Forza Horizon 4 is your best bet at exploring beautiful, historic Britain short of actually booking an airfare. Bonus points if you just happen to be doing it sideways in an S14.
Two years ago, Playground Games took us on a beautiful roadtrip around our own backyard with Forza Horizon 3, set in the breathtaking beaches and barren deserts of Australia. Since that title’s release they’ve been hard at work on the next instalment, this time set in their own homeland of Britain.
This instalment’s Horizon festival, instead of being merely a summer event where the sky is always blue and the pastures evergreen, is a year-long adventure, which brings with it the game’s biggest overhaul. Instead of cruising around with the sun glaring off your windscreen all day and night, once a week (Friday in Australia) the seasons will change – summer, autumn, winter and spring will all roll on in an orderly fashion. Naturally, this brings with it more than just different leaf textures. In winter, you’ll be able to drive over frozen lakes you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Spring will make dirt racing more difficult, with the rain turning dirt into mud. Summer will heat up the roads, affecting how your tires grip. Autumn… is really just darn pretty to look at. It’s all over the marketing for FH4 and it definitely rings true once you go hands-on; seasons change everything.
When first booting up the new game, you’ll need to play for a few hours in order to ‘qualify’ for each season by earning influence points. This means partaking in different disciplines of racing, from dirt and street to cross country and even stunt driving (we’ll get to that in a sec). Each season also includes a showcase that gives you an appropriate car and really shows off what that three months (one week) of weather has to offer.
Being a yearlong, never-ending festival, your avatar is just as important as the cars you’re driving. You can pick from a few preset character models, but can then dress them up however you would like with all number of accessories – without even mentioning the emotes you can unlock. Be prepared to spend a solid chunk of your time deciding which colour Horizon shirt you should be wearing – only to change it when you win a onesie on a wheel spin.
Helping you out are some Horizon festival veterans. Anna, of course, returns to set your waypoints and guide you through the world, but you’ll also start to become familiar with the head of each racing discipline as you gain exp and level up in their respective race types – which is independent of levelling up in general. Levelling up specific disciplines earns you rewards and opens up more races in that category.
Towards the start of the campaign – your ‘Horizon life’ – you’ll be given a few cars here and there that will cover you for the bare minimum of most disciplines – some you can even use in multiple (heads up – the Focus RS is a great early pick). Of course, you can also unlock and buy cars through other means. Wheel spins (earned through levelling up) and super wheel spins give you the chance to get lucky and grab a car as a prize, you can straight up buy one from the garage, or you can stumble upon ‘barn finds’; rusty old gems that people have tucked away in a shed and forgotten about, for curious souls like you to find and restore to their rightful heights. Car packs are also available (for those willing to fork out the extra dollars) and include things like drift spec cars and James Bond’s favourites, undoubtedly with more to come.
Once you’ve found the car of your dreams (or something you want to just slam on 22s) you can head to the shop (metaphorically – it’s in the same menu) and tune your new child to your heart’s content. Change up the wheels, the body kit (there are over 100 presets sitting there ready to go; for example Rocket Bunnies), and even play around with the running gear until you’ve got exactly what you want. The game does a great job of guiding you, too, if you know you want to go crazy fast but aren’t quite sure on how to get there. Of course, you can also paint everything, and pull designs from others around the world too.
Forza Horizon 4 is designed to be a shared open world, and so it is technically an online game. The drivatars (other Xbox/Windows 10 accounts) that you see in your game in the open world are actually real people driving around near you. Fret not; you don’t actually have to talk to them, and the game’s clever autoghost feature means that they won’t be able to ruin your neck-snapping drift chain by hurtling into you, but you can team up with them if you want. There’s a handy little quick chat button on your D-pad that’ll let you say a simple ‘alright?’ or even offer to go for a cruise together. Those in the same shared open world also have the chance to participate together in the Forzathon Live Events – think public events in Destiny. These give you the chance to work as a team (no competition) in order to reach a goal within the time limit and earn rewards. Of course, if none of this sounds appealing to you, you can simply go offline with the press of a button in the menus. It’s really that easy, but we’d recommend at least trialling the online mode. You nNever know who you could run into.
