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Forza Horizon 4 review: Microsoft knocks it out of the park... again

While I'm not really a hardcore fan of racing games, I'm still a huge fan of Microsoft's Forza franchise. When I reviewed Forza Motorsport 7 last year, I walked away considerably impressed by the immersion and realism presented by the title.

So, when Neowin's Senior Editor Rich Woods reached out to me to review Forza Horizon 4, I almost immediately jumped on the opportunity. Emphasis on the word "almost" because when I reviewed Motorsport 7 last year, I was hampered a lot by the Microsoft Store (then known as Windows Store), which forced me to download the 95GB game multiple times before I could finally play. However, given how much fun I had with the title, I decided to take the plunge again with Horizon this year, and thankfully, faced no issues downloading the 65GB of files in the Windows 10 version this time around.

Microsoft sent Neowin a review code for the $99.99 Ultimate Edition of the game, which includes the following content:

  • Full game
  • Formula Drift Car Pack
  • Car Pass
  • Best of Bond Car Pack
  • VIP membership
  • Access to expansions #1 and #2

For gamers, this will also unlock the game on September 28, ahead of the October 2 general release. If you can't afford to purchase the Ultimate Edition, you can also get the $59.99 Standard Edition - which includes the complete game and the Formula Drift Car Pack if you preorder it - or the $79.99 Deluxe Edition, which has the same content as the Standard Edition, as well as the Car Pass. If you aren't content with spending that much on a single game, but have an Xbox Game Pass subscription, you'll be happy to know that Forza Horizon 4 will be available on it at launch.

So read on for my full review of Forza Horizon 4!

God Save the Queen

This year's Forza Horizon 4 is set in the United Kingdom, with a lot of races taking place on the countryside. Since I've always wanted to visit the UK, I was initially very excited about racing through various iconic landmarks. However, learning that it was set in a fictional version of the country was a bit of a disappointment.

That said, my initial disappointment about the location quickly dissipated during my first hour of gameplay. The game provided a variety of terrains that I could traverse at my own leisure. One moment I would be racing across a relatively modern part of the UK, and in another, I would be gliding across the fields chasing after sheep. And just to clarify, the sheep in the game are immortal. No matter how hard you try, there's no way your sheep-hating homicidal personality will be able to mow down the poor animals.

Then there's also the question about the visual fidelity of Forza Horizon 4, which is a bit of a redundant question at this point, in my opinion. For the past few years or so, Microsoft's Forza series has boasted the best-looking racing games without a doubt, and this year is no different. Forza Horizon 4 once again offers fantastic mouth-watering visuals at different times of the day. And I can't stress this enough but it's insanely well-optimized. Even on "High" settings at 1080p on my late 2017 HP Omen 15 laptop with an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti (4GB) and 8GB of RAM, the game clocked in at almost 60fps on almost all occasions save a few, and even went up to 75fps on my 120Hz display. However, for the sake of smoothness in gameplay, I locked it at 60fps.

As I don't have an Xbox One X or a 4K display, I wasn't able to test it on either configurations. However, Microsoft says that it has two modes for Xbox One X players: the default option is "Quality" which offers native 4K resolution and HDR at 30fps, while the other is "Performance" with 1080p and HDR at 60fps. On the other hand, the game can also automatically and dynamically tune itself based on the hardware configuration for PC players. That said, Forza Horizon 4 looks gorgeous even on 1080p and I'm not entirely in favor of locking your experience at 30fps just for native 4K. Yes, it'll look even better but that'll come at the cost of immersion due to the reduced frames per second.

Dynamic Seasons

Last year, Forza Motorsport 7 introduced dynamic weather, but this year's Forza Horizon 4 takes realism up a notch with dynamic seasons as well. Dynamic seasons are, without a doubt, the headlining feature of Forza Horizon 4, and they live up to expectations.

The game boasts four unique seasons, namely summer, autumn, spring, and winter. What's exciting about them is that they not only accompany visual changes but also bring in whole new formats of racing. For example, you might be cautiously scaling the shallow waters of a lake in the summer season, but come winter, you'll find yourself hurtling across the entire frozen lake at 250mph or above.

Seasons do not only provide exhilarating scenarios such as the one mentioned above but also, theoretically speaking, increase the replay value of the game by four times. While in previous entries of the franchise, you'd probably complete a race at the top spot and not play it unless you absolutely needed to (i.e. for in-game credits), this time around you'll find yourself anxiously waiting for seasons to change so that you can enjoy a completely new form of racing on the same track.

In a way, it also challenges the player to get better. A driver who excels at racing on dry land in the summer might not be as good in the spring where off-road racing on flower-coated hills is the focus, or in autumn when it's difficult to discern the heaps of dried leaves from the track, or the winter where the snow takes over and you'll find yourself sliding outside of the race track if you aren't careful enough.

