Forza Horizon on Xbox One X: A 2012 Classic Reimagined in 4K

Article By 
Alan Walsh
March 2, 2018

Forza Horizon on Xbox One X: A 2012 Classic Reimagined in 4K

Article By 
Alan Walsh
March 2, 2018

If you thought bringing classic Xbox 360 games to Xbox One via the console’s Backwards Compatibility feature for free was the best fan-service in gaming, you’d ought to look again as Microsoft has taken it a step further with free Xbox One X enhancements for select Xbox 360 titles.

Indeed, classic games from the Xbox 360 era like Halo 3 and Assassin’s Creed now run in 4K resolution when played on Microsoft’s latest console. The best news for racing fans? Four new Xbox 360 titles have been enhanced for Xbox One X this week, and one of them is Forza Horizon, which is undeniably one of the best racing games from the last generation of consoles.

Xbox One X brings Forza Horizon's take on Colorado to life in native 4K resolution.

Forza Horizon was already a graphical feat on Xbox 360 when it launched in 2012, but there’s no denying it began to show its age when compared to Forza Horizon 2 or the 4K-enabled Forza Horizon 3, which was also recently enhanced for Xbox One X. Now Forza Horizon joins the 4K bandwagon with vastly improved image quality, increased visual clarity, and better texture detail and anti-aliasing. And in case you missed the memo earlier, all this is free if you own an Xbox One X console with a copy of Forza Horizon either digitally or on disc!

Speaking of free, Forza Horizon was available as a Games with Gold title in September 2016, so there’s a good chance you’ll have a digital license of it already. If not, you’ll need to find a disc to insert into your Xbox One X console as the game has reached its ‘end-of-life’ status, which means due to licensing reasons, the game can no longer be acquired digitally from the Xbox Store, nor can any of its paid or free add-ons be purchased. It’s a shame really, but if you did buy any content for Forza Horizon before it was removed from the store, you can download it all to your Xbox One for free under the ‘Ready to Install’ list in ‘My Games & Apps’ on your console.

The Forza Horizon 4K visual upgrade is well worth taking a visit back to Colorado.

With all that out of the way, let’s talk about how good Forza Horizon looks on Xbox One X. Finally, the vision Playground Games had inspired for an open-world Colorado has come to life, and it holds up remarkable well on a 4K TV thanks to the native 4K output supported by the game. Textures look much crisper too, thanks to the improved resolution, whilst anti-aliasing removes any jagged edges that were prominent beforehand. It’s a real treat to experience, especially if you played a lot of Forza Horizon before on either Xbox 360 or Xbox One.

Colorado is home to the inaugural Horizon Festival of 2012. It’s a magical location, and despite its overuse of barriers so players kept to the streets, its gorgeous scenery and vistas from canyons to mountains and forestry is brought to life in 4K on Xbox One X. It’s hard to imagine this launched on Xbox 360, where it ran in a native 720p HD resolution, but here we are, almost six years later, enjoying it at nine times the pixel count on Microsoft’s beastly Xbox One X console, and it’s just completely and utterly brilliant.

Despite it using the older Xbox 360 models, the cars and assets still look great in 4K.

In addition, many UI elements are also rendered in Native 4K resolution too, including the on-screen HUD. This results in a clean, crisp presentation that looks remarkably good on a 4K display. Combined with the high-resolution car models that are almost comparable to their Xbox One counterparts in more recent Forza titles, and you have yet another visually-pleasing showcase for your 4K TV.

After spending several hours with Forza Horizon in 4K, I was impressed by how well this game holds up in 2018. When you consider EA is charging $40 for Burnout Paradise Remastered – which also runs in 4K on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro with new high-resolution texture assets, it shows how much value is to be had in this Forza Horizon upgrade which comes at no cost to the consumer, presuming you have the hardware and a copy of the original game already.

The use of motion blur in Forza Horizon allows for smoother and more refined gameplay.

On Xbox 360, Forza Horizon ran with 4X MSAA, and like the Forza Horizon 3 Enhanced upgrade, this is retained on Xbox One X, combined with FXAA for higher quality motion blur, tree foliage, and dynamic shadows casted into the open-world. It’s remarkable. It may not be the visual triumph that is Forza Horizon 3 when enjoyed at 4K resolution on Xbox One X, but it’s a damn impressive upgrade nonetheless. It’s worth noting, however, that the pre-rendered cut-scenes in Forza Horizon remain at a native 720p – specifically, the title screen sequence, which is noticeably blurry when compared to the on-screen elements and actual gameplay. Images shown in the pre-rendered loading screens are also 720p. However, it’s a good showcase of how much this upgrade improves the overall visual output of Forza Horizon – especially when playing in 4K.