It should go without saying, based on the studio’s previous effort with Horizon 3, that Forza Horizon 4 is an infallibly beautiful game. Much in the same way that Crazy Rich Asians could be construed as an elaborate tourism campaign for Singapore, FH4 does a brilliant job of illustrating the quaint appeal of Britain – even if some of it isn’t necessarily geographically accurate. This beauty is of course only accentuated by the change in scenery, with the greens of the trees dulling to a serene orange in autumn, and before long the roads look as though you’ve run over several pumpkins. It’s clear that the studio are working on a country close to home (in fact, it is home), and attention to detail is noticeable in every millimetre of the world. That’s without even mentioning the sublime standard set for the cars. Granted, the Project CARS and Gran Turismo series have long been the standard for model representation in-game, but given that Forza Horizon 4 is the closest most of us in the world are even going to get to a McLaren Senna, they’ve done a wonderful job of recreating it in-game. There’s plenty of map to drive around on, too, so you won’t be getting sick of the scenery any time soon. You’ll be spending a lot of time simply taking it all in.
Part of the immersive atmosphere created by FH4 is the music – and the best part is, that’s governed by the player. The radio in the Horizon games is a beautiful addition that lets players personalise their experience without the effort of having to craft playlists, and genuinely lets you listen to music you love without having to have an external music app running in the background. Bass Arena will always be my favourite station, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t discovered any new artists through the platform. It’s something small, but driving to great music really does make it that much more enjoyable.
We can talk all day about how pretty Forza Horizon 4 is and how brilliant the new seasons are, and that’s great and all, but what do you actually do? As we mentioned earlier, there are a number of different racing disciplines to complete in for both credits (money) and influence. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are influence and fast travel boards to smash, danger signs signifying huge jumps, beauty spots that’ll give you a look into Britain’s history, speed traps that’ll measure your top speed, and drift zones for you to test your wall taps. Additionally, FH4‘s new Horizon life model means you’ll need somewhere to live over your calendar-long stay, and has introduced the ability to buy a house. And yes, being in Britain, you can buy yourself a castle if you’ve got the coin. One of the easiest ways to earn cash is as a stunt driver on various movie shoots happening around the country. Each instance will let you earn up to three stars, and this helps to be your ‘job’ of sorts while the Horizon festival is going on in the background. Blueprints are back, so you can set your own limits for races, and there’s also the benefit of replaying everything in each season. It’s safe to say there’s plenty to do in FH4, even if it is just dropping a set in a Maloo.
Whether you are, in fact, laying down a set of straps in a Maloo, or simply going for a slow cruise in your slightly-lowered-but-not-widebody BRZ, you’ll easily be able to differentiate between the cars and their handling types. You can change driver perspectives from a number of different configurations so you can drive the way you feel most comfortable. It’s worth changing it up a few times (especially if you’re playing with a headset) just to hear how the sound designers alter the sound of the car dependant on if you’re inside or outside it. And of course, once you’ve got your favourite car to your favourite spot on the map, you can bust out photo mode and grab a quick snap for your followers; you can even use it in online mode. Each car that you cruise around in has its own skill tree, meaning you’ll have to spend a lot more time mastering everything if you want to truly be the very best, like no-one ever was.
Forza Horizon 4 is a shining example of a developer who’s proud of their work, and one that wants to do justice to the beautiful place they’ve grown up in. The locations are immaculate, the cars ready to be thrashed around, and the gameplay loop so virtually endless that you can find yourself losing hours when you only meant to sit down for one race. With new social features and the added bonus of a yearlong festival’s seasons freshening the game up once a week, there’s always a reason to come back to the stunning playground of Forza Horizon 4 – as if you needed anything but the Senna on the cover. It’s a breathtaking example of what an arcade racer can – and should – be. Go on – send it.