September 25, 2018

Forza Horizon 4 - Review

When Playground Games announced they were taking Horizon 4 to Great Britain, I was worried that it was stepping back, after Australia, the UK does not seem so great, but they have delivered another mostly incredible game.

As is the standard these days, you are an unknown racer, who comes to the Horizon festival to make a name for yourself, however unlike 3, here you are not the boss, you are a no one and it is up to you, to build your reputation, because in Horizon 4, rep is everything. After you meet a few of the Horizon folks, you are given a choice of car and then told head to your first event, this is where the game starts to change, so you need to pay attention. There are multiple racing disciplines on offer, your basic racing, dirt racing, street racing (totally not sanctioned by the Horizon festival) drag racing, cross country and rally style and as you compete in them, you will unlock more events in that series. If you ignore something like Street racing, you could be in series 2 there, while the others are much higher.

Of course, the biggest advertised change to the series is the addition of seasons, and while more on the details later, you need to know that each season will bring its own series of challenges and finds to discover, so keeping an eye on what is around, for that season is something you need to do. As you compete and hopefully win races in each discipline, you will level up in that, along with your overall level and as you level up, you will unlock items and cars that you can’t get any other way. There are other events you will take place in, depending on the season, these can be story based, well as much as the game has story, or they can just be seasonal events if you are unsure if you have found a seasonal event, just look for the mass of players all doing burnouts in the one location. The ‘story’ events are things like the Stunt driver, where you, who happens to look just like a Hollywood actor, are given the task of completing a series of events, with specific conditions, like racing to a point along the coast, without damaging the car. Driving through Edinburgh one time, I found another story mission, this time, owning a car rental store, that caters especially to supercars and you get to try them out, before they are rented out.

With all the events the game offers, not counting anything that is seasonal, it truly is the most packed game ever and we still have not mentioned the route creator, which is still to come, the downside to all of this, is that there is just way too much to take in. By the time I hit level 20, which is when you are invited to join the Horizon festival proper, I had a mass of icons on the map screen, racing events, houses, billboards, stunts, speed traps, danger zones and more, it was a bit of a nightmare and it just keeps growing. As you can replay any event in any season, excluding seasonal ones, keeping them on the map serves a purpose, however it results in quite a clutter and sadly that carries across to the menus. As Horizon 4 is about the lifestyle of someone involved in a car festival, as much as it is about the cars, this time you can purchase houses to hang out at, change how your character looks and more, the problem is that there is as much to do in that menu then there is the whole game. 

As you level up and earn wheelspins (the regular or the super ones), or level in racing disciplines, you will eventually unlock clothing options, now I myself equipped the James Bond suit and never looked back, but if you want you can rock a tropical shirt, with a grandpa hat, neon shorts and gumboots. You will also unlock emotes, dances that you character does while either waiting for a race to begin, or after winning one and combining the two is quite funny, though utterly pointless as you can’t get out of your car to wander around, you only see your character in cutscenes and as you can only have two dance emotes selected, you see the same ones, over and over again. The other issue is that, when you hit up beauty spots, locations that attempt to showcase the true beauty of the UK, your character will do one of those two emotes again and seeing your guy doing the running man whilst standing atop a frozen waterfall might sound cool, but not only does it wears thin, fast, it takes away from the vista you are being shown.

However, the racing is still as incredible as ever, the controls are tight and responsive and even when taking place in drag races, a first for the Horizon series, it works perfectly. The game still rewards you for taking risks and pulling off crazy moves, but this time as well, it will earn you influence, letting you level up and unlock showcases and such faster. The drivatar system works as it has in the past, meaning that at random times, you will see the same characters for that session causing you no end of grief as they drive in front of you and such, however this year the game offers you the chance to do away with them and have actual real world people. When you take the game online, you get the shared world experience, letting you race around and interact with other drivers, which is where the seasonal event burnouts come into play and this feels amazing, which coming from someone who does not like shared worlds, is saying something.

