Driving and racing games have captured the speed demon residing within gamers of all ages for decades. Whether it’s been the arcade racing of Cruisin’ USA, the high-octane chases of Need for Speed, or the crash test explosiveness of the Burnout franchise, we all love to drive cool cars. For the longest time, Gran Turismo was at the top of the mountain where driving and racing simulation games were concerned, however, a little title debuted back on the original Microsoft Xbox console that began to shift the genre into a new gear. 2005’s Forza Motorsport was groundbreaking with its impressive garage of cars from across classes, sharp and intuitive controls that made the simulation learning curve less so (even for those terrible at the genre like myself), and an ability to blast your own tailored playlist of music if you had downloaded your tunes to your console. Now, nearly a decade and a half into its tenure in the racing game world, Forza continues to innovate and push the boundaries of what console racing looks like. In 2012, open world games had begun to really take off from the starting line, and studios Turn 10 and Playground Games saw fit to add a proper driving game to that growing list.
Enter: Forza Horizon, an ambitious project that sought to pair the physics and car list of the Forza Motorsport series, with an “open road” world in which players could take any of their chosen vehicles onto 65 varying terrains. When asked about the fundamental difference for players between the Motorsport and Horizon series, Turn 10 Studios head Dan Greenawalt said: “Motorsport is about precision…Horizon is all about the experience of exploration”. That concept set the pace for the series and has held true since 2012, with Horizon now in its fourth entry and each successive game being more popular and impressive than the last. Forza Horizon 4 is possibly the most ambitious of Turn 10 Studios’ projects to date, with a sprawling, shared open world in the British countryside that features many historic locations in which drivers can tour in one of over 450 vehicles.
One of the most impressive things about the Horizon series is the accuracy with which the various cars and trucks handle on different terrains. My Ford Focus RS or Audi R8 handles like a dream when racing through the streets or on the open highways, but taking a quick detour through a dirt field or across a gravel-laden road off the beaten path and they handle quite differently. Where a sharp change in direction was once met with relative ease and regaining control of the car was equally so, now my vehicle fishtails and slides all over the place in a true-to-life representation of driving environmental physics. Expounding and expanding on those physics, Turn 10 has added changing seasons to Forza Horizon 4 to bring a new spin on their open road experience. Spring and autumn bring with them the potential for either drizzling or pouring rain that slick the roads and cause your wheels to slide around corners, while winter’s solstice adds a powdery mess to drive through should you venture off the more traveled streets and roads of the game. With regards to said snowfall, players may want to hop into their in-game garage and get behind the wheel of a larger truck like a Ford Raptor instead of their go-to tuner or muscle car.
Forza Horizon 4 features a vast number of different events that players can participate in, not counting the numerous online play options, including: street races, off-road races to dodge trees on your way to the finish line, rally sport style races, cross country races and more. The game offers a great breadth of freedom for car choice within each of these events, however, one should note that not all vehicles will perform equally in these circumstances and players should continually add cars to their list of go-to choices for each type. Players from across the globe can compete or cooperate in teams via Xbox Live in the different events in the game, earning themselves credits and renown. Should you prefer a solo experience, you can choose to either race against the CPU or against the returning player “Drivatars,” tailored CPU ghost representations of other players whether strangers or on your friends list.
Players can customize their driver characters to a degree, though it’s not a huge focal point, and therefore you’re limited to presets for the most part until you unlock more clothing and accessories via the in-game “Wheelspin” feature that gifts you with the aforementioned attire items as well as exclusive rare cars and credits with which to purchase others. The true customization in Forza Horizon 4 comes from the garage, and I’m not talking about slapping a wannabe V-Tec decal on the side or a gaudier rear spoiler. Sure, you can add all the decals, liveries, or paint changes to the car’s exterior that you want, whether you decide to download those of other players or custom make your own, but that’s all aesthetics. The game offers customization and tuning options that dedicated gearheads will supremely appreciate and unquestionably take full advantage of. Upgrades and tunes are categorized by the following: Engine, Platform and Handling, Drivetrain, Tires and Rims, Aero and Appearance, and Conversion. Some of these alterations are more cosmetic, such as your rims, bumper and wing kits, however, the true gearheads know that diving into the various Drivetrain tunings by swapping out the clutch, transmission, or differential is where the real changes begin, but that’s still only the surface. You can jump into the hood and alter your engine by changing up the displacement, fuel system, camshaft, or even adding a turbo. Looking for a more drastic change? Hop into the Conversion menu and add a body kit, or swap out the engine or drivetrain entirely to have a completely different car.
