Ah yes, it’s finally here; the time the many racers that have graced our screens throughout the year step aside for the king of them all. Forza is back once more to put pedal to the metal and leave the competition trailing.
We’re not talking about the next entry in the super-realistic simulation track racing of Forza Motorsport however; instead we gaze in awe at Forza Horizon 4, the latest in the vibrant open-world series that leaves the simulation and realism of its big brother behind to let loose in a world destined for speed, style and over-the-top action. This time though we ditch the sun soaked stretches of the Australian outback and instead head for some fun in the not-so-sunny winding country roads of Great Britain. The land of wind and rain awaits.
When it was first announced that we’d be taking to the streets of Great Britain in Horizon 4, I was left a little befuddled. After all, like many other fans I had Japan as the locale of choice at the top of my wishlist, and being stuck in busy city streets, motorway long traffic jams and waiting at broken traffic lights didn’t sound like an ideal place to promote the festival feeling the Horizon series is so well known for. Fortunately it only takes a few minutes with Horizon 4 to realise that you don’t need any of that to recreate a satisfying rendition of Great Britain and what you’re left with is sheer beauty all-round with old country roads, luscious open fields and some truly astonishing routes through some of the finest scenery around – the ideal scenario for yet another open-world Forza Horizon game in fact.
Forza Horizon 4 isn’t just another Horizon game set in a new open-world environment however, and as has been highly advertised in recent months, there are a number of new changes that have been introduced to keep the latest entry feeling fresh and better than ever – the biggest one being seasons, the new focus of the Horizon festival.
Seasons are a major game changer. Not only do they change the visual look of Horizon’s Britain, but they change the way your cars handle, and they change the way the roads feel. They also hold their own unique events… but more on that later – we have a lot to get through.
As you’d expect there are four seasons within Forza Horizon 4 – Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring – with each accompanied by the appropriate weather effects that have an effect on the world. Winter brings things like frozen lakes that can you drive on and snow-covered roads leaving a slick racing experience as well as freezing temperatures that affect how your car handles. Autumn sees plenty of boggy fields and muddy country roads arrive, and these will leave your car slipping and sliding about. Spring is all about fresh life and reminds you just how beautiful the British country can actually be and Summer is… well… it’s summer; it’s full of glorious sunshine and luscious scenery. It is the perfect way to race through the back lanes of the cleverly condensed version of Great Britain.
When you first arrive in the world of Forza Horizon 4, each of the seasons will progress at a rather prompt pace as you go about your business completing the many races and activities that continue to pop up as you progress. This is really your chance to see just how each of them function and affect both your vehicle and the roads around you. Once you’ve completed this early tutorial-esque cycle the first time, you’ll quickly be hoisted into the Forza roster and from this point on you’ll be playing the way the game is intended, as part of an joint online world that brings players together in one living, breathing experience with the seasons you’ve just spent the last few hours racing through rotating on a weekly basis.
The racing itself is another area in which Forza Horizon 4 has changed things too. No longer are Championships the focus of gameplay and there are no more festivals to expand. Instead players must turn their attentions to the varying racing disciplines that are spread throughout the game, with Road Racing, Cross Country and Dirt Racing series’ amongst the many countless activities that you’ll be getting involved in. No matter what activity or event you choose however, in Forza Horizon 4, it seems everything is now accompanied by a progression bar and its own levelling system. The goal is to earn influence, and this is done by performing any given event, with a win dishing out a little more than a last place finish; influence is still earned though, no matter what. Once the event is over and you’ve collected your winnings, you’ll see just how much progress you have made towards the next level of your competing activity, with different rewards given for each level you progress through and new activities unlocked too.
If you’re someone like me who spent hundreds of hours with previous Forza Horizon titles, then the new progression system is certainly one that takes a little getting used to, but I’m pretty convinced that this is by far a more rewarding progression route than we’ve seen in recent entries. With two ways now to level up, getting a new reward or wheelspin is something that happens a lot more frequently.
