It was one of the main announcements made on Sunday by Microsoft during its rather convincing E3 press conference. Furthermore, it's also one of the few titles announced that will be released before the end of this calendar year. Expected on October 2, the exclusive Xbox One and Windows 10 PC racer has been shown off for the first time during E3, confirming the return of the series to European shores, this after a memorable escape to Australia back in 2016.
The short game session that we were offered during the showcase allowed us a glimpse of Playground's version of Great Britain, viewed through the lens of different weather conditions. The developers from the British studio, now under the full control of Microsoft, were particularly keen to emphasise the importance of the weather and its impact on the cars' behaviour.
This is nothing new: whether driving in the rain, through the snow, or even under a blazing sun, the cars handle differently and you have to adapt your driving accordingly. But Playground ensures that Forza Horizon 4 will push this further than ever before. From the demo to the first trailer they clearly highlighted this aspect and the message was received loud and clear.
We were able to drive through all four seasons. Behind the wheel of the Mclaren Senna (as seen in the trailer), the Porsche Cayenne GT4, or a Dodge Viper, on a clear day we could hit the roads at full speed. True to the series, Horizon 4 provided us with a genuine sensation of speed and at times it can be thrilling. Needless to say, if you opt for one of the in-car cameras, don't expect a restful and serene experience.
We were able to hit a muddy stretch of road behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta, then it was time for snow in an RJ Anderson # 37 Pro 2 Truck. Each time we changed rides we had to adapt our driving style to suit both the vehicle itself and then the weather conditions. This makes us want to believe the promises made by the developers even if our short time with the game doesn't allow us to back their claims... yet.
We also haven't been able to see the size of the open world that will be offered, but we're taking no chances when we say that it will be bigger than the previous one. Neither did we get a sense of the content itself, the number of cars that'll be on offer, the ways in which we can participate in or manage the festival and competitions... But this is not surprising considering the release of the game is still some four months away and this was but a small glimpse of what it offers.
The gameplay as a whole is close to Forza Horizon 3. You'll have to be precise, but driving is more accessible here than it is in Forza Motorsport 7. The cars' handling is quite forgiving and if you can just stay focused we think you'll be able to achieve a decent level of performance. Purists will always consider this an arcade game and we won't argue with them too much, but the pleasure of racing on the open road is there, whatever your level of racing competence. Speed is at the heart of the matter and Playground lets you feel like you own the road. In short, it's a genuine Forza Horizon experience.
Visually, this is one of the best offerings we've seen when it comes to racing games. FM7 had already set the bar very high with environments of great beauty and nicely modelled cars. The more contemplative character of FH4, particularly with its northern landscapes, puts even more emphasis on the visual quality of the game. The slightest reflection on the ground is apparent, while the sky and the elements surrounding the track are represented with a real attention to detail. This is all the more impressive as the demo was played on the most powerful of consoles, the Xbox One X. The differences between seasons are perceptible thanks to a level of realism that we've never reached before. If the gameplay is on par with the graphics, which seems to be the case, the immersion should be total.
And that will mean a level of immersion that can only be enhanced by the quality the audio. As far as our untrained ears could tell the sound from the engines felt faithful to the different cars and they even sound different depending on the surface you're driving on. Fans of the genre will surely appreciate this commitment to detail.
While waiting to discover more about Forza Horizon 4 and the great British race-off that it offers, we are already almost certain that the quality we've come to expect from the series will be there once again. October is shaping up to be a very interesting month indeed.