When the world talks about poster children, it usually means someone, or something, is now branded a benchmark. In the case of Forza Horizon 4, it’s that Playground Games’ newest livery entry in Forza Horizon 4, is now the visual, content and fun benchmark for games in 2018. This is a big statement because already 2018 has been a benchmark year. (Or ‘poster child' year.) And will continue to be so with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
and Red Dead Redemption 2
yet to drop alongside a number of other big names. But if there’s a game you’ll be picking up and playing at will, a game you might consider console or TV upgrades for; a game that will just glue you to your seat for its purity in content, then Forza Horizon 4 will be it.
On Xbox One X playing with my Elite Controller on my 65“ curved Samsung QLED Q8C, there is almost
no better game to highlight our need to shift immediately into 4K HDR screenage. It is simply breathtaking. And it’s not just how HDR affects the myriad environmental effects found within the game, it’s the the game-world itself -- a transformative, sprawling play-space with your name marked in tyre-tracks waiting to be written all over it.
No matter where you look the eye-candy results are readily impressive. From a skyline that changes and reflects -- in realistic fashion -- the seasonal tone, to car models that display stories of dirt and gravel; of marked off road grit and tight-line bitumen racing in vehicles some of us will never even see in real-life. All coming off a seemingly perfect production line, or triumphantly emerging from a recent visit to a car wash. Then there are the little details both on
road -- from vast rolling hills filled with grazing sheep to country towns and historic cottages, houses and castles, all situated next to picturesque waterfronts, dense Robin Hood-housing forests or cute time-locked villages. Like an interactive painting, photo, or time-lapse video -- Forza Horizon 4 showcases the passage of time in an idyllic world where car racing is all but a religion.
It makes the racing even more visceral this time around, which when you consider the heritage here, is no small feat..."
This is as inviting an open-world in this series yet. It might not be a better
environment than Forza Horizon 3, I reckon a number of Aussies will agree with me there while our Pommy mates are likely scoffing at that statement, but if I can park
the last game’s Down Under playground and focus on the wet cobblestones of dreary old England for this latest entry - I think we can all probably agree that Forza Horizon 4 is now the best game in the series.
And much of that is because you do the same races, over and over again.
How this makes it better though, is one of the key dot-points of the game: seasonal shifts and dynamic weather to match. It’s not a seamless system. More binary in its foundation if you ignore the dynamic nature of weather based on each season, but that’s not a bad thing. Many races in the game-world are the same in terms of track (location) and distance, but when you take on a road race in Summer that is at absolute odds with the same race on a rainy day in Autumn, then the game’s juxtaposed seasons system really begins to shine, despite what the weather is like at any given moment.
And this is an easy dot-point to highlight: it changes the game beyond visual sheen and charges players with new ways to think about races; about their cars or their car setups (if you’re so inclined). It makes the racing even more visceral this time around, which when you consider the heritage here, is no small feat. Moreover, smaller, more social and streamlined additions have come to the game. It’s not just you flying solo amidst Drivatars and AI anymore, now alongside those androids who dream of electric sheep are real people. No more posing Deckards -- some cars are the real deal, and you can interact with them through a simple and inoffensive emote system that also allows you to invite them into a co-op or competitive race, or to just join you in a general driving session. And while we love our Roy Batty Drivatars and their oft Batty like-for-like unpredictability, having actual real-time humans in the game just helps it feel more alive.
Maybe the next DLC needs synth, hover cars and lots of neon.
But seriously moving on, where Forza Horizon 4 also stands out is in its manifest of activities. It’s not something the series has been wanting for over the past few entries, but it doesn’t mean Playground isn’t thinking about new activities, or about ways to make known activities sing at a higher pitch. This time around, the game paces out its delivery of what you can partake in, even holding back co-op for a while. Barn Finds don’t come in for even longer, while your access to vehicles continues at the usual steady pace. What this means is the studio has worked hard to ensure you better understand the nuance of their ever-changing world before you’re set free to conquer it.
"This is a series that has transcended racing games on the whole, while remaining true to car culture, car religion and hardcore car people..."
Staples remain such as speed cameras, hidden signs, a photo mode, crazy jumps, illegal street races, showcase events and more. While new additions include helping a film crew with stunt driving, buying houses and also choosing an avatar. The avatar side of the game felt a bit superfluous if I’m being honest, given you’re pretty much only ever driving, and while it was cool that my onboard AI navigator, Anna, actually called me Stephen (which was weird because in Forza Horizon 3 I chose “Mate” as my nickname), the personal, intimate side to the game, which promotes gaining ‘followers’ and ‘influence’ does feel a bit forced and reflective of our current “Gram”, “Tuber”, “I’m Internet famous” lifestyle -- a lifestyle I hope will get off my lawn sooner, rather than later. But I digress.
There’s not a lot to dislike about Forza Horizon 4. This is a series that has transcended racing games on the whole, while remaining true to car culture, car religion and hardcore car people. But you also don’t have to be one of them to enjoy it. It continues to push the visual side of what open-world gaming can be through each entry, and this time around comes with a greater sense of tease given we now know this studio is working on an “open-world action-RPG” (rumoured to be a Fable reboot). More than that though, it has simply refined what already makes a Horizon game a must-own, and in a year full of PlayStation 4 exclusives like the recent Spider-Man, Microsoft has needed an authoritative reminder that “games play best on Xbox One X”, a factor Forza Horizon 4 champions, and then some.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest this is one of the best looking current-gen games going around at the moment, and if you ever needed a reason to convince yourself, your parents, your loved-one(s) that it’s time for an upgrade to 4K HDR gaming in both the hardware and screen front, you really couldn’t look past this poster child.