Darkstation since 2014. I've been playing games my whole life and starting writing about them in 2010. Outside of gaming I enjoy anime and watching my Philadelphia Eagles let me down every Sunday. Follow me on Twitter @jsparis09