Play­ground Games’ lat­est racer isn’t an ac­cu­rate re­flec­tion of the UK, but is it any good? Find out.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Phil Sav­age

It’s au­tumn. The fields and fells are a rolling sea of reds, browns, and yel­lows. Light rain falls on the screen, and small pud­dles shim­mer in the sun­set as I drive across windswept grass­lands, skid straight into a stone wall, and drift across pic­turesque farm­land, catch­ing a hill at just the right an­gle to lift my car off the ground— rais­ing my skill chain combo mul­ti­plier a lit­tle bit more. It’s beau­ti­ful and it’s ab­surd, and, next week, it will all be dif­fer­ent. Forza Hori­zon 4 is built around sea­sons. In its open­ing mo­ments you drive a McLaren Senna across au­tum­nal coun­try roads, race a Po­laris RZR across a frozen win­ter lake, skid through mud in a Ford Fi­esta in spring, be­fore hopping back into the Senna for a road trip on a clear sum­mer’s day. It’s a mon­tage for the se­ries’ trade­mark as­pi­ra­tional play­ground, here tai­lored to max­i­mize the dif­fer­ences be­tween its sea­sonal shifts.

It’s an emo­tive tour through what’s to come. Once you reach the fes­ti­val site, you play through each sea­son in­di­vid­u­ally across a five-hour pro­logue that in­tro­duces Forza Hori­zon 4’ s many dif­fer­ent events. Had this been the game proper, it would have been enough. You com­plete events to build in­flu­ence, hit­ting mile­stones to progress to the next sea­son in a man­ner sim­i­lar to un­lock­ing new fes­ti­val sites in Forza Hori­zon 3. But af­ter you’ve com­pleted a full loop—sum­mer to spring—the game re­veals its fi­nal form.

rush hour

Pre­vi­ously, Forza Hori­zon’s on­line mode was strictly sep­a­rate. Sure, you would en­counter AI rep­re­sen­ta­tions of other play­ers—which are named ‘Dri­vatars’ in the Forza se­ries’ slightly-too-cor­po­rate nomen­cla­ture—but could only play with other peo­ple if you ac­tively chose to do so. You can still play that way in Forza Hori­zon 4, but by de­fault it will load you onto a map shared with other play­ers. Sea­sons progress on a seven-day timer, and each brings spe­cific events, and daily and weekly bounty chal­lenges.

This is Forza Hori­zon mak­ing its play for a reg­u­lar spot in your gam­ing life, em­brac­ing the trend of big­bud­get games in­te­grat­ing MMO-lite sys­tems to cre­ate an on­go­ing re­la­tion­ship— even a small one. None of Hori­zon’s weekly of­fer­ings feel too over­bear­ing. It’s cham­pi­onship races in spe­cific car classes, an in­cred­i­bly easy daily chal­lenge (get three air skills? It’ll take less than a minute), and a more in­volved weekly bounty that re­quires you to com­plete mile­stones with a par­tic­u­lar car. But it el­e­vates the idea of a sea­sonal cal­en­dar to more than just a gim­mick.

For the most part you and the other driv­ers on the map will be do­ing your own thing, driv­ing be­tween sin­gle­player events, hunt­ing for rare cars hid­den in­side of barns, or just tear­ing through a field try­ing to build com­bos and (un­suc­cess­fully) run over sheep. You can chal­lenge other play­ers to head-to-head races, or in­vite them into a con­voy in or­der to com­pete in co-op or PvP events, but, un­less you’re ac­tively grouped, you can’t phys­i­cally in­ter­act.

Drive into an­other player and you’ll pass through harm­lessly— pre­vent­ing would-be trolls from mess­ing up your skill chains. It’s a sub­tly dif­fer­ent type of fan­tasy to the sin­gle­player sand­box, where AI rac­ers drive reck­lessly to sell the fes­ti­val at­mos­phere, but it makes the world feel alive in a dif­fer­ent way. There’s a low-level voyeuris­tic in­ter­est in en­coun­ter­ing an­other player; to see­ing what car they drive and won­der­ing what they’re up to at that par­tic­u­lar mo­ment.

Ev­ery hour, the game at­tempts to ca­jole play­ers into the same lo­ca­tion with its ‘#FORZATHON Live’ events (a name that reeks of the board­room). These are co­op­er­a­tive group events where play­ers drive through speed traps, drift zones, or dan­ger sign jumps, bank­ing points col­lab­o­ra­tively with other driv­ers. Com­plete them (along with the daily and weekly boun­ties), and you’ll earn #FORZATHON Points to spend at the #FORZATHON Shop on re­wards such as cars, clothes, and emotes, which change ev­ery week.

You only live twice

The Forzathon Live events—enough with the hash­tag—are di­vert­ing at first, but they never build in com­plex­ity. Build­ing points is less about skill than num­bers and en­durance. None of the as­so­ci­ated ac­tiv­i­ties are en­ter­tain­ing enough to sup­port a ded­i­cated on­go­ing event sys­tem, which is a shame, be­cause the idea of col­lab­o­ra­tive chal­lenges is solid, and of­fers one of only a few

It el­e­vates the sea­sonal cal­en­dar to more than just a gim­mick

rea­sons to in­ter­act with other play­ers on the map.

