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Forza Horizon 4

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Playground Games
Release Date: Oct. 2, 2018


Xbox One Review - 'Forza Horizon 4'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 25, 2018 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In Forza Horizon 4 you explore beautiful scenery, collect over 450 cars, and become a Horizon Superstar in historic Britain.

Buy Forza Horizon 4

Released in 2012, Forza Horizon was a spin-off of the Forza Motorsport series that brought the driving mechanics of Microsoft's premiere racing titles into an open world and added some arcade sensibilities. The game was phenomenal and ended up being one of the last hits for the Xbox 360. Forza Horizon 2 moved the series to the Xbox One and introduced off-road racing in Southern France. Forza Horizon 3 brought the series to the PC and added the concept of racing in different biomes in Australia. The new features merged with the solid base mechanics, and some players consider the Horizon titles to be better than the main series. Based on the previous games, Forza Horizon 4 has some big shoes to fill, especially since the title was specifically built for the Xbox One X instead of patching in support  later. Luckily, Forza Horizon 4 does everything right to maintain its standing as one of the best racing titles.

Before we get into what's new, everything the series has seen in the previous three iterations is still here and relatively intact. The simulation handling of the mainline series is present but tweaked to give the game more of an arcade feel. For those who want further tweaking, you have plenty of options to change things, such as the appearance of the racing line or the effect that damage has on your car. All of those choices have some impact on your winnings for each event. The car selection is robust, with over 450 vehicles and representation from almost every manufacturer.

There's a variety of events to choose from, including off-road racing, standard street races, checkpoint and lapped races, and even showcase and stunt events, where you'll do things like jump through windmills or race against a speeding locomotive. Cars can be purchased in the game's shop, but you'll find some of the best rides hidden away in remote barns. Every action you take, from drifting to crashing through walls, gives you points that eventually feed into various forms of progression. The game also facilitates this freedom by not killing your combo unless you completely smash into a car. Your driver still has the ability to unlock and wear new clothes as well as new emotes for race intros and victories, and those emotes include lots of instantly recognizable dances.  All of this is wrapped in an open-world United Kingdom that's roughly the size of the last game, letting you go anywhere, whether or not there's a road present.

For longtime fans, there will be some instant familiarity when they boot up the game and take their first car for a spin. It'll feel like nothing has changed, but there are plenty of changes that instantly make the title feel fresh. The first big change to the formula comes from the inclusion of seasons, and in typical Forza Horizon fashion, those are introduced via the opening race, which has you going through a bit of each season before arriving at the festival proper. Much like the weather system, the seasonal changes are more than cosmetic, as they greatly affect the way your vehicle handles both on and off roads. Summer is perhaps the most normal of the seasons, since car handling isn't affected by the environment, but both fall and spring bring about rain, puddles of mud, and small bodies of water to significantly alter your journey. Meanwhile, winter provides the more significant changes of snow banks and ice, making large lakes traversable while also significantly reducing the amount of traction.

Once that opening concludes, you'll start off in the autumn with a goal of getting enough influence to participate in the season's showcase event before gaining more influence to reach the next season. As in Forza Horizon 3, you're given a few nudges about which event to partake in, but ultimately, it's up to you to gain that influence however you'd like, whether it's partaking in races or roaming the countryside doing tricks and only joining the mandatory showcase events. The progression between seasons is quite fast, so even though the influence goals seem high, it doesn't take too long to get through the seasons — provided you didn't bump up the Drivatar difficulty too high.

Once you complete the initial spring season and get the wristband needed to get into the festival, the seasons progress on a fixed schedule. Every Thursday, the seasons progress, so you won't be stuck on a specific season. While that may cause some people to simply wait a week if that's when their least favorite season is on, there are seasonal events and tasks that tempt you to play. The seasonal events and the extensive list of campaign events provide a near-bottomless well of content, all of which is exciting due to the nature of each event as well as the seasonal effects on the track. You'll want to complete the seasonal events, since you'll get Forzathon currency to pick up things like new cars, clothes for your driver, emotes, or spins on the prize machine.

Speaking of which, the game has quite a number of different currencies and XP models to juggle, but they're all handled well. Aside from the aforementioned Forzathon cash for the specialized store, all of the events reward you with regular cash that can be used to buy new cars or engine parts. Influence is gained by just about any event and action, and that levels up your main profile to grant you more prize machine spins. Performing stunts and tricks gives you points that can be used to modify any car. The events themselves are also separated into categories, and leveling up there also nets you prizes. Again, there are plenty of currency and XP paths to keep track of, but it doesn't feel overwhelming or confusing. Best of all, none of the things can be purchased with real money, so someone can't buy their way into a high-performing position or load up their garage through non-gameplay means — aside from the DLC, of course.

