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Forza Horizon 4 Preview - E3 2018

We get behind the wheel in Playground's season-changing sequel

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The Forza Horizon franchise has achieved a great deal of success for Microsoft and the Xbox brand. What started off as an arcade spinoff to the mainline Forza Motorsport simulation racing series has taken on a life of its own, and has in fact overtaken the main franchise in terms of its popularity and, arguably, quality. Unshackled by the burden of simulation, the Horizon games have managed to bring fun and a great atmosphere back into the racing genre, combined with satisfying gameplay and exotic open world settings. So much so, that Microsoft has decided to make developer Playground Games a first party studio by announcing their purchase at the Xbox Media Briefing. With the newly announced Forza Horizon 4, the series shows no signs of slowing down, and we had a chance to learn more about the game and go hands-on with a demo during E3 2018.

Forza Horizon 4

Our presentation session was hosted by Benjamin Penrose, Art Director at developer Playground Games. He reflected on the success of the series – over 22 million players took up racing in one of the three Horizon games in 2017, and 9 million of those were in Forza Horizon 3. With such large player numbers, the developers believe they have a responsibility to keep delivering quality games. With Forza Horizon 4, the main pillars of the design are the location, authenticity, dynamic seasons, and a shared world.

The latest racing title will take players to Britain this time around. It is being treated as a “homecoming” for the franchise, as that’s the location where motorsports racing was first born and evolved, and also the home of the developers themselves. Unlike the previous games, where the team would send a small crew to scout the exotic location for the setting, it was everyone at the studio who took the time to research every little detail about their nation and bring that passion into the game world. From large lakes, to castles, the mountains and the countryside, the sense of history was at the forefront of this virtual representation of modern Britain – a locale rarely seen in games. It is less exotic than the past Horizon titles, but again the focus was on immersion and level of detail due to the familiarity of the developers.

The idea of dynamic weather seasons began life as an R&D demo for an unrelated project, and we were shown an in-game video of a cottage, as the environment changed through the year. The presenters joked that they got quite familiar with the folks living at the home that their data was gathered from, and the owners would amusingly say, “Here come the developers again to photograph our yard”.

Forza Horizon 4

While the size of the map is roughly the same as Australia from Forza Horizon 3, the developers had to design it four times over with each season in mind. The tech demo showed the cottage during summer, fall, winter, and spring, with the surrounding area changing notably, from the color of the grass/falling leaves, to the snow and frozen ground, to the spring melt and slippery roads. The natural lighting and soundscapes also change through the seasons, from birds singing to the howling of the wind. Almost all assets in the game world are affected by the changing weather. Of course, the time of day is dynamic as well. It looks rather excellent. Running on the Xbox One X, the game is aiming for 4K and HDR support, as well as targeting 60FPS, a first for the series, though only available on the X (and W10 PC) and not the base Xbox One models.

Great atmosphere aside, going through the in-game year affects driving as well. Snow, ice, muddy and slippery roads, it all affects handling – in addition to tire temperature, which for the first time in Horizon will have a notable impact on gameplay. Even all surfaces in the game have their own temperature rating, which also affects grip. Other seasonal gameplay changes include lakes freezing over, which of course opens up new traversal opportunities to reach new locations. And if things go dry in the summer, you could race on the riverbeds. There will be unique events and even PR Stunts depending on the season.

Forza Horizon 4 will also feature a shared world, with players seeing other real drivers in their game, instead of Drivatars. It should make for a much more lively and engaging community. Of course, to eliminate griefing, only players who are in your activity or party will be able to physically collide with you. The demo showcased the social features and how easy it is to just pull up to a person and invite them through the D-pad (for co-op parties of up to 6 players), without entering menu screens. You can just open the map and see what others are doing in your region. It is still possible to play entirely offline, and developers say this is not an always-online title. If you do go online, the transition will be seamless, and the shared world also means you’ll be sharing the same events and seasons with the rest of the players. In-game seasons will be universal and last for 1 week of real time.

Forza Horizon 4

The Horizon Festival remains as the driving force behind career progression. Your goal is to become the Festival’s Superstar, and while you can still achieve this by racing/exploring/stunting, the developers have opened up the way for community creators to also progress. Now, if all you want to do is make tunes and liveries, you’ll also make progress in your career, even if you don’t focus on racing itself. There’s also the idea that players live at the Horizon Festival, rather than just being tourists, and that translates into the ability for players to purchase houses, and customize their drivers’ look. You will also be able to utilize Blueprints to create your own race paths. Online, the competitive play will be overhauled and include Leagues, with more details to follow.

Having heard so much about it, it was exciting to finally try out the demo. Our car selection included the Dodge Viper ACR, McLaren Senna, and the Porsche Cayman GT4; we opted for the McLaren for the true Forza feel. The final game promises to have over 450 vehicles. The race kicked off, and we were underway to the festival – the same sort of introduction that the previous few games have employed. After speedily navigating a few sweeping corners through the countryside, the perspective shifted to a truck and the season changed to winter, as we raced offroad and through a festival located on top of a frozen lake. The perspective changed again, and now we were in a Ford hatchback, trying to outrace some bike riders through a mountainous dirt track. Regardless of the vehicle, the cars handled excellently and felt really fun to drive. There were stunt scores and multipliers popping up that should be familiar to series regulars. Regardless of the season, the game looked quite great from a technical perspective, with sharp textures, meaty engine audio, and immersive lighting and season changes.

Forza Horizon 4

Forza Horizon 4 continues to innovate, and deliver big, meaningful changes to its formula. It manages to lead not only its own franchise, but the arcade racing genre overall. With excellent presentation, large gameplay changes with the introduction of seasons, and great gameplay variety and fun handling, it’s difficult to find faults with Forza Horizon 4’s ambitions. If it all comes together as good as it looked at E3 2018, fans should be in for another great racing game this Fall.

Forza Horizon 4 comes to Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs this October.

Forza Horizon 4
Forza Horizon 4 box art Platform:
Xbox One
Our Review of Forza Horizon 4
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Forza Horizon 4 is ranked #206 out of 1980 total reviewed games. It is ranked #5 out of 148 games reviewed in 2018.
206. Forza Horizon 4
207. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
PlayStation 4
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