Ever since Forza Horizon 4 was revealed at E3 earlier this year, fans have been hungry for even the smallest new details. The game was playable at E3, but it was just a short demo mostly meant to show off how the seasons will change in Horizon 4's open world. It was a great experience but didn't really answer many questions.
Luckily, I was invited to a top-secret preview session about a week prior of you reading this. During this session, I essentially played the first hour or so of the game.
Things started off with a sequence that was nearly identical to the demo that was on hand at E3 in which the player is taken through all four seasons. However, unlike the E3 demo, I didn't get to choose what car I started out with and instead was defaulted with the McLaren Senna. The other difference is that in the E3 demo after the last season (summer) the demo would end. In this case, the end of the sequence is where the game's narrative begins.
From that point I was able to choose my avatar from a small list of pre-created characters. If I'm being honest I'm not a huge fan of this practice, and would much prefer a full-on avatar editor to build someone who looks like me from scratch. However, I will admit they had a great mix of gender, race, and skin tones to choose from.
Once I had my avatar picked I was presented three different cars to start my adventure with: a 2018 Ford Focus RS, a 2018 Audi TTS coupe, and a 1970 Dodge Charger R/T. While the muscle car was definitely tempting, I ultimately decided to go with the Focus RS. Though, this is where I have to reiterate that I was playing an "unfinished" version of the game, so I can't say for certain that those same cars will be available at the start when the final game releases.
From there I was introduced to the map and given the option between two different events to start things off with - though I have to admit I decided to go off-script a bit and explore. I glanced over the map for any interesting looking landmarks and in those moments I found several hoon-worthy playgrounds like an abandoned rock quarry, an abandoned rail yard, an air strip drag racing/roll racing strip, and another drag race strip but on a beach, which also happened to be right next to a castle! Keep in mind these were all areas I found in less than an hour of playing the game. Furthermore, I only experienced about 15 percent of the map. So, there is likely much more to find just from exploration, which is compounded by the fact that more areas are supposed to reveal themselves as the seasons change.
By the way, this would probably be a great time to mention that I played Forza Horizon 4 on an Xbox One X developer console, so for the most part the game was running in 4k resolution for me. However, Andrew revealed to me that Forza Horzion 4 will have two display options for those playing on an Xbox One X: "Performance" mode will downscale the game's resolution to 1080p but will boost the frame rate to 60fps, and "Quality" mode, which bumps the resolution up to 4k but reduces the frame rate to 30fps. On a base Xbox One or Xbox One S, the game will run at 1080p 30fps.
Admittedly the first two race events available aren't anything spectacular. Just a few sprint races that I think are designed to get new players acclimated to the physics and feeling of racing a particular type of car on changing road surfaces.
I had an okay time playing them but they didn't "hook" me. Where the game really dug in was the first showcase event. First, it seems that showcase events happen more organically as a part of the narrative rather than a progressive step met with fanfare in previous Horizon games.
After winning the first two events, a cut scene is triggered in which your character is recruited to be a stunt driver in a movie that just happens to be filming near the Horizon festival. Next thing I know, I'm racing a Bugatti Chiron through the countryside with a Harrier Jet constantly doing super low fly bys with it all culminating in an absolutely massive jump.
It was in that moment when I thought to myself "Yep, this is a Horizon game".
I didn't have much time with the game after that but I played enough of Forza Horizon 4 to feel confident that Ralph and his team at Playground Games are not fixing what isn't broken. Yet, they are also shaking things up enough that the game still feels fresh even after four iterations.
It remains to be seen if the entire game is as good as the slice that I experienced, but hopefully I will be afforded the chance to do a full review on the final version.