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Forza Horizon 4 – A Love Letter To Cars And Racing Games

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It’s a hard question to answer these days: is there any good racing games? It’s not like there is of no abundance of racing games- there’s plenty around. But to the average gamer, racing games have somehow lost its appeal. Gone are the days of Gran Turismo being a hit and talked about for months as it influences petrolheads and normal gamers worldwide. The biggest hype around racing games in the mainstream this year is for kart racers.

Not that it’s a bad thing. But the point is: what we traditionally classify as racing games have lost its luster in the mainstream.

But with all that said, I’m glad we live in a world where Forza Horizon exists. The initially weird offshoot of the more serious Forza Motorsport series is now the crown-bearer for the best racing game out there with Forza Horizon 4- we said so last year. And it’s for good reason: It’s a lovely love letter to cars, and racing games in general.

For The Love Of Cars

No other game series right now are offering the breadth and depth of a car list compared to Forza Horizon 4. Sure, Gran Turismo used to do that, but their current car list in Gran Turismo Sport is far, far smaller than in their heydays.

Meanwhile, that torch has been handed to Forza with its large and ever-expanding car list. And an eclectic mix too. You have the supercars in the form of the McLaren Senna and the Porsche 911 GT2 RS on one side. Then on the other side are.. the Peel P50, the BMW Isetta and the Reliant Supervan- slow, tiny cars you would expect to see as pedestrian traffic, not something you can buy, tune-up and drive like the wind. But you can.

There’s something for everyone in Forza Horizon 4. Group B rally cars, offroad monstrosities, utes and vans, that Final Fantasy XV car, and with the DLC, even cars made of Lego bricks based on actual Lego sets.

The game’s livery editor is also pretty great. You can have a real racing car livery slapped on, or get a Mini have it rock Mr. Bean’s colours. But more importantly: itashas are so popular and expected there’s a dedicated tab to filter the liveries for anime, I kid you not. The Forza community are active and creative in this aspect.

Pick a car, any car, and for the most part, you can race it and expect close competition with your rival AIs. But if not, you can always go back to the garage and buy some upgrades and tune it up to speed. Unlike most games, Forza Horizon tips the scale towards sim rather than arcade.

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Sure, it’s an arcadier Forza compared to Motorsport, but not many games let you add a bigger rim but it makes your car slower in general because that’s how it works in real life.

And if you’re a car nut, you’d love the ability to convert a car’s drivetrain config, or change an engine, or change its power config- like add in twin turbos to an otherwise naturally aspirated engine.

The Forzavista was a feature made with the ill-fated Kinect peripheral in mind, but it still is an amazing feature for car porn. You get to see these lavishly rendered cars up close in the first person, and fiddle with them to a certain extent.

Admiring a Konisegg’s trademark dihedral synchro-helix actuation doors opening up close and inspecting a V12 at the back of a Lamborghini up close after opening the trunk is something a Doug Demuro video would provide for us common people unworthy of owning these. But here you can do those yourselves.

There’s a lot to love if you love cars in Forza Horizon 4.

Real Racing Roots

But Forza Horizon 4 is not just sending an ode to cars, it also celebrates the great arcade racers of years past. This is particularly clear in the story missions provided by LaRacer. A streamer, she enlists your help to create her Top 10 Cars list from racing games.

The first thing you have to do in the missions is getting in a Ferrari Testarossa, like the one in Out Run. Yeah, that name was just casually dropped.

It’s surreal to see a game celebrating its past brethren, especially those own by other competing publishers. How the heck they got Sega to allow this, or is it fair use? While the missions are nothing to write home about mechanically, the story flourish sells it. LaRacer talks about how cool Out Run was with its various biomes you get to travel to. She shouts “Checkpoint!” in the event homaging Daytona USA. You drive a yellow Bel-Air as a reference to Crazy Taxi. Ridge Racer got a shout too.

She even laments that no one is making a game like Smuggler’s Run anymore. And wished out loud for a Project Gotham Racing reboot- a defunct series Microsoft had where it’s the main gimmick is you get points for driving in style. Which is now integral to Forza Horizon.

Of course, some of the homages are less direct. The nod for that one game that does cross-platform play in the ’80s, in particular.

But to drive home that the developers of Playground Games really love cars and racing games, it is the number 1 pick from the list. The last mission have you drive a Porsche 911 Turbo. From all the games.

Sure it sounds like a cop-out, we could have a BMW ME E46 for NFS Most Wanted or something for Burnout, but LaRacer explains it candidly why it deserves the spot.

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“Cartoon games, sci-fi post-apocalyptic games, racing games, They had one thing in common. You’d find a 911.

“Or you know, something that looked a lot like one.”

This is, in reference to, EA’s exclusive license for the German marque has now lapsed. For over a decade, racing games have to settle with a RUF or a fictional car that sort of looks like the 911. And now the flood gates have opened, every decent racing game with real car license has a Porsche.

It’s a historical moment worth celebrating- it is, in fact, the car and marque we wanted in racing for oh-so-long. And the developers understand this, hence the tribute to the Porsche 911.

(Now, if only Toyota got the memo…)

The Joy Of Driving

But the most important element Forza Horizon 4 gets right is the driving. Thanks to this game, I am finally convinced that, outside of driving sims, racing games can also be just called driving games. The simple act of going from point A to point B, the very problem cars are created to solve, is very much prominent.

I can bet that making fast travel limited and require a small fee at the start was a calculated one. This isn’t a game about completing races and objectives in rapid succession. You are meant to cherish the downtime. You are meant to appreciate driving to whatever your next point of interest is.

It’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

Forza Horizon 4 delivers the fantasy any petrolhead can relate to if they’ve seen various car media- either official advert videos or an episode feature from Top Gear.

It’s the fantasy of taking a car, rev it up and drive it along a long stretch of road with a beautiful view on the sides. It doesn’t have to be wicked fast. You just want to hear the beautiful soundtrack from the wailing engine, the feel of tyres losing grip, the ambiance of the countryside and the rocking tunes you have on the radio. All while leisurely driving a car so expensive, or so rare (or both) in the comforts of your little virtual world. For a fraction of the price to do so in real life.

The location, some amalgamation of the UK including the town of Edinburgh, captures the atmosphere of the English countryside, complete with uneven road surfaces that can hold puddles after rainy days. The sweeping roads have character, not something to just glide over so the driving will keep you engaged.

Especially with the game’s handling physics, it demands you to understand how to brake before turning, but with the right build, you can take corners sideways with a tap of the handbrake and careful balance of steering. It’s a robust handling model that can cater to grip racing and drifting.

But soaking it all in is such an experience- so much that most of the story missions as mentioned before are based on just driving, albeit really fast.

Final Lap

Traditional racing games may have fallen out of favour in the big mainstream gaming crowd compared to the biggest AAA titles, but the niche is here to stay. Forza Horizon 4 is now the poster child for the typical racing games for good reason: It remembers to honour the real cars that are the star of the show.

And not only that, it blends all the elements of a good racing game, into a smooth cocktail of pure racing goodness. With its own twist thanks to the remarkable robust handling physics.

Forza Horizon 4 is a great game, and it will remind you how awesome cars are, and how great racing games can be in this modern age.


 

The Backlog is a series where the Gamer Matters crew cover games past their release dates- either to make it eligible for Game Of The Year discussions or because they have strong opinions about it but only got around to play them later.