Forza Horizon 4 is the 11th installment in the overarching Forza franchise from publisher Microsoft Studios but only the fourth chapter from developer Playground Games, who've dedicated the past few years into taking the series off the beaten path... literally. One of the things that make the Horizon subseries unique compared to the Motorsport is the fact that players can take their cars off-road - and doing so opens up a whole new world, one that has only gotten bigger and bigger with each iteration.
In the new title, the Horizon Festival heads to the United Kingdom (where Playground Games is located), moving away from the Australian backdrop of the last game. And, this time, players just get to be another driver in the grand scheme of the racing event. But what's most important about the new title, other than the fact that there are more cars than ever before and an open world that utilizes the 4K capabilities of the Xbox One X, is that the developer has incorporated dynamic seasons into the game, which only further augments the intensity of the sequel coupled with the already-included dynamic weather system.
From the outset, it seemed like adding in all four seasons of the year into a racing game would have a minimal impact on the overall experience, but that couldn't be further from reality. Playground Games appears to have devoted quite a bit of time into fusing the seasons into the fundamental gameplay, transforming what would normally be conventional tracks into brand new experiences. All of that is showcased early on in the game for players to get used to the new system, which is later unlocked by accruing influence via races, discovering new areas, and, well... driving. After that, players will entire Horizon Life, and then the seasons will be synchronized with everyone else in the game world (real-life players), changing weekly. What it does is force players to adapt to new environments and utilize different cars than they normally would. Sometimes a Jeep Wrangler might be the answer to winning a race than simply using another sports car. Plus, it's like getting four racing games for the price of one.
Adding seasons to the game, though, was only the first step in Playground Games' efforts to combat complacency in the franchise and disinterest in replayability. Another thing they appear to have done is overhaul the design of the race tracks. Of course, changing the seasons has a profound impact on the overarching design of the tracks as well as the game as a whole, but Forza Horizon 4 scales back the leisure factor that fans have come to associate with the title in favor of delivering more challenging events. However, that's not to say the fundamental fun portion of the Horizon series isn't still there, because it is. It's just that there's more thought involved into the race than just letting go of the gas and turning.
Granted, there are still some drawbacks - notably a slow UI at times, especially when it comes to car customization (which itself is also quite extensive) - including a few minor bugs that appear throughout the game, such as camera issues in cutscenes every now and then. But the title's overall build runs quite smoothly and is free of any game-breaking glitches. While cars, of course, aren't fully destructible, there are plenty of objects in the game that players can plow through, just not any type of fence or wall that happens to be located in a city, town, or village. It's strange that going through a brick wall in the middle of nowhere is nothing, but tapping onto a steel railing in a small town will completely stop a car going 150+ mph in its tracks. Minor annoyances like that, as well as the inability to lower the volume of the drone may be slightly disruptive to players, but they aren't enough to drastically cheapen the gameplay experience. Plus, most if not all of these things can easily be amended with a day one patch.
Bottom line: there's simply a lot to do in Forza Horizon 4 - and it will take players several hours just to try to accomplish all the primary tasks, let alone get past the initial prologue of playing through each season. Typically, once all the races are complete, racing games can become quite stale due to the fact that the only other step, then, is filling out their garage. While acquiring every car in the game is still a challenge - and a fun one at that - incorporating even more arduous races as well as the four seasons in the game means there's more to come back to every time gamers pick up the controller. If a particular race was too easy in the summer, try it out in the winter with a different car, one that will obviously be a little less sporty but has a better grip.
Everything - from the race-track design and the seasons to the graphical advancements and showcase events (which have been amplified for the sequel) - have been significantly improved upon, thereby turning Forza Horizon 4 into arguably the best open world racing game in many, many years. Plus, building upon the ability to play through the game co-operatively and online, and seeing the entire open world populated by real-life players, who are all experiencing the same weather-changing events that you are, only further immerses players into this new experience that is exactly what the series needed. This is a step in the right direction for Playground Games, the Horizon series, and the overall Forza franchise, and it's something that all fans, including even the most diehard car enthusiasts, will enjoy from the very beginning.
Forza Horizon 4 releases on October 2 for Xbox One and PC, as well as on Xbox Game Pass. Screen Rant was provided an Xbox One copy for the purposes of this review.