The Forza Horizon games are great non-racing games. You try to drive really fast along a predetermined path, but they aren’t about hugging turns or calibrating tyre pressure the way the main Forza Motorsport games are.
Forza Horizon 4 is no different, but it’s a little more beautiful. It’s better in some ways, as all sequels are wont to be, and the 20 or so minutes I played at Microsoft’s E3 showcase event over the weekend went by like a dream thanks in large part to the game’s new location: Britain.
See that old-arse tree? Doesn’t it look like it might house some terrible evil that can only be banished by causing tragedy elsewhere? Screenshot: Microsoft (Forza Horizon 4)
The demo experience went through all four of the game’s changing seasons, playing out across numerous country roads. The car I drove handled easily enough, but more importantly the skies I drove under were so beautiful I wished I could get out of the car and stare at them. I never knew I wanted a driving game that takes place across courses composed of modernised scenery from The Witcher 3 until now.
After the second or third time barrelling over a hill and into a stone fence, knocking it into pieces while my car continued on almost untouched, Horizon 4 made something as mundane as driving down quaint English roads in different seasons exciting. There are sheep, a lot of cute cottages, and best of all everything looks really old, especially when you’re accidentally ramming a cutting edge car into it.
The start of the demo asked me to choose a car, and I picked a baby blue McLaren Senna, a fast and obscenely expensive car in real life.
I drove up and over a winding hill as the autumn sun came pouring over and was stunned by how the light reflected off the car’s curves. Moments later I oversteered and flew that (virtual) million dollar car into a tree.
Luckily, Horizon 4 has a rewind button. The game doesn’t want you to experience damage or setbacks. It just wants you to have fun with expensive vehicles, consequences be damned, like bumper cars for the brokenly rich.
Autumn eventually gave way to winter, with my vehicle changing from a super-fast car to a ute with chains on the tyres sliding on a snow-covered course like something out of Mario Kart 64‘s icy Sherbet Land level.
The idea is to make Horizon 4‘s shared online world feel lived-in and dynamic. Whether the game accomplishes that was hard to discern from the limited demo, but the changing weather certainly broke up the monotony of otherwise staring at the same asphalt for hours.
Next came spring, filled with flowers and the occasional stretch of rain and mud. I traversed it in what looked like a Ford Focus ST hatchback sprayed with all the colours of the rainbow, followed by summer which returned me to my immaculate McLaren.
Despite slamming into a fair number of other cars and various other road obstacles, it didn’t get a scratch on it or ever get flipped, because no one wants to be thinking about engine oil leaks or flat tyres when the views are so gorgeous, rivalling the detail on the interior leather or reflection on the hood. Consider this the closest we’ll ever get to a Witcher racing game.
In an interview with Polygon, Turn 10 Studios design director Jon Knoles said that while players will get to experience each of these seasons in short bursts when they first start Horizon 4, it will eventually move over to the world server where seasonal changes will be controlled by the studio and shift for all players at the same time.
Lakes will freeze or thaw and other natural parts of the maps will shift along with the seasons, potentially giving the shared world an almost adventure game-like feel when it launches on October 2.