Ul­ti­mately, the sea­sonal struc­ture and shared world events are ways to keep your in­ter­est in the months ahead. But it’s all built on top of yet an­other rich rac­ing sand­box that eas­ily of­fers tens of hours of rac­ing, not count­ing the chal­lenge events, on­line com­pe­ti­tion, and gen­eral mess­ing around. This time, the ac­tion takes place in a trun­cated ver­sion of the UK, con­tain­ing bits of Ox­ford­shire, Cheshire, Cum­bria, and the city of Ed­in­burgh, all within a few kilo­me­ters of one an­other. It’s a sim­i­lar size to Forza Hori­zon 3’ s Aus­tralia, but less vi­brant. This is a pre­dom­i­nantly ru­ral map, full of forests, farm­land, and small vil­lages, where shifts in sea­son and weather en­sure a shift­ing land­scape of mud, ice, and tar­mac.

On the one hand, I’m less en­am­ored by the set­ting be­cause of how fa­mil­iar it feels. As some­one from the UK, these coun­try roads will never feel as ex­otic as the rain­forests of Aus­tralia. But there’s a gen­tle beauty to Play­ground Games’ de­pic­tion, par­tic­u­larly the north­west­ern side of the map, as you drive from the sweep­ing Cum­brian grass­lands to­wards the steep Scot­tish High­lands. The sea­sonal struc­ture ne­ces­si­tates a mostly con­sis­tent color pal­ette, but there’s enough va­ri­ety of ter­rain to en­sure a di­verse col­lec­tion of race events.

The rac­ing re­mains peerless. It’s a per­fect blend of for­giv­ing ar­cade han­dling with an ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to de­tail that en­sures each car feels just dif­fer­ent enough. It’s not aim­ing to be a per­fect sim­u­la­tion, but the weight, speed, and torque of each ve­hi­cle gives each car a per­son­al­ity be­yond their class and cat­e­gory. If you’re strug­gling with a par­tic­u­lar race, you could turn down the dif­fi­culty (there are plenty of gran­u­lar op­tions for do­ing so), but of­ten the an­swer is to find the spe­cific car that fa­vors that event.

Site see­ing

As in Forza Hori­zon 3, the map soon be­comes packed with things to do. You’ll race across long, wind­ing roads, across muddy tracks, over fields, and some­times a va­ri­ety of all three—smash­ing up scenery to carve an er­ratic path be­tween check­points. Out­side of rac­ing, there are mul­ti­ple story events in which you’re given a car and asked to com­plete a spe­cific chal­lenge. Ev­ery­thing, from com­plet­ing chal­lenges and race events to de­sign­ing new paint jobs, tun­ing cars, and even stream­ing on Mixer, has its own in­di­vid­ual pro­gres­sion bar. Win street races, for in­stance, and you’ll earn street rac­ing in­flu­ence. Earn enough to move to the next level, and you’ll un­lock more of that type of event, as well as other bonuses, in­clud­ing money, wheel­spins, and chat phrases to spam at other play­ers.

Even when you’re not rac­ing, you can earn re­wards by driv­ing reck­lessly to build up skill chains. In Forza Hori­zon 4, you earn skill points much faster than pre­vi­ous games, but here can in­vest them in in­di­vid­ual cars—let­ting you earn bonuses when us­ing that ve­hi­cle. It’s a nice way to get some ex­tra re­wards out of your fa­vorite cars, and more im­por­tantly en­sures you’re re­warded what­ever you de­cide to do. Sure, it stings a lit­tle when a wheel­spin prize lands on an ugly pair of boots for your avatar in­stead of a spe­cial edi­tion car, but you al­ways know that an­other chance is never far away.

As with its pre­de­ces­sors, this is a glo­ri­ously silly game. You drive reck­lessly through vil­lages, cause car­nage across farm­land, and gen­er­ally make a nui­sance of your­self, all while the fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers and ra­dio DJs praise you for be­ing so amaz­ing. You are lit­er­ally given a free house within the first hour of play in what is—in to­day’s econ­omy—the most un­re­al­is­tic thing I’ve ever seen in a Forza Hori­zon game. But while I’ve al­ways been slightly at odds with the un­bear­ably smug tone, I can’t say I’m not al­ways hav­ing fun.

Smooth ride

Where Forza Hori­zon 3 was a de­mand­ing game that strug­gled to main­tain a sta­ble fram­er­ate in its busiest lo­ca­tions, Forza Hori­zon 4 has been en­tirely smooth in my tests. I’ve played on two ma­chines, one with a GTX 1070 on a 1440p mon­i­tor, and an­other with an R9 Fury X in ul­tra­w­ide, and haven’t ex­pe­ri­enced any is­sues—even when crank­ing the set­tings above the au­tode­tected rec­om­men­da­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, the game is ex­clu­sive to the Mi­crosoft Store, which re­mains a ter­ri­ble user ex­pe­ri­ence. (In try­ing to down­load Forza Hori­zon 4 on my sec­ond ma­chine, the Mi­crosoft Store sud­denly de­cided I didn’t own any games, forc­ing me to learn how to re­set the whole li­brary.)

The best thing I can say about Forza Hori­zon 4 is it’s worth en­dur­ing the pain of the Mi­crosoft Store for. But where Forza Hori­zon 3 quickly es­tab­lished it­self as my fa­vorite rac­ing game, FH4 isn’t quite as no­tice­able a step up. It’s still an in­cred­i­ble sand­box, with a sat­is­fy­ing loop of fun and re­wards, but its dif­fer­ences won’t be ap­par­ent un­til the months to come, and the suc­cess (or not) of its event struc­ture. What’s here is beau­ti­ful, en­ter­tain­ing, and pol­ished, but it’s not yet clear if it can main­tain the prom­ise of the fes­ti­val that never ends.

I’m less en­am­ored by the set­ting be­cause of how fa­mil­iar it feels

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