I got Forza Horizon 4 as part of an Xbox One bundle. If I hadn’t, I doubt I would ever have bought it.
Racing games were something I played a long time ago, when I was an early teen. My last racing game (if you don’t count Mario Kart) was Need For Speed: Carbon, which came out in 2006. For me, the racing ship had sailed. It’s not that I looked down on them, I just sort of… forgot that I enjoyed them. They weren’t on my radar.
With that in mind, this review might not help you if you’re already a fan of the Forza series. I don’t know what’s new, what’s old, what’s been and gone and is back again, or how the graphics have changed since the last one. If you’re like me though and don’t know much about racing games, you might find more value here. Because when I tell you I didn’t know anything, I really didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know it was online until I saw another car sitting in the middle of the road and decided to drive into it, only to pass right through. Ah, this is another player. I see!
So I need to say as a total Forza newbie: the game is easy to learn. It does throw you in at the deep end (within a few seconds of booting up for the first time, you find yourself in the middle of a race in a very fancy car), but my life was saved by two features: the arrow which shows you where to go and the rewind option, which I find an absolute joy to use. I don’t want to admit how many times per race I was using the rewind before I got the hang of it, but it helped me learn exactly how to take the corners – and how to fix things when the arrow turns red, telling you that you simply aren’t gonna make the next corner at your current speed, no matter how much you want to.
So the rewind is great for a new player like me, but it really comes into its own when you’re trying to do tricks mid-race. For instance, I found myself locked in a shoving match with this silver car while racing around Edinburgh. There was an open stretch of road in front of us and a giant tree just off the side. After a couple of retries, I managed to drive the other racer into the tree and leave him in the dust – one of the most satisfying moments I’ve had in Forza so far, even if it did mean I didn’t win that particular race.
Usually when I’m thinking of buying a new game I look at the reviews first, but since I got Forza as part of a bundle I didn’t bother. I went in totally blind, not knowing whether this was one of the best racing games of recent times or the worst. I don’t do this very often anymore, but I’m glad I did. Forza was a series of delights that slowly unravelled before me on my lazy Boxing Day, little innovations and moments of glory which worked really well. Wow, I can really drive to Edinburgh? Oh, so each track is different in spring, summer, autumn and winter? Neat. And as a Brit, it is surreal seeing road signs that you actually recognise in a racing game instead of American ones.
The game starts by funneling you through a few high-intensity races and I immediately started to worry that this was one of those burn-bright-but-short games which would be over in a matter of hours. I quickly learned that’s not the case: Forza Horizon 4 is a game that endures. When you come back to it, you’re welcomed by a short cutscene of your character leaving their house and getting in the car, and you feel like you’re stepping into their shoes. There are dozens of events – with more being added all the time – and hundreds of cars to buy, and each can be customised to your heart’s content. Even turning the radio on feels like coming home, with the hosts who you begin to recognise – and who alert you to new things happening in-game, reminding you that this world is alive and changing. Forza does the long stuff just as well as it does the short bursts of intense racing. It clearly expects you to be around a while, which is weirdly comforting.
The best moment so far, though, was the Winter Horizon event, which saw me racing the Flying Scotsman across the Scottish mountains, wheel-deep in snow, with “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” playing in the background. I lost by 0.2 seconds, but I found it to be an experience of pure joy from start to finish, the epitome of a beautifully polished and balanced game that rarely, if ever, puts a foot wrong. I can’t wait to see more.