I drive a modest Ford Focus for my day-to-day commuter needs (though it does have a wicked front plate). It’s dented and bruised from Walmart parking lots and careless college students, but it gets the job done, and I get from A to B with all the satisfaction that comes with a manual transmission.
Forza scratches an itch that I’ll never get to scratch though. I’ll probably never sit behind the wheel of a Lamborghini Aventador, turn the key on the monster engine under the hood of a Shelby Cobra, or even take a Ford Focus RS for a spin (unless Jennifer gives in on that one).
Come to think of it, that may be a good thing. Take solace in knowing that you’ll probably never need to be on the same stretch of road as me. To those that drive in the Oklahoma City area, I apologize in advance.
Luckily, I have an outlet for the base desires that I’ve never discovered the source of. The need for spe… Uh, whoops… Wrong game.
Shelby: Like any other Forza Horizon title, this one plays like a dream. One of those dreams where you get behind the wheel of a wildly overpowered supercar that you definitely cannot afford, then drive it in a manner that nobody who actually could afford the car, would. That’s Forza Horizon 4 in a nutshell honestly. Playground Games made another playground; that’s pretty fitting, isn’t it?
Once again, they’ve struck gold. You have a great deal of control over how your car handles, with Forza‘s standard difficulty settings, which give players a number of ways to alter their experience, with all manners of assist options. Forza Horizon 4 plays just as solidly as its predecessors.
I did notice that the map itself seems deceivingly smaller, even though I know that the map itself isn’t much different in size from the last game. That feeling of being smaller likely comes from the density of the content.
Jen: Forza Horizon 4 is my first Forza title to play any sort of length in. I’ve dabbled at a couple of races with the other titles while Shelby busied himself with something else, but I haven’t ever taken the wheel myself and plunged headfirst into the game.
For my first racing game since one of the Need for Speeds back on the Playstation 1 or N64, I am beyond impressed. I knew, from watching Shelby play other Forza titles, that the game has brilliant graphics and also includes a bit of a story, but I didn’t know how much I would enjoy the game.
Since this is under the Gameplay header, I’ll talk about that. The driving is much more intense than someone would experience if they only ever played GTA V or any of the Halo games. This is an actual racing game – you, you know, race against people.
The vehicles are affected by the weather (how freaking cool is that?!) and the type of ground (dirt, snow, water, ice, etc.) that you find yourself driving on. Hit a puddle at the wrong angle and your car will veer off into the freaking sunset. Hit a patch of ice and brake? You better hit that rewind button, hun, or kiss that big W goodbye. Trust me, it’s happened to me on more than one occasion.
You even get to customize your vehicles, pretty sure you could do that in the other ones, but seriously this allows you to have the best car in any given race!
Shelby: It’d be an understatement to say that Forza Horizon 4 looks absolutely phenomenal, and I’ve had the privilege to see what it’s like on multiple hardware setups for the Xbox One. When I originally started playing it, I did so on my 1080p TV with my original Forza 6 edition Xbox One. Then came the purchase of an Xbox One X for my birthday, and despite only having the same 1080p TV to see the effects of “supersampling” and better performance.
Then my beautiful wife (flattery only gets you so far, darling) gave me what I can only assume is an early Christmas present… A 4K television, which completed the Forza trifecta.
All I have to say is that this is the definitive experience (either on a 4K capable PC or Xbox One X, that is). Still, there have been some concessions to get the game to run on Xbox One apparently, because the Xbox One X version forces you to choose between running the game at a solid 60 fps or displaying natively in 4K.
I chose the former, because good lord is it perfect for racing.
But enough about technical stuff. Partly because I don’t work for Digital Foundry, and mostly because I’d rather just gush about how awesome the game looks and feels instead. It’s clear to me that Playground Games has been pushing the envelope of the technology they have access to, from their first foray into working with the Forza license with the original Forza Horizon and its rally racing expansion, to introducing more and more weather effects and open-world activities. Where their technical skills truly shine however is in the different seasons.
It probably helps that I have a huge crush on games that exhibit excellent snow effects.
