I've always been a huge fan of racing and driving games, all the way back to the early PlayStation 1 when games like Gran Turismo, Porsche Challenge and Colin McRae Rally really captivated my love for the genre. One of the staples of driving simulation games recently has been the Forza series, and it's latest outing, Forza Horizon 4, has had a demo released recently on Xbox and the Windows 10 Store.
I've been really excited for this for some time, not least because, finally, there's a modern driving simulation game set in the United Kingdom. For some reason, my country seems to get very little love in the AAA gaming space, with most games being set in the good old US of A, or sometimes Australia or other idyllic settings. Why would you want to come to gloomy little Britain, after all?
Well, it's proven to be a wise decision in my humble opinion. The game is set largely in Scotland and some of northern England from the map included in the demo, and frankly you couldn't pick a more beautiful location to set a game like this in my eyes. It's some of the most breath-taking scenery you could ever see, and wonderfully represented here.
The demo begins with a huge playable set-piece which takes you through the four seasons of the year, each season having it's own unique racing style suited to it. We begin in Autumn with a race through quiet country roads and woodland areas, passing small villages and fields, this eases you into the demo and lets you get used to the controls. Before long, you're thrust into the midst's of winter, where driving a larger vehicle more suited to icy conditions means you're now having to take much more care over your driving technique, it really highlights nicely the difference in physics between driving in normal conditions, and driving in the wet, on ice, or in other extreme weather. Following the winter, you're then (naturally) racing in the spring, this time in a rally car type scenario being flanked by many dirt bikes. You have to take care here to stay on the track and hit all the checkpoints, as the detail of the forest you're racing through is incredible, it's really easy to end up getting lost here. Finally the opening demo transitions into the summer, where you speed along with the Red Arrows flying above you, and cars of all types fly around seemingly at random in a bid to make it to the Horizon Festival site, where the opening ends.
It's a really nice opening to the demo, clearly orchestrated and full of set pieces to show off the game engine, graphics and cars, and isn't exactly how the final game plays, but it's really fun to play. The only criticism I have of it is every time you relaunch the demo you have to replay the whole thing again. Having played through it a good 6-7 times now just while doing this review, it does get old a little fast. It would have been nice to be able to skip it once you've done the whole thing once.
After being given an opportunity to purchase one of the 3 available editions of the game, and unlocking an exclusive T-Shirt for your character for the full game when it releases, you are given the opportunity to begin the demo proper. This is where the real fun begins, giving us a taste of how the final game will play, and letting us free-roam a portion of the map.
You get a choice of 3 cars in this demo to choose from, that being the Ford Focus RS, Audi TTS Coupe or the Dodge Charger RT, which comes in a rather lovely shade of GameFront orange. So you can guess which car I chose for this demo. One thing that I will say right away as a minor disappointment with this section of the demo is the voice acting - I don't know why video games insist on either a posh, southern British accent or an Irish one, but it's ridiculous that none of the characters in this game have a Scottish or northern British accent given the setting of this game.
Anyway, car selected, you're now free to either explore a fairly large area of the map, or partake in two events which are available within the demo to try. The portion of the map available to explore is mostly country roads, with the main Horizon festival site and a small village to explore, but there's a few different landmarks to explore too including a dam and quarry, so there's plenty to see here.
Graphically, the game is very well optimised. I tested this on a ASUS GeForce 1070 Strix with an Intel Core i5 and the game ran buttery smooth on max settings at 1080p. This makes a bit of a change over the last Windows Store release of a Forza game, which game under fire for some optimisation and slow down issues, so it's great to see some changes for the positive in this regard. The game does look absolutely amazing, the level of detail and accuracy is stunning, as someone very familiar with Scotland and northern England, I can say that this is the most accurate re-creation I have seen to date in a video game. It's a shame that the main city of Edinburgh isn't available in this demo, but I'm really excited to explore this city I have visited many times when the full game releases.
In terms of gameplay and physics, it's very similar to previous Forza Horizon titles, with the handling leaning more towards arcade than driving realism, but with a decent feel and good physics making it a great experience. While this won't satisfy hardcore driving simulator fans, for most players the handling and physics feels very natural and makes the game great fun to play.
There are a few minor bugs in this demo. Photomode, which makes a return from previous instalments, can't save or share photos which proved to be a great frustration for me when putting together this review. All you can do is hide the HUD while in photomode, and use a third party tool (or press print screen) to save the photo. The demo also has a tendency to crash when transitioning between the seasons - one fix for this is, when the game has started, to go into Task Manager, find the Forza Horizon 4 process, and set it's CPU priority to "High" - this fixed all the crashing issues for me. These are minor issues though, and will no doubt be fixed before the game goes into it's final release.
So, in conclusion, it's great to see a demo for this game, a rare thing these days, and it gives you a good feel for what the final game will be like and is well worth checking out if you've got any interest in the game. It's available to download now from the Xbox / Windows store, with the full game releasing on 2nd October 2018.