Forza Horizon 4 review: A beautiful, bountiful Britain

Credit: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios
Credit: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios /

After the initial disappointment of its setting, Forza Horizon 4 has once again proven the series’ worth.

Title: Forza Horizon 4
Developers: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Xbox One, PC (reviewed version)
Release Date: October 2, 2018

In Forza Horizon 4, red telephone boxes stand timidly on street corners, thatched houses litter the countryside, and yellow bollards beg to be knocked down. This is Britain; not the version bogged down by Brexit negotiations, but one in its purest, most idyllic form.

As such, you won’t find rough areas of Hull in Playground Games’ latest installment, nor will you ever see London. Instead, the focus is on the country’s natural beauty. Haphazardly stitched together are the Scottish Highlands and Edinburgh, the coast of Northumberland, the Lake District, and Warwickshire.

Simply, it has to be the best looking racing game ever made. The lighting, color palette, and reflections are all incredible. The attention to detail is astounding, and texture fidelity is strong in most areas. Throughout it all, the game runs like a dream, regularly reaching up to 90 FPS on ultra settings with my modest 4GB RX 480 graphics card and i5-6500 CPU.

At the heart of it all, though, is the seasons. As a Brit, I feel qualified to say Playground Games has nailed each of them. The distinct orange leaves in Autumn aren’t too difficult to replicate, but more subtle seasons like Spring are also immediately distinguishable.

Credit: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios
Credit: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios /

Horizon 4 tries to sell you this feature right from the start. A lengthy five to six-hour prologue gives you the chance to experience every period in its full glory, with emphasis on how everything will change with the passing of time.

If I’m honest, though, I’m not completely sold on the gameplay aspects of seasons. Granted, you’ll find yourself slipping all over the place in winter, but the variations in races probably won’t be enough to stop them feeling repetitive after a while. There’s a dry riverbed here, an iced-over lake there, but the differences aren’t as dramatic as some marketing material would have you believe.

However, that’s not to say there isn’t significant value in its inclusion. Though it can be annoying to be stuck on the slippery roads of winter, it adds important new gameplay aspects. It’s no longer just about who has the best car, but who has the vehicle most suited to the season.

That said, Playground Games strikes a good balance, with ample opportunity to customize things to your liking. Though seasons only change on a weekly basis after the prologue, you’re able to change the option for most races in the blueprint editor. You can also create private online adventure sessions in whatever season you like.

Credit: Playground Games, Turn 10
Credit: Playground Games, Turn 10 /

When combined with time of day, weather, and car settings, it should increase the longevity of the game until the promised custom routes are introduced. More importantly, it gives the impression of a living, breathing world that just wasn’t possible before.

It’s a feeling that’s enhanced by the huge amount of activities available. There are the usual street racing and rally events we’re all used to, but the game also takes steps towards life simulation. You can do jobs, buy businesses, and purchase several houses. Stunt driving sets you on compelling movie escape sequences, and a rental company lets you drive some of the fastest supercars.

These activities won’t blow your mind, with several repeated mission types and only a few lines of dialogue. However, with 25 different ‘Horizon Life’ campaigns, they do a satisfactory job of breaking up the grind.

Driving in Forza Horizon 4 feels like a natural extension of the player.

Adding to it is the shared world feature, which automatically puts players in a free roam lobby of up to 72 players. You can do races in the usual singleplayer style, but there’s also the ability to do most in co-op and PvP form.

The rewind feature is present in all of these aspects, but it doesn’t really work in competitive multiplayer. You’ll rewind, but your opponents will go steaming ahead, and poorly placed checkpoints often mean that you’ll go back in time, only to resume with no hope of making a missed checkpoint.

The shared world gives players the opportunity to show off. You can talk to others via mic or quick chat, yet cars ghost through each other to prevent trolling. Wheelspins are available at each level up, giving clothes, emotes, quick chat lines, car horns, and cars to showcase.

