The Forza series has returned to fun, with Forza Horizon 4 following up last years’ more serious Forza Motorsport 7 and I’m welcoming the change with open arms.
The Horizon spin-off series was always the wackier cousin to the more simulation-focused main Forza Motorsport series, and I’ve always preferred Horizon myself.
This year the Horizon festival comes to the U.K, albeit a smaller version of it.
The map is the same size as the Australian map in Forza Horizon 3, with the big difference here being the four different seasons the map cycles through.
From the streets of Edinburgh to the tiny English villages outside of it (again, a smaller mash up of the U.K), the world will go through summer, autumn, winter and spring, with the seasons changing every Thursday in the real world, so everyone playing experiences the same seasons at the same time.
For your first couple of hours though, you’ll be brought through each season quickly enough, earning influence points to move on to the next one and finally at the end of spring, enough points to qualify for the Horizon festival, which is the point you join everyone else in the current season of the week.
While you’re driving around (after you get through the Summer Prologue) you’re in shared world with other players, so unless you decide not to play offline, the Drivatars are replaced with real players, although they are set to Autoghost so they can’t crash into you or block you. Autoghost is turned off if you’re playing against them though.
The world itself is absolutely stunning in general, and then becomes uniquely beautiful with the change of each season. The sunny vistas in summer, colourful leaves in autumn, bright snow in winter and lush green (and wet) surroundings in spring are a sight to behold in their own great ways.
Each area of the map also blends the different types of activities quite well, so that even mountainous or wooded areas which are perfect for the off-road events still manage to have good on-road races nearby.
Likewise, the city of Edinburgh and bigger towns and villages outside of it are perfect for smaller street races but still cater quite well to off-road events.
The result is you never feel like you have to drive out to the specific “off-road area” or have to travel to the “urban racing area”, whichever type of race or activity you prefer, it’s bound to be near you at all times.
The number of cars available is as impressive as you’ve come to expect in Forza game and apart from Mitsubishi, Toyota and Lexus, practically every other big car manufacturer in the world is present, and even one from out of this world, with the Warthog from Halo making a return.
A nice touch for the Xbox One version is the choice between Quality mode which runs the game in native 4K and HDR at 30 frames per second or the Performance mode which will give you 60 frames per second in 1080p and HDR.
Personally, I chose Performance as I prefer a higher frame rate above nice visuals, abut it’s great that console players have the choice, but I did test the game in both modes and even at 30fps Horizon 4 is more than playable.
Of course, PC players will have a lot more options depending on their machine, and the game is a Play Anywhere title so you do get access to the PC version if you buy the Xbox One version and vice versa.
A racing game with beautiful scenery and a boatload of cars wouldn’t be much use if the actual driving mechanics were bad, but thankfully the mechanics in Horizon 4 are flawless. Whether you want to turn on all of the driving assists and just have fun, or turn them off to make it more difficult and simulation-like (plus get bonus credits), you’ll feel like a pro racing driver and enjoy each race and free-roaming.
You’re almost always moving forward with your racing career too, whether you come first in every race or dead last, you’ll still get points and credits thrown at you, so you always feel like you’re going somewhere, but it doesn’t feel forced.
My only gripe with the game is how certain modes are locked behind playtime, such as Team Adventures which require you to reach year two of the Horizon festival. For a game promoting a shared world and co-op play, this can be a barrier to playing with friends.
There's also a decent degree of character customisation, so you should be able to find a driver who looks similar to yourself, and you then unlock new clothing items, emotes and car horns to further customise yourself.
Forza Horizon 4 has more than enough activities, races, showcase events and points of interest like beauty spots, speed cameras and danger zones to keep you busy for a long, long time. Combine it with beautiful visuals, a great soundtrack and great racing mechanics and it’s clear that Forza is still the king of the racing world.