Forza Horizon 4 – Hardly anything new in Great Britain

Admittedly, the headline is quite provocative. Of course Forza Horizon 4 offers a lot of innovations in terms of game scope and game variety, but – and you have to be fair – the innovations are rather clear. As an old fan of Forza, I’ve been working on this game for weeks now, so I don’t want to tell you any shit about it, so here and now is my extensive review of the latest instance of Forza Horizon.

The new setting: Great Britain

After cruising around in virtual Colorado in the 2012 original Forza Horizon, the second part went to the Mediterranean coast of France and Italy. The third part took us to a place that couldn’t be more exotic: Australia! Of course we’re talking here about virtual replicas that are based on particularly striking locations and regions, but at least the flair in every Forza Horizon title was different. Something that isn’t quite everyday. When do you drive along a virtual Cote d’Azur or crash through the Australian bush with a lemon yellow Lambo?

And now what? England.

Don’t get me wrong! I love Great Britain. The south of England alone has so much to offer in terms of scenery. I have a two-week tour from Dover to Newquay, across the Dartmoor, past Portsmouth, Salisbury, Tintangle Castle… As I said: Beautiful scenery and also varied, but also very tangible and so little exotic. Because: the setting has an effect not only directly in the landscape and in the realistic weather system, but also in the assembled fleet of the title. While in the past it was American muscle cars that made the hearts of fans beat faster in the first part of the series, in Part Two the focus was primarily on the products of Southern European body art. And in Part Three one was even allowed to drive rarities like Holdens, of which hardly any driver in this country knows anything. And then there were the Export-Fords and Export-Vauxhalls, specially designed for the Australian market…

You see what I’m getting at? The setting of a Forza Horizon title also has a lot to do with the overall feeling. And that’s where the developers of Playground Games make it a bit easy for themselves. Of course for the British studio the series comes home with it and of course the Jaguars and Lotus and MG also have their own charm, but the rarities and variety factor alone would certainly have been a bit more in it, if you had set yourself up a little differently in terms of setting.

Graphically the game is just a blast

With all the moaning that is not really a criticism, but rather a question of taste, it has to be said that Forza Horizon 4 looks damn good. Did I say “damn good”? I meant ABSOLUTE TOP CLASS, of course. Because that’s exactly the power of the game. Here the Forza engine lets the muscles play and kicks the competition in the ass with a smile while overtaking. Even on a non-4K TV, the cars look more realistic than they would on the road, and I mean that in all seriousness. In reality, I’ve never been very close to a car to see a drop of rain run down the dark green paint from the chrome trim of an MG. In Forza Horizon 4 I do such nonsense.

The attention to detail of the developers is noticeable in every car and even in the landscape. They have made every effort to stagger the relaxed driving around not with dreariness, but with variety and inquiring elements. Just driving on every single road (there are more than 500) one is busy for hours and marvels at the organic-grown-looking nature, through which here and there a river meanders, where a country lane suddenly disappears between trees, or flat broom bush suddenly hits the windy sandy beach and thus also the sea. The way in which cities or isolated cottages are woven into the landscape in the middle of nowhere is unparalleled in racing games.

The fleet

…is huge. 450 licensed cars from over 100 manufacturers are a real board. It’s just a pity that you only get the full engine boom when you’re willing to invest a lot. And that applies equally to time and money. Because the reward system of the game works much slower than that of the predecessors. This is mainly due to the wheelspins, which I’ll go into later. This means that the player doesn’t get new vehicles as quickly, which keeps his own fleet smaller than you’re used to in Forza Horizon titles. And of course there are lots of vehicles hidden behind the invisible wall of a car pass. It costs a proud 26.99 Euros (29.99 Euros for Xbox One players without a gamepass). That’s a lot of money for 42 new cars. Especially when you consider that you only get new cars and not new events or even a real DLC.

Extensions are coming

The first real DLC, namely “Fortune Island” will be released on December 13th and comes with the expansion bundle for a proud 34.99 Euros on the Xbox One or the PC. With the autopass and the game itself one has ruckizucki past the 100 euro mark, which I find altogether a little too steep. In any case, the Ultimate Edition of the game is worthwhile here, with which one gets the complete package much cheaper. The second – still nameless – expansion will be released in the first half of 2019.

