Playground Games and Microsoft Studios are at it again with another stylish racer. This time around, they created an open world based on rural UK complete with gorgeous seasons so rev your engine and get ready to race!
Forza Horizon 4 has you racing around the countryside of Northern UK while competing in a large-scale festival that tests racers to their limits in order to find the best. As expected of the series, the controls handle beautifully. For the unfamiliar, it's a racing sim but it doesn't exactly force you to tune your car and know intimate details about each model and manufacturer. The main feature this time around is the seasons which change the gameplay dramatically. You'll find yourself rally racing through snow, chasing sheep in a flowery springtime field, and driving amongst English amber foliage in autumn. Having traction in the summer's midday sun contrasts with sliding around in mud on a spring morning and it all comes together to bring many different experiences to the same track. Overall, I was blown away by how varied the gameplay is yet it remains enjoyable whether you're racing in snow, rain, heat, or gloom of night.
Booting up Forza Horizon 4 immediately made me homesick. I grew up in the midlands and although I now live in the Canadian prairies, I visit home at least every couple of years. As I drive around the countryside of the UK in Forza Horizon 4, I'm reminded of many trips to visit family, when I went on outings to old castles, and even walks through the high street of a bustling city. They really captured the heart of what it's like to live in the country from the brown road signs that denote tourist attractions and wheelie bins outside residents' homes to the rolling hills, random sheep and deer, and small stone walls and barns dotted all over the map.
On the audio side, you can choose radio stations as you race and I always get a laugh from selecting the classical station. The sound effects are well done, too, as you hear your opponents creep up on you and your tires squeal as you drift around tight corners.
In order to progress through the seasons, you need to gain influence. This is done by competing in the many different events across the map. The races are split into four different types: road, dirt, cross country, and street races. Each has a slightly different take on the standard race formula such as dirt races requiring heavy vehicles while you'll be more successful at road races with a sleek fast car. Aside from races, there are lots of other events to unlock such as the stunt driver career where you get to drive some cool classic vehicles and perform stunts (that is, if you can make it to the set without damaging the car). The most fun events by far are the showcase events that will have you racing against crazy opponents such as a train and a gang of motocross bikes. While you make your way to your next event, there are also billboards to knock down, speed traps to race through, and beauty spots to admire that appear to be based on actual sights in the UK such as Derwent Reservoir in Derbyshire.
When you complete an event, you'll often unlock spins at a wheel that net you different clothing items, dance moves that are performed when you win a race, and, of course, cars. It's great fun to swap out your character and all of their clothing every now and then and have them match with the swanky new car that you recently purchased. Speaking of cars, there are dozens to pick from that come in many varieties. Some of them look cute but they're so old that they aren't very useful for races although I enjoyed watching the cutscene where I parked my car at the front of my newly purchased house.
There's also a creative hub that focuses on all of the customization aspects. There are a ton of options when it comes to the vehicles alone such as tuning, applying vinyl, and creating livery designs (which are graphics for the vehicle's exterior for the uninitiated). Car and event customizations can be uploaded and shared with the community if you think you've done a stellar job with a project.
Forza Horizon 4 is an awesome experience if you want to play solo but it also has a fun multiplayer component. Unfortunately, there's no local multiplayer but I didn't exactly expect there to be given the history of the series. Playing online allows up to 12 players competitively and up to 6 cooperatively. Team Adventure mode is a lot of fun where you get to pick the events that you want to compete in with a group of buddies as well as any restrictions and which season you want to roam around in.
However, my online experience wasn't all rosy as whenever I missed a checkpoint, I was pretty much doomed. Using the rewind feature seemed to randomly spawn me at different parts on the track close to where I screwed up but not necessarily before the checkpoint that I missed. Every second that went by had my competitors racing further away from me, making me feel like a Billy no mates. I eventually decided to spend my time in Rivals mode instead where I could compete against ghosts of other players.
As you're racing through city streets and muddy off-road tracks, the scenery of Forza Horizon 4 definitely looks impressive. However, when you take a break to observe the detail closely, you'll notice lots of polygonal messes which sometimes gave me flashbacks to the original Xbox era. The world is huge and a ton of fun to explore and seeing as you're going through it at such high speed, these lower-quality aspects won't affect your experience much. I would be complaining a lot more if this was an action-adventure title. The character models are also a little awkward-looking and there's occasional pop-in when you look in the distance. Keep in mind; I played Forza Horizon 4 using a regular Xbox One, not an Xbox One X. So, this might not be as noticeable of an issue if you are.
Forza Horizon 4 provides an expansive and immersive racing experience that'll keep your foot on the accelerator until the seasons change. Once they literally do, the racing feels fresh and exciting all over again.
- + Incredible racing gameplay with a fantastic amount of variety
- + Awesome representation of rural UK
- + Tons of unlockables and content
- - Still no local multiplayer
- - Some minor graphical issues
- - Online races aren't as smooth as offline