I hope you've all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year. I did. At least after tolerating countless re-plays of Noddy Holder and spending at least 3 days drinking and assembling toys. Yes, it was a merry Christmas and at least some of the presents are functioning and not broken.
It was also a gamey Christmas. Despite Clarkson owing me a favor, my advance review copy of the 'The Grand Tour' game still hasn't materialized. Irrespective of that, I did have two games in my stocking this year. The first was 'Call of Duty: WW2' - not a game for a petrolhead you might think, but you'd actually be wrong. There's quite a bit of driving in the game, from ancient Sherman Tanks to woefully handling willy's jeeps. Despite the poor driving dynamics though, it was quite good fun - racing through the French countryside, dodging bullets and running over Nazis.
The game you're REALLY interested in though, is Forza Horizon 4. It's been out for a bit, but I wanted to give you my perspective anyway. I've never played a Horizon before - I've always gone for the track-based versions of the game.
So How Is it?
Well, I'll be honest, I was a little disappointed. I'd heard that Forza Horizon games allow you to drive around the roads of the country where they are set. In my absurdly over-optimistic mind, this meant I'd envisaged being able to drive past a digitally rendered version of my house. This is not so. Forza Horizon 4 does NOT allow you to drive around the UK. It basically allows you drive around an almost Utopian representation of what the UK SHOULD be. There are no litter-strewn, graffiti-besmirched town centres with gangs of youths spitting at you and throwing stones at your car. There are no endless queues of traffic down coned-off motorways with zero evidence of any actual work being done, ANYWHERE. Forza Horizon 4 isn't the UK, it's how you'd like to think the UK was. As if you were remembering it through rose-tinted glasses. There are quaint villages, picturesque lakes, rolling hills and winding country lanes.
Yeah, but what about the Driving?
The cars drive well. I play on a controller and that's always a compromise, but the driving is fun, if lacking in realism. The cars in Forz Horizon 4 are essentially indestructible. Yes, you can crack the windscreen - but it doesn't affect anything and it magically self-repairs periodically. The game seems to involve driving between events, competing and earning money and influence.
Are the cars any good though?
At this point in time I've only played for a few hours. So far, I've been impressed with the cars on offer. The initial choice was between a Focus RS, a big American Muscle Car or some other car, so dull I can't remember what it was. Naturally I chose the Focus RS. At the first 'Dirt' event I was offered another car. This time I selected a Lancia 037. For the first cross-country event I picked a Baja Bug which was rather mental, but performed impressively.
And you can upgrade and tune them?
Yes you can! Anyone who follows me will recall my taste for impossible to drive, ridiculously upgraded cars. Most notably 'Satan's D-Type' on Forza Motorsport 5, a 1200 BHP fire-breathing monster that wants to kill you more than the Terminator wanted to kill Sarah Connor and probably has more chance of succeeding.
In this instance of Forza, for my first car purchase achievement I went for a classic Abarth 595 Esse Esse. I then proceeded to paint it a really tasteless colour, widen the track, fit wider wheels, make it AWD and fit a 500 BHP rally engine in it. The result was... Interesting to drive. It's certainly exciting to drive, but I suspect in real life it would be utterly terrifying. When I say exciting to drive, I mean 'bomb-diffusing' exciting. Brown trousers time, and you know a tiny slip of the thumb is going to lead to something messy and life-threatening.
So what sort of progress have you made in the game?
I'm through a few seasons. The seasons are a really nice feature. The landscape really changes giving each season its own visual character. What I'm not sure changes, are the driving dynamics. I expected to feel the cars becoming more of a handful in winter, but so far I've not noticed much difference. I've entered a few road races and a few dirt races. What is notably missing is any track driving. I appreciate you're supposed to buy Forza Motorsport 7 for that, but I think it'd be nice if you could drive to a couple of tracks in Forza Horizon. This may exist later in the game, but I feel like it probably doesn't.
I have a house now too! The house was given to me as part of the 'Stunt Driver' story campaign. You can see the house, the Abarth and an example of a 'Stunt Driver Mission' in the below clip.
My rather shoddy attempt at 'stunt driving' though to be fair it was in a Merc SUV so...
The stunt driver missions are fun, if I suspect slightly unrealistic. The plot is essentially that your epic driving has been spotted and you get offered a chance to fill in a slot for a stunt driver working on a film. The first stunt involves performing a 200M plus jump in a Bugatti Veyron. Then there's a picturesque high-speed drive in a vintage race-car and a bizarre scene where you have to do lots of burnouts and drifting while smashing up a picturesque village in a Ford Focus Rally Car. How this all fits together into a cohesive film I have literally no idea. If this WAS an actual film that was being made it would probably be REALLY crap and feature about 160 minutes of YOU crashing into stuff, with about 10 minutes of the star acting. It gets even more ridiculous when the cockney git hiring you starts suggesting the producer has started writing in stunts especially FOR you!
So what's the overall impression so far?
After a few hours, I would say... It's fun. It's full of great visuals, it's easy and fun to control and it has a good variety of cars and events. What it doesn't have is much in the way of serious realism. Even the England it's set in appears to be a rather contrived caricature - that feels like it was made up by an American. The events seem contrived and pandering to your immature petrolhead fantasies. In fact, that's pretty much the entire game. It's a representation of what the developers think is a Utopian, petrolhead, 'wet dream'. You get given cars, and houses, while driving at high speed through picturesque countryside, devoid of sleeping policemen, speed cameras or traffic jams. You are constantly praised for your epic driving skills and crashing has no real consequences.
So it's literally nothing like real life. It's about as realistic as expecting to serve Clarkson cold meats without getting assaulted or giving Richard Hammond the keys to a supercar and expecting to get it back in one piece.
It's not life. It's better than life. It's a representation of what a petrolhead would expect heaven to be like - at least from a purely automotive perspective. Oh and I think I'd like more cars. It has a LOT of cars, but you can never have too much choice can you?
Utter nonsense, but bizarrely good fun...