STAFF REVIEW of Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox One)

Tuesday, October 2, 2018.
by Kirby Yablonski

Forza Horizon 4 Box art I am a fairly avid racing game fan. Sure, I am not the best virtual racer out there, but make no mistake, I can hold my own. I’ve played arcade racers, sim-racers, kart racers and more. Reviewing for an Xbox One centric site, I have sure had my share of Forza games over the years, from the pure racing of the Forza Motorsports series to the open world of Forza Horizon series. These two franchises alternate launching every second year, and this year it’s Forza Horizon’s turn with the release of Forza Horizon 4.

Given that this is the fourth game in the series, people want to know what has changed. While the formula is relatively the same, the gameplay has evolved to make this the best Forza Horizon game yet. Forza Horizon 4 is set in Britain this time around. The game starts off introducing you to this year’s iteration. As with any Forza Horizon game though, this is just the beginning as you are led through some of the games basics. The reason I call this a ‘tutorial’ of sorts is that as you start your journey you are somewhat guided through the general gameplay highlights. You are introduced to the various race types, how you will level up, what your world map consists of and more. Your attention is centered on the Horizon Festival, but this year is a bit different, as there is only one central hub, and no satellite festival locations.

In past Horizon games you were able to upgrade and customize your cars at various festival sites on the map. In Forza Horizon 4 this is not the case, as you will discover “Player Houses” on the world map, which are available for purchase via in-game credits. These range in price, and should you be a Forza VIP, one of the houses is free. The houses are located in various areas and they are your location(s) to upgrade, tune, and customize the vehicles you own (there are 450 of them in-game to start). You can also fast travel to these houses, which is a great way to cut down on any driving time you may encounter to get to the various events across the map.

Horizon Life is the focus of Forza Horizon 4. You will race in various disciplines, completing “Stunt” events, discovering hidden areas of the game, beating speed goals, etc. Each racing discipline has its’ own ranking to level up, from the street scene series, the dirt racing series, to drag racing and more. There is a total of 25 individual disciplines to rank up and they go beyond simple racing. You’ll level up such things as exploring the world map, collecting the various cars, danger signs, speed traps, drifting and even streaming on Mixer. As you level up in the individual disciplines you’ll also have an overall combined level to rank up too.

As you play the first few hours you earn influence (consider this XP), and this is important for two reasons. The first reason is that the more successful you are, the more influence you earn, the more you open up, from different types of races to showcase events. Yes, the crazy showcase events are back, and this time you’ll be racing against such things as a hovercraft, a jet, and even a UNSC Pelican in a Halo themed event. The second reason that influence is important is that during the ‘tutorial’ is that you will open up different seasons based on the amount of influence you collect. In a perfect world you’ll experience all four seasons (autumn, winter, spring and/or summer) during the beginning of the game. Once you earn enough influence to qualify for the Horizon Festival roster, the game explodes beyond belief, with so much so content and options opening there is a video for you to watch on what to expect.

One of the bigger things I noticed while focusing on Horizon Life is that it feels a bit more like a story. You’ll meet the various people in charge of the racing series, the festival itself, and of course other things (e.g. garage dude). Having short cut-scenes when you first meet these NPCs then hearing their input throughout your adventure, adds a bit of a narrative like feeling to the game experience. You’ll also be tasked to take part in various ‘stories’ chapters too. One example is that you’ll be hired as a stunt driver by a film director. This is not a one and done thing either, as there are more stunt opportunities that open up as you play, and there is kind of a story feeling to it. There is also another story that focuses on a streamer who is looking to do a few things during the Horizon festival to to gain popularity. The fact that there are these types of stories to help break up the regular racing is a step in the right direction.

Oh, and one more quick note, bonus boards make their return, as there are 150 influence boards and 50 fast travel boards to discover, clubs are back, and barn finds are also in the game again.

Forza’s well known Drivatars are in Forza Horizon 4, so if you recognize a name or two in the pack of racers your battling against, know that you’ll be playing against some of your online friends. New to the Horizon series though is that each game session you play will actually be populated with other online drivers. If you watched Inside Xbox last week, you’ll know that Ralph Fulton, from Playground Games, stated that there are individual servers holding over 70 people per session. You can talk to them with a quick chat feature. Each player will be represented as a ghost most of the time as it stops them from being able to ‘grief’ you by crashing into you.

And what would a racing game be without a multiplayer experience? Forza Horizon 4 addresses multiplayer play in a few ways. If you look in the menu, you will see the “Team Adventure” mode. Here you can participate in everything with a team, be it some of your online friends, or you will be matched with other online racers just looking to challenge this mode. There is a catch though, as you participate in the various events you will be earning a rank, and the better you get, the higher your rank. During the review period there were not a lot of people online, even after the Ultimate Edition allowed for early access, so we didn’t get to play much, if any, of this specific mode.

You can also just team up with a friend or two and not worry about any ranks as you venture around the open world. Here you can run the standard events with up to 6 people (called a convoy in the game). This just adds some online fun and chatter to take away from the grind of doing it all by yourself. I should note that the regular events found on the map can be played in cooperative and PvP too. Speaking of PvP, Playground Games have continued their love for PvP play in Forza Horizon 4. You’ll find games like Infected, King of the Hill, and even a ‘Tortoise and a Hare’ mode. As with the previous Horizon games, there are specific areas on the map where many of these special modes can be played. And, as mentioned, you can also participate regular racing events in PvP. Being able to play with a group of friends in many of the PvP modes is fun, and hilarious results are indeed bound to happen.

