Editor's note: This review was originally conducted in a podcast format, available as a video above or right here as an audio file. A summary of the review follows.
Much of Forza Horizon 4 sticks to the sort of open-world races and activities that have shown up in the previous Horizon games, but framing those events into a world that contains active human players instead of just AI representations of real people makes the whole game feel more alive. The is further enhanced by the game's weather effects, which means the whole world changes from one season to the next every week. Winter racing means you'll deal with snow and might be able to drive across a frozen lake. Spring and Autumn get you some rain, and so on. An hourly "#Forzathon Live" event tops things off by giving the players on your server a reason to get together and complete co-op goals on a regular basis. This, then, gives you an opportunity to meet some other drivers, race against them, and so on. It's a smart collection of changes to an otherwise familiar game.
While Horizon was always meant to feel "lighter' than the self-serious car showroom vibes of Forza Motorsport, Horizon 4 strikes a better tone than its predecessors by making things a little sillier around the edges. Your driver is better represented in cutscenes and is more customizable, leading to a situation where I can make my blonde lady visit the game's beauty spots and floss on some monuments with the game's dopey-but-endearing emotes. An array of dumb unlockable car horns that include the Windows XP shutdown jingle and a batch of quick chat phrases (I tend to enjoy spamming "Racing is fun" over and over again, though the Sega Rally-referencing "GAME OVER YEEEEAAAAHHH" is also pretty good) help keep things squarely in the "let's have fun hooning around this open world" camp. Horizon has always been very earnest about the idea of cars being a whole lot of fun to drive, but the additional, less serious stuff that goes beyond the old "YOU NEED TO LEVEL UP AND WIN HERE AT THE FESTIVAL" progression really helps balance everything out.
The catch is that the game doesn't always make it as easy as I'd like to upgrade or change cars on the fly, leading to me finding a Subaru that handles both on- and off-road events well enough that I drove it almost exclusively. Also, the suite of events can get a little repetitive, even if the races are spread around the open world pretty well and broken out into different disciplines. Some of this is mitigated by a handful of Horizon story chapters that put you in the role of a movie stunt driver or have you tag along with a popular streamer who is counting down her 10 favorite driving games of all time. But it still has the lame showcase events, which should be amazing because the idea of running a road race against a huge hovercraft is a spectacle worth seeing. In practice, though, it's a rubber-banded race against a non-car that is built for sweeping, slow-motion shots of your car jumping over the hovercraft or train or whatever. Though the showcase events are still totally dull from a gameplay perspective, there's a Halo-themed one here that's some silly fun. Also, there seem to only be five of these events and they're front loaded into the game's progression in a way that feels like you can just get them out of the way early and move on.
It's a great-looking game across the board, though players with appropriately built PCs will have the best experience. At 1440p with a GTX 1080 on a G-Sync monitor with the game's settings preset to Ultra, the game usually hovered around the 90fps mark, occasionally popping up to 110 or down to around 70. On the Xbox One X, you can opt for a 4K or supersampled mode that runs at 30fps or a 1080p mode that runs at a solid 60fps. Though everyone's going to have their own feelings about frame rate over image quality, I found the significant motion blur in the 4K/30 mode to be pretty unacceptable by comparison. It's a driving game. Frame rate and sense of speed matters here. Though you can certainly notice the lower resolution in that 1080p/60fps mode, I'd take that 100 percent of the time over the 4K option. It's nice to have the option, either way.
Forza Horizon 4 isn't going to be a huge surprise to anyone who played a previous entry, but in a world where the other big open-world games have ranged from mildly to extremely disappointing, it's great to have another solid entry in the genre to tear through.