Playground Games’ bi-annual take on the Horizon sub-series was met with an almighty upturn in acclaim and resulting attention when Forza Horizon 3 released in 2016. Being the joint-sixth highest rated game for the platform overall but more impressively, the highest-rated out of the total Xbox One first-party/exclusives available, Horizon 3 may have kept the trend going when it came to impressive-looking visuals but Playground’s complete package of well-implemented mechanics and a gorgeously-designed world to openly explore was always going to draw in more intrigued players. Horizon 3 ended up topping at nearly nine million players so needless to say Playground have a hefty number of fans they need to not just keep happy, but impress all over again, X or no X.
A slither of bias may be creeping in here, but flying the Horizon event as far as physically possible away from the former Australian outback — to the sweeping escapism of rural Britain for the most part — is a smart decision. Playground’s immediate decision on focusing less on the UK’s most globally-recognized locales, of the capital city London specifically, and instead taking players to some of the country’s more aesthetically-pleasing surroundings, is the sign of a developer refusing to simply rely on easy routes and safe bets for a series’ next iteration. While those in the US, or Canada or even Europe for that matter, may draw a blank at what the Lake District or the Yorkshire Moors or even the city of Edinburgh — Playground admittance that some manner of a city had to be featured nonetheless — may look like, believe this local native when he says these are some great choices for those who don’t come to Horizon for the speed and the thrill of racing, but would rather take it a touch slower.
It’s here where Horizon 4’s charm and subtle inclusions in its world design really come into their own. Isolated cottages and singular sign-posts by either side, construction work that might annoyingly be taking up a bit too much of the road, the deciduous gathering of woodland nearby. Horizon’s take on rural Britain might not have the same vibrancy or bright positivity as Australia sure, but Playground have made up for the more pastoral color palette with the weaving in-and-out of its road and track structures. Horizon 4 maintains the series’ insistency on getting each and every driving line correct, regardless of how drastic a shift a given race might take you. Sprinting down a B-road one minute only to have to make a sharp corner onto an off-road section the next. Playground haven’t gone about making Horizon 4’s Britain bigger for the pure sake of it — the developer confirming that the game is roughly the same as their previous outing.
Perhaps the most notable and newest feature to be introduced into Horizon 4 is the ability for players to set their own custom tracks about the world — setting markers and thus sharing their routes with the wider player-base. Something that was surprisingly amiss in the last game, but only adds an extra level of customisation. How much you’re willing to indulge in making one’s track the calmest or be it challenging affair of them all, it needn’t be an invasive submission thankfully as this year’s outing seems more focused on the more elaborate and cunning deviations players may find they’ll have to adapt to within the natural. And this is long before you factor in the game’s inclusion of dynamic weather.
But we’re not talking dynamic in the sense you have one template for Spring, one for Summer/Autumn/Winter or whatever; Playground have gone one step further in allowing even these extremes in climate to deviate from time to time. Meaning that another spell of rain a moment later, won’t exactly incur the same alterations and risks to the road as the spell before it. Likewise, snow and ice will actually, genuinely feel dynamic, meaning players can’t simply map out certain dangers in a given route and leave it at that. Playground do hint that this will be one of many elements they will add to post-launch — elaborating on the game’s shared, evolving world which of course will come with additional gameplay events and updates as is a standard for these more “service”-like affairs in video games. On top of this, though the concept of collecting, adding and building up a mammoth collection of cars is nothing new, the added ability to buy houses, businesses and even see these acquisitions play out in story-like mission structures is a nice add-on to what is already a seamless venture across the British countryside.
Horizon 4’s choice of setting may seem a little monotonous on first glance and indeed doesn’t have the luxury of being as grandiose or as geologically varied as the US or Australia, but Playground’s insistency on focusing on the littler details and the secretive versatility that the “away from the city” vibe can bring, is a perfect fit for the Horizon series. Forza may still generally carry semantics on sports cars, high speed and track drifting — and of course there’s still plenty of that here — but you can’t blame Playground for picking a locale, an environmental aesthetic, that fittingly suits Horizon’s more explorative and discovery-led focus. The British Isles, as predominantly deciduous its ecosystem is, still lends itself to some great driving and tucked-away sense of discovery. And with Forza Horizon 4 the first Horizon entry to make use of the Xbox One X, Playground will certainly give rural Britain the best visual aesthetic you can possibly find in the series. Forza Horizon 4 launches for Xbox One & PC via Windows 10 on October 2.