It's hard to match the instant gratification of a great racing game. Even for those of us who shudder at the prospect of wrangling a manual transmission in real life, blasting past your rivals is a glorious thrill. Best of all, you never need to worry too much about those little fender-benders — or even catastrophic wipeouts — if it's just a video game.
The latest installment of Microsoft's long-running racing series, 2018's Forza Horizon 4 plonks players into a gorgeous open-world environment that's a condensed version of the United Kingdom, spanning a variety of regions ranging from the scenic vistas of the Lakes District to the serpentine bustle of Edinburgh. There are plenty of races and challenges to take on right from the start, and hundreds of vehicles to unlock. But if you're looking for a more chilled-out experience, you can get plenty of enjoyment out of Forza Horizon 4 as a Sunday driver, just tooling around its lush landscapes.
Forza Horizon 4 is currently available on Xbox Game Pass. Console and Ultimate subscribers can play the game for free on Xbox One, Series X, and Series S.
Since the first CD-based consoles of the 1990s, the appeal of racing games has been as much about aesthetics and processing power as the action on the track. With each new generation of consoles, franchises like Forza, Ridge Racer, and Grand Turismo have made a compelling case for upgrading your home gaming hardware, showing off bleeding-edge tech and steadily closer fidelity to real-life objects and environments.
Since Forza Horizon 4 came out in 2018, it isn't a launch title for Xbox Series X and Series S. But you'd be forgiven for assuming as much. Trying out the game for the first time on Series X, I was blown away by the visuals. There's little distinction between cinematics and actual gameplay, and you'll regularly find yourself blowing through turns because you got distracted by the scenic views.
Forza Horizon 4's dynamic weather system depicts the change of seasons every week, altering the overall look of the landscape, adding slickness to roads in winter, and even granting access to otherwise inaccessible areas like frozen lakes. Having lived in England for the better part of a decade, I'm not sure the shift from summer to fall has ever looked quite so dreamy, but I'm willing to allow a few artistic liberties when a game's this pretty.
There's plenty of intricacy and sophistication to uncork in Forza Horizon 4. Each vehicle has its own distinct feel and handling, and can be customized within the game's deep menu system to your heart's content. But if you're new to the genre, you can stick with the automatic transmission and just focus on your acceleration, steering, and breaking.
Visuals aside, there's one other reason I can recommend Forza Horizon 4 wholeheartedly above other racing games out there, whether you're new to Game Pass or just looking to try out a new genre — it's surprisingly family-friendly, and easy for even the most resolute non-gamers to pick up.
My parents latch onto a single video game once every few decades — Dad boasts to this day of his "world champion" score in Burger Time on the Intellivision, and back in the naughties Mom devoted a few hundred hours to making herself the Sephiroth of golf in Wii Sports Resort. To my surprise, both of them were absolutely besotted with Forza Horizon 4, with Mom gleefully turning donuts all over the pastureland, and Dad letting a cloud of expletives fly each time he entered a roundabout. Before too long, they were taking on races and heckling each other's technique.
If you're a Game Pass subscriber, take Forza Horizon 4 for a spin. It's accessible, easy-breezy fun that has plenty of depth if you want it — and none if you don't.