Forza Horizon 4 is the latest entry in Playground Games’
acclaimed open-world racing series for Xbox One and Windows 10 PC. With its
announcement at Microsoft’s
E3 2018 Media Briefing on Sunday, June 11th, I was fortunate
enough to receive an exclusive hands-on demo with the game shortly after its
reveal in Seattle, WA at Turn 10 Studios – the home of the Forza Franchise.
I was technically there for the 2018
ForzaRC Series 1 Playoffs, which saw Noble Esports’ newest recruit Robin
‘bbbb0x’ Betka take the lead in Forza
Motorsport 7 that weekend and bring home $15,000 – but before all of that
would happen, I had the chance to go hands on with the all-new Forza game codenamed internally as ‘Sunrise’ launching on October 2nd this year alongside the qualifying ForzaRC
Series 1 finalists.
My hands-on time with Forza Horizon 4 featured a walkthrough
of the E3 2018 showfloor demo, but with an added bonus – the inclusion of Dolby
Atmos surround sound, so I could pinpoint the exact location of everything happening
in the open-world around me. Be it the sound of other V8 engines racing down
the sweeping countryside roads of Great
Britain in Autumn or the roaring noises from extreme off-road motorbikes in
the middle of a forest at Spring – the addition of Dolby Atmos is a welcomed
addition to the Forza Franchise, and Forza Horizon 4 is a great showcase for
this revolutionary audio technology.
The E3 demo for Forza Horizon 4 is packed with all sorts of
new additions that highlight everything Playground Games is integrating into its
upcoming open-world racer, with the headlining one being Dynamic
Seasons. After a few minutes of driving through beautiful, historic
Britain, you’ll be greeted to all four seasons as they’re expressed in the
game. From blasting through leaves scattered across the road in Autumn to sliding
across muddy pathways in the forest at Spring and even racing over a frozen
lake in Winter – Forza Horizon 4 has it all for you to discover, and as the
tagline says, Seasons do in fact change everything.
Britain is a location that surprised many, but it’s a
country full of beauty and variety that goes perfectly together with Seasons. It’s
almost like they were made for each other. If there’s one thing people in
Britain talk about far too often – it’s the weather, but it’s often because of
how diverse it can be. From heavy snowfall and storms in Winter to the extreme
Summer heatwaves, the weather in Britain is about as varied as you can get –
and Forza Horizon 4 authentically replicates this, but it’s no surprise
when you consider Playground Games is based in Leamington Spa, as well as their
masterclass execution of the land down under in Forza Horizon 3.
The E3 demo for Forza Horizon 4 begins with a choice of
three beautiful, unique and equally-wonderful vehicles. There’s a Porsche
Cayman GT4, a Dodge Viper ACR and of course, the Forza Horizon 4 cover
star, the McLaren Senna. Boasting 700-horsepower complimented by adjustable
aero and McLaren’s precision-focused handling, it’s everything you’d expect
from the British supercar manufacturer and it naturally had to be my pick for
my brief hands-on time with Forza Horizon 4.
Soon enough, I was blasting out of the parking lot of a
local British pub before hitting the roads of the Lake District in Autumn.
Beautiful lakes and vast mountains surrounded me as I shredded through the
Autumn leaves and took the lead ahead of the other supercars in this exhibition
race event. There were a couple of bumps and near misses as I became accustomed
to the game’s refined handling model – and felt the pressure of being watched
by Turn 10 staffers, as well as the ForzaRC drivers, who are undoubtedly the
best of the best when it comes to playing Forza!
Not only did I immediately pick up on the diverse number of
colours on show – being Autumn, the reds, oranges and yellows were at the
forefront of the experience, and it’s certainly noticed on the trees beginning
to fade and wither with their changing colours, but the improvements made to
visual and texture quality had me reeling in excitement. Forza Horizon 4 looks
absolutely stunning and its increased draw distance and improved quality means
every detail looks crisp, clear and natural. As the song in the reveal trailer
put it, I could see for miles, and miles, and miles.
As I blasted through the English countryside at over 200mph
in my McLaren Senna, which for the record handles like a dream, I might have ended
up knocking down some old, historic stone dykes. These are hundreds of years
old, and I apologize to the local farmers for any inconvenience this may have
caused, as well as for almost running into your sheep! Despite being aware of
sheep being present in the demo, I almost forgot about them during my
playthrough – they’re a nice surprise that add to the overall homeliness of the
location and I’m sure many will try to herd them once they get their hands on
with the game.