All of these add immense value to Forza Horizon 4 and keep the gameplay fresh. While I enjoyed dynamic weather in Motorsport 7, I didn't know what I was missing until I played this year's Horizon.

One important detail to note is that while Microsoft will give you a taste of all four seasons inthe game's prologue, in which you'll be introduced to the gameplay mechanics, once you complete the prologue - which should take you less than six hours - you'll be connected to the Shared World, in which the AI Drivatars will be replaced by real humans. You can obviously play with the AI too, but it's more fun to see actual players traversing the landscape rather than the boring Drivatars going on their daily business at a snail's pace.

Why the Shared World is important is because you'll essentially be sharing your gameplay experience with all players around the globe. However, not all players will be playing on the same server - that would be a mess - but each server will host up to 72 players who'll share the same world. The in-game time and weather conditions will be synced across all servers though.

Everyone will experience the same season at one instance with seasons dynamically changing every Thursday at 14:30 UTC. This means that you'll be able to enjoy all four seasons every month. This aspect is quite interesting, as, if I don't like racing in a particular season and find it too tame, I can choose to wait a couple of weeks for my favorite season to come up. Players who order Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate Edition will be treated to Horizon Summer on September 28, which will be transitioned to Horizon Autumn on October 4.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A Horizon Life for Me

Now that we're done discussing some gameplay elements and mechanics, let's get down to the details regarding the actual content offered by Forza Horizon 4 in its Horizon Life campaign.

Beginning with the controversial stuff, yes, the much-despised loot boxes are still present. Many people who read my Motorsport 7 review might remember that I hate loot boxes, but was fine with them in that particular game because they cannot be purchased with real money, and at no point did I feel that I was missing out on something by not having them.

This is exactly my view of the "wheelspins" offered by Forza Horizon 4 as well. They offer you a randomized chance of winning some stuff, but it doesn't feel forced because you can easily complete missions and earn Influence to level up, which will offer you wheelspins, through which you can get extra content. Furthermore, the most important element of the game, that is the roster of cars, isnot locked behind this wheelspin mechanic, and you can still purchase all of them at your own pace by playing the game frequently.

The only things that are truly locked behind wheelspins are superficial such as emotes and character customization options which, frankly, I do not care about at all. Sure, most default character avatars look like dorks but at the end of the day, I'm playing this game for the enormous selection of cars, the gorgeous environments, and the plethora of racing scenarios that it offers. Now, someone who cares about how their in-game character looks or acts after winning a race will obviously consider this to be a deal-breaker but for me, it's superficial and extra stuff that I can just ignore.

Moving on to the actual content of the game, my former Neowin colleague Chris Schroeder noted in his review of Forza Horizon 3 that he was slightly put off by the vague narrative of the title, and for the most part, I agree. This franchise has the potential to be the Fast and Furious of games with a strong story and characters but Microsoft doesn't seem to be excited about approaching Forza from that angle just yet. However, this year's entry does include a minor storyline in which you have to get behind the wheel as a stunt driver to take part in a movie being shot near the Horizon Festival. While this does emphasize Microsoft's lack of focus on providing a single-player experience, it is important to note that you can still race against Drivatars and not interact with real players at all.

That said, Forza Horizon 4 just has so much to do that you probably won't even notice the lack of a proper story at all. You can play the same races in a variety of ways such as Solo, Co-op, PvP, and Rivals. When you couple that with the dynamic seasons mechanic, you have potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay in your hands.

Furthermore, if you get bored playing alone, there are numerous varieties of multiplayer events as well. The primary one is Team Adventure in which you can play online in competitive and cooperative events where you complete races, missions, and other challenges. On the other hand, in the hourly Forzathon Live events, up to 12 players can play together to achieve team goals within a fixed time such as drifting and speeding. If they are successful in the events, they get rewarded with Forza Points which they can spend in the Forza Shop in exchange for cars, wheelspins, car horns, and character customization items, among other things. It is once again important to emphasize that the game does not require you to spend real money in order to purchase in-game items.

There are tons of other multiplayer modes as well such as King, Team King, Survival, Flag Rush, and more. All of these keep gameplay fresh and exciting for new and seasoned players alike. What's more is that these timed events will constantly update with the change of seasons every week. It's clear that multiplayer is an important aspect of the game, given that you can even earn Influence by streaming your gameplay to Mixer or watching someone's else stream, provided that you have linked your Mixer account to Forza Horizon 4.

