The fall season is in full swing. Leaves are changing colors, a crisp chill lingers in the morning air and you wrap your hands around your coffee mug to keep warm. As of Oct. 2, you can now add “Forza Horizon 4” to the list of all things that make fall great: burning rubber over leaf-covered roads, smashing your car through cobblestone walls and taking part in action-packed races, all while exploring a virtual Great Britain throughout the four seasons.
The newest edition to the “Forza Horizon” series, named second best game of the year according to Forbes, is a beautiful addition to the “Forza” franchise as a whole. “Forza Horizon” is a unique racing game series in that it combines the gameplay styles of realistic simulation track games that “Forza” is typically known for and action racing games much like “Need For Speed” or “Burnout.” “Forza Horizon” has done an amazing job balancing these two very different racing game styles in one unique experience that provides the possibility for a driving challenge as well as the thrill of smashing through trees and bumping other cars out of the way without penalization. On top of all that, it’s a completely free-roaming game.
The free-roam aspect of “Forza Horizon” is a major key to the game’s appeal. The freedom to explore a virtual landscape designed to be driven through by some of the most powerful cars in the world is a racing gamer’s dream.
Official races and challenges of the “Horizon” festival are spread out across the map in a way that practically forces you to experience the hundreds of different roads, off-road terrain and miles of endless driving possibilities.
So that’s the “Forza Horizon” series in a nutshell, but what makes “Forza Horizon 4” different from the previous three games? As someone who loves racing games and has played most of the “Forza” games since “Forza Motorsports 2,” I understand that it can be hard to notice changes between these particular games as new ones release.
In terms of core gameplay, it’s all the same. If you can play any “Forza” game, or really any racing game for that matter, you can definitely play this one without having to acclimate yourself much at all. Now obviously it will depend on your preferred difficulty settings, but the driving physics and mechanics are pretty much the same as every “Forza Horizon” game before.
The premise of “Forza Horizon 4” is also the synonymous to the others. You start out as a newbie driver in the “Horizon” festival and must win events in order to gain enough respect and experience to eventually rise to the very top, becoming the champion of the festival. Yes, it’s formulaic, and if you want something with a unique storyline you’re not going to find that in this game, simply because that’s not the point of the series. It’s really all about the driving.
But, man, if this isn’t one of the most beautiful looking games I’ve ever played, I don’t know what is. The sheer amount of detail put into the cars is nearly overwhelming. You can nearly see every ray of light reflecting off a Ford Focus’s glossy pane as shadows zoom over the car’s livery from each individual, overhanging leaf. And that’s just the exterior.
Switch into first-person view, and inside your car is an equally impressive attention to detail, mimicking almost exactly the interior of the real world model: the leather on the steering wheel looks soft to touch, the LED lights on the dash cast just the right amount of ambient glow and even the pesky glare on the windshield all contribute to that feeling of sitting directly in the driver’s seat, speeding through Great Britain at 100 miles per hour.
Another unique aspect to “Forza Horizon 4” is the changing of the seasons. At the start of the game, you join the “Horizon” festival during the summer, and after winning races and advancing to more events, you unlock the fall season, and so on. This isn’t just a fun little quirk that just changes the look of the environment; it legitimately keeps you on your toes, forcing you to drive in virtually any possible conditions.
In the summer, the road is dry and hot, perfect for pushing the pedal to the metal without a care in the world. Then the fall comes, and the track is wet, the trails muddy and you have to quickly learn how to drive your car sideways in the rain. You can probably already imagine what the winter looks like: sliding across icy roads and even frozen ponds to the finish line.
All in all, I think this game earns its spot as Forbes’s second-best game of the year just because of the visual realism and changing environment, but it also has one of the largest selections of cars in “Horizon” history. With over 750 cars to choose from and even more customization opportunities, “Forza Horizon 4” has endless driving possibilities. The game offers everything from a Honda Civic to 32 different types of Ferraris, so the range of vehicles truly is impressive.
At first you might think that the latest addition to the “Forza Horizon” series is just like all the others, and in many ways it is, but after experiencing the graphic beauty, changing seasons and limitless driving possibilities, you’ll come to realize that “Horizon” is not just the festival that never ends, but a surreal dream that you never want to wake up from.