Despite a vast array of titles to pick and choose from, the racing genre seems to maintain a consistent level of popularity. It’s always had its doors open to newcomers, but the Horizon series, in particular, has been a significant catalyst for increased mainstream appeal, with Playground Games nailing the online experience of a seamless open world that anyone can jump into. I’ve always been curious about why the Horizon games are held in such high regard, so I was eager to jump into the 4th entry and find out for myself.
In Horizon 4, you play as a custom-created rookie racer who’s competing in the Horizon Festival, situated in Britain this time around. It’s the kind of cheesy and over the top story you’d expect from a game like this, and it doesn’t take itself particularly seriously. While the voice acting is good and the characters you have limited interaction with add some life to the world, the narrative will never be at the forefront of anyone’s mind while playing the game.
Horizon 4’s most substantial difference to past entries is in the introduction of seasons. Aside from day/night cycles and dynamic weather systems, the game progresses through the different seasons which can drastically alter how the map looks and how you drive. Winter allows for far more slippery terrain, while cars kick up falling leaves in the tailwind left behind by their blisteringly fast speeds in Autumn. These systems alone make the game feel alive, ever-changing, and fresh. Knowing that all of these factors can change in an instant, influencing how you play and what you see, is a beautiful notion.
The activities you’ll participate in are just as varied, but some are more exciting than others. Street races, short sprints, and showcase events stole the show for me. Showcase events, in particular, have a spectacle to them that’s unrivalled in any other race type. You’ll compete against a jet, a giant hovercraft, a train, the list goes on. The same can’t be said for dirt racing, but that’s my personal opinion, and the beauty of Horizon 4 is that there’s something for everyone here. Competing in these events earns influence points, which inches you towards securing a spot on the Horizon roster, while also cycling you through seasons. Aside from this, though, there isn’t much player progression, and it quickly becomes clear that it’s something sorely lacking from the formula. Once you earn a spot on the Horizon Roster, a slew of end-game activities open up, which cycle on a regular basis with new goals and rewards for completion. You also earn skill points for each individual car, but the skills you unlock feel redundant and unnecassary.
There are over 450 cars to collect and upgrade as you play, and all of them feel great to drive. I found myself setting my sights on cars that appealed to me, and made it a point to save the credits for them, regardless of how lofty some of the price tags are. The sheer number of different manufacturers and makes is sure to please any car enthusiast who’s into collecting, upgrading, and modifying their cars.
As you explore, you’ll run into other players that you can invite to races, convoys, and all manner of other activities. It creates a real sense of community and a natural shared-world, as you blast past people journeying to another destination. You can create your own races with specific car types and racing conditions that other players can participate in, and offering them to do so is quick, seamless, and innovative. It makes the affair of playing online wonderfully simple while maintaining a believable and realistic play-space.
Forza has always been praised for its beautiful visuals, and for a good reason. All four seasons have a unique visual style to them, but each of them is as visually engaging as each other. The car models and environmental detail is gorgeous, even when you’re travelling at blisteringly fast speeds. The performance is also excellent despite how crowded the screen can get sometimes. The soundtrack choice here is incredible, each channel has a separate style of music, and I never failed to find something I wanted to listen to while I drove.
Forza Horizon 4 has impressed me in a lot of ways and disappointed me in some others. I can certainly see why previous entries are held so high in praise, but as an outsider to the genre, I don’t feel engaged enough to constantly come back to it as one of my go-to games. What I can see myself doing, however, is jumping on, driving around, completing a few races, and enjoying what the open world has to offer. It’s a beautifully realised racing experience that lacks in some areas but excels in most. It’s an entry into the genre that any fan can and should enjoy, while still being beginner friendly enough to open its doors to those who aren’t intimately familiar with its appeals. The fact it’s also included with Game Pass makes it a no-brainer to those subscribed and only further adds to the value of that service.