As you are racing around, you might see the name of another player off in the distance, get close enough and you will see their car and you can choose to ignore them or join up with them. If you ignore them, or are just driving past, their car will change to a ghost version if you get to close, letting you drive through them, without taking damage, the flip side is that if another player wants to be a tool about things and try to cause problems, they will never be able to as you will become a ghost when they try to drive into you. The game world can host 72 players in a game session, which sounds like a lot, but when you consider the size of the map, you are unlikely to run into anyone, if you choose to, the seasonal events and playground games, will call people to set locations as well, giving you an easy way to avoid them. If you have bad internet, which let’s face it, in Australia is likely or just want to play offline, the game let’s you do that, heck if your connection drops in the middle of your playing, the game just reverts back to offline and floods the map with drivatars again.

Finally, there is the map and its seasons and with the tag line of seasons change everything, you would hope they do, however the simple answer is they don’t, now that is not to say that driving around in winter is not a blast, drifting in the right car or sliding everywhere in the wrong car, is a hoot. The problem comes from the fact that the seasons are not dynamic, there is no in game transition from one to the next, instead the game takes you out of the experience and loads you up into the new season. The other issue is apart from Winter, the rest could be colour pallet swapped versions of themselves, Summer is bright and shiny, whereas Spring and Autumn are likely to rain and have puddles on the road, this was always the case and as long as you have the right car, you are fine, in fact anything AWD (All-Wheel Drive) and you are set for every season. 

What seasons do offer is a really incredible array of colours and sights to behold, in fact the game is staggeringly beautiful, so much so that I would just stop to check out a vista, quite often. As the seasons are on a 7-day, real world cycle, you will need to get used a set season, or just not play the game for that week, as there is no way to change it yourself, which when combined with the shared world, makes some sense. Taking your car of choice out and driving it amongst the trees as the leaves are shades of brown, red and yellow, is really nice and same for Winter, but swap trees with snow-covered fields, the game offers no end of sights to discover. While the game looks amazing, there is no denying that England, the UK, Great Britain, whatever you call it, is not a fun place to explore, there is no map variety to experience and while the seasons change the look, the map is still the same, only going to Winter with its frozen lakes, offers something truly different, Australia had a wealth of different climates to explore, Southern Europe the same, so getting nothing but green is a let down.

Another let down is the constant visual and audio related quirks I endured, from muddy or blocky textures and up, there was no end to the presentation issues I got to enjoy. Now, when these don’t occur, the game looks incredible and playing it on Xbox One X, it looked even better, but the number of issues that appeared caused me to pause. One instance had the camera looking at the ground and all I saw were giant squares of colour, attempting to make up a texture, another one had the entire skybox vanish, clouds one moment, giant black nothing the next and then a few seconds later it appeared again. The game also suffered visual bugs when loading into races, I am ignoring the bizarre loading screens they force upon you, taking you out of the immersion of the game, but as they continue to use a one size fits all camera, you will get cars clipping through or worse, the camera just not able to fit everything into shot. 

The audio problems are not as bad, but ignoring the track selection for the game, which I was not a real fan of in this installment, there were multiple times when the radio announcers, would come on and speak, only to begin a song and then come back on to speak and say something different to what they just announced. The oddest occurrence I can highlight is that I loaded into the game after a race and it was overcast and raining and the Pulse lady claimed it was a beautiful autumn day, which might be true, but for England normally, but claiming how the sun is shining, leaves are falling through windows and such, but it being the complete opposite was just, strange.

Forza Horizon 4 is an incredible game, it takes the formula is has been perfecting over the years and kicks it up to 12 now and with the shared world experience, you can now enjoy every aspect with real people. There is a lot I did not cover here, Forzathon is back and fans will enjoy the constant challenges it now offers, but not everything new works as well. Seasons don’t really change the gameplay as much as advertised, we have had snow before, as well as heavy rain and while they look incredible, they do more for the visuals than the gameplay. 

Review copy provided by Xbox Australia

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