Forza Horizon 4 review | A raucous ride in the British countryside

Forza Horizon 4 game
Forza Horizon 4 is released on 2 October for Xbox One and PC

Is there a more quintessentially British driving experience than guiding a Land Rover across a roundabout in the Cotswolds, a light drizzle pattering across the windshield as Classic FM lilts from the radio?

No? How about launching the Land Rover over the roundabout at 100 miles an hour, crashing down into deep puddle with a heavy whumph, demolishing a cobblestone wall as sheep scatter through golden rapeseed fields and 10 other off-road chargers careen across the landscape. That’s British countryside driving, Forza Horizon 4 style.

Chances are you won’t see that this weekend in the Lake District. But one of Forza Horizon 4’s successes as a video game is both its beautiful recreation and reverence to the roads of the United Kingdom, and its keenness to let you cause unbridled vehicular chaos on them.

Forza Horizon has become, in many ways, the defining racing game of this generation. Its breezy, open-world, do-what-you-like racing taps directly into the pleasure senses on the brain. Pretty cars in pretty landscapes soundtracked by raucous radio stations; a map that bristles with icons, races and distraction and an ‘influence’ points system that rewards pretty much everything except slamming into a wall.

There is an impressive variety of cars to collect throughout Forza Horizon 4

Sideswipe through a hedgerow? Here’s a landscaping bonus. Clip a car? Points for trading paint. Batter over some poor soul’s wheelie bins in your souped up Lamborghini? Dustman influence for you.

Racing purists may baulk at such flippant rewards, not to mention the garish inclusions of things like ‘Mixer’ streaming support and fruit machine-esque ‘wheelspins’ that offer up new cars and clothes for your hipster avatar. But underneath the occasionally unpalatable forest of stuff that comes to define modern triple-A games is a racing game of heart and, essentially, fun.

The Horizon driving remains as good as ever, tuned to a sweet spot between the tangible weight of simulation and bolshy thrill of arcade racing with the option to move the dial to your liking.

But it’s how that racing threads through Playground Games loving patchwork of English and Scottish countryside that gives Forza Horizon 4 its kick. The Leamington based developer has created delicious locations before, from the mountains of Colorado to the beaches of Australia, but has clearly relished in the recreation of its home country.

It is a vividly realised mixture of the Lake District, Cotswolds and Scottish Highlands. The historical city of Edinburgh has you threading Bentleys and Beatles around its tightly-knit streets. Long dirt sprints in Jeeps and off-road buggies thrash through forests and across open countryside, hills rolling in the distance. Famous landmarks pop up as beauty spots and race track sights, from the Uffington White Horse to Edinburgh castle.

The changing seasons and diverse events in Forza Horizon 4 offer both visual and racing variety

It isn’t geographically accurate, which is why the meadows of south-central England are just a short Bugatti ride away to eastern Scotland, but its roadways are delightfully convincing. It is a genuine pleasure to just drive across its expanse taking in the sights, which are given extra buoyancy by Forza Horizon 4’s ‘Seasons’.

This is the game’s tentpole new feature, with the make-up of the map changing on a regular basis as Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter come and go. Visually it’s a treat, as bright greens and yellows are dusted with snow white enough to cause a chill through the TV.

But of course the real change comes in how weather affects the handling of a car. I got quite the shock when the season went the snow started falling and my tasteful gold Pagani, sans snow tyres, lost all traction on the road and span out into an icy ditch. Visibility can be impaired in April showers or winter sleet, thick slush spattering on the chase camera or windscreen.

Tracks themselves take on a different feel too, with previously quick, dry dirt tracks pooling deep puddles and glistening mud that must be splashed through or avoided. It’s impressive stuff, particularly applied across the whole map, while the multitude of events you can take part in makes use of the change in seasons too.

There are separate career strings in the campaign, with circuits, street races, cross-country and dirt tracks popping up all over the map. Each type of event has a markedly different feel, particularly with the change in weather, with you able to quickly build a collection of cars with different strengths and weaknesses to be deployed in different seasons.

The variety in Forza Horizon 4 is key, as there is a lot to burn through, and how that endures over time is Forza Horizon 4’s biggest challenge. The opening hours of the game’s campaign take you through the seasons at breakneck pace, with you earning enough ‘influence’ to trigger a showcase event before each season transitions to the next.

But once you have completed this introduction the game settles into a rhythm in which the season changes every week, with Forza opening up more multiplayer challenges and a more persistent world. It is a bold gambit in a way, Playground Games fully aware of the drop-off in players in the excellent Forza Horizon 3 and looking to keep players of 4 coming back.

As with so many triple-A titles, Forza Horizon 4 is hoping to be the only video game you need. Or at least the only racing game. How that plays out in the coming months as servers go public, seasons change and content is added, including the upcoming route creator, remains to be seen. A note of warning about 4 is that the sheer weight of its features can be overwhelming, leaving you to wonder just where the series can go from here without tripping over its own tyres.

But even if Forza Horizon 4 has the hallmarks of a lengthy victory lap; its flair, fun and sense of driving pleasure make it one that is richly deserved and worth racing along with.

  • Forza Horizon 4 is released for Xbox One and PC on 2 October 2018