Microsoft knew exactly what they were doing when they acquired Playground Games, as was recently announced
at E3. Playground owns one of the most polished and impressive portfolios of the past decade or more, and my hands-on time with this fall's Forza Horizon 4
proves yet again that somehow they just keep getting better. I'm being completely honest when I write that I couldn't stop smiling the first time I played the Forza Horizon 4
E3 demo, so much so that I played it again later.
The demo opened in a driveway where three cars were available for me to choose from before I hit the autumnal roads. Making the Forza
veteran's choice, I went with the million dollar McLaren Senna. Always go McLaren. The car sped out of the driveway and handed control over to me as I raced through the gorgeous orange and red foliage alongside AI drivers of all makes and models. Leaves kicked up around me and livestock scurried across the street just safely enough to be majestic without risk of injury. All the while, the signature EDM music of the series pulsated in a way that hooks you no matter what kind of music you appreciate otherwise.
The demo is meant to showcase the four seasons now featured in the series for the first time, and as I crossed the speed trap above the targeted 150 MPH mark, it zoomed out and transitioned to a winter storm race, cleverly titled "A Song of Ice and Tires." This time I was suddenly racing in an offroad truck with the absolutely crucial winter grips. Drifting around snow banks and scurrying across thick sheets of ice, I wasn't alone in skidding around quite a bit, and luckily I had the least trouble with it all among the racers as I beat out all the AI for another gold finish.
From there the presentation smoothly moved again, this time to spring. Clearly in the "April showers" portion of the famous rhyme, I was moved into a rally car as I sped across messes of mud, hills, and sharp turns. Rallying all around me were equally mud-slinging dirtbikes, four of them, each spouting colorful exhaust fumes the vibrant palette within Forza Horizon
has become known for. As the bikers weaved in and out of my way, doing tricks and riding right along with me, it wasn't just for show. It was another race. Like the showcase events of past Horizon
festivals, the game is kind of scripted to let you look awesome, provided you can keep up with most of the action. Thankfully I was able to do that, which meant the final moments saw me outrunning and outlasting three of the four bikers, leaving a slow-motion stunt jump finish between me and the last remaining bike.
Rule #1: Always go McLaren.
From there the game cut to summer and the announcers cut in with more hype for the now inexplicably year-round festival. Regardless of that unrealistically expensive premise, it suits the game. Summer unfolded much like what we tended to see in FH3, though yet again the spectacle-ometer was turned all the way up as jets screeched overhead, competitors surprised me on my route to the finish line by powersliding in from different sides, and ultimately I zoomed past all the other supercar competitors to finish with four golds in four attempts. I stood up, approached some devs from Playground, and shared with them my glee for how much fun the demo was. Not that I could've hidden my feelings if I wanted to. I was still beaming. To be totally forthcoming, I was even laughing a bit because I was just in awe of how stunning it all looked and played. One may periodically think the bar can't be set any higher, and yet you'd be proven wrong again and again to think that. Forza Horizon
has made a tradition of raising the bar for all other racers and for itself. It's remarkable how Playground continues to push themselves to be better all the time.
In the full game, seasons will stay one week at a time so you won't often be thrown around so quickly from weather system to weather system. But the knack Playground has for creating amazing setpieces, gorgeous scenery, and exhilarating racing is unrivaled, and Forza Horizon 4
shows all the signs of being the next great experience from Playground Games.