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Forza Horizon 4 Review

by William Schwartz

It's not going to disappoint, but it might not wow you like it once did.

Microsoft’s has always set a high bar for the Forza Horizon series.  After all, if you’re going to slap one of the most recognizable names in racing games on to another product it had ought to be good.  And it has been.  Since it’s debut in 2012, Playground Games has pushed out a new entry in the series every other year and they’ve been great games.  We’ve seen some pretty incredible progression in terms of what’s been added to the experience.  The last game marked a new high for player customization, and probably offered the best open world of the first three games.  With Forza Horizon 4 not much has been changed in terms of how the game looks, or plays, or in the content that it offers to players.  The big changes are in its new English locale, new weather mechanics, and the “living world” that Playground Games is trying to create here.

There’s really not one specific through line in terms of story in Forza Horizon 4.  The Horizon festival is the backstory, and you’re an up and coming driver looking to make their name on the Horizon circuit.  After a lengthy prologue that introduces you to the different aspects of the game and how to navigate the world during the different seasons, you will be thrust into the “Shared World” experience.  This shared world experience is the meat of Forza Horizon this time around, with Microsoft hoping that players get invested in their character, car collection, and the wealth of customization options and different racing activities in the game.

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The structure of this latest game in the series really is a sign of the times.  In the vein of games as a service, Forza Horizon 4 is looking to be something that players keep coming back to, with live events, timed challenges, changing seasons, and a ton of different progression and collection aspects to really dig into.  It is unequivocally, the biggest and most ambitious game to date in the series when it comes to content.  It also adds a bunch of customization that may or may not be welcomed by the community.  As games like this absolutely must have, there are a ton of cosmetic options for your character.  This starts at the character creation screen (something new for the series) and will continue to follow you throughout the game with new clothing options and accessories constantly being thrown at the player in terms of rewards.  There’s nothing quite as unfulfilling as getting a wheel spin reward that is a cosmetic item.  This all comes alongside the standard tuning and liveries editor.  It’s not going to be for everyone and it’s a relatively small part of the game, even if it is completely unavoidable.

The structure of Forza Horizon 4 will be recognizable by fans of the previous games.  There is a massive new map to explore that’s built around a central Horizon Festival area and it’s littered with different races and activities.  In Horizon, racing isn’t relegated to the streets.  There are off-road tracks for Dirt Racing, Road Races, Cross Country Tracks, Drag Races, and Street Races to take on.  Or, you can just head off to explore the world however you see fit.  In each of these different disciplines, there’s a unique progression system.  Compete and do well in any of these different races and you’ll level up this discipline to earn different rewards.  These range from customization options like Quick Chat phrases to things like Wheelspins which will give you a shot at winning cars, clothes, or cash.  The races are more than enough when it comes to content, but there’s a ton of other stuff to do as well.  This includes things like Speedtraps, Drift Challenges, Stunt Areas, and Hidden Barns.  What loosely ties everything together is the story aspects of Forza Horizon 4 though.

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There are a number of different story sequences in the game which task you with completing a multi-chapter series of events in different scenarios.  Like the opening story sequence, for example, which has you working as a movie stunt driver to handle some unique cars and complete different objectives for a movie director.  Later, others open like the Drift Club, which has you tackling different drifting objectives.  Or, later, one becomes available where you’ve partnered with another driver to open a rental car business called World’s Fastest Rentals.  The task at hand is to simply set top speed challenges with some of the rarest cars in the game.  All in all, these story sequences feel a bit under-cooked.  There feels like there was a real chance to make these something special, but with 10 Chapters in each story, things do start to get repetitive.

It also wouldn’t be a Forza Horizon game if this one didn’t offer the Showcase Events of its predecessor.  You will once again be treated to some of the coolest races in the game once you’ve progressed far enough.  You’ll be racing against hovercrafts, jets, dirt bikes, a locomotive, and there’s even a Halo Showcase which has you racing the Warthog with Covenant Banshees zooming around the course.  These have always been some of the more unique events in these games, but they’ve rarely offered much challenge so much as they do offer eye candy or wow factor.

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Horizon 4 is much less static than previous games in the series though.  The new seasons mechanic is one of the most highly touted features of the new game, but its implementation is somewhat unique.  Once players progress into the shared world of Forza Horizon their game will be on a timer where the seasons change.  During each, the world of Horizon 4 will change with them.  Snow will fall in the winter.  Leaves will turn brown in the fall.  Spring will bring about rain storms.  Summer will be bright and vibrant.  Each season there will be new challenges to complete which will have you competing in different types of seasonal events.  If you enjoy the driving of Forza Horizon (and not much has changed over the last few iterations in this regard) there are ton of maps that have been created by the Playground Games team, and each of these races can be raced against the computer in Solo Mode, in Co-Op, against rivals or in PvP.