Let’s talk about the cars. As previously stated, Forza Horizon 4 contains over 450 cars and trucks to get behind the wheel of, and that’s not counting those coming in future car pass packs. As of right now, Turn 10 Studios has dropped a classic James Bond car pack containing 10 iconic cars driven by 007 over the decades including the 1964 Aston Martin DB5, 2015 Aston Martin DB10, and the 2010 Jaguar C-X75. There’s a car for everyone in this game, whether you love: off-road heavy-duty pickup trucks like the Ford Raptor or Ranger T6 Rally Raid, classic American muscle like 1971 426 Hemi Baracuda by Plymouth, tuners or street racers like the Ford Focus RS and Subaru WRX or BRZ, or you dig the hypercars that manufacturers such as McLaren, Lamborghini, or Ferrari and others bring to the garage, there really is something for every type of driver. When you start the game, you’re teasingly put behind the wheel of the newly debuted 2018 McLaren Senna, but soon are given the keys to your choice of the first car. You’re giving the option of speeding off in either the classic American muscle of a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T, the sporty but classy 2013 Audi RS 7 Sportback, or my personal choice the 2017 Ford Focus RS (being a Focus racing owner myself). Whatever you choose, you won’t be limited to that first set of wheels for long as once you’ve put a few victories under your seatbelt to where you’ve leveled up and earned some credits, you’ll be back in the game’s auto show garage and ready to start adding to your own. Upon continually leveling up and race-winning you’ll quickly find yourself amassing quite the garage of cars – some of which are unbelievably costly, however, should you at any point find yourself a few credits short you may always sell off some of your unwanted or unused vehicles and put those towards a more desired one.
Forza has long been known for its gorgeous visuals, and Horizon 4 does not tarnish this reputation, in fact, with it having been developed with Microsoft’s powerhouse Xbox One X in mind, the 4K and HDR visuals are crazy realistic. The scenic backdrops of the British countryside are breathtaking and only enhanced with the game’s changing seasons. The lighting effects make the colors pop, and the sunlight reflects off of each paint type differently. Particle effects when driving off-road are impressive as well, and it’s no wonder that Microsoft makes the claim that their games play best on Xbox One X. One thing that I’ve never necessarily been the biggest fan of is the radio stations that the franchise typically has in-game. While I’m sure the same EDM and other eclectic tunes over and over are fine for some people, I’ve always been a proponent of blasting my own playlists through my console, which the Xbox One’s compatibility with Spotify makes exceedingly ease. The game’s actual sound effects, however, are another matter altogether. Every car sounds unique, as ripped straight from the real deal. I immediately hopped into the Focus RS to compare it to the sound I know quite well, and by goodness there it was. Ever wonder what a Lamborghini sounds like when you rev it up? Hop into one in Forza Horizon 4, and you’ll get your answer in short order (just make sure you have access to a shower afterward). If you have a pair of good gaming headphones, then put those on to be blown away. If you don’t, then do yourself a favor and change that; trust me, it’s more than worth it.
Racing games have historically been challenging for me, with the exception of Mario Kart. Forza has been one of the very few exceptions in this matter, and that is part in parcel to the care taken by the developers to make their game accessible to as many people as can get their hands on the wheel. You have the option of turning on a driving line which consists of arrows suggesting when to accelerate, slow down, brake, etc. Additionally, there are a number of other customizations to the game’s difficulty such as: turning manual gear shifting on or off, assisted steering, turning realistic damage that affects driving on or off, and also a rewind system that lets you turn back the clock a short ways if you need a soft reset from a little ways back. These alterations to the difficulty can be made at any point where you’re not in the middle of an event and are great ways to ease players into the realistic physics of a game like Forza.
Over my many hours behind Forza Horizon 4’s numerous cars and racing a combination of CPU and Xbox Live opponents, I’m continually reminded that as we get older we never stop playing with toys, they just get bigger, cooler, and way more expensive. Thank goodness for realistic racing games like Forza to allow me to get behind the wheel of cars that I’d feel blessed to breathe near. You don’t have to be a car enthusiast to enjoy this game; you don’t necessarily even need to be good at it because if you enjoy it, then you’ll simply get better naturally over spending time with it. So pick up a copy, it’s a strong recommendation for me, and if you’ve been waiting for more games that take advantage of the Xbox One X’s processing power and graphical fidelity capabilities, then look no further.