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Forza Horizon 4 review: open-world racing done right

By Alex Affat, 10 Sep 2019 Reviews

Forza Horizon 4 review: open-world racing done right

With no new Forza titles in sight for the short term, is the expansive open-world game still worth getting into?

While Forza Horizon 4 has been on the market for almost a year now, we may be a long way from the next installment of the acclaimed open-world racing game. But that matters not, for Horizon 4 has been morphing and evolving since it hit shelves and servers, with the gaming experience today being markedly different from what was offered back in 2017. 

And that's a good thing for Forza fans. Given the next Forza Horizon is now expected to land as late as 2021 (a new Forza Motorsport title is next in line for release), these updates give Horizon 4 some fresh legs to bolster its appeal as a an accessible open-world arcade racer.

Read next: Forza Horizon 4 car list officially revealed

Horizon 4’s expansive sandbox-like world is still very much an attraction, and the developers have kept things fresh with two big expansion packs, numerous car packs and various free story updates to ensure there’s plenty to do across the virtual English countryside.

Before we go any further, it needs to be noted that the Forza Horizon series is either a love it or hate it franchise, and if you’ve already fallen on the negative side of that fence then this fourth instalment isn’t going to change your point of view.

Read next: Ford and Holden classics for Forza Motorsport 7

Yet in our opinion, the Horizon franchise lands right in the sweet spot between intuitive sim-esque dynamics and arcade approachability. If you’re a razor’s edge sim racer, Horizon isn’t for you. But for the keen car enthusiast – you’ll find the game mechanics are far more natural than straight-out arcade titles such as Need for Speed.

What you need for Forza Horizon 4

The Forza franchise is a Microsoft-exclusive series, so you’ll need either an Xbox or a PC. Gaming wheel peripherals are supported, but don't worry if you don't have one - Playground Games coded Horizon 4 to work well with the standard Xbox gamepad.

How much does Forza Horizon 4 cost?

Forza Horizon 4 Standard Edition is listed on Microsoft’s website for $99.95 – or for free if you are subscribed to Xbox’s Game Pass.

Forza Horizon 4 Deluxe Edition (includes the launch pack of Formula Drift cars, and the Car Pass which allows free downloads of all successive ‘car packs’) is listed for $119.95 - or $95.96 with  Xbox’s Game Pass.

Forza Horizon 4 Deluxe Edition (includes Car Pass, VIP Membership, Formula Drift Car Pack, Best of Bond Car Pack, and both the Fortune Island and Lego Speed Champions expansions) is listed on Microsoft’s website for $139.95.

Having said that, be sure to check out your local game stores as there’s a fair chance you’ll find a pre-owned game at a reduced price.

Want more? The Fortune Island expansion sets you back $29.95, and the Lego Speed Champions pack, $19.99, if purchased separately to the base game.

What’s it like to play Forza Horizon 4?

The pure scope of Forza Horizon is its biggest strength, not just in regards to the expansive open-world map, but the way the game lets you indulge in whatever your automotive proclivity desires.

If you just want to race – auto-upgrade your car and select one of the many community-created liveries and go!

Maybe you see racing as just a means to buy and collect more cars, or perhaps you like building cars to sell at the auction house. Alternatively, there are hundreds of players with far more artistic flair than us who dedicate hours producing replica racecar liveries, or even designing their own (which earn you in-game money every time they’re downloaded, used or ‘liked’).

Or perhaps you just like doing weird stuff.

Read next: Forza Horizon 3 set in Australia

Want to drop a turbocharged motorcycle engine into a Peel P50 and cut 9sec quarter-mile times? Horizon 4 lets you do that. Want to slap some bolt-on fender flares onto a Bentley Bentayga, along with an eye-searing LED light bar, then smash your way through a Scottish forest? Welcome to the wild world of Horizon. You can even finally give the Ranger Raptor that V8 you’ve always wanted to!

For the uninitiated, the simple premise of the Horizon series is this: you’re dropped into an event best described as the love child of a music festival and a car meet – which happens to span an entire country. Look, don’t think about the logistics too hard, try not to listen to the cringe-worthy dialogue and enjoy the fact that entire English towns have allowed drifting competitions to take place in their leafy neighbourhoods.

For Horizon 1 it was Colorado in America, then the South of France, before travelling to the Southern Hemisphere for an Australian extravaganza in Horizon 3. This most recent instalment takes place in a stylised blend of the landscape around Edinburgh and the Cotswolds. While it lacks the local familiarity that Horizon 3 provided, the Horizon 4 map feels more expansive, with a better mix of road styles and surfaces.

Car customisation is as extensive as before, with myriad engine swaps available, along with tuneable styling, suspension, brake, and drivetrain parameters. A welcome addition for Horizon 4 is the ability to modify track widths of certain vehicles to really nail the all-important stance.

In-game driving dynamics are enjoyable, albeit erring on the arcade rather than simulator side of the spectrum. This isn’t a game for realism fanatics who want to feel every bump in the road. It instead straddles the line between accessible entry that’s quicker to pick-up and play; yet far more realistic and natural than any other open-world racing game around. Each vehicle does have a distinct feel, and the difference in road surfaces and weather conditions does play a significant part in the driving experience.