The game elements

The game is full of racing events. Besides the actual main events, namely countless races of the street racing series, street scene, dirt racing series and cross-country series, which by the way can all be driven in the modes “Solo”, “Ko-Op”, “VS.” or “Rivals” and which are always designed for several, sometimes even all vehicle classes, there are no more actual championships. This is one of the strange decisions made for Forza Horizon 4. Instead of the championships, the respective racing series have different levels, which are gradually unlocked with their own progression. Once you have mastered a few races of the street racing series, new locations of this kind will be unlocked.

The same applies to the drift zones, speed cameras and speed camera zones. If you have a certain progress to show, the game rewards the player with a whole bunch of these areas in which the StVO and the laws of physics apply as much as the word of a Donald Trump. On top of that there are the show races, where you have to compete in good old Horizon manner against a hovercraft, against motorcycle freaks or even against a train.

These show races are a real treat and a great opportunity to do some really cool things in between. I experienced my duel with the “Flying Scotsman” three times in a row. When right at the beginning of the race this green flash of 160 km/h passes you… That’s an experience. Or if you just jump over the train… or if you almost simultaneously head to head in the station… well. I think you understood what I was getting at: It’s great.

Credibility

Of course, the whole package of a year-round car festival, where the participants with their fleets costing several million euros break all traffic rules and hold races in normal road traffic is not particularly realistic or credible now, but one point disturbed me a lot with the predecessor. The player was here not only part of the racing scene and participated in races, but was also the boss of the Horizon Festival. That was a totally moronic affair. Why should the boss of a racing event ride along himself and also be able to get the crown at his own event? That was ridiculous and was fortunately rejected again. Now in part 4 we are only drivers. And we don’t collect any Quasi-SocialMedia fans anymore, but influence points with which our game character triggers events.

The fact that as a stunt driver you follow a kind of side campaign for film shots, provides for an increased degree of “Oh that’s why I’m doing this here now”, which really rounds off everyday racing with the unbelievably many possible events and zones.

With a laughing and a crying eye, I noticed that we have now become virtually unstoppable in the game world. In the past, crash barriers, bus stops, trees and even small walls on the roadside were indestructible obstacles, but now we speed through everything with our car body confectionery, as if everything were just styrofoam backdrop. In an open-world setting, this opens up undreamt-of possibilities to move away from motorways, roads, paths and beaten paths, but it also destroys a lot of flair. Everyone surely knows the knee- or waist-high walls of coarse grey stones that run through England and line the fields, meadows and forests. Many of them have been doing this for centuries. And now we come along and knock over this wall with our Alfa Romeo – or something else. Because we can do it. And because we haven’t been behind the wall yet. It’s that simple. Nothing is sacred anymore.

Now one could say “You don’t have to rush through the front wall”, but unfortunately I have to answer: “But I do, because in the doghouse there is a fast-travel board hidden”. Yes. The developers took great pains to hide the speed travel and experience point boards better. Of course, there are still some right on the roadside and sometimes on open fields, but the really rewarding boards can be found under bridges, behind houses, in doghouses or greenhouses, or between two houses, so it takes a really narrow car to reach them. Hats off, you’ve really got a higher gear here.

The festival and the seasons

The biggest and most important change of the game: The seasons change. At the beginning of the game you have to fight your way through the seasons with your experience points and get the right to drive in the next season. Some events are also linked to the seasons, which can mean that you are happily driving through spring and want to go to an event, but the event will beam you instantly into autumn. With this change of seasons – with all the physical accuracy – there are not only optical changes in the landscape, which are really nice to look at, but also changes in driving behaviour. Winter means snow and ice, autumn means mud and slippery leaves. Such things should always be taken into account when choosing or configuring a ride. Even in a virtual car, a race in the snow without winter tyres is not a children’s birthday party.

Once you have fought your way through the whole year in the game, the actual festival begins. And thus also the…

online part

Cause whoops, you’re online. And your game world will no longer be populated only by your Xbox friends’ privateers, but by real online players with whom you can go into direct duels at any time. Or you can slip into an online co-op story. Just the way you want it, and not as intrusive and forced as in the parts before. Even if the offline part becomes an option here and not exactly the other way around. If you’d rather be alone, you’ll need to switch to offline mode.

