Seasons are coming to Forza Horizon 4 in a big way. Not only does this alteration mean a more dynamic open-world environment, but also interesting new gameplay possibilities too.
At E3 2018, we had the chance to go hands-on with the game to see how this new system affects everything under the hood, as well as spoke to Dan Greenwald, the Creative Director on Forza Horizon 4 to find out a bit more about the project.
We start our demo in autumn, where we are racing an obscenely fast car through a picturesque British landscape against a bunch of other supercars. Tearing around corners, we fly by accurate recreations of British turn signals and speed signs, emerging victorious and lapping up the atmosphere and the deciduous trees and crisp brown leaves littering our view.
“As always, [Playground games] looked at many different places to base the game and the UK really spoke to them,” says Greenwald. “A lot of that was because of those seasons. The UK has four distinct seasons. In many ways, you can say it’s defined by its seasons.”
In Forza Horizon 4, seasons will be synchronized across the community, revolving on an almost weekly basis. This gives players the chance to experience the seasonal environments as a community. Whether you want to sit and watch a particularly beautiful sunset in summer or chase some sheep down some country lane in spring, the option is there to do it with friends. As well as this, no season will ever be the same as the last, with new challenges and events occurring with subsequent changes.
“Every time winter comes back, it is actually different, because there will be new events, new cars to unlock, new things to do, every time there is a new season,” explains Greenwald. “So, the goal is this is a game that you never jump out of. You can stay in […] and live what we call the Horizon life.”
For the purpose of the demo, we are immediately transported from autumn to winter. It’s here where we think the game really shines. A flashy cutscene plays and suddenly we’re in control a huge 4×4 drifting across frozen lakes between pillowy snowbanks. Snowflakes occasionally land on the screen, before melting and rolling away. It’s immediately clear the handling is drastically different, and not just because of the change in vehicle, but because of the huge change in the conditions of the terrain.
“[The trailer] really shows how seasons change everything in the game,” says Greenwald. “And, by that, we mean obviously the visuals, but we also mean the gameplay. How the cars handle and the things that are discoverable.” He gives the example of a frozen lake that might freeze over in the winter to allow you access to new islands.
Next up in the demo, we’re dropped into a hatchback racing against 5 motorcross bikes on a road winding through the woods. It’s now spring and there are bluebells growing in the grass and a sense that winter is far behind. The bikes criss cross through the trees, stamping down the new foliage and we do some sweet stunts off some ramps, before a rain shower kicks up and starts to fog and bead the windows. The attention to detail is incredible and entirely convincing.
So much so, that when we finish the race and start summer, we’re almost glad of the newfound sunshine. Back in yet another sports car, racing through a rural A-road, we once again command a greater view of our environment with the weather conditions no longer impeding our sight. Passing quaint English villages, we try not to crash, as we observe the smaller, quiet details like a signature red postbox, sitting by the roadside. But just in case we do, Forza Horizon’s trusty rewind device makes a return, letting us correct those happy little accidents.
Before we leave Greenwald, we ask him if he’s had the chance to visit the UK recently, and with a grin, he tell us: “I did just go to the U.K. recently, it was on my birthday, I had the chance to drive some McLarens around in the Cotswolds! So in a sense, I got to live the Horizon life and I will tell you… it was amazing.” Having just experienced it in the demo, we can only agree with him.