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‘Forza Horizon 4’ review

From Lambos in the snow to drifting Bugattis, all is fair in 'Forza Horizon 4'

Forza Horizon 4 Hands-On Classic British
‘Forza Horizon 4’
MSRP $59.99
“Forza Horizon 4’s additions make it better rounded and more replayable than its predecessors.”
  • Seasons add great variety to game play
  • Beautifully rendered world and cars
  • Tons of customization
  • A long list of activates to keep you entertained
  • Driving feels approachable, but still rewards skill
  • Some side events can be tedious
  • Multiplayer can still jump in and ruin your races

The Forza Horizon formula is clear now: give people an open-world racing game with approachability, some real driving dynamics, good variety, and lots of fun. This iteration adds seasons and keeps pushing replay value. It’s a fast, fun, action-packed racing game that fans can keep playing for, well, seasons.

The only open-world racing game that matters

Forza Horizon’s take on racing games is inherently attractive and in many ways without competition. Most driving games with open world freedom have such a tepid driving experience that any real skill is wasted. On the other hand, most games that reward skill stick you on a race track with strict rules and never let you mess around. Horizon rewards good driving, silly driving, and wild driving, and lets you pick whichever you prefer.

In proper Forza style, the game kicks off with a moment of beautifully rendered glory that puts you in the car on the front of the package. This time, it’s with a twist. You’re racing in the glorious McLaren Senna on a sunny day, but then the game cycles through season, giving you a taste of a rally car in the autumn mud, an overland truck in the winter snow, and then back to flying down a dry road in the Senna. It’s a simple trick that sets up expectations for the game very nicely. It makes you want to get that Senna back.

After the intro you’re offered a choice of cars, which is mostly up to personal preference, although the Focus RS might be a wise option given how easily is can be tuned for road racing or rally. Speaking of which, it’s easy to get lost in acquiring more cars — one you shouldn’t forget to tune your existing cars. Find one you like and spend some CR (Forzish for money) on it. It’s easy to race a car a few times, figure out where you tend to exceed its limitations, and then make a few quick fixes to suit your car better to you. Trust us, you’ll win more.

Playing the events is fun, customizing and collecting cars is fun, ad-hoc street racing with other people is fun, and just driving around enjoying the spectacular graphics and exciting setting is fun.

Then it’s out into the pre-season game, which is populated with bots and exists for you to find your footing. The goal is to get enough points to qualify for the first season, which is Autumn. You get points by doing virtually anything fun. You get points for participating in road races, rally races, overland races, illegal street races, and special Top Gear-style showcase events, and then you get more points for winning them. Then you can get points for jumping off things, general hooning, stunt driving, knocking over signs with points written on them, breaking things, going fast, getting cars, tuning cars, finding cars in barns, and much more. Everything you do in game progresses you, nothing sets you back, and everything is repeatable. There’s no pressure.

That’s fine, because Forza Horizon is about freedom. Freedom from game limitations, freedom from the consequences of poorly piloting a motor vehicle, freedom from laws. This is a game where you can buy a castle, put rally tires on a Bugatti Chiron, and then do laps drifting in the dirt with your insane hypercar around your castle. You can drive a ten million dollar 1968 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale in a riverbed — and be rewarded for it. Have fun putting a huge engine, AWD, and racing tires in a Abarth 695 Biposto and challenging Paganis to street races.

Then – and here’s the genuinely new part – you can go back and try the same stuff again in a different season. Mud, rain, snow, and clear days all change your approach, and adding new variation to the same list of events. Many races will make you want different cars based on the season. Road races in powerful RWD supercars like a McLaren P1 are a lot harder on an icy road than in an AWD Lambo that can recover from a Scandinavian flick around a hairpin by clawing at the ground with four tires. It’s worth trying each event in each season; some that might not have been as enjoyable in one condition might be great with different weather.

You can drive a $10M 1968 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale in a riverbed and get rewarded for it.

The game’s physics, which are largely lifted from the much more straight-laced Forza Motorsport series, are toned down a tad to make the game more approachable. Hardcore sim racers will think it feels a bit like an arcade game, but casual arcade racers may think it feels like a sim. It won’t wear you down or punish you for tiny mistakes like a true sim will, but it still rewards good technique, and you need to use your brakes instead of trying to powerslide through each turn.

The only things that weren’t fun were a bug in which all in-game, but not in-menu sound, muted itself. We had to delete our game files entirely to fix it.

Loot boxes don’t spoil the fun

The Forza franchise has offered annoying microtransactions in past versions, but they’ve gone away for Forza Horizon 4. Some randomized rewards still exist, but you can bypass them with real money.

Our Take

Forza Horizon 4 has always focused on fun over realism, and it’s successful. The events are fun, customizing and collecting cars is fun, ad-hoc street racing with other people is fun, and driving around enjoying the spectacular graphics and exciting setting is fun. It’s the perfect racing game for the vast majority of gamers. Even for race sim fans, it’s going to be a delightful diversion for tired people who just can’t be bothered to focus hard and be very serious. Sometimes it’s better to try to jump over a building in a 1968 VW Beetle.

Is there a better alternative?

There are games that simulate driving better, and there are games that are more fantastical in their approach, but nothing really straddles the line like this.

How long will it last?

Horizon came out in 2012, Horizon 2 in 2014, and Horizon 3 in 2016, so we’d wager that this is going to get be replaced by a new version in 2020. Until then, it’ll definitely keep you busy.

Should you buy it?

If you like driving games, you’ll get enjoyment out of this game. Just set the difficulty how you want it, and have at it.

Editors' Recommendations

Stirling Matheson
Stirling Matheson is an journalist who has covered real and simulated cars since 2009. In addition to driving, Stirling is…
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