To everything there is a season
When it comes to what you'll be driving around this beautiful world, you have over 450 vehicles to choose from, though there are no Mitsubishi options and only a limited Toyota selection. Choices range from ancient classics to some weird and bizarre choices from racing bloodlines past. You can also hop into huge trucks, supercars, or a vehicle you may already have in your driveway. Once you've selected whatever priceless feat of engineering you'd like to smash into obstacles thousands of times, you can get ready to paint, tune, and upgrade.
Painting options are endless in Horizon 4, and it's really fascinating to see the diverse and unique designs people come up with and make available to download. Mechanical and cosmetic upgrades are available for most every part of the car, including custom bodies, roll cages, weight reductions, brakes, tires (including compounds, widths, thickness, and custom rims), drivetrain, and more. Each of these high-level options typically has a variety of fine-grained tuning choices when you dig in. Of course, the options available depend upon the specific car and what it's realistically capable of. Sadly, you can't put a twin-turbo V12 into a VW Golf.
I generally just get the biggest motor, the most expensive upgrades of everything, make sure the car is AWD, and then hit the pavement. It's probably not the ideal way to play, but it works for me. For players who want more options, you can adjust parts individually, and tune a significant number of different car systems, then share your tuned collection online for others to check out. People who put the time and effort into tweaking and thinking about ideal upgrades seem to do better, but who the heck has the time for that? DRIVE FAST, CRASH HARD is my motto. I did manage to make an Audi V10 undriveable with the upgrades I put on it. It had way too much power, and it was nigh impossible to keep on the road. Horizon 4 is fun and relaxed, but it's not going to save you from your worst impulses.
Vehicle handling in Horizon 4 is similar to the previous games. Water showed up in Forza Horizon 3, and snow was only on display if you had that game's Blizzard Mountain expansion. Horizon 4's twist for environmental challenges is its season system. Initially you earn a set amount of points by tooling around, and then you're greeted with an announcement of the next season and a new game map which looks and handles entirely differently. Once you complete a full year locally, you join online seasons, and they change automatically for everyone.
In spring you get rain, plenty of flowers, greenery, and lots of mud. Summer is full of rolling fields, less rain, and drier dirt. Fall has all the colors you'd expect and a similar handling environment to spring. In winter, you suffer with snow and ice, and everything is slick. The changes and handling variations are significant from season to season, and you're essentially getting four different maps. It's a neat idea, and it's well executed. The map is also now significantly more varied vertically than in previous Horizons. Big jumps, hills, and pits abound, and it makes off-road races a lot more interesting than in previous entries.
Not only can you buy new cars, as was the case in the past games, but now you can also buy properties and swag. You've always wanted to pay in-game currency for terrible emotes and goofy outfits you really only see on loading screens, right? To me, it seems like a way to pad out the game, since there is really an enormous amount of content already. The houses just act as garage hubs where you can change out your car, upgrade it, paint it, and so on. In prior Horizons, houses were just free hubs littered around the map. Now, you have to buy them. My fourteen-year-old daughter loves this system, so take that for whatever her approval is worth. I'm not sure who wanted this change (my 14-year-old aside), and I'm not sure why it's in here. Perhaps I'm an outlier on this one, since I know people seem to enjoy buying property in Grand Theft Auto V, as well.
If the nickel-and-diming stopped at houses purchased with in-game currency, I'd be fine, but Microsoft's revenue model for this game follows in the footsteps of that philosophy. There are regular releases of additional cars locked behind DLC purchases, and I'm not a fan. This isn't a cheap game to begin with, at $59.99 USD for the Standard Edition and up to $99.99 for the Ultimate Edition. Given the fact the standard edition has so much content, I'm not that annoyed, but it's not a system I like on principle. If you're going to add additional content, do it in a reasonably priced expansion pack with significant content alongside, à la Starcraft: Brood War. At least Horizon 4 doesn't have loot crates.
I, like many people, didn't buy this game outright. I opted for the $10-a-month Xbox Game Pass Microsoft offers as a subscription to a growing number of titles. The price is reasonable enough, and all of Microsoft's exclusives will be launching with day-one access through Game Pass. Many of the games included work on both PC and Xbox, but not all. Play Anywhere games, such as Forza Horizon 3 and Forza Horizon 4, include automatic cloud syncing between platforms, at least, and I've gone back and forth between my Xbox One and my PC without issue (knock on wood). If you're interested in the Game Pass access route, you should check out the complete game list before you opt in.
You may be turned off by the fact that Horizon 4 is currently restricted to the Microsoft Store. In the past, users have complained about downloads stalling, massive patch sizes, and difficulty in navigating available content. I'm not sure how many times I've had to use WSreset in Powershell over the years when dealing with Microsoft's e-shop. While the store does still lack some features, I haven't experienced any issues with it in a while. Both Forza Horizon 3 and Forza Horizon 4 downloaded as quickly as my 75-Mb connection could handle and installed without issue. (No fiber service is available in my area in Calgary from any provider, if you can believe it. I had fiber in the middle of nowhere on the east coast of Canada, darn it!)
The Store still needs quite a bit of work before it'll catch up to Steam in many ways, but it's at least functional now. Don't expect any kind of decent profiling or curation. It's still largely a mess, and search is really your only way to find what you're looking for. Even then, the Store is often confusing or overly complicated. Given that the multiplayer functions work very well and the overall quality of the game, I'm willing to put up with the Microsoft Store's shortcomings. If you can find what you want then it'll likely work just fine. Given that AAA titles on the Store are quickly ballooning past 100 GB or more for the whole enchilada, however, Microsoft really, really needs to give gamers a way to back up and restore content.
In the end, Forza Horizon 4 is fantastic. It's beautiful, well-executed, enormous, and—since the tragic stumbles of Gran Turismo—likely the best casual simulation racing game on the market. Unlike Gran Turismo, it's also available on the PC. It's universally well reviewed, but you probably already know that. If you're on the fence about Horizon 4, there is a demo available on the Microsoft Store for you to take for a spin. If you're a fan of racing games at all, I think you should put Horizon 4 in your garage. Its fast casual approach is different enough from the rest of the racing-game stable to make it a must-have for speed junkies.