Forza Horizon 4
Forza Horizon 4 almost overwhelms with the amount of great content it offers. Complete a race, and another three appear. Travel down a new road, and you’re alerted that you still have 500 more to discover. Hop behind the wheel of a new car, and the game dangles another dozen in front of you. As you pick away at each of the game’s 26 distinct campaign threads (yes, you read that correctly), you may find yourself distracted by hidden billboards, landmarks, seek-and-find missions, and instanced events that pop up at the top of every hour. Forza Horizon 4 offers an absurd amount of things to do, most of which are fantastic, and all of it is backed up by exceptional driving mechanics. This is one of those experiences that you just can’t help but lose yourself in, and Playground Games rewards you well for almost every second you spend behind the wheel.
After tearing up the Australian outback, the Horizon Festival moves to Great Britain in this installment. From the sprawling farmlands and quaint villages along dirt roads, this area of the world may seem too peaceful for racing, but Playground quickly reveals that you won’t just be looking at these sights from afar; you’ll be racing directly through them by any means necessarily. Ripping through wheat fields, smashing through fences, and launching high into the air to land on the rooftop of a century-old church are just some of the chaotic things you'll be pushed to do. Forza Horizon 4 turns Britain’s beauty and history into the ultimate playground for cars, complete with some of the biggest jumps you’ll see in a racing game.
Britain doesn’t just bring a different cosmetic charm to the Horizon Festival. Players also experience all four seasons that affect this region. Rather than just having certain sections of the open world be set in summer or winter, the entire play space transforms when a season rolls in. This means the open world features four distinct variations, each with varying driving conditions. During summer, a track may offer breakneck speeds on dry pavement, whereas the winter variation requires careful drifting across thick snow and treacherous ice. The weather greatly impacts the way you race, and sometimes forces you to retreat to your garage to bring out rides that are more suitable for the conditions. All four versions of the world are beautifully realized and add even more excitement to the already great racing mix.
The game begins with a lengthy three- to five-hour showcase that moves from one season to the next, but then settles into a weekly rotation for each. This brings about the problem of locking the player into the less-than-desirable conditions for a week, but players have the freedom to change seasons for specific races should they not enjoy specific weather. The dreaded Game of Thrones saying “Winter is coming” carries some weight here too, as racing is the most challenging in this season.
Players can tweak just about anything in the game, and most events allow for any vehicle to be used. Should you struggle in a specific event, it doesn’t matter where you place – the game basically says you did your best and gives you the credit needed to move on to the next race. You are constantly making progress and earning experience, which in turn unlocks more races, activities, and vehicles. Nothing you do feels like a mistake. Even finishing in last place gives you gains.
Those gains are divided up between activities. This is where the lofty number of 26 campaign threads comes into play. Individual threads are set up for each of the distinct racing types, such as road, dirt, cross country, street, drift, and drag. Subtle story elements also come into play in four of the threads. One turns you into a stunt driver recording scenes for a racing movie. Another story is structured as a top 10 list for the greatest racing games of all time, where the player experiences races that simulate classic titles like Out Run, Smuggler’s Run, Project Gotham, and more. As great as these additions are to the Horizon experience, some of other the campaign threads focus on customization and push players to spend significant amounts of time tuning cars, creating blueprints, taking photos, and even using Microsoft’s streaming service Mixer, which gives the player in-game currency bonuses. If you are a completionist, having to invest time into every aspect of the game is can be annoying and something you don't want to spend time with.
Even if you complete every challenge in a favorite thread, you can still reenter these events to gain experience points and currency, which you need to unlock cars and homes (which are used for fast travel). Not being able to fast travel everywhere leads to some frustration in first 20 to 30 hours of play, as you’re forced to drive great distances to hit specific events. It does get better after that. The amount of distractions you find along the way also offers plenty to keep you occupied during those long trips.
Forza Horizon 4 also excels at multiplayer, allowing players to experience most of the game in cooperative or competitive ways. This means you can cruise around the open world together (and with up to 71 other players) to make progress in your own campaigns. You can also join up on the same team for racing, although it is more challenging, as it disables the rewind functionality. The hourly Forzathon events bring everyone together on the map for short but enjoyable challenges where every racer contributes points to reach a specific total for speed, jumping, and drifting. Succeed and you receive a unique type of Forzathon currency for use in a specific shop that contains even more goodies like new cars, horn sounds (of which some are based on other Microsoft games), and dance moves. Yes, Forza is jumping on the Fortnite hype train by removing the character from the car to perform a dance after achieving victory. You’ll even see characters doing the floss. All of the multiplayer options (included a game of tag with zombies as a theme) are good fun and reasons to veer off the single-player trail.
Given just how much content is in Forza Horizon 4, a good portion of it is blocked off until specific progress is made. If you’re hoping to play the game with friends, some frustration comes from this gating, as you must reach the second year of the competition to be able to take part in specific things like Team Adventures. This means you need to play roughly five hours of the game before you can take part in everything. Given how much fun this racer is, this isn’t a punishment, but it is strange that some aspects are blocked off from the outset of play with co-op being such a big hook.
Once Forza Horizon 4 opens up and the map is cluttered with points of interest, you really can’t ask for much more from a racer. It hits all of the right notes in terms of racing, exploration, rewards, and customization. Depending on your focus of play, you can turn it into a difficult game of precision that requires proper vehicle tuning, or a light arcade experience of tearing across Great Britain with no cares in the world. Forza Horizon has long been my favorite racing series, and this installment shows that there’s plenty of gas left in the tank.
Playground Games' latest racer is the best entry in a series of hits.