Forza Horizon 4 review for Xbox One, PC

Platform: Xbox One
Also On: PC
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Playground Games/Turn 10
Medium: Blu-ray Disc/Digital
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

Once you hit the 4th game in a series you generally have a good idea of what to expect, and Forza Horizon 4 doesn?t try to subvert those expectations. That said, Forza Horizon doesn?t really need to either. It?s been one of the best open-world racing games on the market since its inception, and Forza Horizon 4 just continues that trend. The introduction of seasonal changes, an increased focused on online play, small changes to progression, and out-of-car dress-up avatars are fun, but the core driving experience is still outstanding. It?s that behind-the-wheel experience that really sets the bar for the series, and makes Forza Horizon such a joy to play.

As far as the more unchanged aspects go, Forza Horizon 4 is still focused around the festival theme, this time in Great Britain. You?ll race against either A.I. controlled ?Drivatars? or other players online. You?ll have different events, like Cross Country, Street Scene, Dirt Racing and more. You can earn prizes via Wheelspins, buy vehicles, customize through the livery, mess with the car auction house, and try to beat rival times. The showcase events from Forza Horizon 3 return here, but in a slightly diminished role. Basically, this is still the Forza Horizon experience that people know and love.

The biggest change, and certainly the one that Playground Games and Microsoft have focused on, is Seasons. This is essentially what it sounds like, changing seasons in-game that will change the way the world looks and how road surfaces feel when driving. The onset of the game introduces you to the seasons via progression milestones. Earn enough influence, the in-game equivalent of XP, and you?ll level up to the next Season milestone. This triggers a change from Spring to Summer, Summer to Fall, etc.

The obvious difference is in the visuals, but the road and ground surfaces are also altered. Rain falls more often in Spring, introducing slicker pavement and muddier grass and dirt. Winter freezes over puddles and pools of water, rivers become slick ice tracks, and road surfaces start to be more hazardous. Snow is also a factor, especially heavy snow, limiting visibility. Summer and Fall, at least from my experience, are more visual heavy than anything. Seeing the leaves change, with plenty of forest areas peppered throughout the map, is often breathtaking.

Once you move past the opening bits of the game, which takes a couple of hours, then season changes are no longer tied to XP progression. Instead they?ll have a set time, and the game will let you know exactly how much time is left in a season before changing. This appears to last for days if not a week or more, I?ve been in Summer for a bit now and it?s just getting ready to change over the next couple of days.

Once you get to this point in the game, seasons will also introduce championships, which are multi-race events scattered about the map. These championships feature additional bonuses, typically tied to racing against tougher Drivatar opponents. They?ll also have unique vehicle restrictions. One of the now active championships is tied to the car from the James Bond film Spectre. It definitely appears as if seasons will help freshen up the game as they cycle through, not only by offering new visuals and varied surfaces, but via the event system as well.

Online is another major component this year. Forza Horizon has definitely featured online play before, but the open world aspect for online connectivity is expanded, dropping more players on to the map, with more things to do. You can join or create a convoy with up to 12 players, or just roam around the map encountering random folks. You can participate in Forzathon events, which focus on something like the Danger Zone one-off stunts, where everyone works together to earn points. These points can then be spent as currency in the Forzathon shop, which will earn you various cosmetics and vehicles.

Collision is off when encountering other people in the wild, and only comes on when involved in a Convoy, and only for those other drivers within the Convoy. Also, you can participate in ranked and unranked team events, which again will net you a variety of rewards at the end of each season. Getting connected is a breeze, and I never really ran into a situation where my connection dropped or lagged out. However, if I opted to play offline and disconnect, the transition was seamless with no progression lost. The whole system works extremely well, and helps make the overall world feel more alive this time around.

The last thing I?d like to touch on is the inclusion of driver avatars, something that Forza Motorsport 7 also used to some degree last year. This is certainly a more goofier approach than what Motorsport offered, and generally fits the overall vibe of Forza Horizon well. I don?t think avatars are game-changing by any means, but I found myself more invested in unlocking clothing options and emotes the more I obtained. There?s just something about seeing my dumb driver pop and lock during a victory at the end of a race, or run through the motions of the John Travolta confused gif while standing amongst historical sites found in the wild. The clothing options are suitably ludicrous, and it just gave me more incentive to level up, earn wheelspins, and participate in events for unlockables. Again, not a super important addition if you come to Forza Horizon for the racing, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

I think it would be easy to argue that this is the best Forza Horizon game yet. I?ve generally enjoyed the series, more so than even Forza Motorsport, and Forza Horizon 4 is no different. The enhanced online features, the season changes, and yes, even the avatar customization, are all welcomed additions. But aside from that, the core racing experience, the thrill of driving recklessly through fields, cobblestone fences, city streets, and sandy beaches…it?s darn near unmatched in current racing games. So yeah, Forza Horizon 4 is amazing.

Note: Microsoft provided us with a Forza Horizon 4 Xbox One code for review purposes.

Grade: A+