It’s amazing how much a change of scenery can redefine the feel of a well-trodden road. There may often be little means to drastically redefine the various offerings of Microsoft’s and Playground Games’ Forza Horizon series, which have largely perfected the formula of open-world car sims at this point, but in coming at this well-established recipe with a brilliant new hook, Forza Horizon 4 often represents the best and most enjoyable variation on what’s otherwise a very familiar racing experience. This is all the more impressive when one considers that this latest offering must follow the exotic, rugged appeal of the Australian outback setting from Forza Horizon 3, a unique setting that will be tough to top.
With the all-new addition of ever-shifting seasons however, Forza Horizon 4 manages to step up the addictive appeal of open-world racing once again. The U.K. countryside may not feel quite as adventurous or memorable as the Australian Outback, but with a series of seemingly unyielding challenges tailored to the four consistently shifting seasons in this latest follow-up, you’re essentially getting four jam-packed open-world racing maps in one amazing package! Pair that with the same pitch-perfect racing, compelling social features and yet more top-of-the-line technical milestones, and you have what may quite possibly end up being the best car sim of this entire console generation (and it’s no slouch on PC either!), not just for Xbox gamers, but for any platform overall!
Forza Horizon has often represented one of the top technical showcases for Microsoft hardware, often even more so than its parent series, Forza Motorsport. This naturally remains true with Forza Horizon 4, another gorgeous, painstakingly detailed racer that feels as lifelike as it does fast-paced. The attention to detail is all the more noticeable with the shifting seasons to boot! Season-sensitive environmental effects such as snow shredding in Winter, or the slick rainfalls of Spring, are truly an amazing sight to behold, particularly without even one bit of performance interruption between both Xbox One and PC! The real stars, the cars themselves, remain amazingly true-to-life in appearance and style as well, as you can probably imagine from any product bearing the Forza name. Once again, driving these souped-up beasts is barely a notch below the real thing, ruthlessly pulling gamers into a relentlessly immersive car sim!
Forza Horizon 4 doesn’t merely represent a simple face lift to the graphics either! The development team at Playground Games has gone the extra mile with realizing the U.K. setting, using cutting-edge satellite map technology to make the environments more authentic and true-to-life than ever before! That’s no small feat when you consider that Forza Horizon is often famous for its exceptional detail. Even then, Forza Horizon 4 is in a class of its own, with a noticeably accurate emphasis on variable elevation and irregular terrain, rather than a deliberately polished, exaggerated sandbox for racers to wheel around in. The visuals are truly best experienced on a 4K display as well, where they present perhaps the defining standard of current-generation 4K graphics technology, even if they still dazzle and delight in 1080p.
The outstanding 4K quality in Forza Horizon 4 is largely due to the game being the first Forza Horizon title to be designed from the ground up to take advantage of the enhanced Xbox One X console. Players who own an Xbox One X can choose between souping up the visuals to hit an effortless native 4K resolution at 30fps performance, or settle for a still-gorgeous 1080p resolution while cranking the performance to a super-agile and super-satisfying 60fps, an especially attractive option to those who wish to spend a lot of time racing online. The framerate is also virtually never disturbed on Xbox One X in particular, regardless of whether you’re opting for 60fps performance at 1080p, or 30fps performance at native 4K. Even on a base Xbox One or Xbox One S console, where performance is always locked to 30fps at a native 1080p resolution, Forza Horizon 4 manages to be one of the most visually stunning Microsoft exclusives of this hardware generation. That said however, the enhanced textures, boosted performance options and improved vehicle detailing and physics afforded on Xbox One X definitely make that console the ideal device to experience Forza Horizon 4 on, by a considerable margin! The Xbox One X build of the game even manages to pretty much perfectly keep pace with its Windows 10 counterpart, replicating more or the less same experience that you would get with the PC version’s Ultra settings!
