A gorgeous, rewarding, and self-renewing driving experience that raises the open-world racing bar yet again.
Forza Horizon 4 retains almost everything that made Forza Horizon 3 the best racer in its class and bakes it into a game that doesn’t ever want you to stop playing. The stunning visual quality and sound design, the massive array of automobiles, and the extensive and completely customisable career mode that have become hallmarks of the Horizon series are all here. What’s new is just how much more effectively Forza Horizon 4 encourages us to return thanks to its shifting seasons, regularly refreshed challenges, and steady stream of rewards.
Every real-time week the in-game season will change and bring a whole new look to the world, alongside a bunch of season-specific challenges. Every day there are still more new Forzathon challenges to complete, and every hour there is a live, online event to participate in alongside up to 11 other drivers who we work with cooperatively in order to chip away at a shared goal.
All of this is on top of what’s essentially the traditional Horizon experience: dozens, and dozens, and dozens of races and activities spread across a host of disciplines. Racing, rally, drift, drag, editing your own events with Horizon Blueprint: the lot. With this many cars, this much customisation, and a never-ending stream of things to do, it seems Forza Horizon 4 wants to prove being here for a good time AND a long time aren’t mutually exclusive.
This is all largely made possible by Horizon 4’s new default nature as an online, shared-world racer where all the other non-traffic cars cruising the open world are human players. We still race against AI – unless you elect to race with or against friends and such – but you’ll be sharing the open world itself with the rest of us, doing our own thing.
It’s not unlike a more intimate version of The Crew, though the difference is it’s not compulsory. You can play entirely offline if you want, and being knocked offline for any reason isn’t an issue, either, because it’s smart enough to seamlessly transition between its offline and online state in the background while you continue playing. It happened to me a couple of times and there was no loss of progress at all.
You can play entirely offline if you want, and being knocked offline for any reason isn’t an issue.
Even as an antisocial grouch when it comes to multiplayer, I honestly found no good reason to remove myself from the online environment. Pausing, rewinding; that all still works, even online. And strangers are ghosted on contact, too – during both free roaming and Forzathon Live events – so no one can interrupt your cruising or stunt driving unless you link up and join a convoy with them, at which point collisions are in effect.
It’s worthwhile to participate, too, because the points picked up from completing Forzathon challenges form a second in-game currency, separate from the regular credits earned racing. These ‘Forzathon points’ can be redeemed at a separate shop for rare cars and other vanity items, including emotes that seem to range from ‘memes from when Vine was still a thing’ to ‘yep, that’s that dance my kid does forty times a day.’ It’s a bit like the mileage exchange in GT Sport. It seems most of this stuff can also be won randomly as you level up and, while I’m not a big fan of slot-machine style prizes, it should be noted there are no microtransactions involved and no performance upgrades are gated behind it.
Whether the piles of emotes, avatar clothing options, and novelty horns grab your fancy will be a matter of personal preference. As someone who’ll happily wear the same jeans and hoodie for a decade I’m a little numb to fashion, personally, but the GTA Online-style victory dances are pretty cute.
A Crazy Shade of Winter
There’s a glimpse of all four seasons during the four- to five-hour introduction phase, but once the prologue’s first “year” is over seasons will rotate weekly (online or offline). It’s been Autumn throughout the bulk of this review and it might just be my favourite season. There just seems to be so much detail, from the spectrum of colours in the trees as their leaves die off at different rates, to the soggy roadside puddles that persist in an environment that’s becoming too cool for them to evaporate. Winter is excellent, too. If you’ve played Forza Horizon 3: Blizzard Mountain, you’ll have a basic idea of what to expect. It’s not just the world turned white; the landscape takes on an entirely new identity.
I can’t quite vouch for the more granular details of the environment that Playground Games nailed so well in Forza Horizon 3 because I don’t live in Britain, but overall Horizon 4’s Britain is just dazzling. It’s a place filled with quaint little towns, quiet farms, and snaking country roads lined with hedges and crumbling stone walls. Babbling brooks, dense forests, a wide beach, rocky mountaintops, castles, and other centuries-old structures are scattered all across the map. There also more life to it, with deer, rabbits, chickens, and some amazingly agile sheep in residence.
