Forza Horizon 4 Review
I’ve never been a huge fan of racing games. Whilst I usually announce to people that I play games from all genres — bar puzzle games and sports games —, racing is definitely on the lower end of the spectrum for me. Having said that, I do reserve some time for playing a few racing games from time to time; Forza being one of them.
Other series have come and gone throughout my life such as the DIRT series and Wipeout, but they never really stick around consistently in my library. I always move onto something else given enough time. Forza is different. I always came back to see what the newest main-series title had in store, even if only through playing a quick demo or going over to a friend’s house when they bought a copy.
So why on earth would someone without a passion for racing games, find himself playing a series renowned for its simulation and depth? It all started with Forza Motorsport 2. What was initially an impulse decision acquired with some extra birthday money, turned out to be one of the best games I’d ever bought. I still fondly remember it.
I never got around to playing the Forza Horizon series. What I thought was initially a poor attempt at catering to a strange subset of fans, I dismissed the first Horizon and the 2nd as being cash-grabs, and a failure to continue the track racing of Motorsport that I used to love. Although I can’t speak for the first few games, I’m pleased to say that the change in direction is a refreshing and welcoming change, and not anything which harms or deters the original heart and soul of the Forza series. I felt a pull after the release of Horizon 3, where my best friend (who’s into racing games heavily) kept trying to convince me to give it a try.
So here we are with Horizon 4. What made me take the plunge and give this one a try? Well after watching E3 and seeing that the game was being set in the U.K, I thought it was a rare experience to see such a high-budget AAA game set in my home country. That was appealing enough as it was, but I was also interested in seeing how Forza handled so many different types of racing, across different seasons, on such diverse types of terrain. To its credit, Horizon 4 manages to bring the same level of polish and perceived-simulation accuracy to its many gamemodes, as it had done solely to track-racing in its earlier days. Whether it’s racing on roads, mountains, lakes, hills, or dirt tracks, every style of terrain carries with it its own set of characteristics and required changes to tactics/approach.
The game started off well. Horizon’s general theme is to frame this racing event in a cinematic and glorified fashion, and it does so extremely well. With the occasional slow-motion/freeze-frame shot and stylish U.I/graphical design, the game emits a huge amount of flair and style at every corner. If you loved the Dirt 2 and Dirt 3’s style of graphical U.I and menus presented in a futuristic/abstract style of fashion, then you’ll love Horizon 4’s too.
The game can be described very quickly and easily. There’s a racing event going on called Horizon. Your job is to qualify for each of the 4 main seasons’ listings, before acquiring a final slot in the Horizon roster, from which point you continue onward. To do so you need influence points, which are basically an abstract metric based on social media presence essentially. You acquire influence through various means. You can free-roam and find billboards to knock down, perform stunts and various feats of skill as you’re driving around etc. The most effective and obviously preferred method of course, is racing. You have a number of race types to get involved in. You have simple races which need no further explanation, but then you also have street racing which places more focus on sports cars and so on. The others are a mixture of dirt-track racing, movie stuntman features, and other misc. races which fall into an ‘other’ category (nice surprises which I don’t wish to spoil for you!).
The amount of cars available to you in the game is simply staggering. Perhaps the U.I makes them seem far more than there actually are, but I’m sure this is one of the biggest car rosters I’ve seen in a video game to-date. Combined with the feature of being able to download custom-skins others have made and uploaded to a gallery online (designs which you are asked to choose from immediately after purchasing a car), and you quickly run into an insane amount of customisation options and unique flavours for a certain car model. You can also tweak these cars to a very minute degree of preference. Everything from gear ratios to suspension, the customisation is all here for you to adjust to your heart’s content.
Don’t let all of that control and overwhelming number of cars get to you though, as the game can still be played in a casual fashion. Should you turn things too low however in terms of difficulty, the game will prompt you every so often - should you be doing well - to raise the difficulty up a notch for an extra percentage of rewards. Speaking of rewards, the game offers you something called a wheelspin. A regular one acquired from meeting certain conditions, allows you to spin a wheel in exchange for extra money, emotes for your driver (during menu transitions), clothing for your character, and sometimes even cars. A more impressive super-wheelspin allows you to extract 3 rewards from a single spin, increasing your chances further of getting something nice.
Once you have a few nice cars and some fancy new clothes, you can then take yourself online to challenge other drivers, or even race with them cooperatively, either in what the game calls a convoy or as a team (clans essentially). Should you not want to go online and race others in real-time, you can simply race against their ‘drivatars’.
Drivatars are an approximation of a player’s racing style, made by whatever magic-box technology they have at Turn 10 Studios. This means that when you race against a drivatar (A.I controlled opponent), you’re actually racing against a clone - if you will - of your friends and rivals. How accurate this system is, I cannot say with confidence. I don’t race with anyone regularly enough to be able to distinguish whether their drivatar drives in the same manner as they do. From what I’ve read online though, the system works fairly well. I do notice that Rory’s (image and quote contributor for this article) drivatar is consistently ahead of other drivers. That makes sense because over the years, I’ve always perceived him to be the best racer I have on my friends list. In fact, the positions of the drivers taken from my friends list, sits in accordance to what I expect to see in a real match so the system must work to some degree clearly.
There’s a few other things I haven’t mentioned in my review such as finding lost cars in hidden huts around the map, buying houses (or a castle!), as well as a variety of other activities and features the game has. By now however, the review is reaching its conclusion and I’ve overstayed my welcome with too many words. All you need to know is this. Forza Horizon 4 is easily one of the most polished and enjoyable racing games I’ve ever played. Whilst I’ve confessed that the genre is not a particular favourite of mine, I’ve still played a wide array of racing games over the console generations. I can say with confidence that this sits in my number 2 spot, after the Burnout series (Burnout 3 and Burnout Revenge specifically). I encourage anyone with an interest or passion in racing games - no matter how big or small - to play this game at some point. Don’t be put off by its simulation roots. You can tweak the difficulty options in incredible detail, making the experience as arcade-like or as simulator-like as you prefer.
Original Images Taken By Rory Sugrue. Used With Permission.
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