FORZA HORIZON 4 [Review]: Winter (and Spring, Summer, Autumn) is Coming…

“Monsignor” Travis Moody

Welcome to New Horizon. I’ve been trying to figure out a good time to review Forza Horizon 4, the follow-up to my 2016 Game of the Year. Well, last night — around the time that Ultimate Edition owners gained early access to the game — a noticeably rare achievement chimed upon hitting level 20, having garnered enough “influence” to qualify for the Horizon Roster.

Forza Horizon 4 sorta becomes New Game+ after that…

Once the second summer season is unveiled at around 5-6 hours of gameplay, racers will co-exist with everyone else who qualifies for New Horizon. This is the chief difference in gameplay between FH4 and FH3. On the surface, the weekly climate change doesn’t appear like enough of a new thing to the more casual player; but it’s the adjustments you make in each cycle that offer an exciting array of diverse gameplay and challenges. The same Cross Country field race you whooped through in the spring won’t be the same when autumn’s torrential rain turns that same hilly grass to tire-gouging sludge; the Mustang you used in one summer sprint will be a.. M12-FAV “Warthog” in the slippery streets of winter.

That’s right–Master Chief makes a presence in FH4, and a lot more impactful one than you think. The Halo Experience Showcase is more than a chance to hop in a UNSC Warthog skin in the Scottish countryside. Cortana actually commentates the chase, a nice play on 4th level of Halo: Combat Evolved (The Silent Cartographer), complete with Banshees on your tail-end, Pelican gunship floating above and eye-popping Halo ring in the rear atmosphere. It’s awesome and you can run it back as many times as you wish.

How “Elite”.

It’s little quirks like these that help separate the Forza Horizon series from Forza Motorsport, and the Best of Bond car collection pack is a nice edition as well. I only wish there was an opportunity to swoosh around Britain to the signature Bond theme at will. Speaking of music, the soundtrack to this year’s Forza Horizon kicks bloo-tee arse! It’s so good I listen to every station, even stuff I don’t necessarily vibe to like Drum ‘n Bass (Hospital Records) and Classical (Timeless). The Block Party station has a nice mix of ol’ school boom-bap and modern trap-hop and the English radio DJ’s are a riot, although Metalheads will feel left in the cold with only alternative/punk riffs on Horizon XS. [Sad note: There is no new alternative to playing your own tunes a.k.a. the now deceased Groove Music inclusion, so you’ll have to run your tunes through the stereo while in-car engines and such can run off the TV…]

If you’ve played any Forza game before, you already know how great the game feels and looks. Visually, it really doesn’t get any better than this in our current gen, and driving mechanics are so tight that players of all levels and abilities have a chance to speed around and take brisk corners without any sense of frustration. As usual with Forza, there’s a wide range of race settings and sliders one can tweek to their own liking. If you really “suck” at racing games, you can still feel like Richard Petty in his prime and that’s a promise. I can’t tell you the amount of times I suffered an errant turn early on in a 3-lap race only to win by a hair down the stretch.

The name’s…

Now, one thing I unfortunately can’t comment on yet is just how this whole new shared world feels. One thing I did notice last night is that no racer can troll and persistently crash into another because he’s a 12-year old hick stock full on Mountain Dew and a bit angry that he doesn’t own Black Ops IIII yet. Human competitors will remain ghosts until you hit the action button for multiplayer racing.

Most races give you the option of going solo, running co-op against AI, PvP, or VIP; of course, Drivatars will take over the world if you choose to go alone. I’ve never been one to race online, but the introduction of Team Adventures and daily/weekly co-op challenges should change that; racing, to me, as always felt like an individual sport, and Horizon’s new focus on community delivers a neat dynamic–especially once you hit level 40 and conquer the surplus of race types FH4 has to offer.

Slippery when wet.

With different seasons come a set of unique races and challenge missions specified for that week. Last night was the first chance I had to check out the #Forzathon Live, randomized public events that seem cool at first: a glowing pink marker — complete with giant hovering blimp — rushes out all aware racers to gather to the hot spot for some big rewards. Sadly the activities are mundane, death-jumping/speed-trapping/zone-drifting literally back-and-fourth until the time limit is up or the group hits the goal. At least you’ll earn currency for an exclusive Forzathon shop. [Editor’s note: Since the Horizon Roster opened up for me last night and servers are now taking on the bandwith of racers who aren’t streamers or critics, I’ll have an update for this shared world experience for you on the next Geekdom Gamescast.]

While Playground Games chose to stay right at home for the locale, Great Britain is a surprisingly vast region to explore — seemingly more diverse than the Australian vistas of FH3. Edinburgh’s wondrous architecture presents some great street racing opportunitues, while the hillish terrain of Scotland offers a super rivetting challenge in the slippery slopes of winter and fall. Majestic castles, old town churches, rundown junctions, coastal shorelines, modern day highways, rocky hills and country farmland make up the majority of the British lands. The environment never gets dull, that’s for sure.

The Bridge is Over, The Bridge is Over…

Like the aforementioned Halo experience, Showcases are back. The few winners I’ve discovered thus far include a story that pays track homage to classic racers of yore (Test Drive, Ridge Racer) and kick-ass 1-on-1’s against a giant hovercraft and WW2 bomber. The rest of the Showcases, however, aren’t without their share of cheesy dialogue and frustrating no-response (verbal or not) from your cookie cutter create-a-racer. Again, there are a limited set of Abercrombie models to choose from the start, none of which you can alter their appearance, and your racer will never respond to any of the foolish crazy-talk of the stunt director and other such race-“masters” you meet along the way. At least there’s a generous amount of hip wardrobe and victory/showboat dances and taunts that make your character more fun in between takes.

No matter what your favorite race type is in Horizon, you can keep the wheels rolling. You’re no longer restricted to unlocking festival sites for specific activities. Yes! The new progression system allows stunt fiends to level up as long as they’d like; if off-road trekking is your thing, you can keep your cars nice ‘n dirty for hours. You can literally roam around Wales and stick to the street race circuit, if that’s your preference. The frustration of seeing only a quarter of your map available is no longer; rewards are much better and quicker to gather than Forza Horizon 3, and — best of all — there are no fucking microtransactions. There’s no reason for it; just a few hours in and your garage will be spoiled.

RED Dead or Alive.

The latest edition has 100 cars over its predecessor, bringing the number up to 450. Despite very few players having the game before last night, I already had sweet rides splattered with logos from Pokémon, Michael Jordan Brand and even Red Dead Redemption 2. Also new to Horizon is buying property. But choose wisely; these cribs ain’t cheap. Houses come with special perks and fast travel points, which means real estate is just another goal you can add to your already busy career.

If nothing else, the high marks and high praise Forza Horizon 4 has been receiving is finally turning more casual heads. Sure, the Xbox racer is destined to sell only a fraction of the amount of copies that PS4-only titans God of War and Spider-Man has, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t one of the best exclusive video games of the year, nor one you should ignore. Tis’ the season, Xbox players; we have ourselves a winner. 4.5/5 World English Bibles.

-Travis Moody

Playground Games/Microsoft’s Forza Horizon 4 officially motors into stores this Tuesday, October 2.

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