The star of the map is Edinburgh, which is much prettier than Horizon 3’s Surfers Paradise.
It’s gorgeous and I’ve enjoyed exploring it immensely. On Xbox One X I’ve opted to stick with the game’s default “Quality” mode (native 4K, HDR, 30 frames per second) because I’ve been content with playing Horizon games locked at 30 fps in the past, but there is also a “Performance” mode (which cranks up the framerate to 60 and sets the resolution at 1080p, also with HDR). Dawn and dusk in particular are incredible showcases for Horizon 4’s lighting, and it’s these times of day I most enjoy for some more gentle cruising. The overt distinctions between zones aren’t as stark as they are in Horizon 3’s Australia, which shifts from extremes like dry orange desert to dank rainforest, but a massive increase in elevation differences makes up for that. Having Horizon 4’s roads wind over so many hills results in more interesting driving. There’s also a wider difference between road types, which range from wide, modern motorways to narrow alleys and quirky junctions that could’ve been designed hundreds of years before the invention of internal combustion.
The star of the map, however, is Edinburgh, which is much prettier than Horizon 3’s Surfers Paradise. Edinburgh in Horizon 4 is a beautiful place, oozing with history and boasting a really interesting road layout. It’s probably my favourite place to joyride.
The supporting cast of cars is the biggest it’s ever been in the series, and also the most eclectic, with rides ranging from the 59-kilogram Peel P50 microcar to the ludicrously large Unimog, which is fun but so big it can actually cause the chase camera a spot of grief sometimes when passing under structures. As a car nerd I particularly enjoyed how exceedingly British the barn finds have been, representing a really respectful and well-rounded cross section of British car culture. Mitsubishi seem to have joined Toyota/Lexus in backing out of the Horizon series (for now, at least) but there are 450 cars from more than 100 other manufacturers in Horizon 4, so there are plenty of other options.
Cars with special body kit options and other unique accessories are again sorted into their own tab for those keen to acquire vehicles with the most customisation options. Forza Motorsport 7’s new drift suspension and tuning options are present in Horizon 4, and drag tyres have also made their way across. There’s even a new track width option available for certain cars, which I’ve tried on a few older vehicles. Spacing the rears out on my A9X Torana certainly helps it look a lot more racey, rather than having the tyres under the wheel arches.
Showcases are back and they’re some of the very best of the series so far. The Halo one will win hearts but I especially love the contest against the delta wing bomber, which is huge, fast, and looks breathtaking soaring so close to the ground. Bucket List challenges are gone, though they’ve been replaced by Horizon Stories, which are essentially the same events wrapped in a different context. One thread lets us loose as a movie stunt driver, while another sets us up with a YouTuber counting down her favourite racing games. This story, which overtly pays homage to the likes of Ridge Racer, Test Drive, Smuggler’s Run, and many more, is a pretty classy and unexpected in-game nod to some of the great racers that have ultimately inspired the Forza Horizon series.
I do miss the old Bucket List style a little, though, as I did like running into random cars around the world (and also completing friends’ custom challenges). Horizon Blueprint is back, however, and you can create races in any season or time of day. This is a great way to dabble in seasons that may be several weeks away from occurring in the main game itself. You can also access Blueprint from the pause menu and play custom races on demand. Blueprint doesn’t feature a route creator yet but one is apparently on the way.
Groove Music support is tragically gone following the death of the service, taking Horizon 3’s wonderful in-game OneDrive music support with it. The standalone app still works but it’s not quite the same. That’s the only terrible news in terms of audio, though, because the team have outdone themselves yet again. It’s all tremendous stuff, from the very subtle call of a crow in a quiet winter paddock to the monstrous anti-lag of an Escort Cosworth, which sounds like Satan choking on a popcorn maker.