While Forza Horizon 4 is a racing game, there are a good number of things for those without high racing interests to enjoy the title. In Photo mode, you can use a drone to capture shots of your car and the environment from a decent number of angles. The livery editor is as robust as ever, and the impressive vinyl skins from past games can still be re-created by those with the skill and inclination. For streamers, Mixer functionality is built in, and the rewards system for viewers means that there's a bigger incentive for people to watch your streams. All of those things also have their own progression paths, so they're a good way of getting in-game cash and rewards if you choose to partake in them.

Aside from the season system, the other massive change is in the online play. As in prior offerings, Forza Horizon 4 features quite a few online modes, including standard racing, capture the flag, and infection tag. New to the game is the ability to create crews, so up to six players at a time can team up to play online ranked matches together, and there are crew-specific rankings and rewards.

Another new addition is the ability to have your world populated with real players instead of their Drivatars. Up to 71 people can be in one instance, so impromptu road duels become more exciting since you're no longer dealing with an approximation of a player's behavior. The feature also means that almost every event in the game that's usually played solo can also be played with others, either in a co-op mode with one other player or a complete PvP mode, where every racer in an event is a real person.

Hourly Forzathon Live events are also here, and they behave similarly to the quick multiplayer events of Burnout Paradise. At the top of the hour, players race to a spot, and once 12 people make it there, they'll have 15 minutes to compete in things, like trying to get a cumulative score for a speed trap, stunt areas, or drifts. The events tend to repeat, but the repetition is worthwhile due to the excitement of participating, the unknown order of the events, and the rush to complete everything.

For those fearing a massive flood of players in an instance, they can rest easy knowing that there are plenty of safeguards in place. By default, collision is turned off, so you can simply pass through a real player who's headed straight for you. Forzathon Live events also turn off collision, so everyone working toward a shared goal in each round isn't causing chaos as they drive back to a spot to start a trick or speed run. In large PvP races or other multiplayer versus events, driving in reverse or in the opposite direction automatically turns off collision for that player, so everyone else isn't affected. The result is that griefing is minimized greatly but, for those who can't stand the thought of other people in their game, they can disconnect from that living Forza world and still retain all the features and functionality, a feature that needs to be pointed out since it's surprising how other big-name racing titles fail to accommodate the offline player.

The presentation has always been a high point for the series, and this entry is no different. On the audio side, the soundtrack is bursting with six different radio stations, so fans of classical, drum and bass, electronic, hip-hop, pop or rock will have quite an extensive collection to listen to. The soundtracks are presented as part of radio stations, and they do a good job of conveying that since going through some tunnels or other structures will muffle the sound for a while before becoming clearer. The DJs also do a great job in their respective stations at being slightly entertaining but not annoying, while having them speak about the weather or upcoming milestones, like the player buying a house or hearing rumors about an abandoned car in a barn, keep the player from tuning them out.

Graphically, Forza Horizon 4 looks absolutely gorgeous. Everything — from the foliage to the roads to the cars — looks stunning during all four seasons. There's some environment deformation, so going through a large grassy field in the summer leaves behind flat areas that you tore through, and the same goes for mud and snow you plow through. There's little to no sign of texture pop-up, and the load times are very good, especially when you take into account how well they're disguised via white room results screens and live shots of Great Britain during the seasons. About the only noticeable flaw comes from the shadows, which look fine but lack smoothness when reacting to the changing times of day. Stay in a place for a while, and you'll see the shadow immediately jump from one angle to another instead of a slow and smooth transition.

With the game now available on three different platforms, there are some pretty big differences in regards to performance. On the base Xbox One, you get a 1080p resolution that's locked at 30fps, and it doesn't budge, no matter how many cars or effects are on-screen. It's essentially the same as the previous games. On the Xbox One X, you have the option to get a locked 30fps with native 4K resolution, or you can go with 1080p and a locked 60fps. The option for 60fps is very welcome, as some players are willing to sacrifice a cleaner picture if it means a more responsive game. Meanwhile, the PC is where you can get 4K with 60fps with high-end hardware, and middle-of-the-road gear can easily get you 1080p or 1440p 60fps. You also get variable resolution, making the PC the better platform for performance. Those who played Forza Horizon 3 on the PC will be happy to know that this game seems more stable thus far.

Much like its predecessors, Forza Horizon 4 is an excellent, all-around racing game. The addition of seasons adds variety to the racing conditions to greatly expand the functionality of the already-large map. The online play is done well, especially since it's smartly designed so players who want to play solo can do so. It's the core racing mechanics and plethora of events that make the game fun as they retain the solid handling and physics the series is known for while also providing near-limitless play on fun events. For racing fans, Forza Horizon 4 is a must-buy.

UPDATE: Interested fans looking for different ways to access the game should note that Microsoft just announced that Forza Horizon 4 will also be available through Xbox Game Pass when the game launches on Oct. 2.

Score: 9.0/10

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