This may feel a little like cheating, but Forza Horizon 4 holds over 450 cars from 100 manufacturers. That’s 150 more than Horizon 3, despite the notable exception of Toyota. Of those, 14 of those cost 10 million credits or more, so you need all the help you can get. There’s some natural crossover in vehicle availability from previous installments, but the customization options, sounds, and feel of many cars have changed.

Credit: Playground Games, Turn 10
Credit: Playground Games, Turn 10 /

Driving in Forza Horizon 4 feels like a natural extension of the player. Like previous games, it moves away from the hardcore racing genre for a more arcadey touch. It’s better on controller thanks to the use of subtle vibration, but easily playable with keyboard or steering wheel.

It’s difficult to tell exactly how much has changed mechanically since Horizon 3, but its clear Playground has paid particular attention to slippery and muddy surfaces in preparation for the seasons. There’s a feeling of resistance that wasn’t present previously, making it a real struggle not to spin out if you’re using the wrong vehicle.

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  • However, it’s worth noting that the game has a very modular approach to difficulty. Players can adjust settings like traction control, ABS, braking assists, rewinds, and AI proficiency. The result is a vast net that should please long-time fans of the genre and newcomers at the same. Regardless, nailing a route is immensely satisfying, and the game feels downright magical during some of the more intense showcase events.

    Free roaming is also strong. Forza Horizon 4 lets you switch cars at any point with just a short loading screen. If something still doesn’t feel quite right, there’s room for maneuver there too. The tuning and upgrade system is back with a vengeance. Players can now get hold of drift suspension upgrades, wide body kits, track width offsets and much more. I suspect tuning isn’t something many will get into, but long-term fans will greatly appreciate the increased control.

    Unfortunately, visual customization is still a low point. Most of Forza Horizon 4’s vehicles hold only token options, with the ability to add or remove spoilers or generic front bumper changes that often look worse. The exception is the game’s “upgrade heroes,” which have much better options, but usually complete body kits rather than the ability to choose things like wheel arches independently.

    I suspect this is a consequence of the massive car library and limited time period, but it’s a little disappointing nonetheless. When poor games like Need for Speed: Payback offer more options, you know it’s worth taking a look at.

    Credit: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios
    Credit: Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios /

    Despite all this, Forza Horizon 4 shows a great amount of promise. Its map isn’t huge, with the same footprint as the third game, but it feels less empty. There are more roads and importantly a great variety of them, with twisting, drift-friendly bends and drag racing straights littered across the map.

    Thanks to the addition of Forzathon Live, there are also opportunities for emergent gameplay moments. Every hour, players in a session can work towards a group target for skills, which several stages. Do well, and they’ll get points that can be spent in a dedicated shop, with rewards changing every week.

    There’s a complete abundance of things to do in this game; so many that it hard to cover coherently. Traditional multiplayer races, night races, overarching events, collectibles, ranked play tiers. Auction houses, paint and livery options, photography, streaming rewards. They’re all trackable via a simple UI and have their own reward paths.

    It’s far from the first racing game to take such an approach, but it’s the only recent series that does them all so well. I’m convinced that it will take many, many hours for players to get bored, and when they do, there’s still DLC and player-created content to consider.

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    Ultimately, the game isn’t leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor, but it innovates in intelligent ways. Horizon 3 was hailed as one of best of this generation, and, on PC at least, this one is even better. It’s seamless, community-driven, and fluid, yet clearly crafted with love.

    The drawback of seems to be less of an overarching story. Instead, it lives up to the name of its developer and continues its evolution. It’s a beautiful playground for car enthusiasts, with a satisfying core gameplay loop and clear implementation of player feedback. There are some minor disappointments, but it’s still one of the best racing games of the decade and an easy recommendation for almost any gamer.

    Forza Horizon 4 is available on Xbox One, Windows 10 and via the Xbox Game PassLearn more about our e-commerce policy here.

    Forza Horizon 4. 9. Forza Horizon 4 is beautiful and exhilarating, with seamless multiplayer, compelling progression, and more cars than you know what to do with.. Playground Games, Turn 10 Studios.

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.