Friday, 23 November 2018

Seasonal British horizons

Forza Horizon 4

Platform tested: Xbox One X
Released: 2018

Review: Playground Games are not slowing down with their excellent line of Forza Horizon games. Right now they are probably the best racing game developers around, with each version outperforming the last. Leaving Australia behind in FH3, although keeping to the left side of the road, this time around the horizon car festival is set in the United Kingdom. More precise Scotland and Northern England. It's a drastic change of scenery, much like the previous Horizon games.

So we've had the day and night cycles, weather changes from fog to rain, even a DLC in the last game of a snowy mountain, what is the new environmental feature this time in FH4? Seasons. That's right, every week the game changes between the four seasons; summer, autumn, winter then spring. Each season brings with it unique weather aspects, visuals and even road surfaces. It's a really cool and new idea for the racing genre, if not for games in general. Don't worry though, the game uses the intro and quite a bit of the first opening hours to learn you each season' unique aspects. Once these are completed you follow the weekly seasonal clock driven by the games online servers. A neat, original and well implemented feature.

So while I found perhaps the map in FH4 to have a litt less visual diversity in it's environments compared to "mini" Australia in FH3, FH4 makes up for it by having the seasonal changes. Not only does it help with variety visually in the scenery, it also opens unique challenges, races and especially the snow season brings the need for winter tires and a more slippery surface to master. Personally I found spring and summer very alike, bright and sunny, albeit with some visual differences, while autumn is visually stunning with it's beautiful orange leaves everywhere. All in all it's about letting you enjoy a new set of visuals each week as a backdrop to your races.

Based strongly on FH3s more open approach to races, FH4 also lets you make blueprints at each race event to your own car style and suiting, it even lets you force another season upon them if you want each race exactly to your preferred playstyle. I really like that you can basically drive the exact cars you prefer and not be forced to race anything you dislike, while at the same time the game tempts you to go outside your car comfort zone. Offering up challenges that have specific cars and car types you win, they will all tempt you to save some money of buying new ones and try them out.

Speaking of car diversity, FH4 is an even more solid package than before; there are over 400 cars! A number unmatched in other racers these days. Each car has interiors and can be customised with stickers, paint and even body parts if the manufacture allows it. There's no shortage of variety either; hyper cars, 80's/90's classics, vintage models, pickups, off-roaders and even racing trucks are featured. There's something for everyone. Add on the fantastic Forza customisation tools for painting your car, plus the car kits for specific models and you have a large selection of options to make a dream car for your own personal taste.

Graphically FH4 is in a league of it's own; it's hard to see that this is an open world game with this kind of quality. The environments look stunning, the cars are super detailed and the HDR when driving in sunsets or at night is incredible. IF you've ever been to Britain or live there you'll feel at home at once; small cosy villages, farmland hills, lakesides, long beaches, medieval  city of Edinburgh and tje huge coastal castle of Bamburgh. Everything from the vegetation, weather and down to smal details like the road signs look distinctly British. There's even a steam train and hovercraft to race against!

This time around you can choose to play the game on the Xbox One X in either; super sharp with visual effects maxed out at native 4K running in 30fps or super smooth 1080p running at 60fps with graphical settings turned down. The choice is a nice touch for those who either prefer higher framerate or better graphics. In typical Forza series fashion the game runs rock solid at it's locked framerate for whatever you choose and so I went with the better graphical fidelity most of the time. Regular Xbox One owners are locked to 1080p@30fps with a little more cut back effects than the X's 60fps mode. Regardless of system though, it's a beautiful racer to look at. 

Although FH4 is pretty much the perfect racing game on the market, it doesn't really move the layout bar that much further than the excellent FH3 did. Don't get me wrong here, the map and details within it are super ambitious and deliver in the bucket load. I'm talking about the actual race events, progress and the same types of championships like the previous instalment. But why change what works so well, there's more of everything and the tedious hunt for getting gold on every single event is removed to make way for a more level orientated system in each racing type. It makes it a less tedious and checkbox styled affair at least.

Small complaints are the meaningless house purchases and the extremely limited amount of characters models you can choose as your race avatar. Maybe make both these parts more important, like how test Drive Unlimited made you buy new property to extend your garage space for example. I would perhaps have enjoyed some new ideas like adding police cars on the road and more traffic in general, but it's nitpicking and nothing pulling the game down.

Once again FH4 takes the crown as the best racing game on the market, the sheer amount of content and value here is breathtaking and the visuals are so stunning and detailed you'll be dropping your jaw at the screen. Especially the 4K mode on the X is amazing looking on console. It's like huge open world RPG you're playing, only with cars. If you loved FH3 and want a brand new map, more driving conditions and a ton of new events, go for FH4! This years best racer, and a strong statement that the Forza Horizon series is dominating the genre across content, visuals and innovation.