Once I was dropped into the opening scene of Forza Horizon 4 I saw the most stunning visuals I had ever experienced in a video game. I also immediately felt the rush of adrenaline behind the wheel while the controls felt spectacular from the start.
Having not played many racing games since Juiced 2 for PS2, the controls were so much more realistic than I expected while still being comfortable right from the start. This game coming from the Horizon series in Forza and not the Motorsport series, I expected this game to be more over-the-top compared to a simulation racing game. To my surprise, the game delivers those over-the-top moments while still retaining more realistic racing mechanics than street-racers of the past.
Once I entered the horizon festival the game expanded, and I was able to take on whatever races and challenges I saw fit in order to make a name for myself. This open world was immersive and maneuvering around from race to race was identical to in-race gameplay, which I enjoyed.
In my first rally race I felt the immense satisfaction of drifting around a corner just right in order to slide past two other cars, and this feeling never ceased in the races to come. Learning what my car was capable of and learning when to make my moves was supremely rewarding.
Each race really felt like its own challenge that I seldom perfected the first time around. Only after taking a few runs to learn the track and the turns was I able to finish in first place.
After each race experience is earned toward that particular race series (street, dirt, etc.) and toward the horizon season as a whole. Getting to the end of each season is what moves the game forward, but I had options and I did not want to race in a certain series if I did not want to.
Skill points are also earned both in races and in the open world by driving fast, drifting, or doing pretty much anything. These skill points are spent on specific cars but did not really add much to the experience for me besides possibly granting me more cars via prize wheel spins.
Lastly money is earned that can be used to buy cars or upgrades. I have only bought a couple cars and upgrade so far, though, as they are not necessary to win harder races or anything like that. In fact, most of the game can be played with a single car. And upgrades are not always worth the money as much like tuning the car tuning the car it can come down to a matter of preference.
A nice part of the progression system is that more money can be earned each race by raising the difficulty of the driving controls, opponents’ driving skills, user-assist tools, etc. In this way I could really customize each race to the experience I wanted. I often wanted driving to be a little bit more difficult, so I turned off the rewind option, stability control, and turned the driving line down to brakes only. It felt good to win even when doing this and upping the opponent difficulty, but I also knew I wasn’t losing much by easing the AI during a couple tougher tracks.
As for the cars, again they can be tuned to my liking with massively deep tuning options if I was interested. It was good to know it were there but were not necessary to be great at racing. My cars’ appearances could also be customized to look exactly how I want, which if I were more of an artist, I could see myself sinking hours into. Thankfully it is free and easy to load community designs that are well beyond my capabilities and had my cars looking awesome.
Taking on different challenges such as cross-country races or street races or sprints brought some variety to the gameplay, but as I stated earlier most of the game can be played with one car, so it was often up to me to add that change of pace. Most races can be customized, meaning that I could use whatever class of vehicle I want and the others in the race will drive similar cars. I think this is a misstep, though, as I want to be challenged and forced to drive different cars, and I want a reason to have to buy a new car. I would prefer if there were races that I could not enter until I had a certain kind of vehicle that I had to work to earn the money to buy. This would have made me care more about the money I earned.
Having the options to progress deep into the dirt series while leaving the drifting alone is a nice feature, but no matter what I did I did not really feel more motivated to go in any certain direction or accomplish anything in specific. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that on the micro scale, each turn of each race was a fun challenge, but on the macro scale I did not feel more accomplished when I got to the next level of a certain story arc.
I did really enjoy the “boss fights” at the end of each season, though, where I was forced into a new vehicle and experienced a spectacularly scripted race sequence, but these were rare occurrences.
The story was minimal, which I suppose is to be expected in a racing game and was probably for the best in order to get me back to the racing as quickly as possible. However, with the lack of story and unsatisfying progression system, I felt no need to go forward once I had my fill of the moment-to-moment gameplay.
Forza Horizon 4 is beautiful and its incredible racing gameplay is accessible to anyone and deep enough for the hardcore fine tuners. However, as much as the game gave me everything I wanted right from the start, it gave very little to work for unless I was interested in collecting more unnecessary cars and ascetics.
I would recommend this game to anyone looking for an incredibly fun racing experience. But aside from a few fun moments, the campaign gave me little reason to continue playing.
Options to customize my experience
Few reasons to progress