As you know I posted the treasure map here as soon as I could (Forza Horizon 4 Treasure Map) but I wanted to give the game a true shake-down before I formed an opinion and shared it with you all. I’ll try to break the review down into categories: Graphics, Music, Online, and Gameplay. Let’s get to it!
Like all Forza Horizon games, Horizon 4 is a graphical masterpiece. It’s shiny, detailed and has the most brilliant lighting effects I’ve ever seen in a console game.
Because Horizon 4 uses centralized lighting (like Horizon 3) the shadows are always on point. The light comes from wherever the sun is (or street lights, headlights, the moon, etc) and if you watch the ground, you’ll see moving shadows cast by clouds as they move in front of the light source. Something new for Horizon 4 (at least the first time I’ve ever noticed it in a Horizon game) is the dynamic shadows from your headlights when they shine on a fence, bush or anything else, the realism is off the charts with the lightning.
As far as car detail goes, I don’t notice a difference between Horizon 3 and Horizon 4 as far as exterior car detail goes, it’s pretty hard to improve on what they accomplished with Horizon 3. Interior detail does seem a little bit improved, though I’ve found this varies a lot depending on the car. Some cars look like you’re actually sitting in the car while others look a little less detailed (specifically older cars from the eighties in my experience). Playground Games did a great job at improving the engine bay detail of their cars, now that it shows you the engine every time you start a race (during the loading screen) it seems like they wanted to make sure you were looking at something polished, well done!
When you look at the world around the car, it’s pretty well detailed, when you’re driving it looks real, the asphalt, the tire marks, the dust, the leaves, the mud, the water… All of it looks amazing. When you stop the car to take some detailed pictures (like I did with the above), you can see that some of the foliage starts to look a little less real and the textures look a little more cookie-cutter. It’s an acceptable compromise in my opinion, given the enormous scale of this game and how much of it you can access (very few invisible barriers) and when you consider the way the majority of players will view the game (driving around and racing). It’s still the best looking console game I’ve ever seen, and if you have a high-end gaming PC your experience might be even better than what we see on console. A gold star moment for the game is the dirt, mud, and dust your car picks up when trekking through across Great Britain, it looks down-right amazing.
In addition to regular races, Horizon 4 has “stories”, these are basically the same as the bucket list events as you saw in Horizon 2 and 3 but they’re now part of a story. Certain stories will net you different rewards and all the points you gain count towards your overall cume. Pretty much everything in the game counts towards your ranking up: skills, car ownership, skill point spending, it all helps.
Horizon 4 marks a big shift in gameplay from Horizon 3, you’ll notice that gone is the “XP” metric from Horizon 3 and Horizon 2, instead you now earn “Influence”. It’s the same thing as XP just called by a different name. I’ve noticed that Horizon 4 seems have slower progression than Horizon 2 or 3, I’ve played for a week now and I’m only a level 110. Completing campaign races seems to be worth anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 influence points (excluding the championship races). I have VIP so I earn double Credits from each race but I’d also say that earning credits is slower than it was in any of the previous Horizon games. The big part of why you earn credits slower is that now wheelspins don’t give you just a car or a cash payout. Now you can earn clothing items, emotes and horns from the wheelspins. I thought this was fun at first but more and more I’m getting those instead of cash or cars so it’s becoming a bit tedious. This might be a calculated effort by Playground to slow down the pace of the game, with Horizon 3 and Horizon 2 I had hundreds of millions of credits and nothing to spend them on after only a few months of playing, I don’t think that will be the case with Horizon 4.
When it comes to spending your hard-earned credits in Horizon 4, you’re not limited to just buying cars and upgrades, they’ve now added houses for purchase in Horizon 4. These function much like outposts did in Horizon 2 or Festival locations in Horizon 3, you can buy and customize cars at these outposts as well as customize your driver here. Unlike the other games, these are not unlocked by leveling up – you have to use in game credits to buy these. Everyone is given a free house when you complete the “Stunt-Driver” story and VIP members are given a free 5 million credit lake house. Every house gives you 1 super wheel spin (3 prizes per spin) for every 250,000 credits of purchase price but certain houses also give you other benefits such as fast-travel everywhere, barn finds and horns. I’ve bought all but 2 of the houses (castles that cost over 10 million credits each). Once you get all the fast-travel boards (see the treasure map I’ve posted here), and buy the house that allows fast travel anywhere there isn’t really too much purpose to having multiple houses apart from the purchase rewards you receive.
Perhaps the biggest change in Gameplay with Horizon 4 is the inclusion of different seasons. These seasons are uniform for all players and they change every week (at the time of this writing we’re in the autumn season). The seasons effect your daily life in Horizon 4, but they do not effect your online championships, those change based on the championship. Winter is my favorite seasons so far (it takes you through all four seasons during the very long prologue), the trees become sparse and the lakes freeze over, unlike the Blizzard mountain expansion in Horizon 3, you’re not driving in deep now all the time, they have sanders and plows and most of the roads just have a slushy mix. The driving dynamics are great though, totally controllable with snow tires and a real treat most of the time. Spring and autumn are rainy and muddy, the roads are largely unaffected except for the occasional puddle (unless it’s actively raining) but the fields are much different, as are the dirt roads. Summer is the typical season we’ve experienced in Horizon 2 and Horizon 3, beautiful skies and dry grounds.
