Forza Horizon 4 has just had its first birthday, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to look back over the twelve months since its release to see how the game has grown and if my opinion on it has changed.

I’ve been criticising Forza Horizon 4 since the day it was announced. A massive fan of the franchise, who has bought every entry on its release day and paid extra for early access where available, it is safe to say that my combined time spent on the four games is easily around 600 hours. The pre-E3 2018 rumour mill was heavily speculating (complete with ‘leaked’ gameplay images) that Horizon 4 was to be set in Japan, and I absolutely loved the idea. You can therefore see why I was disappointed at the reveal of the game actually being set in Britain…

At first, my distaste for the game was founded solely by its choice of setting, and I conceded that the driving and racing gameplay in the trailer looked phenomenal. My issue with the British setting is that the open world map is comprised of too much of the same, and when compared to the previous entries in the series with their interesting and varied landscapes, is very dull in comparison. I found the seasons cycle a nice idea, but in practice it just means three concurrent weeks of driving any car I want, followed by one week (Winter week) where I can only drive cars with snow tyres. Even when the game launched and I could explore it at will, I found the map lacklustre, but as it turned out that was to be the least of my worries.

I’m fine with character and car cosmetics, and understand that they have a place in modern gaming. However, I feel it’s taken too far when in-game rewards are mostly made up of clothing and emotes for your player avatar, who isn’t characterised in any way, and so unlocking clothes and little dances for them when all you want is credits is a fucking terrible idea. I highly resent Playground Games forcing this onto players, as I’m only in it for the racing experience, and take exception to sinking multitudes of hours into the game to be rewarded with a T-shirt advertising an in-game radio station and a blonde moustache. Bad game design at its most irritating right here!

I also disliked the music in the game, as there was always something I could find I liked in the previous games, but here there is nothing for me so the radio stays off all of the time. You may argue that the game doesn’t have to cater to my musical tastes, which is fair, but the variety previously offered being taken away is yet another thing the developers could have avoided if they weren’t spending so much time designing clothes you’re almost never going to fucking see!

My score of Forza Horizon 4 at launch was 7 out of 10.

Since then we have had many free updates, namely cars and challenge packs, along with two paid expansions. I’ll remind you that Forza Horizon 3 had two expansion packs too. First was Blizzard Mountain which did exactly what it said on the tin, and brought a great series of races and introduced blizzards as a race weather condition in a new map. Then came Hot Wheels, which was absolutely amazing and an adrenaline fuelled blitz through a large map filled with Hot Wheels twists and turns to fulfil every Hot Wheels anyone could have ever had.

Horizon 4 has tried to follow these with Fortune Island first, which was fun to play but quickly forgettable, mainly because the lightning strikes advertised only happen in the opening segment and don’t make an appearance beyond that. The second expansion was Lego Speed Champions, a paltry map and a disappointing, but well-meaning, attempt to recapture the magic that Hot Wheels had brought when it released back in 2017. Overall, I don’t think that the expansions this time around came close to replicating the thrills achieved with those for Forza Horizon 3.

I give Forza Horizon 4 a tough time, but despite the criticism I still find myself playing it almost every week, as the solid driving mechanics are well made and still a joy to watch and play. With this in mind, balanced against the fact I am still finding the game rewarding me hundreds of hours in with a pair of shoes (that are ranked ‘common’ no less!), it remains a good racing game but in my opinion the weakest of the series, with an unchanged score of 7 out of 10.

Thank you for reading, and do let me know your opinions of Forza Horizon 4 on Twitter @RespawningUK and in the comments. I’m also interested to know where you’d like to see Forza Horizon 5 set, so let me know that too!

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