That of course brings us onto the next new feature – the Super Wheelspins. Those who have played before will recall Wheelspin rewards being given on each new level-up, with a random reward given out for each one. These still remain this time around but they aren’t the only Wheelspin you’ll want to earn. Super Wheelspins are essentially the same thing, however instead of giving out one random reward, each Super Wheelspin dishes out three rewards. These aren’t just given out willy-nilly of course, however levelling up any of the 26 unique categories is a sure-fire way of ensuring you see at least a few of these luxurious prizes given out from time to time.
Another big focus of Forza Horizon 4 is the online functionality. Of course, should you want to play without an online audience then that is entirely do-able with everything available from start to finish in Solo mode, in which drivatars fill the open-roads. Should you wish to engage in the online side of things however, then there are a few things to note.
First of all, it’s entirely possible to be connected to the online world, with online players filling the streets, whilst still playing through at your own pace in a solo setting. When in the connected world, you join a lobby with up to 72 players, and here players can roam the map and do everything they would normally do in Solo. Any fears of grieving are soon put to rest by the fact that every other car is in ghost mode meaning collisions aren’t possible, whilst it still allows players to drive together and share the same world.
In these lobbies players also have the option to join a convoy of up to 12 people, as well as competing in Team Adventures of both the ranked and unranked variety for unique prizes, and even the new Forzathon Live events.
Forzathon has been a part of both the Forza Horizon and Forza Motorsport games in the most recent entries with multi-tier progression added in Forza 7, but in this year’s game things are changed up further still and should you be taking in the sights of the beautifully crafted environment, and find a Forzathon starting soon message popping up on screen, you’re in for a treat. Forzathon Live is a frequent event that populates the online world in the game with a timed three-stage challenge. To compete, players must race to the outlined circle on the map before the event starts, allowing them to then be included in the event. These activities include Danger Signs, Speed Traps, Speed Cameras and Drift Zones, and players must go through them as many times as possible to reach the score limit before the time is over.
With just a few activities available, these do start to feel a little repetitive quickly, but there’s a certain pleasure that comes from seeing every racer trying to compete in a group effort.
Because of the big focus on online connectivity in Forza Horizon 4, cars aren’t the only thing for you to collect throughout the game either. This time around, players also have an avatar to customise and houses to buy. Personally, this was the thing I enjoyed the least in my time with the game, but for those that like to customise every aspect of their game, there are plenty of clothing options to obtain, chat phrases to unlock and houses to purchase – all of which come with their own unique features such as Drone Mode and so on. Everything besides the houses – which are bought with credits – can be unlocked through Wheelspins so there’s no worry of microtransactions here, but for those who want to play Forza purely for the racing fun, this is likely to prove a little uninspiring. In fact, the addition of houses only makes for an expensive alternative to Horizon 3’s festival hubs with these used for accessing your garage and vehicle customisation options along with the online Auction House.
Back to the main attraction however – the cars. Forza Horizon 4 boasts an incredible lineup of more than 450 cars at present, which is some 150 more than we saw in Forza Horizon 3 at its launch. Unfortunately, there are some inexcusable omissions with both Mitsubishi and Toyota nowhere to be seen meaning there are no classic Evo’s and Supra’s to be ripping through the highlands. That said, the current available selection is certainly enough to ensure there is a car for everyone.
The final new addition to note is the fact each car now comes with its own attached skill tree rather than one encompassing one for the whole experience. Skill Points are earned in very much the same way as Horizon 3, with various actions such as drifting earning points which in turn add a skill point once the progression bar is filled. Now though these points can be spent on each and every vehicle in the game – in a tree known as Car Mastery. Skills include things such as increasing the influence your car brings, decreasing the amount of time it takes to build your skill multiplier, increasing scores of specific actions and even the odd free Wheelspin too.
Besides the many new features mentioned above, Forza Horizon 4 brings more of the fantastic gameplay seen in its predecessor. There are spectacular showcases that provide some stunning set-pieces, a host of exhilarating exhibition races allowing for some truly competitive racing and some breathtaking visuals that set a benchmark for the ultimate racer. If you’re a fan of Forza as a whole then Forza Horizon 4 will not disappoint, and whilst the progression and seasons systems change up the core experience, Forza Horizon 4 still shows the key signs for an exemplary racing experience that must be applauded.