It’s commonly believed that the first car, at least one powered by gasoline, arrived in 1886, the creation of the German inventor Karl Benz, who in this year, patented his Benz Patent Motorwagon. There were only ever twenty-five of the things built within the machine’s brief life cycle and the vehicle was almost certainly incapable of drifting. The Benz Patent Motorwagon might also hold the rare distinction of being the only automobile not to feature in Forza Horizon 4.
Okay, so there’s no Mitsubishi, Lexus or Toyota (though a few of their racing trucks do appear), but with over 450 licenced vehicles to choose from, Forza’s new installment is a veritable buffet of car-based pleasure. We’re at a stage in gaming now with big specialist games titles – from FIFA to NBA Live to WWE 2Kwhatever – where developers have no reluctance in giving us everything we want right now.
This poses problems for the future – maybe the Benz Patent Motorwagon might make an appearance down the line, when the series runs out of new cars to throw our way. But this isn’t the time for worrying about variables like that. It’s time for burning rubber.
If you’re into cars, you will LOVE Forza Horizon 4. It is unquestionably a game made by people who adore cars, for people who adore cars. It’s akin to the best episode of Top Gear ever (say, a week where the one with the rubbish hair is off sick). If you just like cars a little bit, you’ll enjoy it too. There’s a stunning variety of customisation options, from decals to hubcaps to colour schemes, as well as nerdy deep dives into tire options, suspension and pistons, all of which will affect how you drive and what you can do.
But impressively, these are details you can choose to dig into, depending on how deep you fall once you’re in. For the largest part, the new game feels like an arcade title. You can dip in and dip out at will – it’s principally about adventure, not obsession – though the game does do everything to keep you locked in.
Oh, speaking of customisation options, it’s not just the cars the game gives you the chance to buy and modify. You’ll need a house to make modifications to your vehicles in. Brilliantly, the game gives you the chance to buy Edinburgh castle.
SEASONS IN THE SUN (AND SNOW)
This time the game is set in the north of England – narrow country, stone clad walls that shatter when you hit them – and Scotland – a florid interpretation of Edinburgh that manages to capture the historic look of one of Britain’s great cities, if not the feel (which we’ll come to later) – as well as the lush landscape that conjoins them. We might as well just say it now. There has never been a better-looking videogame than Forza Horizon 4.
This being Britain, the game is built around seasons – pick it up at launch and you can sample all four in a few hours of gameplay, thereafter they’ll cycle weekly – and what season you’re playing in, like the smaller factors we mentioned prior, like the setup of the car you’re driving in, will radically affect gameplay. Roads are skiddier when wet and cold. Drier and crisp in the Autumn. And the attention to detail is staggering.
The sheep in the fields you speed past have short hair in Summer. Fluffier wool in the winter. You can’t hit them by the way. We tried. We tried within seconds of seeing them. Don’t lie and say you won’t too.
The seasons change the arena you’re playing in, as they themselves shift and change. A frozen lake reveals previously inaccessible islands you couldn’t get to in spring. Snowploughs turn up! Then in summer the harvests in the fields are reaped, revealing new areas and new courses to explore. And here’s another bold claim – Forza Horizon 4 is consequently the best open world experience we’ve ever played.
And another; much like God Of War, Spider-Man and The Last Of Us have been to the PS4, Forza Horizon 4 is the first game Xbox One has claimed as an exclusive, that is in itself, a justifiable reason to buy said machine. And another; it feels the purest representation of the ‘sandbox’ ideal we’ve ever played. You will play the game and ask yourself, ‘I wonder what would happen if…’ It might be argued that GTA V posed similar questions, but there’s a playfulness to this Forza title that is so wholesome, innocent and fun, that the options for experimentation in how you play genuinely relate to the imagination you apply to it. They’re called Playground games for a reason.
We’re sure those AI sheep would agree with us, but this really is a utopian automobile paradise.
SEVENTY-TWO IS COMPANY
You’re probably aware from the lead-up to the game’s release, that Forza Horizon 4 boasts a shared open-world, meaning that the server you’re playing on will also feature seventy-two real-world players. At the time of writing, we haven’t spent enough time with multiplayer to really comment on how well this works – don’t blame us, we told you the game works overtime to keep you locked in, and from stunt challenges to speed camera challenges, the game throws new things for you to do at you like an over-enthusiastic grandma throws confetti at a wedding.
Yet what we will say, is that seeing real-world players sharing the roads with you at all times, is a really exciting, human experience. We did play enough to be able to confidently say that, via a simple communication hub – with some smart mechanics to deter the sort of nasty little gremlins that continue to plague online gaming at all levels – the game actively encourages you to engage with other drivers, to buddy up, to compete in events together. And it does this well.
Since we haven’t explored the multiplayer as much as we’d like, let us just say that the game gives you the chance to race against a steam train. The sort that took Harry Potter to Hogwarts. Yeah, that’s right, offer no resistance, just let them take your money.
THERE MUST BE SOMETHING CRAP…
So we’re reaching here, but the one thing we will say, is that this isn’t a Britain we completely recognise. Sometimes, when you’re skidding through a sunny Edinburgh street in a classic British car, the game does feel a little bit like what you imagine happens inside (Ex UKIP leader and Brexit ringleader) Nigel Farage’s brain. We’ll stop short of saying it’s all a bit Brexit, but there’s an urban grit to real-world Britain that, while not always pretty, does feel like a missed opportunity to explore.
Of course, the counter-argument is that this is a fictionalised world, it can be whatever it wants to be, and that’s a perfectly acceptable one to have. But there’s another to say that the game might be even more enjoyable if it didn’t sometimes feel like it’s taking place within The Last Of The Summer Wine.
Is Forza Horizon 4 Any Good?
Like we say, we’re reaching. The game is a stunning achievement, so far ahead of any racing title or driving sim on the market, it’s bordering on obscene. Quite what Mr. Benz would make of Forza Horizon 4 is anyone’s guess, but we’re going to imagine that he’d say something like “außergewöhnlich!“ (that by the way, is German for extraordinary) and he wouldn’t be in any way wrong.