There’s also chickens, birds, deer, rabbits, crows, and grasshoppers
to be found across Forza Horizon 4’s incarnation of Britain, but you obviously
cannot run them over. Developer Playground Games has implemented some wizardry
technology here to ensure they can never be hit by your car – even when driving
at over 200mph. At the end of the day, Forza Horizon 4 is a game that’s
targeted towards everyone, so this is a good thing – but how the technology
works that powers it all is quite fascinating to say the least. No matter how
hard you try, you cannot run over those sheep! There are plenty of fences,
walls, and shrubbery that can be dismantled using your car, however, should you
desire some destructiveness when driving.
Once I had driven my Senna down some of Britain’s best
country roads – amassing a few unwanted scratches along the way, it was time to
head beyond the Lake District and into a new season. Snow began to encompass
the world and I was immediately taken out of my exotically lavish supercar and
placed instead into an RJ Anderson Trophy Truck. Not only is this perfect for
the off-road, but its grip and handling makes its essential for the brutality
of snow, ice and blizzards in Winter.
The Forza Horizon 4 E3 demo is divided into four challenges
– one for each season, offering a small sample of some of the activities players
will complete in the full game. Autumn saw me race towards three stars at a
Speed Trap using the Senna, Winter requires a successful top-3 position, Spring
sees you landing a big air jump amongst some dirt bikes, whilst the final
sprint in Summer tasks you to beat the other supercars to the finish line.
Forza Horizon 4’s E3 demo dubbed these as Forzathon challenges, which makes
sense when you consider how Forzathon
Live in the full game will offer similar challenges to beat on the hour
with prizes to unlock for the entire community in your Horizon
Life online session.
Seasons also made each of these E3-themed challenges and their
respective areas of the map feel vast and unique, and the second of these to
compliment a snowy Britain is dubbed ‘A Song for Ice & Tires.’ It’s the
perfect name because tackling Winter in Britain requires a lot of grip and
precision. One of the first things I observed here were the frozen lakes –
which serve as part of your slippery track in the demo. These lakes certainly
aren’t frozen over in other seasons, but in Winter, they’re rock-solid. Of
course, the roads are also snowy and icy, and after driving the RJ Anderson
Trophy Truck for some time, I noticed the improvements Forza Horizon 4 has made
to its off-road handling.
There’s a much greater distinction
between on-road and off-road driving in Forza Horizon 4. Tires have a
better connection to the road in Playground’s latest racing game, and as a
result, off-road vehicles feel more exciting to drive. There’s a lot more bite
to them than before and with Forza Horizon 4’s ever-changing seasons, I feel
like they’re going to be used a lot than in previous titles. Off-road vehicles
were always my favourite in Forza Horizon 3’s Blizzard Mountain expansion, and
I think the same will certainly be said for Forza Horizon 4’s Winter
One neat little side effect of Winter time are the hidden
locations that are now accessible thanks to the frozen lakes. These will provide
players with access to spots they can’t get to during the rest of the year –
including access to previously unattainable islands, and Playground Games has
confirmed that there will be at least one Barn Find hidden this way. Better
keep your eyes peeled. Before hitting a ramp and being taken into the next season,
I drove across what’s essentially a mini Horizon Festival built on the ice lake
itself. Quite bizarre, but certainly an incredible sight.
You’re likely already aware that Seasons will change on a
weekly basis. They’re a global event that take place for all players in Forza
Horizon 4. One week you’ll be chasing sheep across fields in Summer, the next
you might be drag racing on an ice lake in Winter before eventually blasting
through deep, deformable mud in Spring during the middle of a rain-shower.
Speaking of Spring, that’s the next part of the Forza Horizon 4 E3 demo experience
– and it places you right into the middle of an extreme Showcase event. Previous
Horizon titles have had jets, trains, hot air balloons, zeppelins, and even
powerboats – but in Forza Horizon 4, you’ll be driving yet another off-road
tuned beast in the Ford Fiesta ST Rallycross through the all-new, deformable
deep mud. That’s a brand-new surface type in Forza Horizon 4, and it looks and
feels as incredible as it sounds. Oh, and that ice lake we just drove over?
Well, it’s no longer frozen – and the mini festival site located there has also
Your opponent – or opponents, as I should say? A team of
stunt motocross racers in off-road dirt bikes. As you drive through the Lakehurst
Forest, these stunt bikers will be taking jumps, pulling off death-defying
flips and they even have coloured smoke coming out of the back of their motorbikes.
