Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Forza Horizon 4 - Looks Great, Plays Great, Is Remarkably Boring

There is little doubt that Forza Horizon 4 is the best looking and best playing Horizon game yet but I'm finding it hard to be motivated to actually keep playing because the experience is so stale and unrewarding. I mean, I want to play it because the moment to moment racing gameplay is excellent and the landscape is beautiful, but I haven't felt like I have accomplished anything or earned anything worthwhile since the first couple of hours of the game. There is very little joy or excitement or satisfaction in Forza Horizon 4 and that's a problem. I'm bored.

Shop Forza Horizon 4
Unlike most racing games, Forza Horizon 4 gives you the keys to the kingdom (but not the castle, that's $15-million) right from the beginning. You can buy or win a supercar right from the start and tear around the UK at 200 MPH almost immediately and pretty much every event can be run with any class of vehicle you want. This means there is no sense of progression where you would normally start at the bottom with a crappy D-Class car and eventually work your way up to the more appealing stuff. You can actually beat every race in the game with just the first 2-3 cars you get for free in the story mode. Maybe I'm an old dinosaur, but I liked older racing games that made you use a lot of different cars and earn your way into better cars and more competitive races. In Forza Horizon 4 you don't have to work to earn anything.

You aren't racing to become an ultimate Forza Horizon Festival Champion or working to build festival sites or anything like that here. Your only objective in Forza Horizon 4 is to raise progress bars in the menu with basically no fanfare. You don't even have to win races to make progress here. Forza Horizon 4 is like the ultimate Millennial experience - it drowns you in participation trophies that offer very little actual satisfaction. The other issue is that there aren't enough events to keep leveling you up in each racing discipline, so you sometimes have to re-play the same events over and over to unlock new ones. The experience is a total grind. It's a carrot on a stick but without a carrot.

That isn't to say that Forza Horizon 4 doesn't attempt to reward you. In fact, it constantly gives you Wheelspins (a random prize generator) for any little dinky accomplishment. The problem is that the game has introduced completely pointless player character customization and emotes and novelty horns into the Wheelspin mix along with the new cars and money you actually want. These items are total 100% garbage and totally pointless because, wait for it ..., YOU ONLY SEE YOUR CHARACTER FOR A FEW SECONDS AFTER A RACE! There is no reason whatsoever for clothes and emotes to exist other than the fact that Microsoft wants to you grind away at the game for as long as possible and they needed to fill the prize pool with useless crap. Since the racing itself doesn't matter at all here, they needed something else to reward you with since cars and money don't really matter because you can use the same 3 cars for every race.

The economy that does exist in the game is fairly broken anyway. The only thing you really spend money on is buying houses and mansions dotted around the map that give you various benefits from owning them. They are ridiculously expensive, however. The problem with this is that actually winning races only gives you embarrassingly small amounts of money so you're better off doing anything else to earn Wheelspins in the hope you'll get a big cash award next time rather than a stupid emote. They have pretty much de-emphasized actual racing in their flagship racing game.

Another issue I have with Forza Horizon 4 is that the changing of the seasons needs some serious tweaking. The changing of the seasons is well done and does make a big difference both visually and in the gameplay, but the seasons lasting a week is way, way, way too long. The problem is that there just isn't enough meat to the game to justify coming back to play day after day. Some players did literally everything the game offered, or at least got all of the achievements, in the first week when it was still Fall and have little reason to come back. When the seasons change there is some new stuff added each time, but you can crank out the new stuff in a day. Then you have to wait a week for the season to change again so you have something to do. Unless, as mentioned above, you want to grind through the same events over and over, but I don't find that especially fun.

All of these things stem from Microsoft's desire for Forza Horizon 4 to be a long running Games-As-A-Service experience. They want you to log in every day for daily objectives and other MMO-type stuff but the rewards for doing any of it aren't worth it. I suppose the appeal then becomes the joy of simply driving around beautiful scenery in your favorite cars, but even that thrill has greatly faded considering that this is the fourth game in the series and they've all looked great and played well. I was, admittedly, already feeling open world racing fatigue with Forza Horizon 3 - I played it for only a fraction of the time I spent with FH1 and FH2 before I got bored - but stripping away any sense of satisfaction and progression in Forza Horizon 4 has sapped all of my desire to keep playing it even faster than I got bored with FH3. I was completely obsessed with Forza Horizon 1 and 2 when they came out so it feels weird to just not give a crap anymore, but that's where I'm at.

I want to repeat, though, that Forza Horizon 4 does look stunningly amazingly great and the gameplay feels awesome. I just don't feel motivated at all to keep playing it. At any rate, Xbox Game Pass sure is a great service, isn't it?