Originally released for Xbox One and PC back in October of 2018, Forza Horizon 4 was met with critical acclaim. Over the past two and a half years it has seen an incredibly successful release on Steam and a mostly positive update for the Xbox Series consoles. Just what is it that has made this game so loved by racing and casual fans alike, and how has it grown since its release? Let’s find out.
Seasons Changed Quite a Bit, if Not Really Everything
Back on the E3 stage in 2018 Forza Horizon 4 was given the tagline, “Seasons Change Everything”. It was a brand-new concept for the game in that every two weeks the game shifts between the four major seasons of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Taking place in Great Britain the landscape will change from a snowbound half-tundra with frozen over lakes to a wet and colorful countryside with flowers starting to bloom. As a live service game, this was a brilliant idea so that things constantly felt different if you came back from a short or long break. The game allows you to change the season depending on your choice when offline but runs on a schedule when you’re connected to the network. The map is full of your fellow racers who you can see but thankfully not touch while driving one of the vast number of cars available.
Those cars both look beautiful and handle fantastically as the Forza Tech engine is the best it has ever been here. On the base Xbox One consoles, the game runs at 30 frames per second, but on the One X and Series consoles, it can run up to 60fps and is stunning. Optimization on PC has been smoothed out since launch, and even a moderately powerful machine can run the game well at high settings. This is a game about the joy of racing both off-road and on, with a bevy of perhaps too many events to run and a wide variety of things to tackle on the far too busy map. I really can’t rave enough about the driving through.
Car Handling Perfection
I reviewed a game earlier this year called Wreckfest which remains one of my favorite racing games of all time due largely to its excellent handling and damage systems. The only game that has better handling is Forza Horizon 4, and though it lacks and serious cosmetic damage when you crank the difficulty modifiers up the effects that damage has on your car feel similar in many ways. For most though, since this game like all other 1st party titles of recent years is available on Game Pass for console and PC, you will start things easy and let the game suggest when it is time to bump up the overall difficulty. Returning from past entries is the Drivatar system and it works well once again. Thankfully they do not slam into you as much as I remember in past games from the series, and I never felt cheated when I lost a race.
This is due in large part to just how good the handling feels. As you get used to the game mastering when to brake, when to e-brake, and when to say screw it and use your opponents to “help” you turn is a rewarding experience. The Y button is once again available to you as a rewind for when things go far too wrong, that is up until the end of the race at which point you lose that ability for the final few turns. Turning up the difficulty can remove features such as brake assist and reward you with percentage modifiers to your end-of-race earnings as you make things tougher. This all feeds into a large, perhaps overly dense, and satisfying progression system.
Map Bloat? Very Much Yes
One of the only issues I have with this game stems in part from the fact that I’ve played so much of the previous games. There is a lot to do here, and as you level up each individual activity you then unlock more of them. This ends up causing your map to be full of hundreds of icons in the main landmass of Great Britain. Signature over the top races like one where you drive a Warthog from Halo as Cortana and other voice actors never stop talking are back along with full-on story mode style campaigns. There is a tremendous variety that was only added to in post-release updates that were both free and paid. There were two expansion DLC’s released, and they are both excellent.
The first expansion is Fortune Island and it takes you to a place of both great beauty and terrifying weather. You’ll hunt around the map looking for treasure chests that give you millions of credits, the in-game currency you earn to buy cars, fast travel, and other various things. The second DLC is the Lego Racing Championship series which is based on real-world car sets. There aren’t a ton of cars available in it, but the graphics are fantastic looking almost as good as the Lego Movie (and it even features the “everything is awesome” song on the in-game radio. You’ll spend your time finding blocks and building the map up here and both expansions are excellent.
An Auditory and Visual Feast
It is safe to say that Forza Horizon 4 is one of the best-looking games of the generation. The way it pushed the Xbox One and One X hardware at the time of launch was astounding. The Series X|S versions are beautiful but did have some issues at launch as they were based on the One S version of the game instead of the One X. Things have been touched up since then and outside of an aggressive L.O.D. (level of detail) it is fantastic looking.
The car sounds are as good as ever with all the whines and bass you’d expect from the various types of cars present, and the in-game radio stations have a solid mix from various genres. Sadly the Groove Music support for custom soundtracks was removed when the service was shuttered, but there are a few apps available on Xbox consoles that let you play whatever you want so it’s not all bad news.
A Few Minor Issues
It is hard to overstate though just how much there ends up being on the map. If you’ve played the heck out of the first three games of the series you might find yourself a bit fatigued by the number of races this game has you do for progression’s sake. Add onto this the number of wheelspins the game has you make, this is the main way you unlock cosmetics for your driver, car horns, and also can get you cars or huge credit winnings. I would guesstimate that I’ve done roughly 600 wheelspins in my time playing the game, and that feels conservative. Mix in audio sections that you can’t skip and there ends up being a lot of time spent not driving whether you want to or not.
The progression system for your cars is a bit bland as well. You unlock more point modifiers as you earn experience for each car individually by driving well, aggressive, like a maniac, but lose them if you crash before the combo timer is up. I love the combo system, but I wish it fed into a more satisfying car progression system. As there are hundreds of cars it really isn’t that fun leveling each one up repeatedly, something more driver-based would be an improvement to me.
One other area that has been a bit weak are the free updates. The Super 7 looked like a great track creator but ended up being far less than that promise. Instead, it seems more like a test-bed for track creators in future entries for the series. The Eliminator was also added in during the Battle Royale craze and it can be fun the first few times but I found myself quickly tiring of it. It is definitely more fleshed out than the Super 7 though.
This is one of the best racing games of all time. Both offline solo play and online co-op and competitive are at the top of the genre. As it has been out for a few years now and is on game pass it routinely goes on sale including the large amount of DLC the game has to offer. There are few games I have found myself coming back to more often than this one, and you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t at least give it a try.