When Microsoft first showed Forza Horizon 4, some of us were disappointed. Although Playground Games usually delivers great arcade racing, it nevertheless started to feel a bit too familiar when compared to the last game (or the one before). And while Britain is great in its own way, it's maybe not as striking a location as the French Riviera or Australia.
We really enjoyed Forza Horizon 3. Partly because of the incredibly entertaining driving it offered, as well as the massive gaming world that was filled with different activities and brought to life via brilliant graphics. It was a game that was difficult to put down even if it wasn't perfect in terms of the challenges it offered - it boasted fun driving and the whole thing was wrapped up with a pleasant presentation. The exact same things greeted us the first time we got started in Forza Horizon 4, for better and for worse.
The presentation in Forza Horizon 4 could not be better than this. Stylish menus with big clear icons and a smart narrative make for a super-slick introduction to the game. It's inviting, playful, and it fits the overall tone to perfection.
The concept and structure are almost exactly what we've come to expect from the series at this stage. There's a big car festival (Horizon Festival) surrounded by a cool subculture, colourful companions, and of course loads of exciting cars. We're welcomed to the British countryside and start out by choosing our first car, a Ford Focus RS, and then it's just a case of starting to take down the available activities. The Forza Horizon series really tries to push so many different types of rallies, races and challenges that it's almost a bit overwhelming to look at the map for the first time.
A new thing in Forza Horizon 4 is the revised multiplayer mode that allows for a better and more vibrant community. Directly integrated with the Xbox Group function, it is easier to gather up to five friends to race together in the mud. Otherwise, online works much as it did in the previous game with varied game modes for those who want to play for fun as well as the chance to take part in more competitive ranked races.
As soon as enough fans have been impressed you unlock a Showdown event (much like in previous titles), and while they are really well crafted it's hard to be as impressed the fourth time you're racing against a train at blistering speeds. They are spectacular though, particularly an event starring a certain masterful chief.