Racing in Horizon 4 can get a bit repetitive, with only a small selection of event styles, but when you tire of squeezing your twin-turbo 8.0-litre V10 RAM 1500 up the inside of on-screen rivals, you can simply take the same car and explore the open world to your heart’s content. Almost nothing is off limits.

Weather plays a core part in the Horizon 4 experience too, cycling through the four seasons each week. Snow and ice-covered roads prompt a very sideways experience, while Autumn begs you to thrash your creations on muddy backroads.

While most things from Forza Horizon 3 carry over into this latest edition, the car list has been worked over and is absolutely massive. Forza Horizon 4’s car list is massive. It offered over 450 cars on launch but with successive updates the game now provides a massive 647 vehicles thanks to post-launch car packs, cars unlocked via story progression, seasonal rewards and various other unique means of attaining rare vehicles - and that number continues to grow.

In fact, developers Playground Games recently announced the return of Toyota to the Horizon Garage - a move that means the Big T is no longer exclusive to Sony and its Gran Turismo series. The JZA80 Supra is now back on the car list, and the AE86 Sprinter Trueno is set to join it in the coming weeks. The car list isn't the only thing that's evolved since Horizon 4 launched, however.

Forza Horizon 4 Toyota Supra

With recent reports that Forza Motorsport 8 will likely launch alongside the new Series X console in the fourth quarter of 2020, it’s possible that we won’t be seeing a new instalment of the acclaimed Forza Horizon franchise until 2021 – assuming Turn 10 and Playground Games continue their traditional alternating annual releases.

But it doesn’t look like the developers are leaving FH4 to rest on its laurels, as a recent free update has brought with it a host of new cars, as well as a vehicular ‘battle royale’ mode called “The Eliminator”.

Forza Horizon 4 Eliminator

If you’ve played any of the recent crop of popular multiplayer battle games like Fortnite or PUBG, Forza Horizon’s ‘Eliminator’ mode will offer a familiar formula. The lobby allows for a maximum of 72 players, with only one left victorious at the end. You get to pick your drop point, and there are loot boxes in the form of better cars littered across the ever-shrinking map zone.

While there’s no gunplay, Forza’s family-friendly take on vehicular warfare sees players battle each other by impromptu point-to-point races. Lose, and you’re out. It’s a race against time, and perhaps a bit of tactics, to find an upgraded competitive vehicle and survive within the confines of the map.

Overall, Forza Horizon’s Eliminator mode is a fresh take on the current wave of popular online “battle royale” games, and provides more than enough reason to pick up the game if you haven’t touched it in a while.

Forza Horizon 4 Eliminator

As an added bonus, Playground Games have added numerous vehicles unlockable through their new Eliminator mode, as well as rare and fresh vehicles unlocked through their dynamic seasonal challenges.

Since Christmas, new faces in the game include the Ferrari 488 Pista, Lamborghini Diablo GTR, Toyota Supra (one of the few easily attained  from the AutoShow); as well as a swathe of Renaults such as the Clio V6, Alpine A110, 2018 Megane RS and Clio RS 16 Concept.

The most recent update adds a number of ‘heavy hitters’ to the Eliminator game mode, including the Hummer H1 Alpha Open Top, Lamborghini Huracan Performante, Porsche 356C ‘Emory’ and the Toyota Trueno GT Apex. Some fictional additions include Master Chief’s M12S Warthog, and an off-road version of Final Fantasy’s Quartz Regalia.

Interestingly, both the Huracan Performante and Rod Emory 356 were a part of a leaked list of 120 alleged upcoming cars, found by sleuths deep within the game’s files.

Car names within the game’s internal files are not confirmed, but it does at least point to a whole host of additional content to tide us over until the next Forza Horizon instalment, which we could be seeing as late as 2021.

Are there any downsides to Forza Horizon 4?

A downside of Horizon’s evolution is its sound design, which has taken a backwards step. Not that the sounds themselves are bad, but there’s a lack of variety; many cars of the same cylinder count share identical exhaust notes. What is impressive are the detailed turbo whooshes, overrun crackles and backfires offering an immersive auditory experience. There are also a number of themed radio stations to tune into, should you need tunes to accompany your cross-country thrash.

Again, we have to stress – if you’re a dedicated sim-racing fan, Horizon physics will leave you wanting. Play something else if you want realism.

Verdict

Horizon 4 is one of those rare racing games that truly lets you play your way. There’s absolutely no stipulation that you have to progress through the game’s “story” at all.

Native game mechanics allow you get the most out of the game with nary any adjustment at all – but for the most nerdy of car-gamers out there, the game also allows you personalise your car into infinity and even adjust the most minute of details such as tyre pressure, camber and castor angles, gearing etc. It might not be a hard-core sim like its brother, Forza Motorsport 7, but there’s still plenty of scope to nerd out.

Yet no matter how deep into the details you want to go, the gameplay remains enjoyable throughout and punishes you for nothing.

Especially for those of us who don’t have hours to sink into a video game at a time, between work life and home life – the ability to jump into the virtual world of Horizon and escape reality in a car you’ve always dreamed of, sees this particular car game boast seemingly endless longevity.