Playground Games identity and ethos, its way of being, is heavily wrapped up in the studio’s name. For driving fans, the Forza Horizon games are the ultimate playgrounds. Only they aren’t filled with sandpits, seesaws, and swings, but roaring chunks of glistening metal and the smell of exhaust fumes.
Forza Horizon 4 is Playground Games back doing what it’s always done then, but tweaking and improving the formula to deliver its most accomplished racer. Forza Horizon 4 isn’t just packed with content now, it’s feasibly going to be packed with new content for years.
Returning fans, you know the score. For newbies, Forza Horizon 4 is an open-world racer set within a depiction of Great Britain. There’s a loose storyline to follow about a racing festival, but it’s merely window dressing for the hundreds of events and challenges that litter the game’s massive world.
In terms of map size, Forza Horizon 4 feels about on par with FH3, although it may perhaps be a little smaller. However, the twisting, turning and dense network of country roads means it’s always an exciting place to explore, amped up even further with the changing of the seasons. This more than just a simple reskin though, with different events available depending upon the time of the year. In the winter you’ll be racing on the snow and ice, or course, while autumn has us kicking up leaves and tearing it around muddy dirt tracks. On a superficial level, it looks incredible as well, and there’s a certain joy to be had in exploring a familiar area when it looks completely different.
Forza Horizon 4 opens with a frankly massive tutorial, clocking in at about 6 hours or so until players actual quality for the Horizon festival and open up everything there is to. This process is never dull though, with plenty of variety in the racing events and challenges, whether it’s point to point, drag races, circuits, performing stunts, or trying to smash records on speed cameras. The twist, though, is that every week the seasons change for all players in Forza Horizon 4. At the time of writing, it’s just shifted from summer to autumn, meaning a fresh batch of daily challenges, weekly events, and cars to unlock, providing a great reason for players to keep checking back in, week after week. One downside to this is that it’s unclear whether content can be missed. If you didn’t have time to complete the week one challenges, for example, Playground Games hasn’t made it clear whether you’ve missed out on that exclusive Porsche for good. Hopefully, some of these bonuses cycle around every four weeks, with Playground layering in ever more events.
While Forza Horizon 4 borrows a fair bit from the Forza Motorsport series, handling is generally much more forgiving and arcade-lite. There are plenty of options in there to tune the game to your tastes though, whether that’s disabling ABS and traction control, ramping up the AI difficulty, or using manual gears. The more driving aids you turn off, the greater the number of credits that can be earned at the end of the race. If there’s one quibble to be had here though, it’s that it seldom feels as if there’s any consequence to winning a race. Coming sixth feels like it offers almost as much credit as coming first, and merely reaching the finish line appears to be enough to mark an event as completed. On this front, Forza Horizon 4 is perhaps a little too forgiving, eager to make a game that’s accessible to everyone, perhaps at the expense of the ardent gearheads. Players who want a challenge can set internal rules for themselves, of course, but it would’ve been nice if Playground could’ve facilitated challenge in a more congruous manner.
Visually, there really isn’t much out there that can touch Forza Horizon 4 in terms of open-world racers. From top to bottom, Playground has crafted a game that looks absolutely stunning and runs fantastically. Get Forza Horizon 4 going on a 4K display and it is absolutely jaw-dropping. Peel back the layers and you begin to see the cracks and a few low-resolution textures and basic models, but at 100mph+ it is littered with dozens of moments that are just a joy to take in. That could be approaching the Glen Rannoch viaduct in winter, or cruising past Edinburgh Castle during a dewy spring morning.
Forza Horizon 4 is undeniably a great game now, and it’s theoretically only going to get better. A lot of this is going to hinge on the quality of post-launch support that can be provided by Playground Games, but early impressions suggest the developer is off to a fantastic start. Whether cruising around on your own, adventuring co-operatively, or taking part in versus online races, there’s always something to do. Another little nugget to uncover or a collectible to snag. Microsoft all-too-rarely has must-have Xbox exclusives, but Forza Horizon 4 absolutely falls into this category, and with some aplomb.
This doesn't come easily, but Forza Horizon 4 is quite possibly one of, if not the, greatest racing game in existence. It's beautiful, it's varied, it's practically endless. it's Playground at the top of its game.