Racing games have come a long way over the years; they’re outrageously beautiful, full of life and allow near endless customization. Few of them, however, are fun for those who aren’t super into cars. If you’re expecting some longwinded meta-analysis of the ins and outs of Forza Horizon 4‘s tuning, customization, brands, or other things gearheads care about, prepare to be disappointed. I like cars in the sense that they get me from point A to point B, but as far as racing games go, I prefer the more arcadey offerings of something like the Burnout series. I like my video game cars fun to drive, simulation be damned. It’s good, then, that Forza Horizon 4 offers plenty of opportunities to create the most absurd or straight-laced vehicles possible.
Let’s not dwell on plot or overture here; you play as “a guy,” who happens to be a fantastic racer and who’s also invited to the Horizon event to show off your skills. You’re treated as a celebrity, someone to be touted around and shown the sights. Frankly, I hate every second of these exchanges. It feels cheap, manipulative, and honestly, a little sad. I’m sitting at home on my computer, not on some prime-time vacation driving cars I wouldn’t be able to afford if you put two zeroes on my salary. Good thing none of it matters (or lasts very long). Before I knew it, I was left to my own devices to explore beautiful Britain.
As a first for the series, Forza Horizon 4 features all four seasons, drastically altering the overworld. This allows for spring zooms, summer zooms, winter zooms, and, my favorite, autumn zooms. Racing down a track covered in dead leaves, snow, and the tears of other racers behaves exactly as you’d expect, and you’ll have to adjust your driving style accordingly. I even outfitted one of my faster cars with snow tires so it would be more competitive during winter street races. After completing a campaign which features “showcases” of each season, players can join the online world where they cycle each week.
Showcases, by the way, are a huge highlight for me. From racing a giant hovercraft to a literal locomotive, they feel epic in scale and thrilling to compete in. Setting the difficulty just right can make these exhilarating affairs with high stakes and plenty of close calls. They feel like a great way to capstone each season, and my only complaint is that there aren’t more of them.
It really can’t be said enough how much a season change alters the feel of Horizon 4‘s in-game world. A bleak winter giving way to spring is almost as jarring as stepping out of the sewers for the first time in The Elders Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Barren trees and snow-blind turns give way to a wet marsh-like Britain with yellow fields and wafting pollen. Taking a turn on dark grey asphalt and really feeling the morning dew in the air gives credit to how absolutely stunning Forza Horizon 4 looks; it is without a doubt one of the most graphically impressive games ever made. At least, I think it is. It’s hard to tell when things are passing by at 120 km/h.
One of the true joys here, besides the wonderful seasons, is finding your car. There are dozens of cars to choose from, tune, paint, and tear across the countryside with. But until you find the one that speaks to you, the experience may ring a little hollow. It took over a dozen hours of the “not quite right” feeling for me to settle on the Nissan Skyline, which I souped up with a new engine, sport performance tires, and other goodies. Drifts felt perfect, the handling was a dream, and I felt the speed was just right. Customizing a car, be it a rare super-car or an old beater, is one of the prime hooks in Forza Horizon 4. Taking your Frankenstein’s monster out for a spin is a feeling of giddiness and wonder, and the options to do so here are bountiful.
Forza Horizon 4 features a shared online world, all the better for showing off your perfectly-crafted vehicle and/or honking obnoxiously at everyone you see. Players share an instance, and, as mentioned, the online season changes weekly. This is perfect for the “games as service” style racing game Horizon was always bound to be: there’s season-exclusive barn finds, challenges, and races. Each week brings something new, and playing with others makes the world feel a lot less lonely. That, and someone might see you completely biff a turn and get a good laugh out of it.
If Forza Horizon 3 was a near-perfecting of the arcade-sim racing genre, Forza Horizon 4 is a continuation. While not revolutionary in the way its predecessor was, it’s a title confident in its offerings; as it should be. The season mechanic is enough for me, personally, to be invested for a long, long time. There’s essentially four whole worlds of content ready to be explored. With enough activities to make your camshaft spin, and enough cars that anyone can find a special ride, Forza Horizon 4 is exactly the kind of game fans deserve and expect.
This review is based on the Windows 10 version of the game. Testing was done on a system sporting a Ryzen 7 1700x, a 3GB GTX 1060, and 16 GB of RAM. A copy was provided by Microsoft Studios.
A changing world and opportunities to find or build your perfect rides make Forza Horizon 4 near endlessly enjoyable. While a safe follow-up to Horizon 3, the core "casual simulation" formula doesn't need much tuning.