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Forza Horizon 4 Review: Under its Influence

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G'day, UK!

Forza Horizon 4 is here, the latest arcade racer from Britain’s Playground Games. The developer spoiled us Aussies last iteration, setting the Horizon Festival along our sun-soaked shores; this time, Playground is taking the glory for itself –- not only is the developer’s home country the location of the latest festival, but likely its permanent home.

Horizon 4 is all about the Horizon Life, with your player character racing through autumn, spring, summer and winter to not only join the festival’s ranks but to spend the rest of his (or her) days racing around Britain. Customisation is king (or should that be queen?), with players able to change their gender, looks and clothing alongside pre- and post-race emotes. Engaged in a lifelong festival, players are also able to use their in-game currency to set down roots and buy a series of homes dotted along the countryside, ranging from cute little colonials to massive castles. The driving force behind Horizon 4 is to establish yourself… and enjoy the ride while doing so, of course.

Customisation aside, the functionality that makes Horizon 4 stand apart from Horizon 3 is its ever-changing seasons. A season, time of day and weather conditions are all fully synchronized for each real-life player across the entire world; we all change to a different season at a set time each week. As you’d expect, seasons bring changes to Horizon‘s tried, true and respected driving – spring and autumn feature muddy, wet off-roads while winter will lay loads of slippery ice upon the road and freeze shallow ponds.

While the seasonal changes make racing varied and enjoyable, the game’s visuals benefit the most from the new feature – I found myself continually stopping to use photo and drone modes to capture whatever new, picturesque vista greeted me over a hillcrest or around a new corner. While summer’s the easiest season to race in, I truly enjoyed winter and autumn for stunning looks (especially in HDR). I can only imagine what they’d look like in 4K; I opted for 1080p in 60FPS using my Xbox One X and I’d be hard-pressed to ever change from that. At 60 frames per second things run smooth as silk; that’s perfect when you’re flying down a small cobbled road in a Bugati Veyron (or one of the game’s other 450+ cars).

Rather than forcing players to wait a full month to experience each of Horizon 4’s in-game seasons, Playground starts things off in what could be called a 6-8 hour tutorial. It’s here that you’ll cycle through each season, getting small tastes of the game’s 25+ racing campaigns and driving conditions. Crashing through hidden boards, winning races and pulling off tricks in and out of competition earn you XP, Influence (aka fans or followers) and cold, hard cash – and each is important to acquire new customisation options, progress to the next tutorial season and buy more homes and cars. The game’s opening is the best way to experience all four seasons in one condensed hit – mirroring the demo we played at E3 2018 — though the opening spring showcase sadly gets reused when you make your way back to that season. It’s head-scratching; only five actual showcases feature in Horizon 4 and Playground decided to use one of those twice.

Things open up a great deal when you earn your Horizon wristband and enter the game proper. Here, you’ll begin racing around a shared world with other actual players (and thankfully with autoghost functionality turned on so said potential griefers can’t harass you in the open world). You’ll continue racing through each of the game’s disciplines — Road Racing, Cross Country, Drifting, Stunt Driving and more – but also gain access to race blueprinting and fun things like Horizon’s iconic barn finds. Forza stories also dot the map, offering the chance to play through a series of narrative chapters to gain skills and Influence. I enjoyed these stories immensely, driving in a movie production as a stunt driver in one and helping a video games blogger recreate iconic driving sequences in another.

The best bit of this shared world – and the reason to play online rather than switching to offline mode – is the game’s new Forzathon Live mode. At each hour, on the hour, a Live event begins, tasking all in-world racers to work together. Much like Horizon multiplayer of old, things kick off with each racer directed to a specific point on the map. Once there you receive your first directive: as a group, earn a specific amount of drift points or reach a collective amount of danger zone airtime, as examples. Success in that first instance means you move on to round two, and if successful there, round three. Forzathon Live challenges are absolutely the best bit of Horizon 4, offering a ton of fun in-between your normal race schedule. Better yet, they provide another type of in-game currency which can be used to buy more loot.

Rather than allow players the opportunity to buy desired customisation items, though, Playground has doled most of it out through Wheel Spins, a microtransaction-but-not system. You do have the opportunity to buy specific clothing items like a Union Jack t-shirt from the special Forzathon menu, but mostly allocation is out of your hands. While it would be very time consuming to go through Horizon’s myriad clothing options and buy them one at a time, I’d prefer that over the wheel spin system.

While no real-world cash is involved in the collection of customisation items, it still has that overall feeling of grossness that you get from in-game card pack systems. A real-world VIP purchase also provides tons of benefits like the ability to acquire a 5,000,000 Credit home that has the perk of doubled Forzathon points. While that’s a tad disgusting, the Wheel Spin functionality causes the most frustration – it’s very time time consuming to have to sit through the wheel spins themselves, even mashing the A button to skip most of the spectacle. Horizon 4 takes an unnecessary amount of time in order to show you that you’ve just unlocked a ‘whip it’ dance emote or Halo theme car horn, and decides to randomly lock you out of the opportunity to skip through some wheel spin animations.

I’m an open world scavenger, not a racer — so don’t expect technical data from me here — but actual racing is as fun as ever. Arcade-style racing is so much more enjoyable as compared to the perfectionist-style needed for the likes of Forza Motorsport and F1, and I delight performing crazy drifts, insane jumps and wholly unnatural off-roading in a range of vehicles. Actual driving feels just like it did within Forza Horizon 3, with the added challenge of the aforementioned seasonal changes.

If comparing actual driving in Horizon 3 to Horizon 4, not a lot has changed. In that respect, the Forza Horizon franchise is turning into a sports game – its userbase will eventually get to the point where it should be asking if this year’s upgrade is worth the purchase. While this will definitely factor in with Horizon 5, the definitive answer with Horizon 4 is an absolute yes — there are more than enough new features and systems to keep things absolutely fresh.

Forza Horizon 4 is delight to play, packed with incredible visuals, a colourful narrative, myriad customisation options, a star-studded soundtrack and a tremendous sense of style. It will easily keep any gamer engaged. The title heads to Windows PC and Xbox One on 2 October as part of the Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Play Anywhere programs. Early access begins from 28 September — if you can’t wait that long, a demo is available now.

 

9 out of 10

The good

  • Seasons impact more than you’d initially think.
  • Forzathon Live is great fun.
  • Polished, stylised arcade racing.
  • Absolutely gorgeous.

The bad

  • Gross microtransactiony Wheel Spins and VIP bonuses.
  • Lack of variety in Showcases.

 

Forza Horizon 4 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.