I mentioned earlier that after the prologue, you can play in the Shared World. Last time Neowin reported on this, there was considerable backlash in our comments section from readers who feared that their gameplay experience would be hampered by childish behavior from human players. However, said readers can now rest easy knowing that Forza Horizon 4 has "Autoghost" which disables collisions with other online players on the map but still shows them as translucent vehicles when they approach you. You can also chat with them using some predetermined phrases that you can shift and toggle according to your preferences. The multiplayer content was quite stable and bug-free during my playtime, but I guess the real challenge for Microsoft will be when the game becomes officially available in a few days and players swarm the servers.

Then there are, of course, the Showcase events, which is my favorite game mode. I won't go into too much detail here since you truly have to witness the vehicles that you'll race against with your own eyes to understand the fun that you'll have in this particular game mode, but let me just say that there's something truly magical about a car racing against a train while In the Hall of the Mountain King blares on the in-game radio. Oh, and there's also something exciting in store for Halo fans too!

I have spent over 15 hours in the game so far, and the game still feels extremely fresh and just as fun to play as it was in the first few hours. I have a seasonal change to look forward to on September 28 as well, which will bring a host of new timed events and variety in racing formats, so I'm pretty sure that I'll be playing this title for a long time.

Cars and Customization and Tracks, Oh My!

Forza Horizon 4 offers 450 cars from more than 100 manufacturers including Ford, Ferrari, Mercedes, Lamborghini, Nissan, Pagani, and more. You'll likely find yourself drooling over the assorted collection of cars included in the game, and that's not all. That said, Mitsubishi and Lexus cars are notably absent from this year's release. As mentioned earlier, the Deluxe and Ultimate Editions of Forza Horizon 4 also features the Car Pass, which will basically give you two cars every week over a 21-week period starting from October 2. This essentially means that you'll still have 42 more cars to look forward to for the next 5-6 months.

Furthermore, each of these cars can be customized with liveries to your heart's content. You can create your own and purchase them from auctions to truly personalize your cars and set them apart from the competition. People who are more well-versed in the mechanics of a car can also tune their rides for the best performance.

At this point, I feel that it is important to emphasize that having a better car does not simply translate to winning more races. Case in point is the image above showing the result of one of my online races in which a fellow player's Lamborghini Urus is seen biting the dust against my considerably inferior Porsche Cayenne.

This not only holds true for races against the competition but also with respect to the dynamic seasons and terrains as well. A heavy vehicle with great suspensions, one that is built and optimized for mountainous terrains will almost always perform way better than, let's say, a hypercar. If you're in the latter vehicle on a snowy terrain, you'll likely find yourself sliding off the tracks for most parts of the race.

This is why it's so fun to play Forza Horizon 4. It offers a nice balance between realism and fantasy, while making sure that gameplay does not suffer or get stale.

My only gripe with the game, which probably is more of a personal preference rather than an actual flaw, is the checkpoint system in races. While the game doesn't restrict you from going off-road in most cases, and sometimes even encourages you to use displacement rather than going on the predefined track, it still forces you to pass through checkpoints. Checkpoints have a width of two, or at most three cars, and it's a pain to have to drive through them during various parts of the race. I would much prefer that if the game doesn't want me to go off-road, it should put indestructible barriers at those specific parts rather than forcing me to change my route and squeeze through checkpoints. I found myself restarting and rewinding races various times just because I missed a checkpoint by a few centimeters. But then again, perhaps many players will enjoy the challenge that these checkpoints pose; I, for one, don't.

Start Your Engines

I had loads of fun playing Forza Horizon 4, and it's probably my favorite Forza game to date. There's a saying that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and it applies perfectly to this franchise. Microsoft and developers Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios, have enjoyed great success with their flagship racing franchise and while the game doesn't offer anything that's truly ground-breaking, they manage to keep gameplay fresh with improvements and refinements like dynamic seasons.

There's little to complain about in Forza Horizon 4. The game is perfect for me in almost every aspect, and I'm sure that other players and fans of the series will enjoy it as well. Even in 2018, Forza maintains its crown as the undisputed king of racing games, and I'm quite excited to see the direction that Microsoft and the two development companies take the Forza franchise in. But for now, it's safe to say that the trio has knocked it out of the park... again.

Forza Horizon 4 officially launches on the Xbox One family of consoles and Windows 10 PCs on October 2, 2018. However, if you pre-order the Ultimate Edition, you can jump into the fun on September 28. You can purchase the various editions of the game by visiting the following webpages:

This review was conducted on PC through a code of Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate Edition provided by Microsoft. The game was tested on "High" presets on a late 2017 model of the HP Omen 15 laptop with the following specifications:

  • Display: 15.6-inch 1080p, 120Hz refresh rate
  • OS: Windows 10
  • CPU: 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7700HQ
  • GPU: Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti (4GB VRAM)
  • RAM: 8GB
Forza Horizon 4
+ Dynamic seasons + Well-optimized + Terrains + Showcase events + Shared World + Cars, duh
- Checkpoints in races
Starts at $59.99
October 2, 2018


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