Forza Horizon 4 review: Believe the hype?
Our social life died this week, all in the aid of playing as much Forza Horizon 4 as possible. So just how good is Microsoft's blockbuster racer?
Forza Horizon 4 is the latest in the open-world racing game series, a potential Microsoft blockbuster and one of the relatively few console exclusives left. So you can see why it has been hyped up to Mount Everest heights.
Being the sequel of a highly-rated racing game, which was really only marred by a slightly weak end-game, also means the fall from grace would be particularly painful. Has developer Playground Games and Microsoft built on previous success?
Having reached rank 57, purchased more than 60 cars, found all but three barn finds, blitzed past numerous speed cameras at jail-inducing speeds and become quite fond of our TVR Speed 12's pink paintjob, we feel like we can answer that question. Well, sort of.
But before we get to that, you should know the Forza Horizon 4 Ultimate Edition will be available on the 28th of September, 2018. With it comes the Hoonigan and James Bond DLC as well as VIP membership. The launch for the two other editions is the 2nd of October.
Forza Horizon 4 review: What's the deal?
The autumn is one of the prettiest seasons (in-game)
460 cars from 100 manufacturers, an open world set in Britain, 25 campaign modes, Forzathon challenges a, route creator and an experience that, once you get your Yellow Wristband, is shared with other players. It all sounds very impressive ─ and it is.
One of the biggest changes is the move to an online world, where you can see and join in with other players to complete certain tasks (or go against them), with Forzapoints awarded that can be used for the purchase of rare clothing, emotes, vehicles and other stuff.
You also get daily and weekly challenges and seasonal shifts once a week (every Thursday at 14:30 UTC), both of which encourage you to return to the game. Because in winter, for instance, certain previously unreachable areas open up. And because snow.
In terms of cars, bar the absence of Mitsubishi, Toyota and Lexus, there is a strong possibility your favourite steed is available, tuneable and paintable in any shade of colour you can imagine. Although Forza Motorsport 7's 700-odd car list is more comprehensive.
Ariel Nomad being, erm, nomadic
It is also likely you will find your particular motoring preferences represented thoroughly. Drifters not only have access to the Hoonigan DLC pack, with a group of very sideways-prone, horsepower-blessed monsters, there are plenty of places to use them.
Street racing fans, meanwhile, can blitz around the main city of Edinburgh while dodging traffic and those who prefer four-wheel drive rally cars can stick to the confines of lush forests and the dirt trails they hide.
Things from Forza Horizon 3 have also made it into the latest addition, such as the satisfying 'Barn Find', which has you locating barns in obscure places for the reward of a rare car. One being a very, very fast Lotus.
You can, of course, play the game 'Solo', with AI-controlled Drivatars driving around to keep you company (and race against), but the random element human players add really helps bring Forza Horizon 4 to life.
Forza Horizon 4 review: Is it, you know, fun?
The Showcase events are some of the most dramatic
You would think Forza Horizon 4 errs on the arcadey side, but realism is prominent. Drift cars, for instance, require delicate inputs to maintain a slide and to be gentle with the accelerator unless you like doing doughnuts.
The McLaren Senna (the game's cover car), meanwhile, is stuck to the floor by that giant rear wing, allowing ridiculously fast cornering speeds and the ability to lose huge amounts of speed fast ─ just like in the real car.
As a result, practice really does make perfect, particularly when you take part in the Hire Car business missions, which require you to keep your foot buried in twitchy hypercars such as the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport along incredibly fast and narrow country roads.
Turning off driving aids such as the correct racing line and automatic gears provides a per cent boost to your winnings, as before, so it is worth making life difficult as early as possible. But then a lack of ABS and TCS can bite your in the arse until you get used it.
460 cars are included
What really makes Forza Horizon 4 enjoyable is the sheer variety. Rarely does 'the grind' creep in as each mission type puts you in a new, exciting machine or has you taking a completely new route.
Or you can buy a new house, which gives you loot and, sometimes, an active perk such as double points, although in this case you will need to front up 5,000,000 credits if you are buying anything but the Ultimate Edition, which gives it to you for free.
It helps, too, that Forza Horizon 4's interpretation of Britain is magnificent. Any concerns over overly wide roads and a lack of personality are soon a distant memory as the game is incredibly pretty. Jaw-droppingly so, in fact, particularly around the Lake District area.
Not just in terms of how realistic it all looks, from the road sign designs to the cars you see on the road and the accurate layout of Edinburgh, or the fact it runs at 4K at a smooth 30 frames per second (or 60fps at 1080p, if you prefer), but also because of the way it is put together.
One particularly impressive landscape features an old viaduct way above the grassy valley floor, with steep, rocky hills in the background. Chuck in the golden hues of autumn and you cannot help but bust out the photo mode and snap your car in the setting. The beauty of Britain, as well as its soul and personality, has never been portrayed better.
