I’ve always had a weird relationship with racing games. I don’t care much for cars, and I’ve never driven one. I don’t have a license nor am I planning to get one. I see the appeal of expensive supercars going really fast, but the whole car and tuning culture just doesn’t do it for me.
That being said I grew up loving games like Project Gotham Racing, Need for Speed, and Burnout. The feeling of barreling down a tight street at 200km/h while dodging traffic is the type of adrenaline rush that keeps me entertained for hours on end. It’s hard to get that fix these days: The Need for Speed series in a slump, they’re not making any new Burnout games and the studio that used to make Project Gotham Racing was shuttered back in 2011.
These days, the only thing that satisfies my craving for an arcade-style racer is the Forza Horizon series by Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios. For those not familiar, the Forza Horizon games borrow the realistic driving model from Turn 10’s popular closed-track Forza Motorsport games, and let it loose in an open world setting where players can race around a vast environment and take on challenges as they see fit.
Forza Horizon was first introduced back in 2012 on the Xbox 360. This debut took players to a driving festival in Colorado, where they raced around deserts and forests in expensive sports cars. The departure from the more serious (and boring) main series was a welcome one, met with both critical and commercial success.
Fast-forward to 2018, we’ve arrived at the fourth installment in the Horizon series and the games have only gotten better and better. This year’s iteration is set in the British country side, and it’s the first installment to introduce the concept of seasons (which of course is a perfect fit for a country known for its shit weather).
Seasons might sound like a minor thing for most games, but for a semi-realistic racing game it makes all the difference. If you’ve seen any Forza Horizon 4 footage you’ll know how much the environment and the racing conditions change throughout the year. When you get started, you’ll race through all four seasons to familiarize yourself with how they affect your driving.
The winter snow makes everything slippery, the spring rain turns off-road racing into a dirt fest, and the leaves in Autumn just make everything look way cooler (more on that later). Once you’ve survived a full year, you’ll be thrown into the regular ‘playlist’ of seasons: The game will cycle through all of them on a weekly basis for every single player in the world.
Each season has its own set of races and weekly challenges, enticing you to pick the game up every week to come back to a completely different driving experience. I did not expect this system to have such a profound effect, but it really feels like a different game every time the seasons change. Kudos to Playground Games for making it work.
Of course, it’s not just the handling that changes through the season: The graphics are also altered intensely four times a year. Gorgeous sunshine coming through the trees in the summer, impressive looking rain in the spring, frozen lakes and interactive snow in the winter: Forza Horizon 4 nails the seasons perfectly. The Forza (Horizon) games have always looked stellar, but this fourth iteration absolutely knocks it out of the park. It’s hands-down the best looking driving game ever made, and it might just be the best looking open world game, period.
To be fair, I’ve only played it on an Xbox One X (the beefed up version of the Xbox One that came out last summer), but supposedly the game runs fine on a normal Xbox One as well. Same goes for the PC version, Forza Horizon 3 had some performance problems on PC when it was first released but those problems got solved with a patch and Forza Horizon 4 doesn’t seem to have this problem.
Another big change in this year’s Forza Horizon is the way it deals with online connectivity. In previous iterations, you’d see competing cars in the open world, but they were controlled by AI. This year, those cars are controller by real people who are playing on the same server as you.
I never cared much for online gaming, so I can’t really comment on how well this system works, but everyone who does care about this sort of stuff says it works great and that it’s a welcome change from Forza Horizon 4’s predecessors. Don’t just take their word for it though, pick up the game and try it for yourself.
It might be weird to recommend people to check out a game for themselves in a review, but this year Microsoft made it easier than ever to get into Forza. Forza Horizon 4 is part of the Xbox’ Game Pass scheme, which means you can play it (and over a hundred other games) for ten bucks a month. Game Pass has a free 14 day trial, so you don’t have to spend a dime to check it out. I’m still baffled as to why Microsoft would release a brand new $60 game on their subscription service, but Forza Horizon 4 is as good a reason as any to sign up now.