The Forza franchise is probably the strongest remaining runner in the Microsoft stable. With diminishing returns starting to become visible in the Motorsport series, Forza Horizon 4 carries quite a weight of expectation as the eighth generation begins its final lap. FH4 manages to keep the pace of the series up but doesn’t gain any ground for the Seattle giant.

Forza Horizon 4
Classic machines are nicely rendered but underused in the game

Pockets of jagged peaks punctuate rolling hills and the countryside is a patchwork quilt of wood and pasture

New Horizon

A condensed United Kingdom is the home of Forza Horizon 4 and it’s an excellent choice. Direct comparison with FH3 is favourable. While FH3‘s Australia was refreshing with its wide open spaces and endless sunshine, it lacked variety. The gently undulating or completely flat terrain encouraged players to hike to objectives in straight lines without hesitation. Similarly, the sunshine with intermittent sunshowers was party-friendly but eventually tiresome.

Drift Story is a just a long drift

Thankfully, Forza Horizon 4 chooses the most interesting terrains of imaginary Britain. Pockets of jagged peaks punctuate rolling hills and the countryside is a patchwork quilt of wood and pasture. It’s all so lush and inviting but more importantly, the shrubbery and foliage break the eye-line and this all adds to the breakneck speed.

Fans may love or hate the sheer density of certain areas of the map. Edinburgh is no bigger than Nice or Surfer’s Paradise but it’s packed with side-streets and steep underpasses. If you don’t mind the slower and more claustrophobic urban area, Edinburgh is a lot of fun to drive in. It’s not just a few highways lined with more buildings, you actually drive differently in the Scottish capital.

That somebody is mentioning a skybox in a review written after 1996 should give you some indication of how Playground have nailed the atmosphere and the lighting

That Floats on High O’er Hills and Dales

The actual representation of Britain is ‘postcard’ in the series tradition. All houses seem ripped from the pre-WWII days. All streets are lined with a high density of red phoneboxes, probably more than there were in the heyday of phoneboxes. Nearly every wall is dry-stone. It can be a bit twee and worse, a little one-note.

The flora and foliage, however, are spectacular and lend much to the illusion of driving in Northern England and Scotland. The abundance of plant-life is impressive and is only enhanced with the colourful change of seasons.

This semi-detached house in the middle of nowhere is a stark reminder that this is a video game

Seasonal Affective Diffuser

Many good things can be said of the weather in Forza Horizon 4. The skybox’s warning of rain and the subsequent moistening of the windscreen is all done with a visual flair befitting the series. That somebody is mentioning a skybox in a review written after 1996 should give you some indication of how Playground have nailed the atmosphere and the lighting. This writer had to start somewhere and the sky seemed like the right place.

There are ways around the Season loop but they’re awkward and you are relying on your convoy leader being a n00b and not hitting the main game-cycle yet

The snow of winter is handled beautifully. The snow blanket has different depths and properties with vehicles leaving impressively long tracks in the glistening snow. FH4 is a winter wonderland even if the snow is less of a game-changer for handling than it probably should be. The lack of punishing snow-related journeying leaves the season changes feeling somewhat underutilised.

You’ll pick a 4WD or something that likes the dirt and stick with it

The seasons also have a side-effect of cordoning off a small but important set of events while lending little to the mechanics of the game. That players are limited to seven-day cycles after taking the training wheels off is a huge annoyance. Forcing players to wait for winter to roll around to check off a barn find or complete a lifeline seems presumptive of the devs; not many players will have the patience to come back in a few days to experience certain events. There are ways around this but you are relying on your convoy leader being a n00b and not hitting the main game-cycle yet.

Forza Horizon 4 seems to hope players will stop by on seeing an event as they pass through the icon at 300 Km/h

Once a Showcase, Now a Sideshow

With showcases having already reached their logical zenith in Australia, FH4 shifts the objective of the game away from becoming important enough to race a plane. Showcases are now handed out during the early-game to show players parts of the map the devs like or some stuff that British people should be proud of.