Circular headlights = cute
The inspired design efforts extend to the missions, which rarely fall flat. Without giving too much away, the much-reported Halo Showcase is so jam-packed with little details from the famous Xbox FPS that you can only smile like a loon as you complete it.
You also get to race against a jet, hovercraft and even a train, all of which are bags of fun to play to the point where you are happy to keep retrying until you nail that three-medal rating and the greater reward it brings. At its peak, the sheer scale and drama of each event is up there with any non-racing game blockbuster.
One particularly interesting element is the Wheel of Fortune style Horizon Wheelspin, which are given out quite often for completing certain challenges. These are random loot drops that can give you anything from a mystery Forza Edition car such as the 1972 Land Rover Defender Series III to an item of clothing for your character.
This makes getting every item and every car a little more difficult as luck is a big factor, and you could air some concerns over the gambling machine-esque element potentially thrust onto younger, impressionable minds. But it also means you are never far from having something new to play with.
Drag strip races are short but sweet
There are, of course, times you may want to step away from making credits and simply cruise along largely empty B-roads, which we ended up doing in our Sean Connery-approved Aston Martin DB5 (available with Forzathon points and part of the James Bond DLC).
Or try to get up to Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh as fast as possible. There's scope for exploration aplenty, especially as the game is littered with little signs that provide a fast travel location or bonus points.
You can also fully nerd-out on each car, either by taking photos of it or parking it up outside your house so you can open the bonnet, check out the interior, beep the horn or even rev the engine. For car lovers, it is as close to the real thing as possible although the lack of VR support is a shame.
Ultimately, Forza Horizon 4 is even slicker and more challenge-packed than its predecessor and that alone improves the longevity. But the fact you can team up with other players and complete ever-changing challenges in ever-changing seasons is a big plus. It's a move seen in the likes of Destiny 2 and, done right, could keep players around for longer.
Forza Horizon 4 review: What about the bad stuff?
The variety of vehicles available is impressive
Given how rich and entertaining the Forza Horizon 4 world is, you would expect a few bad apples. One is that the odd challenge fails to be as dramatic as expected, the last Stunt Driver challenge being a prime example.
There is also a concern that the amount of daily and weekly content will get a bit samey once you have completed all the other cool stuff, although if Playground Games is sensible it will do its best to avoid that scenario. Or risk upsetting the internet.
This is particularly true when you consider the game world is the same size as Forza Horizon 3. In other words, it is impressive but will have its limits. By around 20 hours or so, we had driven nearly half of the game's roads without really trying.
More annoying than anything, however, is the loading time. Narrowly miss out on that three-medal rating you are chasing and you get to endure a considerably long wait (on a standard Xbox One, at least). After the 17th time, it can be grating.
Then there is the AI difficulty, which is competent enough that it tests you and it is usually easy to know where you can make up time. But on occasion it will absolutely hammer you, while at least two challenges have a seemingly impossible time to beat for the top rating. Cue yet more dull countryside loading screens.
The James Bond Car Pack comes part of the Ultimate Edition
Some of the dialogue in the game varies massively in quality, too. One part has you completing a 'top 10 best racing game cars' feature for a YouTube star, which is both enjoyable, somewhat informative and pokes fun at modern gaming. It's really quite witty, self-aware stuff.
But at other times, you get repeat messages worded in a cheesy, off-putting way. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between and, to some extent, the inclusion of numerous British accents goes some way in undoing the damage.
There are also some minor graphical glitches and it is possible to get stuck for long periods of time because of the occasionally inconsistent physics system. Why is it that some rocks are near-impossible to drive over, even for the mighty Jeep Wildcat?
To be fair, we really had to nitpick for some of these negatives because as things stand there is very little to dislike in Forza Horizon 4. For a day one product, it is remarkably polished. Given that we saw at least two updates during our week-long test of the full game, the future bodes well.
Forza Horizon 4 review: The verdict
Drifting, without the expensive tyre bills
So was it worth spending hours and hours playing Forza Horizon 4? Without a doubt. For casual and hardcore racing game fans alike, even those who played Forza Horizon 3 to death, there is enough content to keep you glued to your screen or monitor.
It would have been easy for Microsoft and Playground Games to take the easy route and release Forza Horizon 3.5. The weight of the franchise would have brought in the gold regardless. But such care has been taken to make everything interesting and look engaging that you can only marvel at its brilliance.
I'll put it like this: Absolutely no other game has kept my attention as effectively as Forza Horizon 4 in 2018 and I can see that being the case for the foreseeable future. Long enough, anyway, for it to be worth its price tag and for my friends to forget what I look like.