Forza Horizon 4 is an Audiovisual Masterpiece

Microsoft finally shows they have confidence in the Xbox One X

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I’ve owned an Xbox One X for almost a year, but Forza Horizon 4 is the first game that’s truly felt like it’s pushing the hardware, to me at least.

The underlying proprietary Forzatech engine has had years of iteration across 11 differnet Forza titles, and it shines here in a way that’s simply breathtaking.

Not only do the visuals present a top-of-the-line experience on the newer console…other aspects that all users on all levels of Xbox and PC can enjoy work in concert with the graphics to provide an awesome experience to those inclined to enjoy the technical aspects of gaming.

VISUALS

Forza Horizon 4 is the first Microsoft first-party game openly acknowledged to lead development on the Xbox One X, and the results back this up.

X owners have a choice between a 4k 30 FPS mode or a 1080p 60 FPS mode…but after spending a few minutes with the 60 FPS mode, I switched it right back.

The 4k mode offers numerous tangible benefits beyond the resolution, and continually impresses me with its look. The lighting and shadowing are improved thanks to ambient occlusion and headlights that cast proper shadows into the environment, and everything has a gorgeously clean look that really sells both the races and the open world.

Outside of the lighting model, reflections are a particular highlight, using a combination of highly-detailed animated cube maps and high quality screen space reflections. The result is quite convincing, especially across the surface of the car. It’s cool to see the car able to reflect things that are behind the camera, in spite of a complete lack of proprietary reflection/ray tracing technology a la Nvidia’s recently launched RTX cards.

Which still don’t have any supported games, as of this writing. Sighing noises.

The framerate holds a steady clip even under load and when bashing through the new destructible props scattered about the UK countryside. The physics on these props do seem a touch light. Bits of stone walls go flying with abandon, which is visually impressive but a little goofy in a game that prides itself on otherwise impeccably real-feeling physics simulation.

I’m not the first person to go on about how good the game looks, and I’m not equipped with the sort of tools to provide more in-depth detail. But the Xbox One X delivers an experience that’s right in line with my gaming PC, and one that feels as native to the X platform as a console title should.

The rest of the presentation that really brings the whole thing together and elevates it to a new level.

AUDIO

Forza Horizon 4 makes a grand case for Microsoft’s spatial sound technologies. I’d encourage you to check it out with a pair of headphones, and either Windows Sonic or Dolby Atmos processing enabled on the Xbox/in Windows 10.

The game makes full use of both the distance and height components that spatial audio provides. And it’s not afraid to continually throw in audio mixing tricks that run just shy of gimmicks, finding constant excuses in the level design to have car and environment sounds emanate from behind and above you.

Music is a particular highlight. Mixing music in surround is very difficult, to the point where even most movie mixes settle for using standard stereo tracks pumped into the front left and right channels, with maybe some occasional bleed/fill into the back.

Not so in Forza Horizon. Music is mixed all throughout the spatial sphere, and that’s but the first trick up its sleeve. Sometimes, the current track is placed brilliantly into the environment thanks to large speaker arrays that are set up for the game’s fake Horizon festival. So you’ll race past one of these points in the world, and the music will seamlessly transition to being a diegetic element, then right back to the standard mix as you fly away.

None of these mixing tricks are new, but the way they all come together through spatial audio mixing is deeply satisfying, and lends further credence to the amazing visuals. I’m so used to audio mixes feeling like an afterthought in video games, but in Forza Horizon 4 it was obviously a main focus.

CONTROLLER VIBRATION

I’m one of the five people on Earth that loves the Xbox One’s impulse triggers, and just as Turn 10 did in Forza Motorsport 5 at launch, Playground makes excellent use of them here.

If you’re not aware, the Xbox One controller’s strangest and most-underused facet is that the left and right triggers can vibrate independently of the standard vibration motors in the handles of the pad.

In Forza Horizon 4, the triggers deliver additional feedback about acceleration and braking, key to enhancing your sense of control. They’ll rumble in varying intensity as you approach the traction limits of your current vehicle, and let you know that your car doesn’t have much more going/stopping power on this particular surface.

The result is the closest that you can get to feeling like you’re driving a real car while using a control system completely unlike a steering wheel, and I love it. Sure, die hard fans will stick to their steering wheel and cockpit setups, but the level of feedback delivered through a gamepad makes it a viable and fun option.

If you’ve never experienced a game with impulse trigger support (hardly any games on Xbox make effective use of them), this is a great one to check out.

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Yearly franchises almost never get the chance to push technical boundaries beyond what’s considered the standard at the time.

But Microsoft went for it here, finally deciding that the X deserved a game worthy of its power and not just a standard game running at a higher resolution. The Xbox One X provides a high-end PC style of experience, with extra effects and a performance profile tailored to perfectly hold a solid framerate.

Owners of standard consoles and lower-spec PC’s will miss out on a few of the more attractive bells and whistles, but will still get 80 percent of the experience. I imagine this gap will widen as time moves on…at least in the Forza series. This is the first game I’ve seen really put the more powerful hardware to tremendous use.

In an era where new consoles seem like they might be only a year or two away, it’s exciting to see a game really go for it on the tech-side.

Written by

I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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