Of course, if you’re a PC gamer, Forza Horizon 4’s Windows 10 build allows for a lot of these same technical bells and whistles, with high-end gaming computers afforded the same options between 60fps performance at 1080p resolution or native 4K resolution at 30fps performance that are both offered on Xbox One X. Forza Horizon 4 also presents one of the best PC ports in the history of the Forza series to date, in fact, with a surprisingly agreeable set of system requirements that allow even lesser-powered rigs to effortlessly run the game on Low-to-Medium settings without too much hassle, while the insane wealth of customization options present a ton of freedom and flexibility for those with higher-end PC’s that are capable of hitting Ultra or Extreme settings. Even with its highly appreciated custom features and mostly outstanding quality however, the PC version of Forza Horizon 4 appears to be slightly less consistent than the Xbox One X experience in some respects, with the Windows 10 build sometimes having strangely inferior 4K texture quality in a few places, while some of the many customization options don’t appear to present any noticeable difference, even in the gap from Low to Ultra. Finally, I did encounter a couple of freak occurrences wherein Forza Horizon 4’s PC build would continually crash on startup if I fiddled with the wrong settings, but restarting my computer seemed to fix this. Even considering its occasional moodiness though, Forza Horizon 4’s PC version remains one of the series’ best and most impressive Windows 10 builds, and PC gamers with a taste for racing are bound to love the game as much as Xbox gamers will!
Just as the visuals in any given Forza Horizon game often represent amazing new technical achievements for Xbox hardware in particular, the audio of Forza Horizon demonstrates a similarly cutting-edge commitment to continually refining the experience of tearing around in expensive super-cars. The licensed music tracks remain an eclectic, yet appealing mix of hip-hop, dance tunes or classical music, which you can easily switch between with a few taps of the D-Pad. There’s not much that’s extensively popular or recognizable among the radio stations, at least outside of the timeless classical compositions, but regardless of your musical tastes, or whether you want to flick the radio off and just enjoy the roar of your engine, Forza Horizon 4 has you covered. Series regulars will also find many of the same great returning personalities of the Horizon Festival commenting to them about new events and challenges, and the masterminds of the event feel even more at home with this game’s U.K. setting to boot!
It really must be stressed however that there is an overwhelming authenticity not to just how cars look, but also how they sound. If you tune your engine, or upgrade it entirely, the changes will be reflected in your vehicle’s sound design. Likewise, different makes of cars will replicate their real-life counterparts in terms of engine noise, consistency and performance. Other sound effects such as bursting through fences, skidding along plains and splashing through puddles are also captured with perfectly true-to-life realism, creating the potent illusion that you’re actually behind the wheel, tearing through the mud and skidding through the snow. On a cutting-edge home theatre system especially, Forza Horizon 4 continues to offer some of the best sound quality among any racing games currently available, and that detail is all the more noticeable when the vehicles realistically react to the changing weather and season conditions that are introduced in this game.
As I mentioned, Forza Horizon only changes so much with every sequel, but it’s a superb testament to the development skills of Playground Games that they keep managing to find new ways to refine a nigh-on-flawless open-world racing foundation. That’s all the more true when the previous Forza Horizon 3 was already set in one of the most exciting real-world locations to race in, which was seemingly going to put Forza Horizon 4 in a pretty tight spot. It’s true that the U.K. countryside doesn’t sound that exciting on paper too, but this backdrop for Forza Horizon 4 almost functions like an especially detailed throwback to the European settings of Forza Horizon 2, with a little bit more of a quaint feel. The rustic charm and beautiful landscapes may lack the dangerous appeal of the Australian Outback, but they do manage to offer another cavalcade of racing challenges that are just as good, if not better than the ones that you could enjoy in any other Forza Horizon title!
If you’ve played any Forza Horizon game, then you know the score with Forza Horizon 4; You play as a driver participating in the latest incarnation of the Horizon Festival, an uninhibited, open-world car racing trek through an exotic location within some especially beautiful part of the world. As with the main Forza Motorsport titles, the game is divided into a series of progressively more challenging racing events, with player-inspired Drivatars creating extra devious and intelligent opponents that adapt their habits from your real-life Xbox Live friends and other such players. The difference with Forza Horizon however is that you aren’t entirely restricted to events, since you can also enjoy time driving freely through the open-world setting in any vehicle that your character owns, discovering new roads, locating fixer-upper Barn Find vehicles, or discovering Sightseeing Spots, among other things. You could simply drive to and from each event on the open road, but it’s often best to venture off the beaten path and really explore the wide, sprawling world off-road, which is where most of the best hidden secrets and rewards in Forza Horizon 4 lie.
Even with the same excellent gameplay behind Forza Horizon 4 however, the series continues to push for more. The changing seasons are obviously the most noticeable hook, but the ambition of the online gameplay is also cranked up, since Forza Horizon 4 is the series’ first entry to truly take place in a shared open-world setting! The game is still playable offline, mind you, where you’re still encounter plenty of Drivatars, along with the same great roster of events and challenges, but in playing online, you can directly interact with real people racing throughout the same open-world server locations, with each server hosting anywhere up to 72 players at once. This makes it extra easy to plan events and initiate races, while also enjoying the same open-world speeding as your friends in simultaneous weather and seasonal conditions. It also allows you to jump into co-operative and competitive races on the fly with incredible ease, just as racing together with Xbox Live friends in the open world can now be easily done on the same server.