Those with 1080p displays also aren’t left out in the dust either. Because Forza Horizon ran at a native 720p on Xbox 360, there will also be a significant quality difference when played on an Xbox One X hooked up to 1080p television. Not only will you benefit from an increased native resolution, but you’ll also enjoy the enhancements of 4K super-sampling, which retains the 4K output and resizes it for your display’s resolution, maintaining additional details and creating a sharper on-screen image as a result. It’s good news all-around, regardless of your display type.

‍Forza Horizon features dynamic shadows rendered based on the position of the sun.

Forza Horizon retains its 30fps performance when played on Xbox One X, but that framerate remains solid. As you come to expect from Forza, there’s no dips, incorrect frame-pacing, or screen-tear. It’s smooth and solid, with the excellent motion blur implementation and enhanced visual fluidity adding to the overall smoothness of the gameplay. 60fps would’ve been nice here, that’s for sure, and it most likely would’ve been doable too when considering that the art assets deployed in the game were created with Xbox 360 in mind. However, this would’ve required changes to the base game code, and perhaps some further optimization to ensure a silky-smooth result, and this goes against Microsoft’s philosophy of Xbox 360 games enhanced for Xbox One X where the base code remains untouched as the emulator does all the heavy-lifting.

It’s remarkable tech, and in the latest version of the Xbox 360 emulator on Xbox One, players can choose between a ‘Graphics’ or ‘Performance’ mode in the Xbox 360 Guide when playing Xbox 360 Enhanced titles on Xbox One X. This one is a bit of an oddity, as the ‘Performance’ mode plays the game with the same visual feature set that’s found on Xbox One and Xbox 360 hardware, but without any noticeable differences to framerate. Forza Horizon is a solid 30fps, regardless of which mode you choose, so the best option here is naturally the ‘Graphics’ mode for all that 4K visual goodness – which is enabled by default, so it’s something you need not worry about.

The skies and overall look of Colorado changes radically as the game shifts from day to night.

Driving across Colorado’s incredible roads in some of the game’s most iconic super cars whilst blasting that incredible soundtrack is better than ever. There may only have been three in-game radio stations in Forza Horizon, and the time it takes to switch between them can be a pain, but the music here is unforgettable. Take a Walk from Passion Pit remains a favourite of mine and speeding through the roads of Colorado in the Ferrari 599XX at 4K with the incredible music from the game’s festival-inspired soundtrack blasting is what Horizon is all about.

Forza Horizon also deploys some of the best lighting effects in an Xbox 360 title. The way light shines through trees and foliage and shimmers in a natural way across the environment is pure eye-candy. Reflections in the world are beautifully lit and wrap around cars and objects for a convincing effect. The skies also have a lovely Californian-style reddish affect to them at sunset and sunrise, and these effects greatly change the dynamic of the game’s visuals and how it looks as a result. It’s a HDR-like volumetric-style god-ray lighting effect, almost. That’s the impression it gives at least, and it works. This is 2012 technology that pushed the Xbox 360 hardware to its absolute limits, and the result on Xbox One X is that tech finally being able to shine as intended in 4K resolution with highly-quality distance objects and landscapes thanks to the improved texture filtering as well.

Visual pop-in isn't too noticeable in Forza Horizon either, unless you're staring at the background.

Not only is the full single-player experience brought to life in 4K – but the online multiplayer and Horizon Rally expansion all receive the graphical upgrade as well. The online portion of Forza Horizon is nowhere near as seamless or straightforward in comparison to what we have today in Forza Horizon 2 and Forza Horizon 3 – which shows how technology and the Xbox Live infrastructure has improved since 2012. Forza Horizon uses a lobby system where you can invite friends, matchmake online with other players, and enjoy freeroam, race and rally events, mini games like Tag and Cat & Mouse, and more. Unfortunately, race events can’t be accessed in freeroam, and you need to transition back to the lobby screen to launch them. The burdens of the old Forza online system, but one that delivered fond memories for many. All the lobby menus also render in 4K, and neatly enough, you can even change your car before launching sessions.

Horizon Rally, meanwhile, offered standalone Rally stages based on some of Forza Horizon’s best driving roads. Swapping tarmac for dirt and off-road goodness, this expansion shines with the resolution upgrade, showing the stages and environments with far greater visual clarity for a much crisper output as a result. Having played through most of the expansion in 4K, I can certainly recommend revisiting this one, especially if you had never completed it like myself. I became the Horizon Rally champion in 2018, on the Xbox One X in 4K resolution, and I’m glad I waited. I doubt anyone at Playground Games thought this would happen when developing the expansion back in 2012! The wonders of modern day technology.

Horizon Rally Champion 2018, or in terms of the game's setting, 2012!

