No matter how good a sports team is, they will always eventually suffer a defeat. The Miami Dolphins may have managed a perfect season in 1972, but a year later they lost some games. The Arsenal team for the 2003-04 Premier League season may have managed to avoid losing a single match in the league, but they still lost in the various cup competitions. Eventually, every team will lose. It’s always a matter of when not if. The reason I bring this up is that the Forza franchise has been going from strength to strength for this entire generation. We have had five great racing games that are head and shoulders above anything else out there (and not only on Xbox). Can Playground Games keep this streak going with Forza Horizon 4?
Location, location, location
For anyone unfamiliar with the Forza Horizon series, it is the more accessible, open-world brother of the Motorsport offerings. This time around, the action is set in the United Kingdom. As a U.K. resident, I am both delighted and disappointed with the map on offer here. The style and feel of the map are spot-on. It feels just like when I blast down the country lanes near my house in my car. That said, the map makes no geographical sense whatsoever. If Australians thought they had it bad in the last game, they’d be shocked as to how absurd this map is. I do understand that the developers need to condense the British countryside to fit it all in. One of the things that the map is missing, though, is a more industrial area. Several cities would fit in the area they try to cover, yet they have chosen to leave them out. Forza Horizon 4 would have you believe that all of England is idyllic green countryside (with extremely weak stone walls). The only urban area of the map is Edinburgh, and even that is pretty small.
Seasons of change
Aside from the change of location, the big new addition to this entry are seasons. What this basically adds are massive weather changes. Visually, the seasonal changes are pretty impressive. Autumn brings lots of browns and golden leaves. Winter finds snow covering absolutely everything. Spring and Summer see the return of the verdant countryside with the former also providing rain showers. The developers promise that the change of season will allow access to different areas of the map. While true, there aren’t many, and it is kind of gimmicky. The seasons actually left me with conflicting thoughts. My first thought was that the weather doesn’t really affect the handling enough. If you played the Blizzard Mountain expansion pack for Forza Horizon 3, the snow there made driving a real challenge. In this latest game, the snow is far more visual than a handling challenge. The same can be said about the rain. It’s there, and it does slightly affect your cornering ability but not to the level of the rain in Forza Motorsport 7. The majority of puddles don’t affect your car in the same way as that game either. This makes it even more surprising when you hit a puddle that makes your car want to veer massively to one side. My follow-up thought, though, is that I simply prefer driving in sunny weather. Video games are about escapism, and I would love to escape to a world where I can drive a million-dollar hypercar with the sun blazing down on me.
Another change in this entry is the career progression. The alterations to the career in Forza Motorsport 7 did a great job to simplify, streamline, and clarify the singleplayer mode. The changes to career mode here provide you with more challenges than you can shake a stick at. In fact, it can become a little overwhelming at times. There are so many different types of events that you have to level up individually. Pretty soon the map becomes incredibly cluttered with various activities. It doesn’t help that the default view of the map includes all the events you’ve completed as well as the ones you’ve yet to do. Completing any event (or any of the returning speed traps/zones, danger signs, and drift zones) adds to your Horizon Rep which will help to unlock the signature showcase events. These epic races are one of the things that set Forza Horizon apart from many other racers. I don’t think that these provide the shocks that other entries in the series have had, but there are still some great events. Speaking of great events, I have to say that the Halo-inspired mission is a real highlight. It is pulled off brilliantly.
Beauty is in the eye of the racer
The Forza franchise hasn’t only been the best racing series of this generation, but it’s also been one of the best looking. Forza Horizon 4 carries this on with such great attention to detail and what must be wizardry to extract so much performance out of the Xbox One. I played the game with both my Xbox One X and my One S. The game looks gorgeous on both systems. Playing on the One X, you get the option to choose between Quality mode (higher graphical fidelity but only 30fps) and Performance mode (lower graphical fidelity at 60 fps). Whichever option you choose, you’ll be greeted with almost photo-realistic visuals. Even on the One S, the game looks great. I did have a few issues on One S with certain sections not loading in properly and appearing as just a blank area. I also came across the old Horizon glitch where your car just instantly stops like it has hit a wall despite there not being anything in the way. This only occurred on a couple of occasions, though, across my many hours of playing the game.
Racing to victory
It might seem like I’ve been quite negative about Forza Horizon 4 but this is a game with such high expectations and history. The thing is that so much of this entry is like the previous Forza games. The visuals, handling, sound design, online play, and Drivatar system are just like before. This isn’t a negative, though. When the backbone of your game is already the best around you don’t need to innovate; you can just reiterate. There are subtle improvements in the game (trees look more realistic, surround sound mix appears better, destruction animations are improved) but it’s pretty much more of the same, which still makes it one of the best racing games around. If you have even a passing interest in racing games, then this is the game that you should buy this year. If you want another game to show off the power of your Xbox One X, this is a must-buy. If you want a game that will keep you busy for weeks and months to come, this will see you right until the inevitable Forza Motorsport 8. Playground Games have managed to create another must-have game; it just doesn’t quite add enough to be the classic game I’d hoped for.