I have never been a fan of racing games, perhaps because I have always found them too restrictive – driving, racing, smearing against walls, collecting a reward and hoping that repairing the vehicle will not contribute too much to your participation price. So attending the prestigious McLaren Technology Center to get some hands-on time with Forza Horizon 4 might have been lost to me – or I thought it would be.
The McLaren Senna is the cover car for the latest addition to the Forza Horizon franchise, the Bond girl of the racing world – smooth, curled and a bit fiery – so holding a preview event in the epicenter of one of the titan plows of Formula One seems appropriate.
We are treated to a tour through the mysterious facility, impeccably clean, minimalist and lined with beautiful vehicles – time capsules from past races. I understand why this is a vital part of the preview, I am immersed in the world of unreachable supercars and speed – and I want to get behind the wheel.
Forza Horizon 4 will only be released next month, but developer Playground Games is working hard on tweaking and polishing, so the version we played was almost in the vicinity of the final code, but not entirely.
The starting point of Forza is that you are an upcoming driver who attends the Horizon racing festival in a compact version of Great Britain. The most eye-catching feature is the visuals, because without a doubt no game (apart from the acclaimed Everybody & # 39; s Gone to the Rapture) has captured the pure beauty of Great Britain so realistically.
The owner of Playground Studios, Ralph Fulton, was initially unconvinced that this was possible – even if the development of the game gave him a new found appreciation for Britain.
"You are sort of all those unconscious prejudices," says Fulton. "One is absolutely against the place you are most familiar with – fame breeds contempt."
It was the introduction of seasons that eventually sold the team to their home country as a location. "It felt like these two things were going together and were pushing each other up," Fulton explains.
The prologue runs (or should it drive?) You through your first year at the Horizon festival, where you introduce the festival itself, next to the brand new dynamic weather system, where each of the four seasons has its own specific weather, which has an influence on driving conditions – heavy autumn rain means aquaplaning and winter ice means poor control.
In the summer I noticed that I could easily navigate through the potholes and narrow bends of the British countryside – time enough to absorb the atmosphere and eventually win more races. Spring showers and icy roads made me hit roads and fields, no different from my real driving experiences. Fortunately damage is cosmetic unless you change the settings manually.
According to Playground, the seasons, once you have passed the Horizon Life point in the game, are the last real world week, creating an extra challenge for players. However, this can be managed through fine-tuning that allows you to adjust air pressure, toothing, alignment, etc.
Fortunately, the replay function was a saving grace, allowing me to go back to a point before I hit a wall and revised my speed and handling. Although it resembles something that could be reduced to a "simple solution", I found the use of backwashing a serious learning curve, which saved the importance of premature breaking, reducing speed for angles and speed of control.
Nice to first
This is the core of the Forza Horizon series as a whole – it must be enjoyable. It is a main reason why the games are an open world instead of the traditional linear setting used by racing game developers.
It is this open world that gives the game more breathing space, so you can walk away from the main storyline to participate in activities such as stunt riding, dirt racing and street racing to gain influence and qualify for races with a higher profile – or just the breathtaking sights such as grain fields, windmills and old English houses. If you need a little extra guidance, your AI Anna is essentially your personal navigation system.
"I'm not trying to call it a racing game, because people immediately throw it in the air because they have a bias," Fulton says. "Nobody plays Red Dead Redemption because they are just a huge horse lover, they play it because it is an interesting world and they are immersed in it."
Playground Games announced earlier this year that the microtransactions and loot boxes in the Forza Horizon series disappear after listening to feedback from the community.
"Our first consideration was to ensure that the economy and progress of our game are fair, balanced and – crucial – rewarding," Fulton explains. "The microtransactions we had in Horizon were more peripheral, and if you want to accelerate to own that car, you can actually pay money.
"But I've never had the feeling that we've designed the game to deliberately get people to do that, and that being said, it does not exist anymore."
Red flags arose when I saw that some in-game cosmetics could only be unlocked by using a "Wheel Spin" function in Forza Horizon 4. Fulton assured me, however, that these spins can not be used with real money paid.
"It's just because of progress," he explains. "You can get wheel spins if you raise a certain level or level, there are a lot of ways to get them, but you can not afford them."
This is the same case for Forza & # 39; s Fortniet-style emotes, including popular dances such as the Carlton, Flossing, the YMCA and the moonwalk – used to show off after a win.
Perhaps the most obvious reason is to talk to Ralph Fulton and join hands with Forza Horizon 4, to what extent the team has contributed community feedback. When Forza Horizon 3 was launched on the PC, there were countless performance issues that led to frustrated fans.
"For recommended specifications we focus on 60 fps, instead of 30 fps – what we did the last time, it is an important but subtle change, explains Fulton." I think releasing on PC was a learning experience for us.
"What we did was work for months and months on the Forza Horizon 3. The feedback loop was really useful in the development of Forza Horizon 4, I think we are now better off thanks to the feedback."
Forza Horizon 4 releases for Xbox One and PC on 2 October.