There’s so much variety and uniqueness in Forza Horizon’s take on Colorado, and plenty of scenery and smaller details to appreciate. The driving roads here are some of the best in the series. From the twists and turns leading to the Observatory in Red Rock to the tight, sweeping roads as you approach The Rockies. These roads aren’t just fun to drive and race on, as the scenery behind them is stunning, and it all looks so much better on Xbox One X. Towns like Beaumont and Carson feel alive, and once again, are a pleasure to drive and race through, and who could forget about the incredible highway by the Montano Plains from Redfoot Ranch leading into Carson and Clifton Valley, or the incredible Hot Springs that shoot water into the air by Kettle Hills, as well as the photogenic ‘Tree Tunnel’ near Eagle Ridge – the perfect location for a photo shoot with the Dodge Viper GTS.

There’s so much to explore and discover in Colorado, even if you can’t go off-road. The Clear Springs are also a sight to behold, and like many of the locations in Forza Horizon, it looks stunning in photographs. What the Xbox One X does to this open-world makes it acceptable, enjoyable, and fun to immersive yourself into in 2018. I also love the Horizon Festival in Colorado. Its flashing lights can be seen from a vast distance, and the loop featuring the Autoshow, Garage, Paint Shop, and all of Horizon’s social features has everything you need to become Colorado’s ultimate racer as you take down the notorious Darius Flynt. It’s hard to write about Forza Horizon and not mention his name, and of course that ambitious and brilliant storyline which saw you earn wristbands as you worked your way through the official festival races. There were also illegal street races in Forza Horizon, as well as Outposts where you could complete PR Stunts such as Speed Traps and Photo Shoots.

Colorado still looks staggering at times, even in 2018.

Forza Horizon is a worthy entry in Microsoft’s flagship racing franchise for many reasons, but the main one is how it sparked a new era for Forza. The critical and fan reception to this game led us to receiving even more innovation in Forza Horizon 2, and the racing kingpin that is Forza Horizon 3. All of them are unique in their own way, and they’re all worth playing too. When you experience a Forza Horizon game, you become immersed into the cars, the stunning scenery, and of course the music and festival. Forza Horizon is what started it all, and now it’s in 4K with improved texture details and anti-aliasing. Colorado has never looked better.

You can also capture the visual improvements in Forza Horizon using the game’s built-in Photo Mode, but there’s a catch. Because the codebase for Forza Horizon remained untouched by the developer in its 4K upgrade, the photos still save to the official Forza website in 720p resolution. You can work around this by using the Xbox One’s screenshot feature instead before saving the image, but you will have some HUD elements on-screen. It’s a workaround, and it allows you to capture Colorado with the resolution upgrade and visual clarity introduced by this 4K enhancement and save images with all their pristine detail. In fact, all photos used in this article have been captured directly from an Xbox One X running the game in 4K resolution.

Another odd Photo Mode issue with Forza Horizon in 4K comes to adjusting the shutter speed and using focus, which causes your car to appear as a blur. The only workaround is to not focus when using Photo Mode. As for Aperture, I couldn’t get this setting to blur out backgrounds in my images at all. I’ll continue investigating as I save more photography from the world of Colorado, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the 4K visuals enforced by the Xbox 360 Emulator on Xbox One X is causing some confusion for the 720p Xbox 360 title when using Photo Mode.

Obviously, the emulation isn’t perfect. Audio glitches occurred frequently in the Rally expansion, causing loud prolonged beeps. These distract from the overall experience and show that it isn’t perfect. When loading into a Rivals event, the emulator and the game itself crashed during a save data screen which asked me not to shut down my console. It also was also accompanied by a lengthy loud beep before taking me back to the Xbox One dashboard. Thankfully, my saved data wasn’t impacted, and it smooth sailing once I reloaded the game.

Forza Horizon might not have the added features and functionality of Forza Horizon 3, but it's still a damn fine racing game, and one that's now available in 4K.

These issues may detract from the experience, sure, but it’s a small price to pay for what you’re getting here. A free 4K visual enhancement for the one of best racing games on Xbox 360. Considering Playground Games didn’t even touch the codebase for this – all the heavy lifting was done by the wizardry Backwards Compatibility team at Microsoft to bring this classic to native 4K resolution.

It’s that which reminds us how fantastic Microsoft treats the games of the past and how it wants them to remain relevant, fresh, and enjoyable in the years ahead. It also continues to show why Xbox One X is the best console to enjoy these games on with its stunning 4K visual output. Xbox One is the best console to enjoy the games of the past, present, and future, and the 4K Xbox One X enhancement for Forza Horizon is a shining example of that statement. Kudos to Microsoft. That’s what you call the ultimate fan-service right there.

Alan Walsh

Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he delivers the latest in news stories, reviews, and feature articles to the website, as well as videos on his YouTube channel and livestreams over on Mixer.