Forza Horizon 4 might be the first racing game I’m actually interested in that doesn’t involve Mario or Crash Bandicoot sitting in karts. And that’s thanks to the game’s world, not the actual game itself.
I live in Los Angeles and spend about half of my life in the car, so the last thing I want to do in a video game is be trapped in a car (unless that car can also play soccer). I appreciate that cars can be engineering marvels, and I would never fault people for being into cars. I just view them, in my own life, as a necessary evil.
Listen: I’m just not that into racing games, O.K.? When my editors gave me my E3 assignments, Playground Games hadn’t even announced Forza Horizon 4. The assignment was for “untitled Xbox game” or something like that. But even never having played a Forza Horizon game, I can safely say that if you’re one of the 9 million people who played Forza Horizon 3, you will be more than pleased with the new features.
If you’re worried about the fact that the series is shifting to an online shared-world experience, don’t be. During a hands-off demo, art director Ben Penrose clarified that you can play Forza Horizon 4 offline and populate your world with “driveatars,” but even when you’re online, other drivers won’t be able to grief you. Forza Horizon 4 has an elegant solution to trolls blocking the roads with their Porsches or whatever, and that’s ghosting. Get too close to another player and they will ghost right through. Otherwise, they’ll just look like normal cars. The only time you’ll crash into another player in the game’s open-world is if you’re playing co-op and you have annoying friends.
The driving looks excellent. There’s over 450 cars to earn and choose from. You can even go into photo mode when you’re online. You can buy houses that unlock new events and allow you to fast-travel across the map. And everything in the game, of course, is beautiful, and Xbox players will have access to 60 frames per second for the first time.
But the one thing that got me very excited about Forza Horizon 4 was the setting, particularly the weather in that setting.
Forza Horizon 4 is set in Britain, and the Brits really like to talk about their weather. Seasons, therefore, are a major mechanic in Forza Horizon 4.
As Penrose said repeatedly during our meeting, “Seasons. Change. Everything.” Some genius in Playground Games’ R&D department figured out a way to bring all four seasons into Forza Horizon 4, and some other geniuses at Playground Games figured out how to make that a mechanic in a driving game.
Now, as I mentioned before, I live in Los Angeles where weather barely exists, but I grew up in Ohio, which is just as touched by the seasonal changes as the United Kingdom. If you’ve ever driven through lake effect snow, you’ll know that “Seasons. Change. Everything.” when it comes to how you handle your car.
The same experience translates to Forza Horizon 4, except that if you spin out on a particularly tight turn in a video game and go crashing through a waist-high stone wall, you won’t get seriously injured.
Seasons are a major way that Forza Horizon 4 hopes to create a community out of its player base. Every week marks a new season, which means new events and changes to the map. A lake will freeze over in the winter, giving you access to a new area. A week later, when it’s spring, you won’t be able to cross that lake anymore, but that track that was next to a river is now completely different because the rain is causing the river to overflow.
I know that weather in video games isn’t an entirely new concept. If the whole lake-freezing-over thing sounds familiar, that might be because THQ Nordic’s Biomutant is set to do the same thing. The difference is Biomutant isn’t coming out this fall (probably), and it isn’t a meticulously crafted open-world racing game.
Forza Horizon 4 is beautiful, loud, and fast. Whether or not “Seasons. Actually. Change. Everything” is yet to be seen, but it’s at least done the impossible and gotten me excited about a racing game.
Forza Horizon 4 will launch on October 2nd for Xbox One and PC.