Forza Horizon 4 – Review (Xbox One)

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Forza Horizon 4 Senna Autumn

Forza Horizon 4 is a racing-fan’s dream. A culmination of gameplay perfection, graphical fidelity, and intuitive controls which creates a trifecta of racing excellence contained in one very accessible package. (Product Provided by Microsoft)  

Story

As always let’s start with story. If you’re looking for emotional dialogues, branching storylines and moral choices… you’re looking in the wrong place. Thankfully Forza Horizon 4 has no real story or emotional moments. It’s all about fun and racing, which is a very welcome breath of a fresh air in today’s gaming landscape.

The premise of the game is that the Horizon Festival has came to UK, and you want to be the best driver there, simple as that. It’s uncomplicated, which is good as it doesn’t distract you from the most important part of the game, the racing.

Racing and Campaign

As this is a racing game, what you do most of the time is well… race. It never really gets boring thought as Forza Horizon 4 gives you plenty of variety to keep things interesting. From street racing and drag racing across UK cities, towns and roads, to off-road races in buggies and trucks across British mountains, hills and fields.

There is a “campaign” called Forza Life. What it is, is basically set of differently themed missions that are spread out across the map. Missions vary from different types of races, and collectible hunts, to different types of challenges such as going pass the speedometers with a certain speed.

Each mission type has its own separate leveling system, which progresses as you gain influence point while doing so. As your level increases in certain mission types, you unlock more of them, as well as rewards such as cash, cars and wheelspins (more on that later). This is a fun way to keep things interesting, and really does help progression/rpg fans like me keep busy and engaged, which I find many sports and racing games fail to do.

Seasons

The big new feature of Forza Horizon 4 is the changing seasons. From rainy autumn to snowy winter, to warm spring and sun-blazing summer. Each season brings changes to roads, which alters the way you drive (and what you drive). In winter the roads are much more slippery, making some cars undrivable. Just try driving Pagani Zonda R in winter, and you know exactly what I’m talking about. Some seasons also brings changes to the environment such as winter during which most lakes are frozen giving you access to certain racing areas not accessible in other seasons.

At the beginning of the game you get to experience all four seasons one after another in quite a quick succession, to get a feel of things and learn ins and out of control for each. Later on, you and all other players in the world will experience different seasons every week or so, with themed challenges and events, keeping things interesting with true live service.

Gameplay & Controls

Driving, the most important thing in any racing game, feels very intuitive, with each car feeling much different to drive. It’s all down to simple controls, a combination of controller vibration, and audiovisual feedback, making you feel the weight, power and speed of your car.

For example when driving Savanna RX-7, you straight away know you need to push the right trigger to the max to get in anywhere thanks to the faint vibration of the controller. Similarly, the sound of struggle from 1990 Mazda’s engine, and sluggish stiff way it moves indicates how you must handle the vehicle. It’s just amazing.

It’s quite incredible that each and every car you get, feels so much different from one another, especially on different type of surfaces. Differences between on-road and off-road cars is very apparent, which I found some other racing games fail to establish.

Even so, Forza Horizon 4 is not a driving sim. It’s quite arcadey and certainly puts fun over realism, yet there is enough of authenticity in it not to make it feel childish.

World Design

The good people from Playground Games know how to design an open world environment. The map of Forza Horizon 4 is quite small in comparison to something like The Crew 2, but the level of detail is incomparable. Every inch of the map is used for races, making not particularly big environment feel huge.  

The UK setting is a nice change, and I personally find it pleasant to see familiar infrastructure for once. The cities, countryside roads as well as the mountains feel very authentic, and compared to some other racing games, they feel real. Environments don’t seem unnaturally altered to fit the races, which I really do appreciate.

Graphics

This is easily one of the most beautiful game you can currently play on the Xbox One. The textures are very detailed both on cars as well as on the environments, with good reflection effects and with tasteful use of bump maps.  Flora is very detailed, with each and every leaf, blade of grass, and flower rendered beautifully.

The reflections in the puddles, the dust that settles on the car when you drive through fields in the Summer, the marks you leave on the grassy surfaces in autumn, the snow, the rain that splashes over the camera. It’s all just stunning. It was common for me to pass by the race startline just because I was so mesmerised by the beauty of the surrounding environments.

The graphics are an integral part of the game because they create this certain atmosphere, that you get from driving through narrow countryside roads at dusk, with snow and the roar of the engine as your only companions. It’s just indescribable, and this game recreates it very well.

Sound & Music

Music in this game is honestly quite disappointing. There are only six radio stations, each with quite limited number of tracks which are honestly not that good. I did enjoy the classic radio called Timeless FM for about an hour or two, but after hearing The Trials by Kazuma Jinnouchi from Halo 5 soundtrack about 4 times, I decided to keep the music off.

Another thing that I found bit disappointing was some of the voice acting. During your voyage through British landscapes you hear quite a few disembodied voices that talk you and guide you through certain missions. Most of the quite small cast is good, but there are few voices that are just awful. When you’re enjoying driving on the proper side of the road while looking at familiar views, last thing you want to hear is awful, fake british accent that you can’t mute. To those living outside of UK this might not be that big of a deal, but I personally felt violated by those voices.

Thankfully we don’t have to listen to those voices too often. What we get to hear all the time though it the roar of the engines, and those are very good. Not only they sound very realistic, each car roar is quite distinguishable. It is always a thrill when you get a new car and you start it for the very first time, and hear new noise. So satisfying.

Other Things

It’s good to note that this game doesn’t have any microtransactions or loot boxes, at the moment anyway. There are Wheelspins, which is basically a roulette. You need a token to play, and with each spin you get either one or three awards, depending on which wheel you get to spin. Unlike lootboxes, you see all the potential awards as you spin, and see how close you were to getting a better item. One problem is that this system seems very easily exploitable, but at the moment there is no way to buy tokens, and they are given out quite frequently as well so all good for now.

Question you may have is, what do you get from the wheelspin? Well before I tell you, I need to tell you that in this game you have a customisable character! It’s probably one of the weakest part of the game, since you barely see your character at all! Also the character customization itself, is quite pathetic and limited, and all the models look like dolls. It seems to me like this was only implemented so that they can fill up the wheelspins with clothing as well as emotes (yes it has a few Fortnite dances), so that you don’t get a car or money each time. It’s utterly pointless, and would be better if the wheelspins had some cool customization for cars instead.

While on the subject, there is quite a robust customization tool in the game, which allows you to customise paint job of your vehicles. You can share your creations as well as download some made by others. Some designs are very cool.

You can also tune your car, which I personally never got into, being afraid I’ll break something, but those really into the nitty gritty of cars, should love this feature. You can also upgrade your car in the upgrade shop, which is the best way to improve your car’s stats. Each car also has what’s called car mastery. You earn car mastery points by doing missions and races with your car, which you can then exchange for perks which more often than not are like a permanent boost for the scoring system. It’s quite nifty and easy to understand, and can be quite useful if you have liking for some particular car. I personally change cars so often I barely use them.

Conclusion

Forza Horizon 4 is a masterfully designed game, which is no doubt one of the best in it’s genre. It looks beautiful, it plays beautifully and it does enough to keep the player engaged, without relying on story or ridiculously large map. This is proof that open world racing games can still be done well, which was not that apparent in last few years. This is a must get for any fan of racing games!