I stepped away from the Forza series for a few years, getting my racing sim fix through Assetto Corsa, an amazing racing simulator. Moving back to the series, it’s clear from the initial gameplay in Horizon 4 that it is a game that takes entertainment seriously. It’s set in an open world, a reimagining of the UK that you can explore as you please. In Horizon 4, the seasons change over time, exposing you to sun, rain and snow. In the first five or so hours of the game, the seasons will change as players build ‘influence points’. After that, players will make get on the Forza Horizon roster and the seasons will change every week allowing them to experience the various weather conditions together online.

Within the first five minutes of beginning your Horizon 4 journey, you’ll drive multiple cars in different conditions from rain to snow, tarmac and mud, taking on huge jumps and pushing supercars to the limit on the highway. There are fireworks and fighter jets overhead. And the graphics are stunning. It’s also a game that doesn’t push microtransactions to get ahead. It seems that Forza Horizon 4 focuses on one of the most important feature of any game: fun.

 

Physics

While Horizon 4 leans to the simulation style of racing game it is certainly more accessible than the other titles. With all the assists turned off (ABS, traction control, stability control etc) Horizon 4 is fairly realistic but isn’t overly demanding. Cars will oversteer but it can be managed easily and without the fear of having to manage the weight of the car penduluming violently from side to side. Cars will understeer a too but that can be resolved with a bit of handbrake, regardless of pace or weather conditions. And without traction control or ABS, you can definitely spin the wheels or lock them up, requiring some subtlety in control inputs. Note that this game definitely shouldn’t be played with keyboard and mouse.

My only gripe is that there might be too much grip in Forza Horizon 4. Some cars are more willing to slide around than others but I was a little surprised to find that my F355 Berlinetta was very drivable in the snow without snow tyres. By no means is that a deal breaker though. I was a little more encouraged when driving a Pagani on the dirt. It was a squirrely affair and gives cars like the trusty WRX or Hilux a purpose when exploring off-road sections of the map or competing in rally/cross country events.

Upgrading your suspension, tyres, performing weight reduction and brakes all have a very tangible impact on the way cars handle. So finding a balance between increasing the car’s power and handling is important if you want to be competitive come race time.

F355 Forza Horizon 4

Ferrari F355 Berlinetta in the snow

 

Cars

The best quality of any Forza games is hands down, the huge roster of cars and the ability to upgrade them. At first, the number of available cars was almost overwhelming. There were just too many to go through. I was happy to find most of my favourite rides in the car list but was a bit disappointed when I got to the Toyota section. No Supra, no AE86…No Mitsubishi or Luxus vehicles either. This is obviously due to licensing issues but amongst the literal hundreds of others cars, a few missing favourites isn’t that big of a deal.

What I didn’t expect when getting into Horizon 4 was how much I missed Forza’s car upgrade system. Want to make the FWD Civic into an AWD? Sure thing. Want to put a V8 into that BRZ over there? Go for it. How about putting a supercharger into that fairly ordinary looking, naturally aspirated street car? Oh yeah. It’s a deep system and one that allows you to take mundane cars and turn them into petrol guzzling monsters. And it really is a lot of fun.

Car upgrades in Forza Horizon 4

Car upgrades

 

Graphics

The graphics in Horizon 4 are fantastic and the amount of detail is nothing short of awe-inspiring. While driving through the country-side, you’ll see deer in the forest and encounter chickens running across the road. Rain and snow build up on the windscreen and is wiped away by the windscreen wipers in a manner that is unexpectedly satisfying. Lights and flares are reflected off the bodies of cars beautifully, and headlights cast shadows off objects at night. The interiors of cars are detailed and fairly true to their real-life counterparts, as far as I can tell. Forza Horizon 4 is an all-round good looking game.

With the graphics settings on High, the game was putting out over 120 frames per second with no stuttering at 1080p on my mid-tier gaming PC. On Xbox One, players have the choice of playing in 4K at 30 frames or in 1080p at 60 frames. Clearly, the game is a well-optimised one. Particularly beautiful are the twilight hours and those times of the day make cruising 8 kilometres to the next race an absolute pleasure.

WRX STI racing in Forza Horizon 4

The legendary WRX STI

 

Gameplay

There’s variety in ‘missions’ which keeps gameplay fresh, despite some being over the top with huge jumps (that should result in a thoroughly destroyed car) and some that involve less than believable scenarios. But these missions are fun and break up the standard point A to B sprints or small track races. There are also dirt races, illegal road races, drag races, cross-country sprints, drifting areas and I’ve even encountered a Halo themed race featuring Banshees and Cortana. You’ll also progress through a career as a stunt driver that will lead to you performing dramatic stunts and driving exotic cars, and the seasonal showcases give you a chance to drive new cars in interesting settings.

Ford RS200 in the Spring rain

Ford RS200 in the Spring rain

Customisation is big in Horizon 4. You can dress your character in unlockable clothing and make them do little dances when you win races – features that don’t really interest me but features that some will surely appreciate. Unlockable content can be earned through levelling up or through a slot machine style system though that you don’t need to pay real-world dollars to access this feature (thankfully).

The racing itself is satisfying and has various difficulty settings that impact how much of a reward you get for winning. You can have the ideal racing line displayed on the road ahead of you, you can use ABS, traction control and stability control too if you wish. As with most Forza games, turning these features off give you a larger payout should you win the race. The AI is fairly intelligent and it doesn’t behave in a manner that leads to frustration like in other games and has a number of difficulty settings, which again affect how many credits you earn for winning races.

Car jumping over hovercraft in Forza Horizon 4

Jumping over a hovercraft

In the more over-the-top scenarios, you’ll go up against unusual opponents like a giant hovercraft, a train and motocross riders. Beyond that, it’s a lot of fun to drive around the open map looking for hidden barns containing classic cars, going through speed traps as fast as possible, launching cars off cliffs, and weaving through traffic like you wish you could on the way to work. The map provides varying settings to drive your car through from small towns to a long open beach and dirt roads that wind through dense forests. It’s a large map that will take a few hours of high-speed driving to explore fully. Up north is Edinburgh, one of my favourite spots in the game, which provides some contrast to the more rural areas of the map with narrow city streets and tall stone buildings.

Overall

Forza Horizon 4 is an extremely fun game, plain and simple. It’s a game that doesn’t allow you to get bored and keep you up way too late at night. The huge roster of cars and the ability to tune and upgrade them more than makes up for the (sometimes) forgiving car physics. As do the beautiful graphics. The sound design is great, so too is the soundtrack which provides tunes from the drum and bass end of the spectrum to classical music like In the Hall of the Mountain King. The map is detailed and boasts a variety of different areas with long stretches of highway for those looking for speed and windy dirt roads with plenty of hairpins for those who are looking to slide around a bit. I’ll certainly be losing some more hours to this one.

Forza Horizon 4 is available now on Windows 10 and Xbox One.