It’s just a shame that the custom soundtracks in Forza Horizon 3 didn’t last. It was nice to cruise around while listening to The Offspring. I mean, I guess I can still do that, but it was cool to roll into one of the festival sites and hear a favorite song of mine playing as if the band was there.
Jen: You guys should know by now that I am a big fan of amazing visuals in video games. When I played (ahem, after I saw the opening scenes from Shelby booting it up) Horizon: Zero Dawn, I saw what beauty can be brought to the video game industry. Forza has not let us down in this aspect at all.
The aesthetics are more beautiful than on any other Forza title. Each title that they release only gets better (I’m convinced this is due to some level of wizardry). The colors pop and, as you’re cruising cross-country in your Lambo, you actually can feel like its you – in third person – driving through some random person’s field.
We don’t believe in roads in Forza Horizon 4.
Shelby: Not content to let the Horizon Festival take place in one part of the year, Playground Games instead decided to have the game cycle through each season of the year. The lengthy introduction drags you through each of the seasons before dropping you into the current season itself. Interestingly, each season also carries with it specific activities and challenges, on top of the normal happenings. It’s difficult for me to want to pin down a favorite time of the year honestly, but I’ve probably had the most fun during the Autumn, though that also might have something to do with the changing of the leaves. Obviously, the change of seasons carries with it alterations to the world itself, and your game can behave differently depending on the time of year you’re playing in. For example, playing during the Winter season brings in snow and ice, which changes the way your vehicle grips the surface you’re driving on. What was once a lake could now be frozen over. I’ve noticed that Spring is much more rainy, and Summer and Autumn are drier while still giving a cosmetic change to the world.
Actually, that’s a lie. It’s all to do with the ridiculous fun that Playground throws at you left and right. Carrying on in the tradition of this arcade/simulation racing series, Forza Horizon 4 pulls out nearly every stop and allows you to go wild. Just as before, every vehicle is fully customizable, both cosmetically and performance-wise. Hell, just like with Forza Horizon 3 two years ago, you can even customize your races as well, down to the season, weather, and time of day.
Thankfully, they didn’t continue with the festival organizer thing from the previous game, because while it was rather unique, it started growing a bit stale towards the tail end of my time with it. One might say that Forza Horizon 4 goes back to the roots a bit, where you’re just a participant.
A participant that can buy houses and start a rental business of sorts. And have free reign to ignore the United Kingdom’s infamous speed cameras. And be a general nuisance to the local livestock.
Jen: Shelby informed me it was impossible to run over the livestock in the game. I spent an unknown amount of time chasing a herd of sheep in my red Audi A4 to no avail. However, I eventually – unintentionally – ran over a deer later on in the game. That’s originality.
Beyond being a sadist in an E rated game, the changing of the seasons was a brilliant touch to bring to the game. I’d have to agree with Shelby that Autumn is my favorite season mostly due to the leaves changing colors. Winter is the worse because I suck at driving in the snow and ice (I’ve lived in Oklahoma my whole life, what did you expect?) and the other two seasons (they don’t get a mention) just aren’t that exciting.
Remember my puddles statement earlier? Yeah, I had a small road lake nearly ruin a crappy race I was in that took place cross-country… I probably was sleep-deprived or hangry but that’s beside the point – puddles are bad, stay away. Ye be warned.
Besides the changing of the seasons, you can now buy a house in different spots on the map – for in-game money… I only have one because I am saving for a Bugatti – which I am told is not the fastest car in the game but I don’t give a damn, I’m still buying one.
The other original item, although I am not sure this is a good one, are the cosmetic pieces you get during wheel spins. That’s right folks, you can now earn mittens or a t-shirt for your character that has no personality… Instead of money, or a car, or – you know – money.
STORY AND MULTIPLAYER
Shelby: As I stated earlier, Forza Horizon 4 kinda does away with the whole “You’re the festival organizer!” thing. Sure, you can still create custom races and do pretty much whatever the hell you want, but you aren’t the head honcho this time around. It’s back to the old rise through the ranks type of experience as you find any way you can to make a splash.
Honestly, I can’t really recall what the game is about other than racing, but then again, when’s the last time you played a racing game that had a story you actually cared about?
