Forza Horizon 4 full review
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Right. You know the drill. A huge, open world shared with other gamers, a wide variety of on- and off-road racing styles, hundreds of cars to buy and four glorious seasons of Great Britain in which to drive them.
Wait. What was that last part? Yes, you read it right: Forza Horizon 4 is set in good old Blighty. And not only that, seasons and time of day change so you get some extra visual treats as well as ever-changing road conditions on which to race.
Of course, you've probably seen most of this before. Massively multiplayer driving games are hardly a new concept. However, Horizon 4 really does stand out from the crowd and is by far one of the most enjoyable racing games we've ever played, putting a big smile on our faces every single time we fired it up.
It's also insanely pretty, with stunning lighting and scenery that borders on photo-realistic. Add in the cinematic soundtrack which - at times - makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, as well as the soundtrack provided by the cars themselves and there's a heck of a lot to like. It also makes it much easier to forgive the game's little annoyances.
Price & Release Date
Forza Horizon 4 comes out on Xbox One and PC on 2 October. Since it’s published by Microsoft it won’t be coming out on PS4 or Switch.
In keeping with recent trends from the company, the game will also simultaneously release on Xbox Game Pass, the company’s subscription service that lets you play both modern titles and games from across the Xbox back catalogue - so Game Pass subscribers can play the new Forza on release day without paying a penny extra.
If you're in the UK, the game will launch at £49.99, and you can pre-order now from Amazon, Game, or the Microsoft Store. In the US, it'll be $59.99, and you should head to Amazon, Best Buy, or the Microsoft Store.
Anyone who pre-orders Forza Horizon 4 will get the 2017 Aston Martin DB11 for free, but you can get some extra goodies by upgrading to the Deluxe or Ultimate editions.
The Deluxe edition (£64.99/$79.99) includes the Formula Drift car pack and the Car Pass, while the Ultimate edition (£79.99/$99.99) includes all that plus a Day One Car Pack, VIP Membership, and two expansions, along with early access to the game from 28 September.
VIP Membership nets you double rewards for each race, 3 exclusive cars, a free house, weekly bonus 'Wheelspins' and vanity items.
The two expansion packs are scheduled to be released in December 2018 and first half of 2019.
Forza Horizon 4 Review
For anyone new to Horizon, it's a spin-off series - a more playful, arcade-style take on racing compared to the more serious tone of the main Forza Motorsport games.
The last entry, Forza Horizon 3, was set in Australia and let you race cars, trucks, and more across beaches, deserts, lush rainforests and more. You’d expect the developers to find an even more dramatic setting for the follow-up, and with that in mind they’ve selected, um, Britain. The land of winding country lanes and mini roundabouts.
My colleague Dominic, who played FH4 at E3 and wrote the preview, reckons this is absolutely mad. He says that developer Playground Games (based in Leamington Spa in the UK) should know that there is little that is less exciting than the British landscape.
However, as he concluded - and I concur - Horizon 4 is a surreal treat for those of us who live and drive in the UK. How many years have we had to put up with blockbuster racing games based in the US? Now it's our turn.
You start FH4 in single-player mode, which gives you a whirlwind tour of the different seasons. It also introduces a few different types of racing, including circuit, road rally and off road. What's impressive is that the handling and feel of the cars really does change. On a bone-dry summer's day you get maximum grip for crazy cornering speeds, but it becomes impossible to maintain the same pace on a freezing wintery day with slush on the roads.
Similarly, an off-road course looks and feels completely different in spring and autumn. In spring you're racing over fields of green grass and wild flowers, but in the autumn you'll be slowed down by muddy bogs and bales of hay. Drive using the in-car view and it's a whole lot more immersive as water cascades over the windscreen when you drive into deep puddles.
It’s winter that stands out the most, unsurprisingly. The snow and ice offer tangible changes to handling, forcing you to brake carefully and drift tactically, while the other three are broadly similar, unless it happens to be raining. Still, even if the changes are mostly cosmetic, they’re certainly stunning, and running in 4K at 60fps on a PC or Xbox One X, Horizon 4 is a sight to behold.
The Horizon series’ arcade attitude still runs through the game, encouraging to run a bit rampant along the way. You earn points for drifting and crashing your way through the countryside, while the rewind feature encourages you to to dumb, destructive stuff for the sake of it - then roll back time and get on with the actual race.
