The Aussie outback, forests, and beaches from Forza Horizon 3 have been replaced with the stunning English countryside. There’s a new Horizon festival and it’s landed in the UK, and to kick start the party Forza Horizon 4 plops you down right into a McLaren Senna.
This is a trick. You’ll want to fall in love with the insane machine and it’s blinding speed. The other trick is that rather than simply get you hooked on the car and the stunningly upgraded graphics, Forza Horizon 4 is using this first date as a means to show off its goods. That would be the all-new changing of the seasons, and each season brings different gameplay dynamics along for the ride.
And this is definitely an improve ride… albeit one that’s still extremely familiar for anyone that’s picked up a controller for the past three iterations of the Horizon series.
[Disclaimer: Microsoft Studios tossed us a review code to sample the latest from developer Playground Games.]
Right from the outset, it’s those lovely graphics that grab your attention. Britain is rendered rather well here. There are cobblestone walls through which you can smash. Roving herds of sheep which are incredibly skilled in maneuvering just out of harms reach when it arrives in the form of an out of control Ram Power Wagon hell bent on creating a shortcut to the next waypoint. Idyllic countrysides mingle with charming small towns, which is basically how real-life Britain truly sits (minus the handful of large urban sections, of course).
While you start the game in the Senna, you jump into different vehicles for the initial dose of seasonal gameplay. There’s a rally car for the fall, a trophy truck for winter, and then it’s back into the Senna super machine for summer and your eventual arrival at the festival itself, which serves as the centering point for the game.
Eventually, you’re given a choice to snag a ride of your own. That choice comes down to a Ford Focus RS, Audi TT, or a Dodge Charger. That’s not much of a contest really, so my first real car in the game was a Charger that was quickly painted black, as were the American Racing wheels fitted to the car.
From there, the map begins to open up to you as all sorts of races and events are added. These cover a handful of disciplines, with some focused on street racing-style on-road races while others are more point to point, with the in-between varying between grassy fields and someones fence posts.
To keep the gameplay fresh, a few story mode events unlock as you progress. These involve stunt driving for a film production and showcase events where you race something ridiculous. I’ve already faced off against a giant hovercraft and an old train. For the stunt driving, my tasks required my to pilot a Bugatti Chiron for one scene and an Audi/Auto Union Type D for a wintery blast along the coast.
Another area where Horizon 4 sets itself apart from past games is in the customization allowed to your character. I have mixed feelings on this part. It’s fine to have your avatar on screen with its clothing options and various victory dances, but it also feels like a move to copy the success found with “the young folk” and their love of Fortnite. Sure, my character is wearing a top hat, pea cot, flashy silver paints, and a pair of Vans-like sneakers, but I’d be fine if that part of the game didn’t exist at all. The customization of the cars, however, is still here and it’s still fun.
That Charger I mentioned? It’s already received a V10 swap. And I don’t love it, so I’m going to swap in a different engine soon. There’s also my Baja bug that now makes 900 horsepower or so. You can fiddle with gear ratios, suspension tuning, brake bias, and so much more. I’ve got slow cars too though, such as my single-speed-having Polaris RZR UTV. On the flip side, my Audi Quattro S1 is fine right out of the box. Additionally, it’s the S1 that revealed the level of detail delivered here with Horizon 4.
When you’re out and about in the countryside, your car roars along with nothing to catch and build up the exhaust note. It’s a different tune when you’re in a city center. Mash the throttle and you can hear the exhaust echoing off the surrounding buildings. A small detail, but a very cool one when you notice it.
The larger details exist when you’re driving through the changing seasons. Hit a large puddle of water, and you can feel your vehicle bog down. The same is true for a deep patch of snow, but it feels different than the water. When it’s winter, the sun will shine off icy patches in the road while spots with traction will remain dull. It’s very impressive both with respect to the driving dynamics and also as a treat for your eyes. And I’m not unlocking the full visual potential because I’m on the Xbox One as opposed to the Xbox One X with its 4K capability.
For the initial bout of gameplay, you’ll work your way through all four seasons by winning races and Influence Points. A certain level of Influence Points unlocks the next season, and with it comes more race events. Once you give all four seasons an initial run through, the game switches to seasonal changes every seven days. That’s for everyone playing the game. Time, weather, and the seasons are synchronize for the entire Forza Horizon 4 universe.
You’ll have over 450 cars to choose from and more are being added as Forza adds in additional Car Packs over time. And if you get bored with all of those cars, the photo mode is actually surprisingly fun and even a bit relaxing.
Forza Horizon 4 is available starting September 28th for those that purchased the Ultimate Edition Early Access. The regular versions of the game are available on October 2nd for Xbox consoles and PCs.
[Note: We will soon be including some photos we took using the photo mode. Our Aussie Editor Joel Strickland contributed to this review as well.]