While I might be aiming to feature a lot of the smaller, easy to miss gems in the Game Pass collection, at some point I was always going to talk about some of the bigger, triple-A titles available on the service. Right now Microsoft might not have a lot of Xbox exclusives under its belt, although that may change in the coming years, but in Forza Horizon 4 they do have a hell of a big hitter, holding a score of 92 on Opencritic. Released toward the end of 2018, Forza Horizon 4 is still going strong thanks to its seasonal objectives and constant updates.
Truth be told, the Forza Horizon series was always like a dream come true for me. Back in the dark ages, I used to wish for a racing game that had the handling of the main Forza Motorsport games, and the open world of Test Drive Unlimited. Seems like Microsoft had the same dream because they and Playground Games produced just that, the very first Forza Horizon. Four games later and we have what I believe to be one of the very finest racing games around. Perhaps, the finest.
Horizon 4 is a lot more forgiving and friendly than the more simulation orientated Forza Motorsport series, yet the handling model is weighty enough and realistic enough that it feels…authentic. I wouldn’t describe it as arcadey because it feels close enough to reality, but it’s not close enough to the real thing to be called a sim. You know what I mean? No? Well, screw you. All you need to know is that the handling feels satisfying, fun and responsive across the mammoth roster of nearly 500 vehicles.
Oh, and what a roster of rides, man! Horizon 4 is like car porn, although I’m sure car porn is probably actually a real thing. I’m not judging. The point is, if the idea of hundreds of lovingly rendered cars gets you all hot under the collar then Forza Horizon 4 is for you, and each one can be tuned up with parts. I have a particular love for my chunky Jeep Trailcat which I upgrade with pretty much everything I could get my hands on. I did not, however, stop to tune up the suspension, and so now when you hit the accelerator the entire rear end pushes into the ground and the front end rises up, meaning you just can’t turn. So the art behind driving this thing is that you have to point it, scream and then hope the front of the beast will come back down before you need to turn. It can stop on a dime too because when you hit the brakes hard the front end buries itself into the ground. It’s amazing, and kind of useless in a race but it’s so, so fucking fun to drive.
I admit there’s a touch of bias to all my praise, though, because Horizon 4 is set in the UK. As a Scottish lad through and through it’s a shame that the game only goes up as far as Edinburgh, about two hours from where I live, but since I have a sister in the city I know it quite well, and blasting around the streets is incredibly cool. They’ve captured our weather as well. Up here in Scotland, getting all four seasons in the span of about a day is quite normal, and Horizon 4 shifts its season every week. When winter hits in Horizon 4 the open-world suddenly changes, becoming even more beautiful to look at and heaps of fun to drive. Who doesn’t love sliding sideways across a frozen lake in a Subaru?
Although, I do think they should shift the map over to the West a bit and get Glasgow in there, too. Mind you, if that did that you’d come out of a menu to find out somebody has stolen your wheels.
Online is excellent, too. The singleplayer has an insane amount of races, events and challenges to complete as well as really cool set-piece races, but online includes stuff like special Forzathon events. You can share your world with other players, too. It’s awesome to bomb around and see other people enjoying themselves, too. For me, the reason to keep going back is the constant events popping up that offer special cars as rewards, plus other bonuses. I still find myself logging in once or twice a week to do a few events.
The sheer wealth of content means Horizon 4 will take you hundreds of hours to complete, provided you’re willing to chase down everything. But there’s strong DLC, too, including a fully-fledged Lego expansion that lets you race around in Lego machines while building your very own house.
If you’re playing on a shiny new Series S or Series X then the game has some good upgrades. The best of the bunch, though, is the massively reduced load times. On a regular Xbox the initial startup time of Forza Horizon 4 is loooooooong. Menus and race loading screens can be a bit slow too so that SSD really helps speed things up.
After four games it’s hard to see where Playground can go with the Horizon franchise outside of an obvious graphical upgrade and a change of location. But even if we never get a Forza Horizon 5 – though I’m sure we will – Playground can be happy in the knowledge that they created one of the very best racing games ever seen.