There’s a feeling Playground Games might be airbrushing a bit of the setting in Forza Horizon 4 – that being mighty old Britain. No doubt it’s a (few) nation(s) of true beauty, roads that are fun to drive, and lots of sheep – and that’s all in there.
But Britain is also a nation of grime and urban poverty; provincial racism and entrenched classism; awful pot holes and Brexit. I doubt any of that’s going to make it to the game. I mean, apart from a pot hole avoidance game – likely set in Barnet, birthplace of pot holes – I don’t think any of it should be in there. But it’s easy as a Brit to look at the setting of Horizon 4 and see something more than a little sanitised.
I mean, London isn’t even in the game. Obviously it’d be horrible to drive, and Edinburgh is present and correct at least, but surely to represent Britain’s driving you have to include some of its most-used roads? Imagine all the fun of sprinting 500 metres in only 25 minutes! Ah, London is truly rubbish for driving.
Forza Horizon 4 persists, though, and no amount of lighthearted joshing about how Britain isn’t so great, actually, really matters. This is a racing game set in some beautiful locales, the rolling countryside hurtling past at a hundred-odd miles an hour, and countless walls built by farmers hundreds of years ago being smashed up. No respect, I tell you.
Seasons are the marquee addition, and look to bring more than just a bullet point to the game. You get all four, and don’t even have to purchase any as DLC, with the season changing every real time week for everyone playing the game, in a nicely synchronised fashion.
As well as the obvious cosmetic changes – autumn looks best, because autumn is the best season, and very orange – seasons also alter elements of how the game actually plays. You’re looking at contending with floods following April showers, or lakes freezing over and becoming impromptu race routes during winter months, or… I don’t know, a hay fever sneezing fit making you crash in summer? Something like that.
The synchronicity between seasons and the world players inhabit is part of Playground’s push to make Forza Horizon 4 one of those ultimate online experiences you read so much about in the papers. Every player in your game will be a real driver – unless you go offline, which is a viable option – and everyone will be racing in the same world, at the same time of year, at the same time of day.
When telling a room of us about that aspect, I did unleash a furious shudder: playing online with others, while fun, can be hellish when they behave like dicks. People often behave like dicks. Fortunately this is an area in which Playground is being proactive, with the simplest of changes making a huge dent in the ability of griefers: autoghost.
You’ve probably figured it out: when another car comes into contact with yours, whether by accident or because they’re a shitheel, they will simply ghost right through you. It’s a good idea, and I can’t see many people who’ll be fighting against the decision to stop idiots ruining your British countryside drive. And it’s not like contact is eliminated from the game, as those actually invited to your session or event will indeed be able to shunt you through yet another one of those old farm walls.
(Seriously, we used to be told all the time growing up not to even touch those walls, because they’re so carefully made and so few people know how to actually build them these days. It hurts my soul to see them destroyed with such gleeful abandon.)
I’ve not even mentioned what it feels like to play Forza Horizon 4 yet – but this is a strange case where going hands-on with a brief demo race, encompassing all four seasons and different forms of racing, isn’t as interesting as the ideas the developer is talking about.
I’m happy to report, somewhat obviously, that it plays very well, is fast and smooth, and straddles that knife edge between a realistic racer and an arcade daft-‘em-up. Handling has you swooshing (technical term) around corners as though you’re on the edge of losing control, though it’s rare to actually spin out into oblivion. Until you rewind.
Yep, it’s fun. No final judgements, of course, as we’re still months away from release – but unless Playground has literally forgotten everything it ever learned about making racing games, it’s unlikely to fail at its core aspects.
The final of the three main pillars the kind representative from Playground definitely didn’t just list to make it easier for us all to write our previews was ‘living the Horizon life’. All I gathered from that was you get a house, and possibly a job, which filled my head with images of a WarioWare-style series of mini-games in which you earn money to pay for your road tax and petrol. Probably won’t happen, but I can dream.
Beyond that, Forza Horizon 4 sees tweaks and changes like you’d expect from the fourth game in a series. Modes like online adventure are more robust and competitive, blueprint mode allows the creation of routes to race, there’s a 60 frames per second toggle, so the game can earn that ridiculous badge of honour people seem to bestow on things just for running like that. General upgrades, tweaks, and changes – that’s what you’re looking at past the big few changes, and plentiful sheep.
I don’t think Forza Horizon 4 would be better if it included Brexit or racism. That was a joke – one predicated on the fact that I’m struggling to think of negatives for the game. Everything Playground Games is showing looks the part, makes sense, and shows an understanding of the studio’s previous projects.
Everything I’ve played, meanwhile, shows a game that is – once again – a brilliant blend of simulation and arcade racing, finely positioned somewhere between the two. It looks quite ridiculously good, the setting is genuinely refreshing, seasonal play may well be more than just a gimmick, and… well, yeah. This is one to look forward to.