The courses tend to be closed, but when you're out roaming free there's no reason to stick to the roads. Almost everything you see is destructible, from walls and fences to bushes and even trees. Pretty much the only things that'll prevent you from hurtling cross country at 100 miles per hour are houses and tall brick walls.
It is ridiculously fun to do that in a Lamborghini Huracán or Aston Martin, with baa-ing sheep scattering left and right as you crash into their field.
As you progress through the initial races you get connected to the shared world and get to take part in 'showcase' events which are fun races that see you pitted against a hovercraft, the Flying Scotsman steam train, a jet plane and there's even a crazy Halo-themed race.
But your first big goal is to qualify for the Horizon Roster and get a Yellow Wristband. This gets you into the game proper and means that the season and time of day is in sync for all players. The seasons change once per week on a Thursday, and there are daily and weekly (seasonal) challenges to complete.
In fact, there's so much to do it's easy to feel a little overwhelmed. Fortunately, the developers thought of this and provide the Horizon Life screen which is an overview of your progress. Here you can see which level you're up to in each discipline as well as your standing in the extra-curricular activities such as car tuning and - oddly - car photography.
Disciplines such as drag-strip racing don't begin until you get your Yellow Wristband, presumably to avoid flooding the map with too many races to begin with.
There are various hosts which look after the various race types and they'll call you after certain races or at certain points to tell you about new events. This is an opportunity to roll out all the interesting UK accents, and the voice actors have done an excellent job.
Beyond racing, there's plenty to do. You can hunt down barn finds (here are the locations) which are subsequently restored and sent to you garage, smash 'influence' boards for points (these are also earned from races and used to progress to higher levels), beat your personal best in speed-trap runs, do huge jumps from danger points and buy properties around the map so you don't have to drive far to get home to your garage.
Actually, there is no garage. Your current car simply parks on the driveway. This is one of the missed opportunities of the game: we love how you can display your collection in GTA Online, and it's a real shame there is nothing similar in Horizon 4. All you get is a menu with thumbnails (see further down). So if you're listening Playground Games / Turn 10, something for an update perhaps?
In the main menu you'll find a Rivals section. This is yet another way to while away hours: you compete against other players' ghost cars on a set route (or circuit) in a set car. Once you beat them, you're offered another rival whose time is just a little quicker than the one you just posted. Some of these are utterly addictive, especially in slower cars such as the Porsche 944 where you have to wring absolutely every last horsepower from the engine and drive a perfect line to get a better time.
New areas open up as you progress. Nothing new there, but after roughly 15 hours of play, you'll still be limited to three main areas: southern Scotland, the Lake District and the Cotswolds. Frankly, it's quite small.
There's a good mixture of back roads, dirt trails, A-roads and some - but not much - three-lane motorway. Edinburgh has been beautifully recreated, including Princes Street and plenty of landmarks. Down south - just a 12km drive in the game - you're in Broadway, the picturesque Cotswolds town where the Horizon Festival is set. A couple of minutes away is the Lake District, which looks very much as it does in Postman Pat.
Expansion packs will add new areas, but it does mean that if you stick to the core game, you won't get the whole of the UK. At this early stage we just don't know exactly what the roll-out will look like, but we didn't get any glimpses of London. As we progress, and as expansion pack details emerge, we'll update this section. The first is due in December 2018.
As with the main Forza series, the cars are impeccably modelled. If you happen to own one of them in the real world, you'll no doubt be able to nit-pick on slight inaccuracies, but there's no denying the incredible level of detail here, right down to the stitching on an off-road Jeep's leather steering wheel which is only visible when the light catches it.
Speaking of lighting, one of the reasons why FH4 is so immersive is that when you drive using the in-car camera it's simply more realistic than its rivals. Raindrops run up the windscreen when you're driving fast enough and water collects in a pool when the wipers reach the end of their travel.
If it's sunny and you're driving through a forest, you get flashes of glare off the inside of the windscreen as the light hits it between the trees.
Back to the cars, though, and there are 450 to choose between. You get a few freebies to start you off, with a choice of a few for each discipline.
As well as those influence points, you also earn credits for completing events and you can use these to buy new cars. But you can win cars - as well as more credits - by spinning the 'wheelspin' of fortune.
