VIDEO games are at their best when providing a complete escape from the crushing grind of reality. It’s because of this that Forza Horizon 4 is one of the best automotive video games you can buy today.
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 this fourth instalment isn’t going to change your opinion.
For those that ‘get it’, Horizon 4 is a chance to turn your automotive fantasies into a virtual reality, set to the backdrop of the sprawling Great British countryside.
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 light bar, then smash your way through a Scottish forest? Welcome to the wild world of Horizon.
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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 entire English towns have allowed drifting in their 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. An 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 equation. This isn’t a game for realism fanatics who want to feel every bump in the road. It instead offers a more accessible entry-point that’s quicker to pick-up and play. That said, 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, 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 mud-laden backroads.
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While most things from Forza Horizon 3 carry over into this latest edition, the car list has been worked over, with the largest omission being the complete absence of Toyota’s road cars. But even with the Japanese giant missing from the auto show, Forza Horizon 4 offers more vehicles than you’ll ever find the time to drive, and a fantastic variety to cater to all tastes.
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, which add some pizazz to your cross-country thrash.
Forza Horizon 4 offers the kind of escapism that can engulf countless hours on the couch, and is on sale now exclusive to Xbox One.