If tasked with listing my Mount Rushmore racing games, Burnout 3: Takedown, Forza Horizon 3, Outrun, and Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast would be the titles I’d engrave into a large rock. Clearly, I have a preference for more arcade-like racing experiences, a liking that carries over to the Playground Games–developed Forza Horizon 4 (starting at $59.99). The open-world racer continues the series’ tradition of fast cars, gorgeous environments, and ridiculous head-to-head challenges. This installment, however, adds dynamic, world-impacting seasonal effects, deeper multiplayer integration, and a new progression system that lets you tackle Forza Horizon 4’s challenges as you see fit. Some of the new online features aren’t quite as thrilling as the rest of the package, but Forza Horizon 4 is a stellar racing game, one that represents many years of slick gameplay refinements.
‘Tis the Season
Like the previous series entries, Forza Horizon 4 revolves around the fictitious Horizon Festival, a loud and brash youth-focused racing competition. Last time, you played as a Horizon Festival organizer in The Land Down Under; this time out, you live the Horizon lifestyle by dabbling in various festival-related careers in the United Kingdom. The location change facilitates varied weather showcases, and it showcases Forza Horizon 4’s new feature, dynamic seasonal effects.
When you first fire up Forza Horizon 4, the game whisks you through a tutorial that offers a taste of the varied weather conditions. Spring is lush and green, summer is full of sunshine, autumn has beautifully colored leaves, and winter brings icy conditions. The season changes are more than just the application of new graphics; they make the world feel more alive more than any previous Forza game. In Forza Horizon 3, wintry slopes were added as DLC that represented one specific mountain region. In Forza Horizon 4 every track is impacted by the rising and falling temperatures.
For example, the scenic lake that you whiz by in the spring, summer, and fall may freeze over in the winter, allowing you to drive over it as an alternate route. Likewise, spring’s rain muddies courses, making cornering a chore. The seasons shift every Thursday, so you aren’t stuck in one for overly long. In addition, dynamic weather means that you could start a game under sunny skies and see rainfall before you cross the finish line. I initially scoffed at the season effects as just another E3 conference talking point, but when you consider Forza Horizon 4’s enormity and how each road is impacted by the changes, the feature is quite impressive.
You unlock seasons by earning Influence, one of the two in-game currencies. The other is gear-centric Credits. The XP-like Influence is earned by entering races, finding cars, and successfully completing challenges. In fact, Influence, along with the new My Horizon Life campaigns and fresh customization features, causes the racer to lean into RPG elements more than ever before.
While Forza Horizon 3 focused on expanding the festival, Forza Horizon 4 is a more personal affair. You now progress through the game by exploring more than 25 My Horizon Life story threads. Each of these represents a different way to spend time in the game world, including Road Racing, Drifting, and Stunt Driving. Everything you do in these career campaigns earns Influence, be it nailing stunts, taking photos, or creating sharable car decals or Blueprint race challenges. Even better, you aren’t locked into a My Horizon Life campaign; you can jump to a different one at any time.
In Forza Horizon 3, you build an avatar using a noneditable character model, name, and nickname, but this time out you can customize your character with gear and emotes as you progress through the game. Granted, you still spend the majority of your game time in a car. Need for Speed: The Run this is not, but the personalization adds to the fun times in multiplayer modes where you get to see your character celebrate after a win.
Your character is also seen when you interact with NPCs or venture into a house. In Forza Horizon 4, you can buy houses—hubs that act as your avatar’s base of operations. They each grant different bonuses, such as cars, fast travel options, and character customization gear. Houses don’t come cheap, starting at roughly 200,000 Credits and venturing into the millions. Like Croft Manor in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, there isn’t much to do there; you mainly fast-travel and tweak your character and cars.