The Forza franchise has certainly experimented with weather effects before, offering hazards like rain and other such unpredictable conditions. Forza Horizon 4 marks the first time that the series has featured entire seasons being changed at regular intervals however. Players will initially play through a prologue sequence of sorts that has them conquering a certain series of events across each of the four seasons, including Forza Horizon’s trademark boss battle-esque ‘Showcase Events’ that often cap them off with a thrilling crescendo, but after this is completed, the current season will change once a week for every active player, specifically on Thursday, at 3:30 P.M. GMT. This creates a new wrinkle during the unique Showcase events in particular, which pair season-sensitive terrain and weather conditions with an already-ruthless opposing force that will push your racing skills to their limits! Not only that, but certain paths and secrets can only be discovered during certain seasons. The biggest example is Winter freezing bodies of water, and thus allowing you to reach remote locations that you couldn’t otherwise get to, though there are of course other examples that encourage you to come back and keep exploring every time the seasons change.
Even with all of the customization and ability to crank the challenge to breaking point however, Forza Horizon 4 remains very friendly to newcomers and more casual players. You have a wide range of potential Drivatar difficulties to set the game at, making races easier or harder, depending on how you’re faring with them. You receive more Credits to spend on new vehicles and other in-game perks if you do well in races that have more difficult Drivatars (fortunately, Credits are earned completely in-game, and Forza Horizon 4 appears to be completely and mercifully devoid of microtransactions and loot boxes), but if you find that you’re struggling, you can reduce Drivatar difficulty to make sure that you can keep exploring the game’s many activities without hitting a wall with your progression.
This same accommodation of both hardcore gearheads and less knowledgeable car enthusiasts is also once again maintained with your tuning and upgrade options. There are around 450 vehicles in Forza Horizon 4 (and that’s not counting the paid DLC car packs!), across almost any make and model imaginable, from heavy duty Ram trucks to beautiful European muscle cars like Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s, and even old-time Ford cars, among other specialty selections. You can use your Credits to further upgrade any cars you own, and further increase capabilities like speed, handling and braking, among more technical elements like weight distribution and spring-loading, either by manually selecting your upgrades, or having the game simply optimize them automatically, if you’re not so big on the technical stuff. The same is true of tuning, with players able to fine-tune their cars to the nth degree, making them prioritize exactly the features that they wish, if they really want to dive into the experience of customizing their vehicles. You can ignore tuning entirely and still be perfectly fine in terms of your Horizon Festival career, both online and offline, though you can also download custom tunes from other players, if you want some tried-and-true input in terms of which vehicle configurations can really get the most out of your car of choice.
The need to pay attention to the differing seasons makes it especially crucial that you’re taking the right cars on the right challenges as well! Sure, driving in Summer is often pretty smooth and worry-free, and even Autumn is pretty undemanding, barring some fallen leaves that can sometimes obscure the road, but once you get to Winter, you’ll need to account for icy roads and different depths of snow. Winter driving is particularly hazardous, yet also particularly exciting, with weight distribution and tire placement becoming especially paramount, as formerly rock-steady cars suddenly start having more trouble braking and turning on a dime, due to the ice and snow on the ground. Even Spring manages to be pretty tense, in a good way, as players are most likely to encounter rain and water hazards, making heavy-duty vehicles especially useful, since they sink faster and are less inclined to hydroplane, allowing you to avoid losing stability and swerving into obstructions. Beyond adding an amazing cosmetic switch, the changing seasons also constantly encourage you to master a variety of vehicles, and not always stick to your favourites, even though it’s careful to present its options as persistently exciting and rewarding, without ever making the shifts feel intrusive or stressful.
