After the disastrous and controversial release of Forza Motorsports 7 and all the microtransaction shenanigans that killed the experience for me and so many others, tainted the series for Xbox One Players, I have been eagerly waiting for Forza Horizon 4. The main reason is that I still prefer the more arcade style racing games to the more simulated racers just because driving in real life is enough of an experience that in video games I do just want to have fun. Following the release of The Crew 2, I was very much intrigued to see what Forza Horizon 4 would bring to the table as well as what the new setting would bring to the series for Horizon 4 is coming to the UK, and it was time to go for a drive back home!
Well I say back home but truth be told that to say Forza Horizon 4 has come to the UK is true, the main focus of the playing area is Scotland, so sadly no chance to go driving around like an idiot in London. But following this release since E3 and there is a lot to be excited about with Horizon 4 and after Horizon 3 took Australia by storm, I was curious to see what 4 could do to top that crazy ride for fans. What is obvious straight away is that Developer Playground Games has put all their hearts and souls into this game and it is an immediately impressive game to fire up and then simply deliver the best kind of racing experience I have enjoyed in recent years.
To kick things off the first thing I have to say is just how much the visuals blew my mind with just gorgeous and stunning everything looks on screen, from the standard Xbox One to the Xbox One X, this is a beautiful game to look at. The cars have never looked better in my opinion and with 450 cars currently in the game, players will be spoiled for choice right from the very start. Now I am no petrol head by any means but can still appreciate how beautiful cars can look and for me right now, Horizon 4 is the best celebration of cars right now on console. Each and everyone is just eye candy to feast on from the basic family car you would see everyday to out of reach expensive super and hyper cars you may never get to drive in real life, Horizon 4 serves them up on a platter and makes them so accessible to get as well but will come to that a bit later on.
As beautiful as the cars are, the real treat in Horizon 4 is the setting and boy does this game make the UK, Scotland in particular, look fantastic. It was a clever decision to use Scotland as it certainly ticks all the boxes for where you can drive both on roads to off road dirt tracks and is especially lovely when in free roam driving to each event just to take in the detail and majestic backgrounds that just make flooring the car you are driving to the limit such a delicious treat. Every location makes you want to screenshot and capture everything it is that pleasing on the eyes and it is the little details as well that you notice the longer you play which in particular is then boosted by the new ‘Seasons’ feature to Horizon 4. The UK is probably most famous for its everchanging weather and the team at Playground games has taken this to a whole new level in this game. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter are all represented with a new season each week that not only changes the visuals on where you are driving but also the driving conditions as well and the events you can take part in.
The first time you experience this is in the quite excellent prologue event all players must complete before the full game really unlocks for them. It serves as a tremendous tutorial into how Horizon works by taking players through different race types and teaching players how to use the menus and features to get the best out of the game. In order to unlock the fully open world of the game you must qualify for the Horizon League by completing each of the season stages which is a great way to ease you into how Horizon will work going forward as players progress through the game. Seasons come into play as they change the conditions of driving with Autumn and Winter making the biggest changes such as in Autumn players can expect more rain which will make the roads slippery and far more muddy conditions to contend with just as Winter will make the roads icier and snow-covered areas to drive though. All these changes will affect racing conditions and knowing which type of car is best suited for each season is something the prologue handles very well as well as providing the first set of cars players will put in their garage. The prologue really prepares players for how to play and be in the world of Horizon 4 that despite it being quite long to complete, it is absolutely worthwhile because the moment you do qualify for the Horizon league, the freedom to play as you want is impactful and immediate.
Once you are in the full Horizon experience everything is designed to allow the freedom to play just how you want to play. There is an abundance of activities to do from the different racing types and competitions to the iconic Horizon open world side activities and the world map will quickly fill up with icons of things to do such as speed traps, stunt jumps and the fun of finding all the influence and credit road signs to smash through. So, whether you just want to race or just explore and free roam around the map, there is always something to do which gives a constant reason to return to the game and provides a nice break from constant racing to just go for a drive and still be able to earn credits and progression. My own personal favourite events are the Showcase events which are similar to the big Top Gear marquee events which put a car against another vehicle type and in Horizon 4 this is taken to a new level of awesomeness. There are five showcase events to begin with starting by racing a large hovercraft before racing The Flying Scotsman train. It only gets more impressive when you take on racing motocross racers and a Delta-Wing plane. The standout showcase event has to be the specially Xbox themed HALO Showcase, which puts players in the driver seat of a Warthog as you race against a UNSC Pelican with all the road signs taking on a HALO theme whilst Cortana talks to you as you drive, oh and you actually get to be the Master Chief which is beyond epic.
The focus on playing with friends and sharing the Horizon 4 experience is threaded all through the game with the use of Convoys and Clubs. Convoys allows up to 11 players to share in activities across the map. If you are all in the same driving club, then all influence earned by club members will help increase the clubs rank on the online leader board. The wider community comes together as well as usual with Forza games with the player created custom cosmetic designs for cars that are free to download and there are some brilliant designs which are offered the moment you select a new car to buy. The community is one of the bonus aspects to the Forza series on Xbox and in Horizon 4 it is also taken to a new level thanks to MIXER. Players can earn extra influence by either streaming Forza Horizon 4 on MIXER for those who do stream but also by just watching another Horizon 4 stream on MIXER, just look for a blue ribbon under the stream title to know if you can earn influence by watching. In the options to Horizon 4 you can even opt out of copyrighted music from the soundtrack in ‘Streamer Mode’ so that you can safely stream and not worry about having the music removed for copyright reasons from highlights or game captures. This is a game you can play solo or with friends and wants all players to embrace the social aspects to it by providing multiple ways to experience the game either through playing or just being in the community.
The car packs which you gain access too by the higher value editions of the games also do not lock players out from owning those cars even if you just have the base game. For example, the ultimate version of the game gives immediate access to the James Bond car pack but for me who just has the base game via Games Pass, I was able to buy the Aston Martin DB5 with in game currency. A huge lesson has been learned from the disastrous microtransaction mess of Motorsports 7 so that for Horizon the experience is completely obtainable from just playing the game, but car packs can be purchased with real money to save the grind of earning the credits needed to buy the cars but still making them available for those who are happy to obtain them via gameplay. You also earn spins on the Horizon Super or normal Wheelspin boards. These are slot machine spins which can reward you with a random car, credit boost or cosmetic clothing for your driver with the Super spin version giving you three rewards per spin. Everything you do in the game will reward you with something such as added perks to the cars you drive the most to buff rewards from driving them to earning skill points from just driving around which can build up to give you a spin to win something.
Horizon 4 ticks so many boxes for me and you can not be impressed by the open experience Playground Games have created that really works hard not to hold player progression back but instead just provides the tools for players to just go and have a ruddy good time with. It should also be pointed out that this game is also included in the Xbox Game Pass so you can play the full base game right now if you are a subscriber but even if you just use the free 14 day trial for the pass you can play this. Forza Horizon 4 for perhaps the first time has changed the way I look at the pass as going forward, the quality of Microsoft first party games that will join the games pass on day of release almost make the subscription a no brainer.
The Forza series is firmly back on track thanks to Horizon 4 which for me is simply the best racing game this year just because of how much content there is for players and how rewarding it is for players of all types from the casual arcade racer like me to the true petrol heads who like to tune their cars to perfection. I have nothing but good things to say about this game so grab the Games Pass and play it right now or go and buy it, either way you will not regret it.