I laughed cynically during the unintentionally funny moment of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) at Microsoft’s press event last June, when Ralph Fulton, creative director of Playground Games, announced the Forza Horizon 4 racing video game.
“Seasons change everything!” insisted Fulton, who was circus ringmaster talking about the dynamic seasons in the game. I thought it was a comical celebration of something that — as I’ve experience, collectively, for the whole industry — seemed like just one more small nuanced improvement in a game. And these games have become so good that it’s hard to top last year’s title. Of course, when you’ve got 10 million players like Forza does, you have to try.
And now I’ve played the beginning of Forza Horizon 4 at a preview event, and I have to say that Fulton wasn’t so far off the mark. The game comes out on October 2 on the Xbox One and the Windows PC. And the graphics look great, from the water spots on the windshield to the leaves falling from the trees. (You may remember that Microsoft’s event surprised us with faux leaves falling from the ceiling in a cavernous theater.) It’s fun to swerve and sway in the mud, as you try to get back onto the roadway and get ready for the next big turn.
The game introduces full seasonal changes and dynamic weather. In an accelerated sequence, with a full three months in-game equal to one week in real life, the seasons change in Forza Horizon 4. You’ll see day and night cycles and dynamic weather. That means that the weather can change in the middle of your race. You’ll be able to race over the same tracks and roadways in summer, fall, winter, and spring.
In summer, you’ll be able to go around a turn at full speed. In the fall, your tires may slip on a pile of leaves. In the winter, you might hit a snow bank. And in spring, you might find yourself facing deep puddles and a sudden rainstorm.
The beginning of the game, which you can see in the video in this post, shows you how this all happens in an excellent introduction to the game. The setting for the game is Britain, and you’ll see lots of greenery and waterways in the landscape. You can drive down wooded dirt lanes and see stone walls on the sides. If you hit the smaller stone walls, you can plow right through them and knock the stones loose. But if you hit bigger walls, you’ll stop in your tracks.
For players, this will increase the replayability of the game dramatically, said Fulton of Playground Games, which developed the game with Turn 10 Studios. Playground Games tried to deliver a cinematic driving experience, and the beginning of the game certainly achieves that, switching from season to season and letting you try out some of the best that the game has to offer in a quick race.
Then, once you finish the introductory race, you fashion your character. For the first time, you can create a driver that looks like you. Then you pick your car, a Dodge in my case, and then you can start driving. The game has an open world that takes you across Britain, but you unlock it bit by bit as you drive and win races. You can unlock cars and proceed into tougher and tougher challenges.
The world itself is huge, as it is about the same size as the Australia map in Forza Horizon 3. But the game has four times as much content because the world had to be recreated for each season. And every four weeks, Microsoft will introduce new content for the game. Fulton pointed out that no doors are closed to you just because the seasons change. You can still do everything you like doing in Forza.
Fulton bills the game as a “driving game for everyone,” and it was still pretty easy for me to pick it up and start driving. I hadn’t played in a year, and it didn’t take long for me to start fishtailing around corners or banging into them. I like how it still has a “rewind” feature, where you can back the action up, time machine style, to the point where you started to crash. Then the race picks up from there, and you can correct your mistake.
I liked the physics of the cars and how they interacted with the environment. The realism is impressive, and I hope the hardcore fans and the neophytes like it.