No matter what your racing style or skill level, Forza Horizon 4 mostly tailors the experience to any conceivable way that you would prefer it, regardless of whether you’re focusing on your own solo career in Horizon Festival events, or are trying to outrace and outperform your Xbox Live friends in the especially stiff online competition. In fact, it’s tough to complain about pretty much anything, since Forza Horizon 4 just presents everything with such a wonderful commitment to player style and gameplay variation, refining pretty much everything to a perfect tee. The only thing that some players may take issue with in fact is the puzzling shortcoming of certain licensed cars not being featured in Forza Horizon 4. For some reason, Forza Horizon 4 had trouble securing licenses for some of the series’ fan-favourite Japanese makes and vehicles, leaving them unable to be featured in the game at all. Mitsubishi and Lexus specifically completely denied licenses for the game, so favourites like the Mitsubishi Lancer are sadly not offered at all in this particular Forza entry. Honda cars are also entirely missing from Forza Horizon 4, though interestingly, Honda trucks still seem to be featured in some capacity. It is a bit difficult to complain when you still have well over 400 cars to enjoy, but Japanese car enthusiasts are probably going to feel a bit short-changed, even with the ridiculous amount of vehicle options that are offered among American and European cars, especially with potentially endless combinations of upgrading and tuning that can be applied to each of them!
This same flexibility of course also extends to your event options. Between more traditional races like sprints and circuits, along with specialized challenges like off-road derbies and street racing challenges, you have at least some ability to prioritize the kinds of events that you like most, while being able to neglect those that you don’t care for, in an effort to gradually earn more Influence, which unlocks new events in the open world. Even just driving skillfully on the open road can net you more Influence, as can finding collectibles, defying the limitations of Speed Traps, or performing specialized stunt maneuvers. Speaking of stunts, there’s also a narrative-within-a-narrative of sorts in Forza Horizon 4, wherein you can participate in an increasingly outlandish movie production being filmed near the Horizon Festival, accomplishing stunt-themed challenges with a one-to-three-star rating, which is another highly efficient way to build Influence and unlock rewards. It’s true of any Forza Horizon game, but Forza Horizon 4 is always finding new and exciting ways to both challenge and reward you, especially with the never-ending onslaught of real human racers that you can quickly and easily challenge through the shared world servers!
Forza Horizon 4 is just the latest refinement of a gameplay experience that has already served as arguably one of the best in its genre for many years now, but even then, it feels like an especially impeccable new installment for the series. Forza Horizon 4 presents the culmination of years of developments for open-world racing on modern consoles, all wrapped up in a world that is always shifting its environment and opening up new challenges, continually giving you new reasons to hit the road and keep striving for more. The gameplay and technical qualities are just as excellently refined as the tuning potential in each of the hundreds of playable vehicles as well, regardless of your platform of choice. The experience is certainly most consistent and impressive on Xbox One X as well, where you get the best mix between awesome visual prowess, high performance and stable gameplay, even though Forza Horizon 4 represents all of the same technical milestones on Windows 10, albeit with a few small bugs in the porting job.
Even serving as Microsoft’s lone Holiday 2018 gaming blockbuster, Forza Horizon 4 manages to be superb and persistently rewarding enough to dominate any Xbox or PC gamer’s time indefinitely by itself, especially being a Play Anywhere title that nets you both versions simultaneously if you purchase digitally. Forza Horizon 4 also serves as one of the best reasons yet to check out Xbox Game Pass, where its base product is offered in its entirety for members on both Xbox One and Windows 10, complete with the same Play Anywhere benefits, and without that lofty up-front $59.99 USD/$79.99 CAN base price to buy the game individually. You’re getting a good deal either way, but the bottom line is that you should really play Forza Horizon 4 if you have any interest at all in virtual car racing.
It’s true that Microsoft going an entire Holiday quarter with virtually no first-party exclusives is pretty bad form for Xbox gamers in particular, and that is something that needs to be fixed, especially with a next-gen Xbox platform likely arriving over the next couple of years. If there’s one Xbox One/Windows 10 exclusive that can uphold Microsoft’s entire Holiday 2018 lineup on its own however, it’s Forza Horizon 4, a game that’s so technically impressive and so fully-loaded with compelling gameplay that you’ll find it extraordinarily difficult to put down, especially with no obvious shortcomings to be seen throughout much of the experience. It feels like I say this to some extent with every new Forza Horizon offering, but it’s never been more true than it is with Forza Horizon 4; The virtual open road just doesn’t get better than this!
This review is based on Xbox One and PC copies of, “Forza Horizon 4”, provided by publisher, Microsoft.
- Outstanding visual presentation, especially on Xbox One X
- Pitch-perfect racing gameplay with tons of cars, challenges and persistent rewards
- New shared world setup makes online play more engaging and immersive
- A few conspicuously missing car makes
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