A final look back at Forza Horizon 4: The good, the bad, and the Great British weather

Forza Horizon 4 isn't disappearing from stores or the Game Pass for the time being. But as Forza Horizon 5 is rapidly approaching release, we thought it was time to look back over the previous edition. Let's look at what we loved and what we didn't love about this glorious game.

The cars of Forza Horizon 4

Probably the most important feature of a driving game is the cars we get to experience. In Forza Horizon 4 there were 752 vehicles to collect, including the Preorder and Forza Edition variants. It's hard to argue there wasn't great value in this regard.

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The retro-futuristic McLaren Speedtail hypercar was one of the more outlandish options

Players would generally have liked to see more everyday cars and less of an emphasis on performance machines. There was little in the way of a sense of progression, as players could very quickly start acquiring a large garage of cars that would be unobtainable in real life and none were locked away behind level requirements. This is in contrast to Forza Motorsport 7 where you often had to work hard early game to get the vehicle you desired.

On the other hand, there did seem to be something for everyone. There are other manufacturers we would have liked to see, but on the whole the game was pretty diverse in its driving options, albeit with a focus on supercars.

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The Volvo Iron Knight gave us a more unusual driving experience

The tuning options were powerful and enabled us to get cars really dialed in. On the other hand, the cosmetic options were often quite lacking. JDM fans bemoaned the lack of body kits and compared the game unfavourably to Need For Speed: Heat.

We're excited to see that some of this community feedback has been taken on board. We'll be able to open the tops on convertible and will have a bigger range of cosmetic updates in Forza Horizon 5.

The headline features and game modes

Before release, the big new feature for Forza Horizon 4 was the changing seasons. This ultimately turned out to be both a blessing and a curse for players. While the Spring and Autumn seasons were especially popular with photographers, the Winter season was pretty unloved by most of the community.

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Winter driving was tough going

It was tough to get around in winter with the extreme amounts of snow across the map. Cars needed to be tuned especially for the low grip. It wasn't great for photography either. It's a frequent joke on the Reddit and Discord groups that winter is the time to take a break from the game. For the fifth Forza Horizon game it's notable that there will now be snow only at the highest peak of the volcano, which has been seen as a response to player feedback.

The hourly Forzathon live events were also promoted before release. Up to twelve players work as a team to complete tasks and accumulate points. These hourly events are still popular on the Forza Horizon 4 servers. This concept has been expanded upon for Forza Horizon 5 with a rolling series of games players can drop in and out of.

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Online features were generally well received

The Eliminator was added to Forza Horizon for update 17. Developers were responding to the fad for battle royale game modes. This was a polarising game feature. For some players it became their favourite part of the Forza Horizon experience. Other players (admittedly, myself included) never really saw the appeal and stuck to the racing.

The location of Great Britain

It seemed like a safe choice for the UK based Playground Games studio. But the layout of the map was in many ways an inspired choice, featuring some lesser-known but stunning spots from Britain. You'd be pushed to visit Broadway, Ambleside, Bamburgh, and Edinburgh within a couple of days on a real life tour. Forza Horizon 4 enabled you to explore versions of these places from your sofa.

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Princes Street, with Edinburgh Castle in the background

As a resident of southern England, I wasn't all too familiar with some of these spots before this game. I'd spent a summer in Edinburgh as a teenager, so some of the sights there were very nostalgic for me. But Forza Horizon 4 inspired me to take a driving holiday to Ambleside and Derwentwater. What we found was a beautiful landscape, faithfully recreated in-game.

Developers included Chesterton Windmill (located near the Playground Games offices in Leamington Spa) but renamed and relocated it as Broadway Windmill. No doubt some of the team see it on their daily commute.

They did resist the urge to chuck further quantities of national landmarks in the game but this made it special when you did first spot something notable. I liked the way the Broadway Windmill was incorporated as a Danger Sign location so it was functional rather than decorative in the game. The same was true of the standing stones.

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Forza Horizon 4 incorporated some beautiful vistas

While many players want to see Japan as a Forza Horizon location, the Great Britain map has everything I wanted to see. It might have been nice to have one huge hillside drift zone, but then came the expansions:

The Forza Horizon 4 DLC

The DLC for Forza Horizon 4 reveived mixed reviews. The final car bundle, the Hot Wheels car pack, angered many by not being free for those who had purchased the "Ultimate Edition" of the game. In the end, few paid out the extra cash to get these vehicles. That's a shame, as they looked fantastic and we'd love to see more of this sort of thing in the Forza world. It's understandable though that the community felt badly treated by this unexpected extra cost for those who wanted a complete car collection.

Aside from the car packs, the two expansions were of varying quality. We looked at them in a bit more depth previously but suffice to say that Fortune Island was an epic landscape with incredible weather and the greatest ever drift zone, meanwhile Lego Valley had some toy cars.

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It was never easy to get a good screenshot with the lightning on Fortune Island

Maybe I'm being a little harsh on the Lego Speed Champions expansion but much of what you had to do there felt like busywork. It was notable as the only place in all of Forza Horizon 4 with a purpose-built racetrack. I still think that if you want to drive around in Lego vehicles, you're best off picking up Lego City Undercover.