Forza Horizon 4 has been touting its biggest addition to its gameplay for quite some time, and that is the introduction of seasons. These seasons, of course, are autumn, winter, summer and fall. And while visually different, they also add a whole new dimension to the game. Seasons effectively change the way your car handles, as it should. Cornering, breaking, and general control is affected by each season. Autumn brings on the fall rain, winter brings on the snow, spring brings with it ‘spring showers’ and summer, well, it’s all about warmth and nice weather. Driving in these varying conditions changes how you drive on each route. Taking a sharp right-hand corner in the summer is very different then trying to do it in winter, with braking, traction and speed all being affected. Spring and autumn are the same too, as they produce different types of weather, from rain to sun to just being cloudy outside. Playground Games has done a fabulous job here creating different effects on your cars handling during each season that you play in.

Seasons change weekly starting with autumn. As mentioned, during the early stages of the game the seasons change as you gain more influence, but after you qualify for the Horizon roster, each season seems to last seven days. With each season comes season specific events, such as races, PR events and/or Forzathon challenges. What is important here is that ALL those playing Forza Horizon 4, and who have qualified for the festival roster, will be playing in the exact same season. This helps keep continuity for all players and the need to do specific events at certain times.

Forzathon makes its return, and with it something new, called Forzathon Live. Given the fact that you’ll be playing the game with over 70 other racers online, Forzathon Live is best explained as a public event in Destiny (Hey, I just recently reviewed the Forsaken DLC, so it is still in my mind). A warning will start on screen that a Forzathon Live event is going to start, usually within five minutes. On the world map will be a marked area, and at this area is a blimp (think Good-Year). Once you arrive at that spot you wait for the event to begin. As the event starts, you are notified of the first event criteria of three rounds, and your team will try to complete each one together. My first Forzathon Live included completing a speed trap challenge (certain cumulative KM/H to advance), a drifting challenge (certain cumulative score to advance) and a danger sign challenge (certain cumulative distance jumped to finish). Once you complete all three you gain points towards various Forzathon challenges and items. This is a great way to encourage people to work on their Forzathon point challenges as well as break up one’s time exploring Britain. Forzathon points can be spent at the Forzathon store for cars, clothes for your character, horns, and even wheel spins (yes, they are back too).

Forza Horizon 4 is an accessible racing title, something all Forza games have been in the last few years. You don’t have to be a racing game expert to have fun. There are many assists that gamers of all levels can, or not, implement to tailor their driving experience. The game also doesn’t require you to win every event to level up and/or advance. You can place lower in the specific event standings and still continue your adventure, but of course the better you do, the quicker things will open up.

Visually, Forza Horizon 4 is a looker. Whether you’re playing in 1080p/30fps, 1080p/60fps or 4k/30fps. The latter two are only available on the Xbox One X though. The game is also HDR compatible for the Xbox One S and Xbox One X too. I played my review copy in 4k/30fps, as I wanted as much resolution as possible, called ‘Quality Mode’. For those looking for a boost in framerate, and who have an Xbox One X, can choose ‘Performance Mode’. This bumps the resolution down to 1080p, but boosts the framerate up to 60fps. This mode is silky smooth, given the 60fps, but for me, I still found the 30fps pretty smooth as well, and it still had a sense of speed, so 4K it was. I do admit that I did notice some texture draw in now and then, but hey, I was looking for it, so this most likely won’t affect those just wanting to have fun.

The best way to describe the visuals are that they are bright and vibrant when needed, like spring or summer, or slightly darker hues when fall or winter arrive. I think that Playground Games have utilized an improved lighting engine this time around too, as it was very noticeable in spring and autumn and how the sunlight would break through the trees during these seasons. Reflections seem vastly improved as well, especially off the hood of the car. I noticed it right away as I started playing. Cars are once again meticulously recreated, and no matter what view you race in, as you’ll see a lot of detail. This was very noticeable when using one of the two in car views. The textures of the dashboard, the seats and the interior trim are very meticulous. The way the sunlight affects the dash or reflects on the window (windscreen for you U.K. folk) was very convincing too. As for Britain itself, I have never been there, but man, there are some very historic looking buildings. Brickwork was very detailed as were the different styles of houses. Rivers careen through the countryside, puddles form depending on what season it is, and there are even animals to be found in the country fields. The attention to detail is stunning, as there was even one point when I was in free-roam mode and a rabbit ran across the road. Who knew!

In terms of the game’s audio, it adds to the Forza Horizon experience. From the various genres of music playing on all the in-game radio stations to the environment sounds you hear as you explore, nothing is lacking. You don’t open all the radio stations right away, but with time they will be all available. From classical to rock to some EDM, you’ll find the selection wide and varied. Britain is a diverse country, from isolated villages, bustling towns, to the open fields and countryside with water features. As you explore your speakers will emanate with different sounds. And has been the history of the Forza games, the car sounds are wonderful. From retro hatch backs to the super cars of the present, they all sound different. Each view also has its own sound too. Using the in-car view sounded very different from the outside view. I was wearing a set of headphones that I recently reviewed, and I heard the tiniest of details, like birds chirping in the trees.

Forza Horizon 4 offers up a huge amount of content, so much so that I feel it is one of the biggest racing games, content wise, to ever be released. Add to this fact that Playground Games will continue to support the game for a long time coming with car packs, content expansions and special events, and you realize there is a heck of a lot to do. And yes, I know that the game is not perfect, but it is as close to being one as I can think of. At the end of the day Playground Games has made what some may consider a racing game masterpiece, given how much you can do, how you can do it, and how much you will enjoy it. This game is one that anyone who is looking for a rock-solid racing game with longevity should seriously consider.

Overall: 9.9 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.8 / 10
Sound: 9.9 / 10


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