The game even turns our weather into something beautiful. As the seasons change, so does the climate and the nature of the light, along with the driving conditions. Edinburgh’s New Town shimmers in pale spring sunshine, and in winter the snow in the Highlands sucks all the light out of the sky. The cottages in Ambleside are prettiest in the summer, when the trees are so bracingly green you can almost smell them. The biggest hurdle for developer Playground Games is that you could say all of that about Forza Horizon 3 or even its predecessors. This is a franchise that has always delivered. So going into this one, I was wondering if we needed another one.
When you first fire up Forza Horizon 4, the game whisks you through a tutorial that offers a taste of the varied weather conditions. Spring is lush and green, summer is full of sunshine, autumn has beautifully colored leaves, and winter brings icy conditions. The season changes are more than just the application of new graphics; they make the world feel more alive more than any previous Forza game. In Forza Horizon 3, wintry slopes were added as DLC that represented one specific mountain region.This welcome accessibility continues when, just seconds later, you’re using these very inputs to cruise through the eye-popping English countryside at 120-plus miles per hour. In the driver’s seat of a 2018 McLaren Senna, you’re immediately trading paint with competitors, swerving around flocks of (unhittable) sheep, and inching the speedometer past 150 mph on straightaways. By the time you reach the immaculately-rendered cobbled streets of Edinburgh, you’ll feel like Vin Diesel.It’s an emotive tour through what’s to come. Once you reach the festival site, you play through each season individually across a five-hour prologue that introduces Forza Horizon 4’s many different events. Had this been the game proper, it would have been enough. You complete events to build influence, hitting milestones to progress to the next season in a manner similar to unlocking new festival sites in Forza Horizon 3. But after you’ve completed a full loop—summer to spring—Forza Horizon 4 reveals its final form.
This is a game about the experience of driving rather than the mechanics, and Forza Horizon 4 accommodates the tourists as well as the gearheads. You can barrel through low walls and shrubbery without so much as scratching your paintwork, slide all over the road in a Ferrari in the rain, or drive an Alfa Romeo up a mountain with only a little difficulty. Though it’s possible to go under the hood and tinker with every imaginable aspect of a favourite ride, share tuning configurations and create and download custom liveries, it is also perfectly alright to pick a car you like and head off into the countryside to see what you can do with it.This series has been excellent since its debut in 2012. The Xbox 360’s Forza Horizon was a great way to take the physics, customization, and cars from Motorsport add in some lighthearted fun. Somehow, each game has improved on that.Likewise, spring’s rain muddies courses, making cornering a chore. The seasons shift every Thursday, so you aren’t stuck in one for overly long. In addition, dynamic weather means that you could start a game under sunny skies and see rainfall before you cross the finish line. I initially scoffed at the season effects as just another E3 conference talking point, but when you consider Forza Horizon 4’s enormity and how each road is impacted by the changes, the feature is quite impressive.
It changes the game beyond visual sheen and charges players with new ways to think about races; about their cars or their car setups (if you’re so inclined). It makes the racing even more visceral this time around, which when you consider the heritage here, is no small feat.Playground presents its games better than any other developer working right now. Forza Horizon 4 is more evidence of that. Its clips before and after races are gorgeous. They feature your driver and their car standing in front of massive stylized menu or display.I’ve mostly played in performance mode on console, which is getting me 60 buttery smooth frames per second. And sure, you notice the dip in resolution, but it’s not distracting. And even in performance mode, it still looks beautiful.Drive audaciously, at high speeds or drifting round corners or juddering across dirt tracks without smashing into a tree, and a little combo-ticker rewards you with skill points. This keeps the mind from wandering while driving, though all you can buy with skill points are multipliers to earn more of them.
What matters is the driving, and the myriad ways that Forza Horizon 4 makes it interesting. Sailing a stately Aston Martin up long stretches of coastal road is a completely different experience to bouncing around the countryside in a jeep, or hauling a rally car around a tight dirt track, or street-racing in the Edinburgh winter. Or it could end up covered in snow or flowers. It’s not all just cosmetic changes. Rain and ice will cause handling differences as well. But it really keeps the game feeling freshThe XP-like Influence is earned by entering races, finding cars, and successfully completing challenges. In fact, Influence, along with the new My Horizon Life campaigns and fresh customization features, causes the racer to lean into RPG elements more than ever before.Building upon everything that has continued to mark out the Forza Horizon series as something special and unique its
own right – beyond being Forza Motorsport’s carefree sibling – Forza Horizon 4 demonstrates once again just how recklessly entertaining driving roughshod across an open environment can be. Revelling in what makes Britain great, Forza Horizon 4 also proves once more that Playground Games is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to delivering a polished, deep, and thrilling open-world racing experience.
Forza Horizon 4 is not only a bar-raising racing game, but an exceptional sandbox experience that’s set a new standard for the presentation and implementation of shared open-worlds. It’s also the prettiest game to ever be powered by an Xbox console.The best thing I can say about Forza Horizon 4 is it’s worth enduring the pain of the Microsoft Store for.This game is a beautiful experience. As driving games go, it’s the best I’ve ever played, not only because of its irresistible scenery, exhilarating driving and perfectly-recreated cars, but because spending time with it puts me in a lasting good mood.Forza Horizon 4 succeeds its predecessor as my new Mt. Rushmore racing game, and I can’t wait to explore its world for long after this review is published. With a big update on the way that’s set to add new cars and fetaures, Forza Horizon 4 looks like it will get even better in the near future.