But it’s all half as wild, well done and astonishingly little annoying. With the “Online First” policy, the weather will follow. For one week at a time, the servers determine the time of year you are in the game. An interesting solution, which still has to prove itself to me.

A home of your own and lots of clothes and knickknacks

Unlike its predecessors, Forza Horizon 4 has only one real festival area and not half a dozen. Makes much more sense. The new fast travel points in part four are the houses that can be found all over the map. The first one will be given to you as a payment for your work on a film, the rest you will have to buy. If you own a house, you can change your car there and… dress your avatar again.

Isn’t that great? T-shirts, trousers, shoes, hairstyle, beard, sunglasses, headgear, jacket and wristwatch can be customized. Of course, only if your wardrobe has it. And at the beginning… you have nothing. But how do you get all these great things? Right! With the wheelspins and the super wheelspins.

The problem with the clothes, the houses, the cars.

Yes, sir! The Wheelspins are raffles, where you could win cars or credits, last but not least horn sounds. To win horn sounds is like winning an Alf ashtray at the fair, although you wanted to win a 1:2 plush unicorn. After all, for a wheelspin you had to put a whole series of crass skill chains on the floor. In Forza Horizon 4 you can’t win horn sounds anymore, but you can… Clothes. Pants. Shirts. Jackets. Wristwatches. Sunglasses. And every garment is a field on the slot machine. So imagine that you’ve created ten wheelspins and want to celebrate them all one after the other and you’re coming back from the competition window with two jackets, a pair of sunglasses, black chucks, a wristwatch and checked pair of golf pants instead of three cars and a lot of virtual dough… The disappointment is gigantic.

This delays the usual flow of the game immensely. Because you could buy cars with the money you won earlier. Or you could upgrade your cars with coal. Now one must still buy and revalue cars, should buy oneself also still the houses, which all contain bonuses… The relationship simply does not tune here any more. There are cottages that cost 5 million credits. And these are not even the most expensive. Since one wins now also still less money and cars with the Wheelspins, extends inevitably the user Voyage around a good third of the play time. For more cars you have to do infinitely more. And I didn’t even mention the “moves” here. Okay, now I have mentioned them…

Yeah, you can make a move after a race. One for “I won” and one for “I didn’t win”. That’s… totally superfluous, embarrassing and also clogging the wheelspins. A feature that nobody needs beyond the 20 year limit. Well. Basically I welcome it if I can individualize my avatar, but please not like that.

Time for a conclusion

When it comes to graphics and driving physics, the Xbox One simply can’t put you in a higher gear anymore. Here Forza Horizon 4 is simply the undisputed top dog. Some of the design decisions are absolute colores, like the integration of clothes and pseudo-cool moves into the important wheelspin competitions or the elimination of real championships. Also, the fact that you can’t see at first glance on the map which race you haven’t yet finished with the best performance, hasn’t succeeded in my opinion. With other changes I’m not sure whether it might not have been better to leave them out or at least install them differently. In this category belong the installation of homes, or the setting as such, but also the rather pale soundtrack of the game compared to its predecessors. I really like the way the offline and online worlds merge, the weather and season changes, and all the additional game depth that goes with it. For me, the cherry on the icing on the cake is the landscape design, which is much more plausible and surprisingly diverse and surprising.

The tightrope walk between Arcade-Racer and Renn-Sim goes this time clearly more in the direction of Arcade, because now we are not even stopped by trees. I’m surprised that the game has to struggle with slowdowns on the normal Xbox One. Especially when you drive over the motorway at 300 km/h, the immersion breaks your neck when the game suddenly freezes in the middle of the tunnel because it can’t keep up with the landscape. Or if you want to watch the currently selected speedster on the revolving stage in the showroom and the game comes to a standstill. I find the still appearing sound-bugs mega-annoying, where the sound either breaks away completely and comes back much too quietly, or the much more frequent bugs, where the sound almost gets stuck. You brake a bend and throw the tail gallantly around, then keep going at full throttle, but the sound of the braking process is like a stuck record, before it catches itself again seconds later.

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