The expansions were a good place for Playground Games to test out ideas for Forza Horizon 5. It looks like the trailblazer PR stunts are coming to the base game (hoorah!) along with the collectible tasks of Lego Valley (boo!) and that the more extreme weather of Fortune Island has laid the groundwork for storms in Mexico.

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"Smash 100 flowers!" Sure, but why?

The other car packs? Well they offered more cars than the base game. I wouldn't have bought them individually, but the James Bond car pack in particular tied in nicely with the locations.

Racing in Forza Horizon 4

Forza Horizon 4 had plenty of great racing to keep you entertained. Somehow, the game made every competition feel heroic. The range of cars with different strengths and the generally sensible PI system made for close and compelling action.

Circuits and routes varied in how successful they were. Players criticised the Juggernaut along the motorway for being shorter than they would have hoped and having some awkward corners. Dirt tracks were criticised for including too much in the way of tarmac. In fact, there's only the one dirt track without a road section.

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Launching into the Juggernaut. Generally the PI system kept things fair-ish

Street Scene and Cross-Country were particularly debated amongst the community. The former could often be a lottery due to the traffic. The latter was tricky because of the tendancy of both real and AI players to make heavy contact in critical corners.

Some weren't happy with the perceived rubber-banding of drivatar opponents. To be honest, this never bothered me. What counts in a racing game for me is how I feel, win or lose. Winning races in Forza Horizon 4 felt great. But when I lost I wasn't disheartened. It's hard to put my finger on why, but emotionally the racing in this game was a success for me.

The stories and showcases

Forza Horizon 4 had plenty to keep you entertained in single-player modes. The Horizon Stories were updated for the influencer age with new character LaRacer. I particularly enjoyed the Stunt Driver story where you took part in the making of a film. Tying the game to its location, there was also Top Gear and British Racing Green storylines.

The showcases largely tried to be bigger and even more high adrenaline than prior instalments. All were generally on the theme of "car versus some other massive vehicle" but there was some variety when we sprinted to the quarry chasing motorcross bikes.

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Big vehicle with good top speed but a terrible turning circle...it must be a Forza Horizon showcase

The developers did use the showcases to demonstrate the different seasons in the Forza Horizon 4 world. They unlocked during the tutorial stages, which incidentally went on far too long, and then showed off aspects of each season. Unfortunately if you went to replay a showcase it had to change the season. You couldn't try the same race again but with different conditions.

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Racing the Flying Scotsman in the Ariel Nomad always put you back into winter for the event

Overall I'd rate the showcases and stories as largely successful in setting the scene and giving the impression of being a part of a larger world. Some were tough to complete, but often this was due to weird tunings having been applied to your car. However, there were some that for me were pretty forgettable. Specifically, the taxi driving and the delivery driver stories didn't bring a whole lot to the party.

The Horizon festival as a whole

One aspect in which the game fell down compared to its predecessors was with the festival concept itself. The sense of being at an event was diminished and the coherence wasn't there. The festival site was a very small space in a large map and I didn't feel like there was necessarily an overriding vision of what was happening at any time.

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The festival concept lost its focus in Forza Horizon 4

The map was very quickly very full of events to complete. Great for variety but hard to know where to start for players new to the franchise. There was a bit of a lack of direction and not enough hand holding for new players, while still having too long a tutorial stage for the experienced. It looks like there have been some changes in this regard for the new game.

Forza Horizon 4 compares poorly in this regard to the first three in the series, particularly the odd numbered editions. The original Forza Horizon game starts with you rushing to the festival site to sign up to events and there's a real sense that you're a part of a unique occasion. Forza Horizon 3 turns the tables and makes you the festival director. You're given tasks to do that relate to the actual expansion of the festival itself and hence you feel invested. In Great Britain this isn't the case.

In conclusion

There's no two ways about it: Forza Horizon 4 has its flaws. In trying to be the biggest and most exciting open world racer, there are areas where the Playground Games team fell a little short.

Hardcore racers and simulation fanatics wouldn't have found their itches satisfied by this game, and fans who have stuck with the series will also have questioned some decisions the designers made.

Those problems largely drop out of your mind when you get stuck into a session though. Forza Horizon 4 is a game where there's always something more to do, always another challenge ahead of you, always some engaging gameplay to start or repeat. The festival playlist keeps things fresh and the expansions provide extra challenges.

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At the end of the day, Forza Horizon 4 achieves its goals

Forza Horizon 4 was never intended to be as serious as the Forza Motorsport series but to fall into the middle ground between driving-heavy open world games and actual focused racers. It's a sprawling and at times unfocused collection of places and events where players are free to enjoy the world in the way they choose. Photographers, drifters, collectors, and yes, also racers can find what they're looking for in this game if they're prepared to hunt and to learn.

Despite the many things I personally would have changed about the Forza Horizon 4 experience, it remains my favourite game of all time. All I hope is that Mexico and Forza Horizon 5 is even better!

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