I know… Need For Speed Carbon was great, but I could only tolerate so much of the D-list acting alongside the horrific boss races.
Instead, Forza Horizon 4 is mostly about buying cars, having fun, and doing pulling off some crazy stunts.
What’s better is that you can still do all of that with friends, and you can even jump into public free roam if you’re bored. There’s even a bit of public activity to take part in, which makes it worth jumping into a public session while you’re driving around. Forzathon Live, as it’s called, occurs at regular intervals in those public free roam sessions, drawing people together to complete group challenges like hitting speed and jump distance goals, all with the added benefit of earning Forzathon Points which can be used to get some rare stuff. You can also earn the same points by completing daily and weekly challenges on your own too, so there’s that.
Then there are the plethora of game modes to take a look at, like capture the flag and king of the hill style modes, alongside the usual races themselves. However, my experience with playing online in races mostly involved getting rammed into by competitors while one or two skilled players shoot off into the lead and leaves everyone else in the dust.
Interestingly, Playground found a way to make the rewind feature work while playing against others, but it functions mostly as a reset option, and I’ve yet to find a situation where making use of it actually helped me at all. In fact, I’d say it’s safe to say that if you find yourself in a situation where you need to use the rewind option, you’ve probably lost.
Jen: I found myself not being able to focus on the races or anything game related any time Shelby joined my game. I felt bad having him in my races because 1) he was already so far ahead of me level wise and 2) he is a better driver than I am and I always end up messing up the race for myself.
There isn’t much of a story, not one that has you going “Oh my gosh I can’t believe that just happened!” but there is a story there. Being a contestant gives you a reason for being at the event instead being some weirdo who shows up for no reason and they let stay, because reasons.
But that’s it, it’s a racing game so it doesn’t need a Bioware level story line.
The story gets the job done though. I could do with a little less talking from your sponsors or whatever they are. They get in the middle of my menu perusing.
Shelby: It should be obvious that Playground has found a winning formula for their part of the Forza franchise. I’m inclined to think that others agree with this sentiment as well, considering that Forza Horizon 4 received the illustrious “Sports/Racing Game of the Year” title at this years Game Awards (for what it’s worth I suppose). Part of that formula for success is the fact that in their open-world racing, you’re free to roam about and do as you please.
For instance, when Jennifer started playing, she worked her way through the races in a structured manner. I, on the other hand, spent hours upon hours just driving around and completing random objectives, like “discovering” all the roads, trying to get three stars on all the speed traps and jumps, and doing the stunt and business side activities.
Around the time the game came out, I had just been switched to a 3pm-midnight shift at work, so I had the entire morning off. I remember on the weekends, Jennifer would see me playing and she’d make comments about it being ridiculous how little progress I’ve made in the game despite playing it so much.
But the key component here is that both of us were having fun.
Jen: There are a lot of quests/events that you can do in Forza 4 but, if you’re a bit of a completionist like I am, that’s not helpful in a game like this.
I wasn’t interested in finding all of the roads, what distracted me was finding the Bonus and Influence Boards. Not that I needed to find them but because I hated driving by one and not smashing through it.
Another distracting item is the map. There’s a lot going on in the map. You finish a race and three more similar to that one show up, and there are several races that differ from one another so then you’ve got a huge pile of races.
I try to be organized but having tons of races to choose from just gets a bit out of hand. Having so many choices doesn’t allow me to choose my next race by way of knocking them out in sections. Top right is done, then go to top left, then bottom left, you get the idea? This can’t happen when new races open up randomly on the other side of the map where you just completed your last race.
I need uniformity for my gaming process. I’m a bit neurotic.
Playground created a damn near perfect open-world racing game. Sure, it has its missteps like the stupid wheelspins which give you tons of cosmetic BS instead of things you can actually use, but other than that you’re just left to do whatever your heart desires. Furthermore, the wide scope of activities, customization options for your cars and races, variance in racing environments and conditions, and even the studio’s track record for excellent post-launch content all make for an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Have you played Forza Horizon 4? What’s your favorite part of it? Least favorite? Is it something you’d even play?
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