On a less pleasant note, Forza Horizon 4 also has one of the worst examples of product placement that I’ve ever seen in a game. You can earn Influence by streaming (or viewing others’ streams) using Mixer, Microsoft’s Twitch competitor. People who stream Forza Horizon 4 on Mixer earn Influence every 2 minutes, with a bonus applied for larger audiences—a huge plus for high-profile streamers like Ninja. In short, the Mixer integration is an odd combination of the virtual and real worlds designed solely to increase Microsoft’s footprint in the game streaming space. It’s more than a little opportunistic (but not unexpected).
Solo and Multiplayer Madness
Forza Horizon 4 is as much an offline game as an online one, but, thankfully, PlayGround Games doesn’t force you into matches with strangers. Like Forza Horizon 3, this game uses Drivatars, AI-based competitors that are based on the driving data of the people in your Xbox Friends List, to populate your game world when playing solo.
Your Drivatar does the same when it enters your friends’ game worlds. You can also team up with Drivatars by rolling up to one, honking your horn, and forming a Convoy. With the right Skill perks, the cars in your Convoy can help you accumulate Influence at a faster rate or discover Barn Finds.
Barn Finds are rare cars that you find in barns scattered through the landscape. Some barns are easy to spot, while others require true exploration. Several Barn Finds are only available in certain seasons, so you’re encouraged to revisit landscapes as the temperatures change.
Online multiplayer is far more robust this time around. In fact, PlayGround Games made Forza Horizon 4 a synchronized world, one in which you can can challenge up to 72 other players on your server when in Free Roam mode. Thankfully, all rivals who aren’t people in your Xbox Friends List are ghosted to prevent griefing.
New to the series are hourly #ForzathonLive online events that group you with others in a session to work toward a combined group score in an activity, such as navigating a Drift Zone or nailing Danger Jumps. The #ForzathonLive events quickly become tedious without the game’s other open-world thrills, however.
On the upside, you can earn credits in #ForzathonLive that let you purchase exclusive vanity items and emotes from the Forzathon Shop. If you aren’t in the mood for #FozathonLive happenings, you can challenge others to standard multiplayer matches or participate in co-op missions.
A.N.N.A. and Showcases
Forza Horizon 4’s open-world design lets you navigate tree-filled forests, cruise through a sun-soaked urban environment, or go off-road and blaze a trail through the countryside. Riding shotgun is A.N.N.A., the Automated Natural Navigation Assistant that offers suggestions on where to go and what to do in the massive UK map. The K.I.T.T.-like driving assistant informs you of the many races in your vicinity, marks their locations on the map, and displays where My Horizon Life and Showcase challenges are located.
Showcases are wild The Fast and The Furious-style races against other vehicles. A favorite challenge tasked me with racing a sports car vs. a freakin’ hovercraft. Unlike the other races, Showcases are filled with cinematic moments, such as slow-motion leaps and cool camera angles that highlight the wonderful ridiculousness of it all.
If you’re into branded rides, you’ll drool all over your favorite gaming keyboard, gamepad, or racing wheel. Forza Horizon 4 contains more than 450 licensed cars to race, collect, and tweak, which bests Forza Horizon 3 by roughly 100 vehicles. They include cars from such prestigious manufacturers as Aston Martin, BMW, Cadillac, Ford, Lamborghini, and Mercedes-Benz.
The problem is that these licensed cars also mean that Forza Horizon 4 will likely vanish from digital marketplaces in a few years’ time when the automobile licenses expire, much like the original Forza Horizon and Forza Horizon 2. It’s a games preservation issue that needs to be addressed, and one reason that I value unlicensed racing games that can stand the test of time, such as Burnout Paradise and Split/Second. Still, the 1988 Lamborghini Countach I recently won in Forza Horizon 4 is sweet.
Naturally, you can’t bang up the cars too much when you get into fender benders or plow through rocky barricades (Forza games act as manufacturer showcases, after all), so don’t expect Burnout Paradise carnage levels. You can obtain new cars via the aforementioned Barn Finds, by purchasing them in the Forza store using Credits, or by playing Wheelspin. Wheelspin is a game of luck that you play as you reach certain progression milestones. They reward you with cars, Credits, and character customization items.
