Open world games are often thought to be RPGs, usually within the realm of some sort of sci-fi/fantasy universe where things are either terribly violent, or worse, calm, signaling doom to come. That’s why I’ve gotten a lot of flack from my friends when I’ve said that the Forza Horizon series is one of the best open world series to date. I get it. It’s not some epic saga where you fight for what’s right, it’s just racing. However, it’s racing at its finest and gives a feeling more realistic than any racer in the last 10 years.
Gameplay and Visuals
The best part about Forza Horizon 4 is that just when you think the mechanics and feel of driving in a Forza game can’t feel more real, they top their last effort. Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games have mastered the racing genre, almost to the point that I don’t even bother with other titles that attempt the simulation-realism side of racing games. Arcade titles, sure. But Forza Horizon 4 and the games that have come before it are top of their class, and honestly, they’re so good I almost don’t enjoy other realistic racers.
In Horizon 4, things like incredibly realistic driving surfaces are amplified, thanks to a newly introduced four-season system. In the intro to the game, you get a taste of what it’s like to drive on icy roads, and then get thrown into summer, with clear skies and dry roads. The difference between handling your speedster at 180mph on snow compared to rain, or even off-road courses, is staggering. It makes the game deeper than its courses, and as a seasoned Forza player, it was refreshing to feel like I still had something to learn from the series.
It’s also wonderful to have so many different options while making your progress. Things like Beauty Spots and Speed Cams are a nice break from the potential monotony of laps or sprint races. The diversity in racing competitions and experiences allows the player to get to know the game better while also helping to immerse them in the world of Forza Horizon 4. I’ve never been to the United Kingdom, but I have this strange feeling that I understand its energy, all the while sitting in my home playing this game that merely depicts seasons and simulated environments. I wouldn’t feel that familiarity, no matter how artificial, without a depth of game modes that encourage me to explore, rather than proceed from race to race in the name of mainline progress.
Obviously, Forza Horizon 4 carries over its realistic graphics that match its driving experience. The enhancements to the game that can be utilized with an Xbox One X make it one of the best looking games of the year, and even playing on a One S, I was blown away by what I was seeing, almost as much as what I was feeling while driving. Visually, Forza is, like many parts of its games, unmatched by any other series or title. There are obviously highlights throughout the game’s history, but Forza Horizon 4 plays and looks like the best racing game in recent memory.
Sound and Depth
I always touch on sound, and to be honest, it’s the one spot in this game that I think a few changes could have been made. Some of the cars, especially when you get in higher classes and faster vehicles, sound a bit too simulated. Higher screeches almost sound like ripped audio from a sound effects CD, and the way that they reverb on the courses at times sounds artificial. I don’t drag the game for a few, what I perceived to be, inaccurate sounds in a few of the cars, but it’s something I will say other reviews have noticed as well. I never read other takes before I finish my review so I felt comfort knowing that to me, a person with limited car knowledge, the things I was hearing were also “off” in a few other’s experiences.
Depth isn’t usually a category that I add in my reviews, but I feel it necessary in a title like this. I actually regret not adding it to my other sports reviews to date because the fear for many casual fans who might not have had this game on their radar might be, “What do I do after a few hours of racing?” In short, how could this game possibly keep my attention if I’m not partial to racing or cars? Well, I’m not a racing fanatic, nor do I know the first thing about cars. The draw in Forza Horizon 4 is the pursuit of mastering these high-class vehicles like you’ve been driving them in real life.
The comfortability you begin to feel 4 or 5 hours into the game is not unlike most experiences in a game where you feel like you’re becoming the character as whom you’re playing. However, because so much of the game is played in a perspective where it feels like you, not the lifeless character placed into the game’s throwaway plot, feel like you’re improving rather than coming into a character’s predestined level of success. Kratos by the end of God of War is going to be a beast whether you’re getting better at the game or not. In Forza Horizon 4, the feeling of self-improvement is much more rewarding, and therefore, incredibly addicting.
If you’ve played Forza titles in the past, you know what to expect. Top-notch racing, incredible visuals, and the best racing game in the modern era. Each entry is a step above the last, which is a model for growth that many semi-regular series don’t always see. From the game’s car library being the largest in series history, to the new seasonal mechanics that make it feel as if I’ve still got a little to learn, this game feels new with the familiarity of my favorite racing series. I’ve never played a Forza game that wasn’t better than the last, and that’s not just a product of better consoles and improved graphics.
Side note: the fact that Xbox owners can play this for FREE if they have Game Pass is insane. I know Sony feels a lot of love for their current era of games on the PS4, but Forza is a nice reminder of the successes Microsoft and their studios make in-game and as a larger gaming experience. There are nearly zero things to critique about this game, earning it my highest ranking of the year so far.