On top of that, there's an auction house where you can both bid for and sell cars. This can get quite addictive, and it also provides a way to earn some cash if you end up winning a bunch of cars from the wheelspin that you don't want.
Horizon may be the arcade-style version of Forza, but you can still bolt on engine upgrades and fine-tune everything from suspension to tyre pressures and gear ratios. Fortunately, there's none of the rubbish you'll find in Need for Speed: Payback which uses a bizarre slot-machine method where you win upgrades and basically makes no sense at all.
There's customisation, too, so you can buy and install splitters, spoilers and even full bodykits although, frustratingly, these remove all other modifications you've installed, including expensive engine mods. So if you want a wide-body Focus RS or Jaguar F Type, buy the bodykit first.
Modifying your car makes it go faster, but it can also mean it qualifies for more race types. For the most part everything is pretty authentic, so it's a shame there are a few mechanical faux-pax such as the description for boring out the engine block which claims this makes it more durable and reliable.
And somehow, you can bore out the Focus RS Mk3's cylinders from 2.3 to 7 litres. Er, no you can't. At least there isn't the option to slap in a V12 into any and every car.
Car liveries can be downloaded and applied and, naturally, you can paint and decorate cars yourself.
Something we've not seen before is the ability to browse and download other users' performance mods. So if you can't be bothered to manually upgrade all the necessary components to take your BMW M5 from 500 to 1000 horsepower, you can find one that's already done and pay a one-time cost to instantly modify it to the same spec.
Plus, there's the auto-upgrade option: you tell the mechanic what you want to achieve and he does the hard graft while you sip your cuppa (and pay though the nose for the privilege).
Car handling is definitely on the arcade side of things, but that's the whole point: this isn't a simulation. However, if you do want to earn more rewards from each race you can turn off a variety of driver assists from braking and steering to automatic shifting and ABS and traction control.
Some cars aren't the UK or European versions, so instead you'll have to put up with a reflectors or indicators on the sides of the front bumper and a lot of left-hand-drive models, including the Mustang GT above, despite being available in RHD in the UK. This is a shame, but not a deal-breaker. There's also a good reason for it.
A Microsoft spokesperson commented, "The reason we have left-hand drive cars is pretty straight-forward. We build our cars based on real-life reference. We source a car, and reproduce it to painstaking accuracy in the game. If a car is right-hand vs left-hand, that is because the car that was sourced had the wheel on that side. Due to the large library of cars we have, we cannot re-source and rebuild the cars with each iteration of the game." So there you have it.
Most cars sound authentic and it's good that there isn't just one V8 sample that's shared among all V8 cars. But they don't all sound right: the MGB GT barn find, for example, sounds like any other four-pot and doesn't have its distinctive MG note.
We'd love to have an adjustable first-person view instead of two fixed positions, but again, these are niggles rather than outright problems.
Team Adventure & PvP
One of the new features is Team Adventure. These are essentially online multiplayer races: you can either join a random group or go private. If you set up your own Team Adventure you can choose everything from the circuits to race to the season, weather and time of day. Then you pick which class of cars are allowed and invite friends to join you.
One of the race types is Freeroam Rush, which sees everyone race to a set point by any means. And if that's driving in a straight line to it -as the crow flies - through stone walls, wooden fences and even rivers, no problem. Foot flat to the floor, maximum speed.
The twist is that you're pitted one team against another, and you get points for beating the other team. If you win overall after all the set events, you get more credits and influence points than the other team.
Unlike almost every other event type (including freeroam mode) Team Adventure allows players to crash into each other: collision detection is very much enabled. This means you can drive dirty and push others off the road, or ram them as they brake hard for a corner. Anything goes…
The same is true of PvP challenges: Autoghost is disabled. When driving around in freeroam, you can challenge another player to a quick race. Yet another mode is to drive in a Convoy, where again, Autoghost is disabled.
Finally, there's a fun Live session which begins on the hour, every hour. You get a notification when you're in freeroam mode with a countdown until the session begins. When it does, everyone is given three collective tasks. These could anything from accruing enough drift points on a specified section of road, repeatedly flying off a jump to reach a certain total distance or to accumulate enough MPH by racing back and forth through a speed trap section.
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