Forza Horizon 4 review: Hands-on

Forza Horizon 4 made its grand debut at Microsoft’s E3 2018 press conference, and while it was hardly a surprise that the company had a new Forza game on the way, a few of the specific details were a little more unexpected.

We got the chance to play through some of Forza Horizon 4 at E3, exploring the new British setting and dynamic seasons, and here’s what you have to look forward to.

In fact, the demo is now available so you can get in the driving seat yourself ahead of the game's full release in a few weeks. You'll find it in the store on your Xbox One, and the Microsoft Store on a Windows 10 PC.

Forza Horizon 4 release date and price

Forza Horizon 4 will come 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 - though so far it looks like the Deluxe might be US-only. The Deluxe edition ($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.

Forza Horizon 4 preview

Forza Horizon 4 is the latest installment in the Horizon spin-off series - a more playful, arcade-style take on racing compared to the more realistic tone of the mainline 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.

This is, to be blunt, absolutely mad. Developer Playground Games is based in the UK (Leamington Spa, to be precise) so you’d think they’d know that there is little that is less exciting than the British landscape, but here we are.

The official explanation for the setting makes even less sense. Britain was picked in order to showcase Horizon 4’s flagship new feature: dynamic seasons. Which sounds fine until you remember that Britain has one of the most temperate climates in the world. It’s basically autumn all year round, it’s just that every now and then it gets a tiny bit warmer, and once or twice it snows.

Still, this is the world of videogames, and so Horizon 4’s Britain is a sort of sexed up take on the real thing. As you fling your supercar round a corner you’ll find sparkling waterfalls and roaming deer, rather than a Harvester and a traffic jam. Winter brings with it frozen lakes and deep snow drifts, rather than grey clouds and some occasional wet slush.

Suspension of disbelief aside, it’s easy to see why Microsoft is so keen to push the seasons, as they’re undeniably impressive. The E3 demo - supposedly broadly representative of the opening to the game itself - sees you rush through a short race in each of the four settings. You’ll splash through mud in spring, bask in the sun of summer, zoom past lush orange foliage in autumn, and race across frozen lakes in winter.

It’s winter that stands out the most, unsurprisingly - the snow and ice offer tangible changes to gameplay, forcing you to brake carefully and drift tactically, while the other three seem broadly similar. Still, even if the changes are mostly cosmetic, they’re certainly stunning, and running in 4K at 60fps on an Xbox One X Horizon 4 is a sight to see.

It also helps that, exaggerated as it may be, this British setting is clearly a labour of love. From the low stone walls bordering the country lanes to the painfully accurate signage - not to mention the occasional flocks of sheep - this is a surreal treat for Brits to play, and about as close as you’re likely to get to hurtling a Maserati down your local dual carriageway.

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.

SHOULD I BUY FORZA HORIZON 4?

The full game will be a shared online open world, but sadly our demo was strictly single player, so we’re not sure yet how features like the rewind and the seasons will work with other players around, and the real test for Forza Horizon 4 will be how it transitions the series into always-online.

Still, the core controls are as tight as ever, the seasons look like a fun new wrinkle - especially if there’s more of a gameplay impact we’re yet to see - and (say it quietly now) Horizon 4’s virtual Britain looks miles better than the real thing ever has.