I do not like driving. Maybe it’s because I live in a tourist trap and there is a lot of traffic. Maybe it’s because my car has been hit on three different occasions while it was parked. Maybe the act of driving is actually terrible. For whatever reason, I have hardly enjoyed my time behind the wheel. Any time I did find joy in taking my rather dirty Mazda 3 out for a spin, it was for two reasons. I was driving across the country, and I was doing so at a pace that may not be legal. There is something about traveling afar in a car at high speeds that is almost therapeutic. This feeling has been perfectly encapsulated in Playground Games’ racing series Forza Horizon, with the newest iteration, Forza Horizon 4, being no different.
You’ll begin your “Horizon Life” – the in-game phrasing for your progress – with a quick tutorial of its gameplay alongside the new season feature. As you progress through your first year at the U.K. Horizon Festival, you’ll get a taste of Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer before you get your wristband and become part of the Horizon roster. Yes, this time around, you won’t need to buy a whole different expansion to drive in the snow.
First, I just want to say just how great Forza Horizon 4’s version of the U.K. is. It is one of the most beautiful open-worlds I have ever seen. Playing on the Xbox One X, whether I was zooming through the damp forests or drifting on the city streets, the visuals were superb. The U.K. was a superb choice to showcase the implementation of seasons.
These seasons not only change the look of the world; it also affects the driving. Summer and Autumn are drier giving you a bit more predictability with your vehicle’s traction while Winter and Spring tend to be wetter causing you to slip more often. The new feature helps keep the game fresh. Once you just start to know the roads and how your car will handle in one season, you’ll be in an entirely new season that alters the landscape enough to question where you’re at and how you should drive.
This also adds a hint of replayability to each event. In the previous iterations, after you complete an event, there was no need to go back unless you didn’t get in first place. With the new season system, you can play the same event four times, and it looks and feel different. It provides a wholly unique experience apart from the previous entries, while still maintaining two critical aspects of the series: its driving and its appreciation for cars.
Those aforementioned therapeutic feelings all stem from its gameplay. Driving in Forza Horizon 4 – and any of the previous entries in the series – is essentially a forgiving version of driving in Forza Motorsport. By that, I mean Forza Horizon 4 rewards you with skill points for hitting any breakable object.
Speaking of, earning skill points and executing a good skill chain has never felt easier. For those who may not have played a Forza Horizon game, skill points are acquired by executing different maneuvers like drifting, drafting, passing, etc. and a skill chain is sequencing these moves together within a short time frame. There were many times where I hit a passerby with enough force for it to disrupt my chain. However, it chalked it up as “trading paint” and adding to my chain. I do feel more rewarding when I can easily pull off a 100,000 point chain, but it would be nice if it did feel like it took skill to achieve that score.
Regardless of that, the driving is second to only the Forza Motorsport series. Where driving feels somewhat strenuous in other racers, Forza Horizon 4 makes driving an absolute blast and rewards you for just having a good time.
Earning rewards can be done a couple of ways. By completing races, you’ll earn credits you can use to buy cars in the auto show or the auction house. You’ll also get wheelspins where you can unlock a variety of different rewards. You can even get super wheelspins which will get you three different rewards with one wheelspin.
These rewards are not just cars. In fact, the rewards are some of the goofiest the series has seen. This time around, you won’t just pick an avatar; you will also get to choose what they wear and what “showboat” and “victory” emote they’ll use before and after races. At one point, my guy was wearing a watermelon button down with golden tights, a really bad looking fedora, while doing the floss dance. Honestly, it was one of the most horrific sights I have ever seen in a video game. It was also hilarious and always gave me a good chuckle.
You could also get your horn to sound like the Windows XP shut down noise or the Killer Instinct theme song. This goofy mindset was present in Forza Horizon 3, especially with the Hot Wheels DLC, but not to this extent. I’m glad they have embraced the social aspect. It gives it an even more light-hearted tone that anyone could appreciate regardless of how you feel about that weird dance.
What differentiates both Forza series from its competitors is its appreciation for these motorized vehicles and letting you show your appreciation in any way you deem necessary. There isn’t a progression system to what kind of class car you can use. If you really wanted to, you can (almost) drive a single car through every event. For example, maybe you’re like me and really like the Subaru Impreza WRX. Well, you can use that car for the majority of your playthrough.
There are a few caveats. Some events only allow certain types of cars. However, if you can make a blueprint – a feature that allows you to make certain vehicle stipulations to the race – you can drive a Lamborghini through a dirt race if you really wanted to. Again, it’s a feature like this that just adds to Forza Horizon 4’s replayability. Through the blueprint mode, you can change the weather, time of day, the class of vehicle everyone uses, and more. It really lets you play how you want.
This notion is also exemplified by how it approaches its mission structure. In a way, it’s less of a structure and more of a free-for-all. As you progress, more race types will open up giving you access to them right when they’re available. Any race that is available to you can be done at your leisure. If you just like racing dirt courses, you can concentrate on just that and still progress in Forza Horizon 4 at a similar rate than if you were going to switch things up and do some street or cross-country races.
To progress passed that first year at the Horizon Festival, you’ll need to earn influence. This is achieved by participating in races, completing open-world tasks like speed traps and danger signs, or by executing successful skill chains. Once you’ve earned enough influence, you’ll partake in that season’s showcase. These are races that are typically out of the norm. Instead of racing another car, you’ll be racing a hovercraft or a train. They are fun set pieces that really show off how great the game plays and looks.
Once you’ve completed that showcase, you’ll have to gather a bit more influence before you can move to the next season. Once you do move on to the next season, you’ll rinse and repeat until you’ve completed all four seasons.
Once you do that and garner enough influence to become part of the Horizon roster, this is where Forza Horizon 4 really opens up. Multiplayer modes like the Online Team Adventure or #FORZATHON challenges will become available giving you more options to compete online. After playing a few rounds of Online Team Adventure, it seems that the lag (if any) is barely noticeable.
Seasons will also become timed now. Every week, the season will change bringing a variety of seasonal content. This includes new championship and events for you to try. It makes Forza Horizon 4’s U.K. feel like a living world. Similar to a game like Destiny, I want to play every day to see what new challenges it has in store for me. Forza Horizon 4 is another excellent entry into what I would consider the best racing franchise this generation of consoles has to offer. [Editor’s Note: Even better, the game will be available to everyone with Xbox Games Pass beginning October 2, 2018.]
Playground Games have done it again. Forza Horizon 4 is another excellent entry that maintains the series’ previous features and formula while still managing to bring in some new meaningful additions. If you own an Xbox One, there is no reason not to check it out.