by Blake Chapman
Disclaimer: This game was played on an Xbox One X
Since its introduction, Forza Horizon 4 and its predecessors offer a welcome change of pace to the genre. Designed as an open world racing game taking place alongside an annual music festival that combines off-roading and street racing, it shook up the landscape of racing games on release. Playground Games is always offering innovative changes that affect gameplay in a monumental way. Forza Horizon 2 had the first dynamic weather system in series history and took place in the French Riviera. Forza Horizon 3 added an option where you could play with up to four friends online and moved the festival to the Australian outback. Forza Horizon 4 builds on this history of advancements by including a scheduled system of seasons that not only change the look of the landscape but also weather patterns. While the addition of seasons to the world of Forza Horizon strengthens the game’s overall aesthetic appeal, it does very little to mask some glaring design and community-based issues.
Design beyond an assembly line
While Forza and other racing titles like it never change their fundamental mechanics between games, their respective designs always seem to change. The developers of Forza Horizon 4 go to great lengths to ensure that the game stands out in this fashion. The menu and options screens have been redesigned in this fresh layout with sleek panels guiding you to the information you need to locate. Everytime you open up the pause menu, whether it be before a race or after, it truly feels inviting and comes as a breath of fresh air. Even the little things, like displaying the album art to go along with the music you are listening to, is a touch that tells you the people who worked on the project truly care. In racing games we seem to overlook these aspects of the development cycle, but I can assure you it is worth it in the long run.
The menu and tuning systems can only cover up so much for other design flaws that players may encounter though. The largest of these faults comes with the setting of the game itself. Forza Horizon 4 is set against the backdrop of the rolling hills, fields and forests of southern England. Because of this, variety in terrain is heavily lacking and leads to an overall unmemorable experience throughout the game. Farmland, forests and green spaces create a muddled and dull tapestry for the player to navigate. Sadly, not even the inclusion of different seasons changes how lackluster traversing the world can be. No landmarks stand out from the crowd and compared to the vastly different portions offered in Horizon 3, Forza Horizon 4 feels smaller than it actually is.
Gameplay akin to a Sunday drive
With that being said, the core gameplay of any racing title defines how much you enjoy it. Horizon 4 makes an example by keeping steady with this belief. Drifting around a corner at 50 miles per hour, passing your rival on the final straight and smashing the gas pedal as you head towards a stunt ramp all feel amazing.
Other than simply racing, Playground Games offers two new series for players to enjoy: Stuntman and Cross Country. Stuntman events have you seated behind the wheel while a film crew captures you completing death-defying feats for the silver screen. The group of challenges work in a succession of chapters giving a slight taste of story to the world while not ripping you away from the rest of the game.
Cross Country sees the player bounding over hills and fields making their way towards the finish line in the fastest time possible. This mode expands on the idea that you are exploring everything the landscape has to offer and not simply racing someone or something. Both of these challenges and the signature events that come with the change in seasons show off the creativity that Horizon has offered all along. From the very start these activities grab your attention and I gravitated toward them more than any other.
Even though these two new modes are loads of fun, returning competitions such as Road Racing, Dirt Racing and the Street Series have begun to lack originality. After only what seems to be a couple hours, each set of contests begin to feel awfully similar. The game just doesn’t seem to put in the effort to stand out even with the inclusion of seasonal differences. Winter does change the feel of competition in a very positive way, but the fact that it is the only season to do so feels painful. Spring, Summer and Fall just do not do enough to effect the mundane nature of each race.
The future of the festival seems bright
Beyond Forza Horizon 4’s single player offerings that already feature plenty of content, it is truly the multiplayer and community-based portions of the game that shine above the rest. The online world of Horizon 4 comes alive with the addition of true avatars besides the traditional drivatar system. This quality of gameplay goes hand in hand with Forzathon Live events and the all-new Team Adventure mode.
Forzathon Live sees groups of players completing tasks around the map including ultimate skill challenges, stunt jumps, and speed traps. Chasing other drivers across the hills and fields competing to be the first to the objective and beating the clock is the best feeling the game offers. It awakens the sensation that there are more people enjoying this game other than just you and that is beautiful. That moment opens the doors for the connections you would hope to find in a large MMORPG, but finding that in a racing game of all places is truly special.
Team Adventure mode creates the same experiences put over a longer period of time and splits a group of 12 into a two teams of six. Events also become more engaging with classic games such as zombies and capture the flag. Both Team Adventure mode and Forzathon Live create a foundation for the future of this iteration of the Horizon series. Veteran players and newcomers will surely return for more hours of fun because of the simple online multiplayer setup the game offers.
A creative hub has also been fashioned for other drivers to not only share pictures and cosmetic designs for cars, but also share tuning setups and blueprints for racing series. Pieces of artwork and photography are amazing to spread throughout this community, but that freedom doesn’t always have the best intentions. With tuning setups and upgrading guides being spread among the whole community, individual creativity drops considerably. It pushes the player to choose between customizing their own set of wheels and just taking the easy option of picking the ultimate package already curated by someone else. It paints an ironic picture displaying that even with the massive amount of freedom the game offers, when given the choice, most often we choose the least creative and easiest options.
Featured Image: Gamespot
Forza Horizon 4
'Forza Horizon 4' offers some of the most fluid and unique experiences that any racing fan would be dying to have. Unfortunately, the scale seems to tip in both directions when considering the little tweaks that throw the whole engine out of whack. It seems in this iteration, the British edition of the horizon festival gets caught in the commuter lane.
Blake is a Journalism major who loves Ball State’s learning environment and welcoming nature of the faculty and staff. He is enthusiastic about writing and reviewing for Byte and gaining experience for his future career. Blake is a gamer at heart but enjoys lots of other entertainment including anime, theater, music and literature.