This aspect of the demo was very impressive in Dolby Atmos as the whereabouts
of each bike could by pinpointed by their direction of where the audio in the
room was coming from. It’s truly impressive and remarkable technology to say
the least – and combined with the 4K and HDR visual offerings in Forza Horizon
4, not to mention all the neat little visual bells and whistles Playground
Games have added since Forza
Horizon 3, it’s fair to say that visual and audio nerds alike are in for a
real treat with this one.
The final stretch in Forza Horizon 4’s E3 demo sees you back
in the McLaren Senna as Spring turns to Summer and you push ahead towards the
finish line at the Horizon Festival. You’ll hear the familiar voice of the
Horizon Radio DJ as he encourages you to push forward, though if you’re like
me, you’ll instead be taking in the sounds of all those other exotic supercars
around you – which as you can imagine, sounded incredible in Dolby Atmos. It’s
like almost seeing a bunch of supercars having a shootout, it’s quite remarkable
to say the least.
Being back on the warm asphalt meant the Senna could do one thing
– let its 4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine rip and roar down the British
countryside as jets resembling the Red Arrows flew above me and unleashed
coloured smoke into the sky. The final stretch saw me drive through the
forest-filled countryside that leads into the village of Broadway in the
Cotswolds before heading back out onto the wide country roads surrounded by freshly-ploughed
fields. Because it’s Summer, farmers have harvested their crops, sheep have
been sheared, and the fields are all well-trimmed. At this point of the demo, I
also began to observe the British road signs, which if you’re from the country,
offer a lot of familiarity to them. The surroundings were also recognizable –
even though I had never travelled through this part of the country. Before crossing
the line at the festival, the jets returned to cover the sky in their extravagant
red, blue and white smoke.
Before we move on, it’s worth pointing out that the Autumn
and Winter segments of the E3 demo follow a similar path. In fact, some of the
route is identical – you’re just heading in the opposite direction, but it’s not
something that many people noticed. It shows how the differences between Seasons
is just vast. Instead of Autumn leaves covering the asphalt with reddish deciduous
trees all-around you, there’s snow and ice all over the pavement in a dark,
stormy Winters night where the trees have withered and lost all their flourish.
You’d be pushed to recognize similarities beyond the tarmac. It shows that
seasons really do change everything in Forza Horizon 4, and the E3 demo certainly
Summertime has always been when the Horizon Festival would
typically take place, but now it’s an all-year-round celebration that never
ends. Fireworks and lights can be seen regardless of the season. Be it Spring,
Summer, Autumn or Winter, the Horizon Festival will always be beaming in Forza
Horizon 4 with cars, music and freedom at the center of everything you do. With
the E3 demo, I experienced a year’s worth of British seasons in only a handful
of minutes – all with pristine and resounding audio quality delivered via Dolby
Atmos surround sound. All contained within a smaller segment of the open-world map
that felt vast and alive with Dynamic Seasons creating the most diverse driving
terrain ever seen in the Forza franchise.
You’ll be able to experience it all for yourself later this
year in native 4K resolution with High Dynamic Range on the Xbox One X and
Windows 10 PC when Forza Horizon 4 launches
globally on October 2nd. It’ll also be available day-in-date on
Game Pass subscription service, and Ultimate
Edition owners can start playing four days early from September 28th.
Whilst seasons may be the headlining new aspect of Forza
Horizon 4, there are plenty of other features to be excited about as well.
These include the Race Route Creator, which will allow players to create their
own race routes with custom-placed checkpoints, as well as selectable weather
and seasonal conditions to share with the wider Forza community. There’s also a
robust set of character customization options for clothing, accessories, and
emotes. These include various dance moves and salutes, including the iconic
dab. Combined with the new purchasable properties and the job-focused Horizon
Stories, plus the return of the wheel-less cockpit camera introduced in
Forza Motorsport 7 – not to mention the fact its more fluid than ever before
with the new optional 60fps mode for Xbox One X owners, there’s a lot of new
features to discover in Forza Horizon 4.
Featuring a collection of more
than 450 exquisitely-detailed Forzavista cars from over 100 manufacturers, including
some eccentric British motor classics mixed with innovative supercars and drift
machines, Forza Horizon 4 is one not to be missed by the automotive obsessed. Be
it the shared open-world experience with the entire online community or the
all-new seasons integration that evolve the game’s beautiful and
richly-detailed British landscape, Forza Horizon 4 is shaping up to be yet
another triumph in Playground’s acclaimed open-world racing series.
Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he keeps the website updated with new and relevant content, including news stories, reviews and opinion pieces for the games he likes writing about the most. He also tweets too much, probably.