As expected, Forza Horizon 4’s cars look and feel extremely good. Both gearheads and dirty casuals will get a kick out of racing exotic and mundane vehicles. That said, you can spruce up the cars in your virtual garage by purchasing designs created by the Forza community using in-game Credits, changing individual part colors, or digging in with the built-in editing tool to create your own designs. You have the choice of creating cars that look as cool or as goofy as you want. Few things are as hilarious as seeing a $100,000 car cruising down the street with a giant Pokeball painted on its side.
The customization options extend to your cars’ performance characteristics, which is where the game’s more simulation-like aspects come into play. You can tune and upgrade tire pressure, gears, alignment, brakes, springs, and more until the ride handles just how you want. I rarely touch this stuff, as simulation features turn me off in racing games, but I’m glad that they’re there for people who enjoy such things.
This time around the Skills, Forza Horizon’s term for earned performance-enhancing perks, are tied to your individual cars, not your player character. Skills grant bonuses that reflect your ride. For example, if you have a favorite rally racer in your collection, you can trick it out with destruction and air jump skills so you can unleash carnage. Basically, Skills reward you for spending lots of time with your favorite cars.
Music plays a large role in the Horizon Festival experience. As you progress, you unlock six radio stations that cover a variety of genres, including classical, hip-hop, house, and indie rock. I lament that I can no longer create a custom radio station (a feature included in Forza Horizon 3 via the Groove music app), but the built-in stations aren’t too shabby.
In fact, there’s a Forza Horizon 4 moment I’ll never forget, one that draws a lot of its magic from the in-game radio. There was a moment in when I sped down a lonely road in a black Lambo, in the dead of night, with headlights piercing the dark. I switched stations, and Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All The Stars” from the Black Panther soundtrack thumped as I rode the British hills under the moonlight. All felt perfect in the world for a few brief moments. That is the Forza Horizon experience.
Under the Hood
Forza Horizon 4 is a console racer designed first and foremost for play on Xbox One, so it should come as no surprise that its corresponding PC specs aren’t particularly demanding. To boot up Forza Horizon 4, your gaming PC needs at least a 3.7GHz Intel i3-4170 CPU, an AMD R7 250x or Nvidia Geforce GTX 650 Ti GPU, 8GB of RAM, 60GB of storage, and the Windows 10 operating system. If you’ve bought or built a gaming rig in the last few years, you should have no problem putting the pedal to the metal.
My gaming desktop, which includes a 3.2GHz Intel i5-4460 central processing unit, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080ti graphics card, 8GB of RAM, and 2TB of storage, ran Forza Horizon 4 with ease. You can lock the game at 20, 30, or 60 frames per second, or opt to go with an uncapped frame rate.
I played Forza Horizon 4 with the frame rate locked at 60FPS, and enjoyed a near-perfect racing experience. The only problem? On occasion, the road textures didn’t load, resulting in me driving over a blank surface. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often.
Included are many graphics options, including Dynamic Render Quality, Motion Blur, and VSync. There’s even a mode for people who suffer from colorblindness. The game supports 4K resolution, too.
As part of Redmond’s Play Anywhere initiative, Forza Horizon 4 boasts cross-platform play with Xbox One gamers via Windows 10’s Xbox app, so you can battle with the best of the best regardless of your Microsoft gaming platform. Unfortunately, the console version’s HDR functionality didn’t make the jump to PC.
Simply the Best
Forza Horizon 4 is a remarkable racing game. I say that with each new series entry, but Playground Games somehow continues to push gameplay limits in what is, in my eyes, the premier racing game series. Although I see no need for a new Horizon every two years, it’s hard to argue with the results. Forza Horizon 4 succeeds its predecessor as my new Mt. Rushmore racing game, and I can’t wait to explore its world for long after this review is published. With a big update on the way that’s set to add new cars and fetaures, Forza Horizon 4 looks like it will get even better in the near future.