If you like nailing the speed zones and drift zones you’ll be happy to know that the civilian cars now go invisible while you’re trying to beat these zones. This is something that lots of people had been asking for in Horizon 3, yes it makes them a lot easier but it also means you don’t have to sit there and wait for traffic to clear or have your buddies block the road just so you can get a clean run in. Oh yea, and about those speed zones, speed traps, danger signs and drift zones… there are TONS of them. There are 56 speed traps and speed zones and dozens of drift zones and danger signs.
The rest of the gameplay changes are somewhat minor but still noticeable, there is now a quick chat feature that lets you choose four things to say (different options for racing, games or freeroam), this takes away the left radio station change. Up on the D-Pad is photomode and it’s instant instead of hold-to-activate (gets very annoying if you hit it by accident). Right on the D-Pad changes the radio station and down on the D-Pad either activates ANNA or telemetry. There might be a way to access both of them but I haven’t found it. Something I also haven’t found a way to do is hide the leaderboard while racing, I’m hoping that I just haven’t found it and it’s not been excluded from the game because it’s really annoying showing 12 player names on the right side of your screen when trying to race…
They’ve added more destructive scenery to Horizon 4, you can drive through much larger trees than you could in Horizon 3 and even rock walls and moderately large boulders. This makes it easier to drive but also less realistic. Driving through a rock wall does still effect how your car performs, don’t expect to take a super car around a turn flawlessly while smashing it’s rear end into a rock wall. It won’t stop you dead and it won’t (usually) ruin your skill chain but it’s not going to be your quickest way around a turn.
The final change I’ve noticed with gameplay is that your perks are now done on a per-car basis. In Horizon 3 you had a handful of perks that went across all cars, this was easier to manage but also ended up being irrelevant after a week of playing. Now that there are thousands of ways to spend skill points in Horizon 4, it will be worth your while a lot more to continue earning these skill points(you earn skill points by completing a skill chains), long into your tenure as a Horizon 4 player.
Most of my time playing Horizon 4 will be spent racing online, as it was in Horizon 2 and 3. I haven’t yet played ranked online (seasons) but from playing unranked online adventure (you have to play a couple championships in unranked to qualify for ranked) it seems that the drive-to is no more. In Horizon 2 and 3 when you played an online adventure you had to drive to each race (or if you were a veteran you just got skills since it was more worth your while than trying to make it to the event), in Horizon 4 you fast travel to each race, the championships are all team based and you win based on your finishing position and your team’s finishing position. This is a huge change from Horizon 2 and 3 where you won the championship based on how much XP you had accumulated.
From what I can tell you can no longer pick your car class, that’s decided for you each championship but you do at least get 45 seconds to pick your car now. My only real complaint from online championship play is that they’ve added a new race type in each championship called “Freeroam Rush”, this is basically the “drive-to” I was referring to earlier but now it’s ranked… It’s a very annoying event (in my opinion) seeing as you can lose a race (and possibly a championship) based on how your team performs in this drive-to which takes you on no specified route across the map (point to point) fighting civilian cars and terrain…
When you play Horizon 4 (and have an active internet connection) you are always online. There are no more drivatars, instead it has real players in your lobby at all times. This is actually a really cool feature, instead of mindless drivatars polluting your landscape you now have other drivers (who cannot hit you, FYI) that add an element of realism to the game. Because of this feature, Playground has also introduced “Forzathon Live”. Ever hour on the hour you’ll be able to take part in a series of challenges (speed traps, danger signs, drift zones, etc) with the other people in your lobby in pursuit of earning Forzathon points that can then be spent on various items from the Forzathon shop that change every week.
Like every Horizon game to date, the music in Horizon 4 is great (obviously subjective). The game features music from unknown or relatively unknown artists as well as some classics across the normal stations we’ve come to love: Pulse, Horizon XS, Bass Arena, Hospital Records, Classic FM…. I listen to Pulse primarily and I love all the songs but I have to say, I wish there were more of them, I believe Pulse only has 1.5 hours of music, unfortunately (as of now) there is no substitute for the now defunct “Groove” music station from Horizon 3. We were hoping something would replace Groove, like Spotify but right now that’s not the case.
Even if you don’t love the music at first, I’d bet 9 of 10 people will love it after playing the game for a while. I never liked the style of music on Pulse in the Horizon series until I played a lot of Horizon 1 and it’s now one of my favorite genres.
I really love Horizon 4 so far, it really seems like they actually listened to the suggestions from the fans on the Forza Forums(that drift zone change is just one of them). The setting of Great Britain offers something we haven’t really seen in racing games lately, there are potholes, livestock, roadworks, vast fields, rivers and very well modeled cities. Horizon 4 is a multi-leveled game (literally), you can climb mountains or drive through beautiful valley roads in whatever car takes your fancy.
Horizon 4 always puts graphical beauty at the forefront, you don’t need a 4K TV to enjoy this, half the time I play on a 1080p computer monitor and I’m just as happy as I am when playing on my 4K TV. When I play any Horizon game I feel like I’m playing a game that was made with passion, by people who actually enjoy and play the product they’re putting out. I won’t hide that I’m a huge Horizon fan, I’ve played the series since its inception six years ago, I’m a huge car guy and I love all the quirky cars they throw in this series (this one has the Peel P50, look it up), it’s just a blast to play.
If you’re a car fan, a fan of a previous Horizon game or just love to play a beautiful game with friends, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Horizon 4, and if you’re a member of Xbox Game Pass you can play Horizon 4 right now as part of your membership. Don’t forget to register for Forza Rewards every week for some free credits that will really help you get started. Aside from apparent inability to hide the player list in a race, and the lack of a new Groove music station substitute, there isn’t really anything I don’t like about the game. Big win for Playground Games!