I used to play driving games a fair amount: they were never my genre of choice or anything, but I found them soothing. I’d gotten out of the habit over the last few years, but I’d been hearing good things about various Forza games for a few years; so when I finished playing through Shenmue, I decided I’d follow up that game’s forklift racing by spending time with Forza Horizon 4.

At first, I kept on comparing Forza Horizon 4 to Burnout Paradise: open-world driving games that provide you with races as ways to get from point A to point B, that are happy to encourage you to explore the map (both on and off-road) in other ways, and that take care with the in-game radio stations. And, honestly, Forza didn’t do so well in that comparison: in particular, the more I played Burnout Paradise the more time I spent trying to build trick chains as I drove around, and while Forza Horizon 4 has a similar trick chain mechanic available to you, the game and its environments simply aren’t focused on tricks in the same way.

Not that trick chains are the only primary mechanic for Burnout Paradise: racing and crashing are key to the game as well, as is plain old exploration. Whereas racing, exploration, and tricks are all there in Forza Horizon 4, but there’s more of a priority order: it felt to me like the game is primarily about the racing, secondarily about the exploration (or maybe exploration and collecting), and the tricks are significantly lower in priority.


Which is fine! After all, if I want to play a racing game, then I might as well spend time actually, you know, racing. And a big part of what I like about racing games is focusing and getting better at both the mechanics and the tracks.

It turned out, though, that I was quite bad at the races. And, also, the AI opponents felt a little funny to me: they always all did a solid job of basically following the correct lines around corners (and, incidentally, I appreciated the game for showing those lines!); while I, not to put a too fine point on it, didn’t. So my AI opponents would end up fairly tightly clumped, I’d be way behind them, and whatever differences that were leading to some of the AI cars being at the front of the pack and some at the end felt qualitatively different from what was causing me to lag behind.

It started getting better with offroad races: following the line didn’t matter nearly as much there, so I wasn’t at nearly as much of a disadvantage. And, actually, I had an asymmetric advantage: if you approach tight curves close behind your opponents and you take an inside route at an overly high speed, then you’ll slide into your opponents, using them to brake and guide you around whe curve while knocking them out of the way, letting you pass several cars at once. A lot of me thinks the game should punish this strategy more, but for whatever reason it doesn’t, and the AI never adapts that strategy itself. At any rate, with that combination of looseness and intentional collisions, I switched over to usually winning offroad races.


Road races were still giving me more trouble; so I started replaying some three-lap races. That way, I could memorize the tracks and practice the same corners over and over again; and after an evening doing that, I switched from basically not knowing what how to corner effectively to frequently being able to hit corners well. And, correspondingly, I went from always coming in last or near last in road races to usually at least being in the middle of the pack and sometimes (rarely at that point, but then more and more often over the subsequent weeks) actually winning.

And, like I said above, one of the things I like about racing games is the focus that they engender. So I was starting to get that out of Forza.


There was still a ton of other things to do beyond the races. The world is pretty amazing, there’s stuff to explore everywhere, and the game does a good job of nudging you to look in different areas. And there are also story missions, which are a change of pace tonally and which give you driving challenges that feel a little different from the races.

And, as I mentioned above, there’s also the radio. Which I was actually a little bit disappointed in initially: the pop tracks didn’t grab me, and the classical selection was super boring. But eventually a few of the songs got their hooks into me as well, I was just a little slow to come along.


Forza Horizon 4 is, ultimately, a very good game. It feels maybe a little overpolished to me, and as much as an achievement that quality of open-world racing game is, I might actually be a little more in the mood for a track-based racing game? (Or maybe it’s the Burnout Paradise comparison lurking again: always hard if the comparison in my head is against one of the best games of its decade.) But I’m certainly glad to have spent the time with it that I did, and it’s also a reminder that racing a genre that I do enjoy, and that I haven’t spent enough time with over the last several years.

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