Forza Horizon 4 takes the pole position as one of the best racing games ever made.
Another year, another Forza, it could be so easy to grow weary and exhausted by the sheer amount of Forza titles that have hit the shelves in the past 10 years.
One year, Turn 10 brings out a Forza Motorsports title that at it’s worst are usually very good. Then the next year another entry in Playground Games Forza Horizon series comes and takes us on another vacation with some of the worlds hottest cars. The consistency of the Forza series has always been impressive. The problem with always being so consistent however, is each new game introduced can have a hard time truly separating itself from the rest.
You always get the typical improvements and upgrades you expect from a sequel. Better graphics, more cars, some refinements to existing systems and more along those lines. Playground Games must have felt a certain kind of way about that pattern, because the already excellent Forza Horizon 3 has been obliterated with Forza Horizon 4.
Forza Horizon 4 takes us away from the tropical jungles of Australia and into the rolling green hills and castles of the United Kingdom. Like every other Forza Horizon title, the love they give each games home country is on full display. The slang, the music, the culture and history are all front and center no matter where you look in Horizon 4. The U.K based team made sure to give their home country the treatment such a historic location deserves.
Now to really talk about what they changed about Forza Horizon 4 let’s talk about what they have kept. The absolutely stunning visuals have returned. This time the PC version performs incredibly right out of the gate. After having several issues with Horizon 3 I have yet to encounter any technical issues with 4. On the Xbox X, they offer you a 4k, 30fps locked mode or a very welcome 60fps performance mode. Even on the base Xbox One the game is rocking steady at a locked frame-rate.
The same great physics system returns. With several improvements carried over from Forza Motorsport 7, the feel of every single car is handled to perfection. The tuning allows you to control how much simulation vs arcade feel you want to go for. The assists all return and haven’t changed much from previous iterations.
The much hyped seasonal approach to the open world is much more than just marketing hype. Each season in the game is truly unique. Beyond the visual differences, each new season brings it’s own set of challenges and handling models to challenge everybody. New locations open up, and old ones fade away. Even races, events and barn finds will change, with some of those open world events only appearing in a specific season. The seasons also tie into the career modes progression in a big way. The polish is second to none. Audio, visuals, and controls all work seamlessly together to truly immerse you in the Horizon experience, just as well as they always have in the past.
Now that we have got that out of the way, let’s talk about whats new.
Previous Horizon games, despite their excellence always had a couple things truly keeping them from perfection, the career progression, and the online integration.
Previously each Horizon title had you compete in various events strewn around the open world, in an effort to gather enough fans to expand the Horizon festival. Each time you upgraded a Festival site, another tier of events, open world challenges and showcase events would populate the surrounding area’s and then you rinse and repeat until you get to the end of the game and compete in the Horizon Championship race.
The problem with that format was the progression didn’t feel satisfying. Gathering enough fans, and expanding Horizon sites felt inevitable, but never fun in the moment. The way the game never really forced you to try different vehicles or play-styles would eventually make progressing through the festival races more of chore, than a fun task.
They always had a ton of content, just never a clear direction for said content. Cross country races, street races, speed traps, and bucket lists would all co-exist with no clear motivation for wanting to pursue any of these different styles outside of your own desire to perform that activity at a given time.
On it’s own, the old method wasn’t broken, or even bad by any means. By Horizon 3 though, that formula was feeling stale, and it was something nagging at me the entire time I spent in Horizon 3 and it ultimately kept me from caring much about any festival sites or events I unlocked.
Horizon 4 finally up ends the old career system on it’s head, and is one of the biggest changes the series has seen since it’s inception.
The new progression system doesn’t exist in a vacuum anymore. The brand new seasonal approach to the open world, and the completely re-done online integration combine to transform the minute to minute Forza Horizon experience.
Previously, the online multiplayer existed in a parallel world to the offline single player content. They both had meaningful content, but the game never really provided a good solution to making the online and the career mode mesh well.
This time Forza goes in the direction of the always online, always connected play space. Once you complete the first in game “year” of racing events, you are then invited to join the Horizon roster, and then you are thrust head first into a seamless, always connected online world. Each server you play on is capable of supporting 70 players, and everything in the world is synced for all the players present across all of the Forza Horizon 4. Every season, weather transition, even the traffic are in lockstep which goes a long way to bridging the gap between the online and offline worlds.
They don’t stop there. Before you can protest being forced to be online to play, Playground Games does what so many other developers don’t. If at anytime you don’t want to be online, or you lose your online connection, the game transitions to an offline mode without any loads or disconnects. Real life drivers get replaced with the tried and true drivatars and your experience works as it would in any of the previous Horizon games. With a couple of button taps, you can go back online and are connected just as seamlessly.
This new connected experience goes a long way to completely changing the Forza experience on a fundamental level.
Every step of the way during your career, the festival finally feels like a festival. Players are always around, doing there own thing, hanging out near barn finds, taking massive jumps and the Rocket League quick chat system they have implemented keeps it civil and easy to communicate with anybody around.
If you find a player you like, a quick tap of the D-pad will allow you to invite them into your convoy, which is the new term they use for co-op play. Returning from Horizon 3 is the co-op, as now it allows for up to six players to connect and play through the entire career mode together.
Every single different open world event or race you can partake in is back from the older games. Joining them is the new job system. You can be a taxi driver, or a stuntman, and compete in multiple chapters for each job.
The job system is a much welcome feature, and replaces the old bucket list challenges that were just dumped in the open world at random. Even these scripted jobs can be completed with up to five of your friends, the entire experience is connected and despite the team play your own career will always progress in meaningful ways.As your influence grows, you will level up and unlock various wheel spins and skill points. In another smart change, each individual car has it’s own skill tree to spend those points on.
Previously players had a general account wide skill tree. That skill tree was always very easy to fill out well before you came close to finishing the career mode. With the new system you will always have a reason to level up, and always have something meaningful to put your points into.
It’s also another way to get you invested in a car, and it doubles as a method you encourage the player base to find new cars, new disciplines and make them try something new that they might not have otherwise.
All of these different gameplay elements all combine to complete change how you can play, progress, and interact with the content they have. Forzathon, adventures, festival upgrades are all seamlessly connected and woven together in a massive, interconnected experience.
It’s the biggest single change they have ever concocted, and it eradicates the only real issues I had with the older Horizon games.
As I look back on my time with the game, I am having a very, very hard time picking out any flaws or problems I had with it.
The only thing I would like to see is some integration with a streaming music service, but even the in game radio stations provide excellent variety and is mixed to perfection in the game itself.
One of the other new additions that supplement the new career system are the drivers themselves. Now you can choose from one of several characters and completely customize your look, even down to dances and emotes your driver will perform during the load transitions. Some of these emotes an dances can be silly, but they never detract from the experience and just add a bit of personal flavor. You can even purchase homes, ranging from small village homes to Edinburgh castle itself. They provide a few meaningful perks, and act as a hub for all of your car upgrades and character customization.
I have spent just as much time trying to find a a problem with Forza Horizon 4 as I have playing it, and I honestly just cant. I haven’t sat and played this much of any racing game since Burnout Paradise changed the racing scene more than a decade ago, and every minute I am not playing more of it I want to dive back in.
Forza Horizon 4 is the best game in the franchise, and it might just be the perfect racing game.