Playground Games really were on to a winner when they first came up with the idea of the Forza Horizon franchise of video games. Released in 2012, Forza Horizon was essentially a spin-off series of the Forza Motorsport games; intended to be an open-world street racing counterpart to the pure motorsport and circuit racing found in the original series developed by Turn 10 Studios.
The premise of every Horizon game has remained consistent throughout every release. The game centres around a racing festival held on public roads at various locations across the globe. The series has so far travelled from Colorado in the United States, to the border of Northern France and Southern Italy and then all the way to Australia’s city of Surfers Paradise and it’s surrounding areas.
Each game has featured a fantastic map that has allowed players to race on and off the road, with the series engaging fans well enough to put the series right on a par with its Motorsport counterpart. Both titles have worked together to earn the Forza series over $1 million dollars at retail; such is the popularity of both Motorsport and Horizon.
With all this said, there has been a lot of anticipation into this year’s fourth instalment of the Horizon franchise. Releasing fully tomorrow, October 2, the game has been available for the last few days in early access to some players. From our first few days on the game, here is how Forza Horizon 4 is shaping up.
Seasons change everything in beautiful Britain
As always, when Forza Horizon 4 was known to be in in the works, many fans of the series began speculating as to where the game would be set. When the game was formally announced at E3 2018, a large portion of those fans were delighted to see that the “Horizon festival” would be coming to Great Britain and, in particular, Scotland.
The city of Edinburgh is fantastically captured in-game and provides a much greater urban environment than we have seen in built-up areas in previous titles. Away from the city, there are some fantastic country roads that really allow you to put the pedal to the metal, but unlike previous games, not every road is flat-out. You can definitely be caught out if you’re not paying attention, which is fantastic to see.
Additionally, there are again some awesome off-road trails on the map. There are some great routes up and down the many hills and mountains of Scotland and, coupled with a number of specific off-road locations such as an adventure park and an abandoned train yard, makes this map arguably the best for fans who prefer to go off the beaten track.
The biggest new addition to Horizon this time around has a massive impact on this stunning map. For the first time, all four seasons of the year are represented in the game, with each bringing in a range of changes to the way the world looks and how you go about navigating it.
Winter, of course, poses the biggest change. Snow and ice blanket all four corners of the large map. As in reality, the main roads remain clear but slippery, whilst the narrower country roads are completely covered and utterly treacherous. These challenges will undoubtedly affect how you drive around the map, perhaps even making you think twice about which car you take out of the garage; giving you the opportunity to drive cars that you may not drive usually.
Whilst Winter has the biggest physical impact on your driving, each other season comes with various noticeable changes visually. Autumn has, so far, taken much praise for being the most visually stunning season, as the colour palette completely changes to the familiar warm shades of orange as the leaves fall.
After Autumn and Winter have passed, Spring comes around the bring colour back into the map. Green returns to the world, but with it comes the rain. Spring is the wettest season in the game and you will see a lot of rain falling and will have to wade your vehicles through deep patches of water that cover certain low points of the Scottish roads.
Even Summer, which is essentially the most uneventful of the seasons, has an impact on the game. The in-game temperatures are at their highest, which in turn means that the cars will have the most grip that you will see of any other time of year.
You will spend the first couple of hours of the game having a quick tour of each season. Once you have finished a complete cycle, you will be put back into Summer. From there, the season will change every week, giving players enough time to enjoy each season before getting to grips with the challenges and changes when the next one rolls around,
Some were sceptical at first as to whether each season would actually make a significant difference to how players tackle the game, but I am very happy to state that Playground Games have executed each season perfectly. Seasons, really do, change everything.
A seamless shared world filled with plenty of things to do
Another key addition to Forza Horizon 4 is the shared world experience. After the first few hours of the game, you will be put into a world with up to seventy-two players. Such is the size of the map, the world will be split roughly into servers of twelve drivers, with the player encountering the drivers that they are closest to at the time. Transitioning between servers is completely seamless, so you will not have to worry about loading screens taking you out of the experience.
When the shared world experience was announced, Playground Games rightly stated that the benefits of having real players in the world with you were that they added a more human experience than AI could give. Whilst that is true, there were concerns that these sessions would be utterly chaotic, with people simply driving around and ruining your time by purposely crashing into you; as seen frequently in other multiplayer racing games.
Thankfully, the developers have combatted this threat. Other players will be “ghosted” when they get too close to you, meaning that they will not be able to hit your car. The ghost feature is turned off for “trusted players”, so if you chose to convoy with other players or you are in a session with your friends, you can make contact with each other; which is either a great thing or a terrible thing depending on your group of friends.
Of course, the shared world experience is utterly optional. You can choose to remain in single player and have the world populated entirely by computer-controlled drivers. Switching between single player and multiplayer is completely seamless too. There are, again, no loading screens, so you can drop in and drop out without any interruption; which is fantastic.
The lack of loading screens and the pre-emptive defences against disruptive griefers has meant that players are much more encouraged to go online on Forza Horizon 4.
Multiplayer really is worth a go, too. Another great addition to the game comes in the form of the #FORZATHON challenges. Every hour, the players in the session will be given the opportunity to take part in three challenges at a certain location on the map. The players are given certain goals to accomplish – such as earning a certain number of drift points or hitting the highest possible speed at a speed camera – with all the players working together to try and pass the challenge. It’s a small addition, but one that really is rather entertaining.
What makes the online or single player experience even more enjoyable is just how much there is to do in the game. There are a number of activities you can take part in, ranging from the usual on and off-road racing to drifting, drag racing and more.