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There are bunch of different ways to play with others.  You’ve got the player versus player competitive matches which you can hop into with anyone in your current game session.  You can play unique multiplayer events that offer some variety modes that are much different than your standard races.  These modes are also carry over options from previous games, but do offer a nice change of pace from the car collecting grind (Infected, Capture the Flag).  Team Adventures allow you to jump quickly into online sessions for public or private matches and league competitions.  Alongside this, Horizon 4 has a Forzathon Live public events system that will rally players in the open world to perform tasks.  Do well and you’ll earn Forzathon points that can be used to purchase unique items in the Forzathon shop which will rotate on a timer.  When you combine the wealth of customization options in terms of car tuning and paint job creation, the auction house, and all these different ways to race, there’s a ton to do in Forza Horizon 4.

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All of these ways to play the game are for nothing if the gameplay isn’t rock solid and Forza Horizon 4 once again lives up to the name with fantastic visuals and all the attention to detail that the mainline Forza series offers.  The gameplay does skew towards the arcade side of the racing spectrum, offering players a little more freedom to do things across the world that have no place in reality.  In all of its different facets, Forza Horizon 4 is a lot of fun to play whether on pavement or off road.  It’s enjoyable to test out and collect the 100’s of different cars that are available in the game.  If you can’t find something that’s fun to drive in Forza Horizon 4, you probably don’t like arcade racers.

That said, there have been a lot of these game already and Microsoft has been on a relentless pace with their Forza releases.  While Forza Horizon 4 continues to meet the high bar of expectations that other entries series has set, it’s hard not to have a little bit of franchise fatigue at this point.  The changes here are largely unnoticeable when it comes to presentation aspects of the game and the gameplay hasn’t changed much at all.  That’s not to say that Forza Horizon 4 isn’t a beautiful game, Xbox One X owners will get 4K 30FPS experience that really shines and the game looks great on the standard console as well.  This isn’t a huge surprise, the Forza games have always been state of the industry.  The problem is, the industry hasn’t moved that far forward in the last few years, leaving these games feeling like marginal upgrades.  I suppose that not all people will have this franchise fatigue, but I’ve certainly started to feel it with Horizon 4, even if it’s still easy to admire for its high level of quality.

Forza Horizon 4 Video Review

Horizon 4 is also a game that’s going to require an incredible time sink, and it’s designed to be just that.  All of the things listed above funnel into the game’s main progression system, which is measured by your garage full of cars, creations, and avatar customization items.  Progression in the game does feel like a bit of grind at times, with cars being locked behind in-game currency for the most part.  After sinking many hours into the game during this review, the new cars did seem to trickle in at a snail’s pace and the money being earned felt small compared to the exorbitant prices that high-end cars cost.  The Forza series has had these progression problems in the last few iterations, and it doesn’t feel like it’s been solved here.  The solution that they do offer is a premium “VIP” Add-on for the game, which offers double credits for race rewards as well as more wheelspins.

For those just looking to hop in and play some casual racing, Forza Horizon 4 really doesn’t feel like it has that much to offer as you’ll need a pretty big time commitment to start driving the expensive high-end vehicles.  With challenges tied to specific vehicles, it can be quite expensive to get in and try to complete challenges, especially if you have a multi-million credit mountain to climb just to begin it.

Horizon isn’t really surprising players any more, it’s the fantastic racing and visual presentation from the mainline series in an open world setting. Playground Games continues to follow a predictable trajectory when it comes to what’s been added this year in terms of new features.  The new weather mechanics being the biggest difference and focus on the shared world experience certainly feel like it has more to offer than previous games.  For those that want to sink many hours into the game and continue to keep coming back on a weekly basis, Forza Horizon has a ton to offer.  Others might simply be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of tasks at hand and options to explore.  Whatever the case, all Xbox Game Pass subscribers will be able to jump in and see if it’s for them on day one.

The Verdict

Forza Horizon 4 is likely the best looking and most robust game in the series, even if Forza fatigue is beginning to set in with only slight changes to the established formula in this release.

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Forza Horizon 4

  • Available On: Xbox One, Windows PC
  • Published By: Microsoft Studios
  • Developed By: Playground Games
  • Genre: Racing
  • US Release Date: October 2nd, 2018
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "Forza Horizon 4 is likely the best looking and most robust game in the series, even if Forza fatigue is beginning to set in with only slight changes to the established formula in this release."
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