The Forza Horizon series has set a new bar for arcade racing games on the Xbox. With Forza Horizon 4 releasing in a few weeks, we've been hands-on with a near-final build of the game to check out the first few hours of gameplay, see how the move to Britain and the addition of story chapters has affected the experience, and find out if seasons really do “change everything”.
The Opening SequencePlayground Games is well known for their Horizon introductory levels that give a real taster of the experience to come, and the intro section to Forza Horizon 4 is no exception. Jumping straight into the supremely powerful McLaren Senna, the cover car for the FH4, the player gets an immediate taste of the spectacular British countryside in autumn (more on the seasons later). Within minutes, the season switches to a snowy winter and you change vehicle to an off-road 4x4. The handling and change in grip levels are immediately noticeable as you head off to the festival itself.
On arrival at the festival tents, there's no time to stop and enjoy the music as the season changes once again, this time to spring. Another vehicle change seems sensible given the muddy conditions; we switch to a rally car and are tasked with beating four bikers streaming with plumes of coloured smoke pouring out of the back of their bikes.
One final season switch to summer and we are back in the Senna for the sprint back to the festival. Hot air balloons fill the sky, and some of the most powerful supercars on the planet race you to the finish line. It's an exhilarating opening sequence and shows off some of the gameplay enhancements of the new game — more verticality, new cars, and the much-hyped seasons.
Horizon StoriesAdding a story element to driving games has often troubled some developers, but the first example of a Horizon Story in the game makes perfect sense. In Stuntman, the player is asked to drive a Bugatti for a getaway scene in a film. This allows for some traditional Horizon madness, with a jet plane chasing down our hero as he eventually escapes by jumping through an old windmill. With more stuntman chapters to come, as well as taxi missions, it will be interesting to see if these stories add to the overall experience or prove to be something of an unwanted distraction.
Rally EventsRally events have played a part in every Horizon game since the "Rally Expansion" DLC released for the original Forza Horizon. Horizon 4 throws one at you early on in the game and gives you a choice of a Ford Escort RS Cosworth, a Subaru Impreza WRX STI, and a Lancia 037 Stradale to take the course. This event was my favourite of all the races in my two hours with the game, and the rally events really show off the handling improvements:
Character CustomizationNew to Horizon 4 is character customization. As well as choosing the look of your character at the start of the game, different clothes, outfits, and emotes are unlockable during gameplay. While you aren't able to get out of the car and walk around the landscape, you do see your character in various cut scenes and at the end of each race, so there's every reason to make them look as cool as you can, especially for when you jump into the multiplayer events.
Skill ChainsSkill chains are back in Horizon 4, and each car has its own unlock perk tree, so there's more reason than ever to build up those scores with some reckless driving. I tested my off-roading on a drive to the first unlockable house in the game, The Gables.
Forza Horizon 4 releases on October 2nd, but those buying the Ultimate Edition can play it four days early on September 28th.
Check out our Best Racing Games article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
Get the biggest Xbox news delivered straight to your inbox every week.