The ever-popular showcase events from previous titles have thankfully made a return once more. Arguably one of the most-loved aspects of Horizon games, showcase events allow the player to take part in special races, usually against a remarkable opponent. Horizon 4’s showcase events will see the player go up against the likes of the Flying Scotsman train, a Vulcan bomber, a group of motocross riders and more!
All in all, there is a hell of a lot to do in Forza Horizon 4. Thankfully, Playground Games have not gone for quantity over quality, either. Each activity has been executed fantastically, allowing players to properly and enjoyably throw themselves into whatever they want to do.
Smaller content additions include various cosmetic items, ranging from clothing for your character, player houses, various car horns and even celebration dances. Yes, flossing is in there. In all seriousness, these changes are a welcome little addition to the game which is made even better by the fact that you do not have to pay real money to obtain them, unlike other video games.
Last but not least, coming soon after launch will be the much requested “Route creator” feature, allowing players to create their own race layouts. This will undoubtedly be a well-received addition that will further aid the multiplayer experience and may even open the door for some eSports communities to get involved.
The biggest and most diverse Horizon Car line-up
Of course, a racing game is only as good as its car list. I’m glad to say that Forza Horizon 4 is far from disappointing in that regard. Forza Horizon 4 boasts the largest car list of any previous Horizon title, with 450 cars playable at launch from over 100 different manufacturers.
Many cars from previous Horizon games make their return, with companies such as Ferrari, Ford, Mercedes and many more providing loads of their cars to the roster. However, the game does not skip out on new additions. With the game being based in Britain, a number of British manufacturers have stepped up to the plate. Classics from the likes of MG, Morris and Austin join the latest cars from McLaren and Aston Martin, with the added entertainment of utterly ridiculous cars such as the Peel P50.
As mentioned before, there are a lot of different activities and racing disciplines to take part in on Forza Horizon 4. To reflect this, the car list is hugely diverse. Supercars and Hypercars are, as usual, joined by Hot Hatches and Muscle Cars. Off-road fans are well catered for too, as they can take to the countryside in huge Stadium Trucks and Buggies as well as production SUV’s. Several motorsport vehicles have also made their way into the game, including classic Grand Prix machines from Auto Union and Mercedes, as well as racing trucks and Rallycross cars.
The incredible car list is only set to expand too, with the developers promising a large number of new vehicles coming to the game from paid downloadable content in the future. Owners of the game’s Car Pass will see two new cars added per week for the next few months; with the likes of the BMW I8 Roadster and the Koenigsegg Agera RS being among the first cars to be added to the game post-launch.
At launch, you can also get your hands on two car packs. The Formula Drift car pack sees some absolute beasts from the Formula D championship available to be hooned across Scotland. However, of the car packs available at launch, the Formula Drift pack is rather overshadowed by the spectacular Best of Bond Car Pack.
The pack features ten cars that starred in James Bond films throughout history including the likes of the famous Aston Martin DB5, the Lotus Esprit and the stars of the recent Spectre film; the Aston Martin DB10 and the Jaguar C-X75 concept car. Every car also features the various gadgets that made them so iconic, but you will not be able to use many of them on the road; which is probably for the best.
The car list is impressive in itself, but what makes it even better is the incredible detail that each vehicle has been captured in; as we have come to expect from the Forza franchise. Each car is available for high-detail inspection, inside and out, in the Forzavista mode. Each car also comes with its own unique skill tree, allowing players to add certain perks to the cars that they drive the most.
Furthermore, coupled in with the new seasons feature in the game, you can really see the advantages and disadvantages of certain vehicles in certain conditions. Whereas in previous iterations of Horizon you could quite easily point your Hypercar at a hill and it would be able to go off-roading with relative ease, you will definitely struggle to do so now. You may want to break out your Ford Raptor if you want to climb to the summit of the Scottish peaks without slowly sliding back down to where you started.
The Chequered Flag
In conclusion, Forza Horizon 4 is undoubtedly a major step forward for the hugely entertaining series. A changeable and extremely diverse map, coupled with an extensive and varied car list makes for an incredible combination which is only strengthened by the wide-range of activities available in-game.
Playground Games have knocked it out of the park with their improvements to multiplayer. It is well worth having a go at the online portion of the game due to how easy it is to get going without fear of being rammed by other players.
With Playground Games already planning a huge amount of support to the game post-launch, including numerous content updates through paid DLC, it is well worth getting on the hype train as soon as possible.
Running natively in 4K and HDR, Forza Horizon 4 will be available to Xbox and PC gamers tomorrow, October 2. The game will also be available to all holders of the new Xbox Game Pass.
Pros of Forza Horizon 4
- The map is a fantastic representation of Great Britain. The way that Playground Games have captured British roads is almost uncanny at times.
- The new addition of seasons reinvents the world week in, week out. It will take a long while for you to get bored with the map changing on a regular basis.
- Another Forza game, another great roster of cars. There are over 100 manufacturers with cars from various walks of life. There really is something for everyone and it’s only going to get better.
- Fans of all different types of racing are catered for. From standard road and off-road racing to drifting, drag racing and more! There’s simply so much to do.
- Numerous improvements to multiplayer and the new #FORZATHON events make online play well worth having a go at.
Cons of Forza Horizon 4
- It takes a little too much time to be let loose with the entire game and its features. You have to wait quite a while to be able to get into the full multiplayer experience.
- A handful of bugs at launch, but expect a large number of them to be resolved with an early patch.
- The in-game music soundtrack is a little stale. Not quite as good as previous Horizon games and sadly no option for an imported playlist this time around.
Score: 9.5/10 – an incredible game that has both quantity and quality. A couple of small issues which took a fair bit of thought to recall, but two out of the three issues outlined will either be fixed early or will not be encountered again after launch. Really looking forward to seeing how the game continues to evolve.