Forza Horizon 4 Review – It’s Crazy What’s Under The Hood

A few years ago when I was back in the UK for my grandad’s 80th birthday, a family friend took us out across the Dartmoor National Park in his beautiful pale blue four-seater Triumph. Zipping around the moors in this piece of classic British engineering was an incredible experience, and one not easy replicated. However, Playground Games, has somehow managed to capture the magic of that experience in Forza Horizon 4.

Finding an old Triumph Spitfire in an old barn, one of the many Barn Finds to seek out in the game, was incredibly exciting. I eagerly awaited for it to come out of the workshop so I could claim it for my own and take it out over the heather soaked English countryside recreated in the game. It nice to see so many classic British cars included as part of the game’s enormous roster of over 450 cars; taking them out across the landscape on which they were crafted is something special.

Hailing from the UK myself, I had mixed feelings about the game’s map. On one hand, what they do, they do very well. Edinburgh is a particular highlight. I could work off my memory navigating the city streets, finding my way to George Square where I have on several occasions stopped for a bite to eat. Tearing up the Royal Mile, making the ascent up to Edinburgh Castle in the street racing competition was something special, and taking a Jeep up to the crags of Arthur’s Seat equally so.

The game is obviously gorgeous as well. Even on my OG Xbox One, the visuals were jaw-dropping. The lighting and colours make for some spectacular drives that I imagine pop even more if you can play it with HDR enabled. Shadows obviously have been scaled down for the original console, and perhaps some of the textures close up on buildings, but otherwise, it is a feast for the senses. The accompanying playlist, divided up into in-game radio stations, has sufficient Kendrick Lamar and Jack White for my liking, which paired perfectly with some exhilarating drives in several of the games hypercars down Britain’s motorways.

The countryside also feels incredibly authentic, full of quaint, thatched-roofed cottages, dry stone walls, medieval churches and the occasional, tight laneway. Few barriers exist with the freedom to drive a buggy or 4WD through one of the stone walls – a little too easily perhaps – and bounce around over the fields and up the mountains of the Scottish highlands. There’s the occasional stunt park too, in old airfield spaces that seemed reminiscent of some of the places visited in Top Gear, but the vehicular playground sadly doesn’t compare to the likes of Burnout Paradise, a game still in unmatched in my mind to that regard.

I was surprised and a little disappointed not to see more British landmarks dotted about the map. Warwickshire’s Chesterton Windmill and the Uffington White Horse were nice to stumble across, landmarks you can cross of your map by dabbing in front of, given you equip the right emote. But considering the sheer number of historical sites littering the country, I’d have appreciated more. As good as Edinburgh is too, I think the map would have been right for another urbanised area, with cities like York or Bath being fit for the scale and historical tone too. Otherwise, there feels like a little too much countryside.

But, of course, you’re not playing the game for the site-seeing, it’s all about the racing. As we’ve become accustomed too, it feels top notch. Each car has a different feel and behaves differently again given the season. The varying seasons have been touted as one of the major changes to the fourth iteration in the Horizon series, and I’m glad to report they are more than just a superficial marketing point.

In the first few hours of the game, before you qualify for the Horizon roster and the seasons start syncing with the server, you can experience each of the four. Beside the obvious visual differences, the surface changes, most noticeable in the transition into Winter, pose an extra challenge. Mud feels uniquely different from snow, and icy roads much more challenging than the warm, grippy summer roads. In those colder months, my heavily modded Subera Impreza WRX, with snow tyres equipped, came in incredibly useful. There is some strategy in selecting and modding the right vehicle for the conditions, although I confess to feeling a little guilty about pumping 60,000 credits into my F-Type Jaguar, widening its stance in an effort to make it handle better in the conditions. I might have made it a bit too wide for my liking.

There’s no shortage of races to sign yourself up for, and they start filling up the map thick and fast. Admittedly, we were provided the VIP Pass for review, a purchasable addition that doubles the amount of Influence earned from each race, but I think players will find the progression paced well enough regardless. The huge amount of difficulty options, which also rewards you with additional XP at higher settings, also rewards those taking on the challenge favourably. With points always being thrown your way, no sooner than you’ve got a handle on one of the game’s event series another is being offered up.

I felt I was constantly being rewarded and offered new things. A lot of the cosmetic rewards were a bit unexciting; I could not care for new dances, top hats or novelty cars which I think is a sign of the times more than anything else. The game rewards you with wheel spins, where you have the chance to win some of the games rarer cars. Spinning through them though was a bit tedious when you’d walk away with new cosmetic items for your character, especially when loading between the sheer abundance of screens was a bit slow.

I cannot complain about a lack of things to do, however. Events are hugely diverse and have separate progression systems attached to them. Almost everything you do in the game has separate progression trackers and unlocks, and you can make significant headway in the game by sticking to the one genre you prefer. If you prefer the rallies, there’s little reason why you can’t concentrate on them and avoid any drag racing or drifting. The big set-piece Showcase were nice changes of pace, challenging you with some unique opposition, and the Stunt Driver challenges, where a director shooting an action film across the country tasked you with wild stunts in exotic cars, were a bit of fun.

The amount there is on offer in Horizon 4 is almost overwhelming. The ongoing support the game is promised to receive too, with new weekly challenges added with each season, the return of #FORZATHON and huge amounts of multiplayer options is mental. Thanks to the community tools, which includes the ability to download other players vinyl wrap designs and the brand new Route Creator a few weeks after launch, will ensure Forza‘s players can also help the game feeling fresh.

With so much content crammed into this game, navigating the games many menus is a little chaotic. Depending on where you are and what you’re doing the menus appear differently, and I found it a little slow and clunky in changing between cars, to customise them or purchase a new. Conversely, the map worked really well which, paired with the Horizon Life screen that separately tracked all of the different event series, allowed you to easily find events of interest. Otherwise, I found it a little easy to get lost in the menus. As an example, if you used the fast travel mechanic to return to the Horizon Festival site you were charged credits, but if you went shopping for vehicles you could return there free of charge by just exiting the menu thereafter. It just felt a bit muddled.

It perhaps just an unavoidable and forgivable side-effect of having so many systems in the game, which also includes numerous multiplayer and cooperative modes, and an in-game auctioning site where you can bid for some of the games most unique vehicles, including an incredibly high-stat Volkswagen Kombi I had my heart set on. There’s something in Horizon for everyone, and the amount of player freedom, to both explore the world and play through it your way, is truly commendable. The experience feels your own (characters even referred to me by my uncommon name and pronounced it correctly) but unobtrusively involves the wider Forza community. Racing fans will find an endless amount of enjoyment.

Forza Horizon 4 offers racing fans endless, ever-changing amounts of fun. Few racing games are as dense with a seemingly infinite amount to do and collect. It's immensely liberating too, allowing you to play through it however you like. The open-world might have been better populated with environmental features and I wish the menus had been a little faster and easier to navigate, but it's a small price to pay for a game with so much under the hood.
Incredible player freedom
Solid racing that genuinely changes with the weather
Endless amounts of activities
Ever-changing community centric world
Beautiful and accurate recreation of Britain
Cluttered and complex menus
Frequent loads
Open-world a little short on playground features and landmarks