Video Game Review: Forza Horizon 4

It’s blockbuster-game season again and first up on the review block is the 11th instalment in the Forza Franchise and the 4th installment in the series: Forza Horizon 4.

I have played allot of Forza Horizon 3. Like… allot. First it was just sitting with my son on my lap racing around Australia two years ago. Then we did some co-piloting as he raced on Hot Wheels orange tracks. He then dug into the sand box elements and would go exploring. Not damaging his hard won cars (and immediately fixing any dings) while looking at houses he would pretend to live in as he tried parallel parking. He would often request his screen time be used modifying virtual cars and choosing the right hub caps to go with his crazy metal flake paint jobs.

The “WOW” factor was gone for the both of us.                                    

Now we have a new game to fall in love with. I can honestly say that this game is superior in almost every way to its predecessor, and while the “WOW” factor is still there… it’s a little muted now. More on that later.

First, what is Forza Horizon?

Well it’s an open world, sand box, arcade racer with simulation racing elements. Or, it’s a simulation racer with crazy premises that allow for huge exploration off the track. Or it’s an car focused RPG that has an open world where you can level up your gear, vehicle, and even home in a sprawling world. Or it’s a really cumbersome way to teach your avatar some crazy dance moves by doing all the above. It’s kinda anything you make of it, and will vary depending on whose playing it.

Second, how does it differ from the previous title?

Well FH4 takes place in the UK, namely northern England and Southern Scotland. Instead of building multiple festival sites like you did in Australia, you have one sight that is already fully built. However, you can purchase new homes which you can use as a base of operations all around the UK. These homes will give different perks at time of purchase, but you can only have one active at a time. You can still use the ones you purchased earlier, but you have to set that as your default home.

The basic formula of Horizon is still similar, but has been tweeked in many (mostly positive) way. You still compete in different events to unlock more events to unlock showcases which are crazy, but there are more kinds of events now and gone are “Bucket List” challenges that tended to annoy me in the previous title. Now we have “Stunt” challenges that follow a narrative of a movie script which needs a crazy stunt driver. The street races, off road races, and championships are still there… just a whole lot more.

There are seasons now, too. This plays a major part of the game. Once you finally get a “Horizon Badge,” the seasons will pass every seven days (real time). So each week you will experience a new season. The seasons have huge affects on the racing conditions, the events you can enter, or even the cars you find abandoned in barns. The dynamic weather is truly something to behold and will have you changing your approach to a specific piece of terrain depending on the season and conditions. It will have arcade racers “tuning” their cars and technical simulation racers taking short cuts through stone walls.

Yes, you get to race a Warthog as Master Chief on a Halo…

Yes, you get to race a Warthog as Master Chief on a Halo…

The skill system is now car specific. Instead of three categories you level up in, now you have hundreds of categories because they are all associated with one car. You drive your Pagani Agera all over the place? You spend skill points specifically on increasing your drift scores for that car. This is a reward for driving a specific car allot… but might be a disincentive to try other cars, at least for those min/max players.

There are “wheelspins” still along with “super wheelspins.” Now instead od just winning money and cars, you can win clothing, emotes, gestures, car horns, and avatar dance moves. You get to spin the wheel more, but your odds of winning big are about the same unless you think having your character do the running man in short shorts and bowtie is winning big.

Mutliplayer has expanded immensely. You can still solo play everything, but you can do almost all the challenges co-op or pvp. You still have “Drivtars” which symbolize friends or club associates, but you are also in a pseudo shared world. You can see the “ghosts” of other players racing around and can engage them to participate in activities together. Or you can just open up an activity and see who shows up. Forzathon also happens daily and hourly. The hourly challenges are multiplayer focused. You be told an event is starting in five minutes and you drive to a location where a bunch of other drivers and you try accomplish some insane feat co-operatively. Plus, there a certain locations where you can play different games like “Infection” or “Capture the Flag.” It’s seamless, and encourages you to play with others.

The music stations are mostly back, with better DJ’s that comment about what happens in the world around them based on events that took place, or the season that your currently in, or property you just acquired. I haven’t yet heard the same thing twice. Block Party, Bass, Pulse, Hospital, and Timeless are back and XS replaces Epitaph and Vagrant Records. Don Johnson was flown in from Australia for Timeless FM, and he has a bit more snark now that he is on holiday.

Third, what’s missing from the game?

Well… not much. It really is more of the things most people like and less of the things that people didn’t spend time on. That said, I really miss the narrative that would play about a car manufacturer if you let the game float about in Forzavista. I enjoyed learning tidbits about Renault’s Rally Racing history or how Enzo Ferrari thought the Jaguar E-Pace was the most beautiful care ever made. I can understand what most people don’t play a game to get a lecture though.

While Volkswagen and Porsche are back in big ways, Toyota and Mitsubishi are not. Toyota and Lexus badges I couldn’t care less about (though I will miss the LFA), but Mitsubishi has a significant rally racing pedigree… even though it’s all Lancer Evolutions IV-XII. Still, there are enough licensed cars to make anyone happy.

Yes, there is a James Bond car collection available that does “transform” for pictures.

Yes, there is a James Bond car collection available that does “transform” for pictures.

Fourth, how’s it look?

GEORGEOUS! I’m playing 4K HDR on a XBOX ONE X on an OLED above 30 fps. And sense this is a “Games Anywhere” title, I’m also playing on a ASUS RoG with a Nvidia GTX 1070 and an Intel i7 8th gen running at 1080p at 60 fps. I prefer the big TV and slower frame rates and higher resolution… but on the small screen you get an incredible sense of speed.

Fifth, is it worth buying?

You bet it is. It’s the best open world racer, best arcade racer, most beautiful racer… Hell, it might be the best racing game ever… If there weren’t so many simulation enthusiasts yelling about Gran Turismo being worth a decade to wait.

Sixth, but why did you say the “WoW” is diminished?

When I played FH3 for the first time, it was with a three year old who loved all things automotive and was blown away by all the kinds of cars he could learn about. Now he is five, and knows more about cars than most people my age. While he was still excited… he was less so. There was a loss of childlike wonder that was replaced with, “Only one Vauxhall?” He knows the formula and expects great things. Maybe Playground Games has perfected their open world, or at least as close as you can get, and now they need mix it up in the future?

Rating: 9.5/10 Chasing Sheep into Pens

Finally, In conclusion.

Playground Games once again pull off a masterpiece of an open world arcade racer. Their continued excellence is why Microsoft will have them make the new Fable game sometime in the future. If you didn’t go ViP, you should still do so. You get allot for the extra money: cars, early access, special in game items, extra experience points while playing. If you don’t plan to: Forza Horizon 4 comes out October 3rd and is $59.99 on Xbox and PC.