The "Forza" series has always stayed ahead of the curve by adapting to the times. The franchise built its reputation by pairing realistic racing physics with online competition. Afterward, it broadened its appeal by giving players new ways to interact with motorsports culture.
Each time, the series adds another layer of realism, such as rain effects, or it opens up a new avenue of play like the Blueprint feature that allows players to create their own tracks. With "Forza Horizon 4," Playground Games took a look at releases such as "Fortnite" and "Destiny 2" and built a living open-world game.
The game released on Oct. 2 won't be the same one that players experience a year from now. The team developed a project revolving around the concepts of seasons and limited-time events. Once players get through a five-hour prologue that teaches them the ropes, the campaign opens up and they enter the Horizon Life campaign.
It's a persistent world shared with other drivers. They can see rivals wheeling around the United Kingdom setting. Thankfully, players don't have to interact with others online. They can play the game solo by racing against computer-controlled opponents called Drivatars.
Although players aren't forced to deal with online players, they do have to tackle the challenge of the environment. Playground Games set "Forza Horizon 4" in the U.K. for a reason and that happens to be the changing seasons.
Each week, the game switches the environment – going through summer, autumn, winter and spring. The seasons have a profound effect on the map. During spring, rain is more common and muddies the dirt tracks. In winter, lakes freeze over and create new lanes for races. Summer becomes the ideal time to break speed records around the map.
The seasons keep the gameplay fresh and incentivize players to return to the game every day. The environment players see one week will be different the next and provide different racing opportunities. The intervals also show the developers' graphic prowess. The U.K. is achingly beautiful, with autumn sunsets reflecting off lakes or winter snow topping rocky outcrops. It creates ideal spots for fans of in-game photography.
When it comes to the meat of the campaign, players can expect much of the same formula as from previous entries. Players choose a driver become a newcomer, rising through the ranks of the Horizon Festival. To advance, players must sign up for events scattered around the map. They fall in three main disciplines: street racing, cross country racing and rally racing. The developer included other activities such as drag racing and team games in closed-off arenas, but that's not the main draw.
Beyond that backbone of motorsport competition, "Forza Horizon 4" features the exciting Showcase events, which are set-piece races where players compete against trains, motorcycles and fighter jets. These outlandish competitions have been part of the "Horizon" DNA and offer a change of pace.
A new category of events are story missions, where players do odd jobs or invest in businesses. These missions have more of a narrative element and require players to perform feats such as making a long jump as stunt driver or driving to a locale within a time limit. The events have monetary rewards, which are used to buy cars and liveries, or influence points, which help players advance through the game and unlock more content.
The biggest change is the emphasis on special activities called Forzathon. Playground Games has expanded the role of these limited-time events and woven them into the fabric the gameplay. The events offer online competition, but the bigger deal is the collaborative events that appear every so often. These pop-up missions put players in a racing crew, and they can work collaboratively to reach objectives like speed goals or distance jumped.
If a team achieves a goal, everyone gets Forzathon Points that are used on exclusive cars and apparel for their driver. Those customization options for a player's avatar are another evolution of the series. Taking a cue from "Fortnite," players can earn emotes and clothes for their character, and the avatars become almost like trophies, a way to show off their personality or dedication. It makes the experience more personal while feeding into the gameplay loop.
"Forza Horizon 4" is the rare game that aims to please everyone and successfully does it. My lone gripe is the absence of some major car brands such as Mitsubishi and Toyota. Those have been staples in previous titles. Despite that hole in the car roster, "Forza Horizon 4" still has enough diverse content to make everyone happy.
'Forza Horizon 4'
4 stars out of four
Platform: Xbox One, PC