To be fair, the British invented a lot of cool stuff to race against

The game struggles to give players something to focus on after these are finished. While you could argue that the open road is your’s and that should be enough – it isn’t. Forza Horizon 4 seems to hope players will stop by on seeing an event as they pass through the icon at 300 Km/h. The Horizon Life system can help a player find an event to level up in their respective category but many players won’t appreciate being left to fend for themselves.

Bizarrely enough, Forza narrator Keira seems to have stolen a joke from my Forza Horizon 3: Hot Wheels review while explaining the relegation of the showcases. There was just nowhere left to go.

No racing a satellite or being propelled from a cannon like one would imaginE

Vinny Fanneran, June 2017

Spoiler Alert

Stories attempts to add some character to the game but the events are of mixed quality and the characters themselves are forgettable. Some stories fulfil their role of giving the various event-types a reason to live while others just escape the theme of the arc. Too often, they don’t feel special and fade to grey amidst the wall of events.

Crazy Taxi comes with a Bel-Air, a sweet jump and pop-punk – the best effort of all the video games events

The best arc is probably the games vlogger with each machine supposed to represent iconic cars in gaming history. A few in the ‘top 10’ are solid choices; taking the Testarossa on an Outrun-style cruise down the coast, driving through flares on dusty trails in Smuggler’s Run and Crazy Taxi‘s wild jumps are all noteworthy nods.

Fast-travel is now largely done to purchasable houses

The vlogger events are fun but lack attention to detail. The cars aren’t spruced up for the races, handling is standard and no licensed music appears. With a little love or just a bar of Daytona, these could have leapt up from the crowd.

The choice of Porsche 911 as number one in this countdown is weird. While 911s have appeared in iconic games like Porsche Challenge, Just Cause 2 and 911 Turbo, it seems like a cop-out. With barrel-scrapers like the F355 from Project Gotham Racing and the Countach from eh, Countach already populating the line-up, it was disappointing to work my way through only to meet such a weak conclusion.

How devs thought players would enjoy performing ten restricted three-minute drifts on command more than all the one-hour drifts they will be doing of their own volition remains a mystery to me

What’s the Story in Balamory? Not Sure If You Would Like to Know

The other story-lines in Forza Horizon 4 are of worse quality all-round and tend to be front-loaded. The Director has his moments but by the time you are reaching the end of the ten events, it will be just another run. World’s Fastest Rentals is a set of fun spins in cars you may not be able to afford but they are usually fleeting. A short A-to-B or thumping a speed camera is all you get from your rental service.

What’s a ‘physics’ and do I need one?

The Drift story doesn’t have any real theme to tie the events together – a Welshman who sounds intermittently Scottish wants to spread drifting on social media. How devs thought players would enjoy performing ten restricted three-minute drifts on command more than all the one-hour drifts they will be doing of their own volition remains a mystery to me.

Barn finds are still fun to locate and represent some of the most unique and memorable cars in the game

Oh God, I Have to Review Online Racing

At this point most of you are aware of how horrible any PvP racing can be. With zero honour to be had in sweatfest Gran Turismo Sport it’s not surprising that Forza Horizon 4’s brand of casual online races are a wrestling match where nobody really wins.

It is worth noting that the events in which the object of the game is to smash into people are amongst the most fun you will have with an imaginary steering wheel. Modes like King of the Hill and Infected aren’t new but the games are always fun and Playground deserve recognition in finding interesting places in which to base these events.

Changing Lanes

It’s easy to see why Playground would attempt such changes in this instalment. Seasons are a huge visual upgrade that lend huge aesthetic variety to the least geographically diverse area the game has visited. But it’s a little disappointing that driving mechanics aren’t hit harder by inclement weather in Forza Horizon 4.

If you don’t pick the Impreza for the off-road section, the game uninstalls itself

With no new event-types to add and nowhere left to take showcases, most of the events are a let-down with no single moment standing out in memory. The repackaging of tried’n’tested single/multiplayer races, chases and stunts was necessary but executed poorly – a player has nothing to aim for after level 20.

Formats: Xbox One (Reviewed on Xbox One X), Windows 10
Price: £54.99/€64.99/$59.99
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Playground Games
Release Date: 2nd October 2018
Age Rating: PEGI 3+