There are about as many ways to design an open world game as there are to play them. More focused games hinge on main quests, with a few extras thrown in—like God of War or Marvel’s Spider-Man—while others bombard you with side quests and distractions. A third category may take either of these approaches, but with the added bonus of letting you make your own fun.
Microsoft Studios’ latest entry into its big budget open world racing franchise, Forza Horizon 4, falls in the last category. Rather, it can, if you’re a certain type of person. There are plenty of Things to Do in this game, make no mistake—there are tons of races to beat, breathtaking jumps to make, tourist photos of landmarks to take, cars to collect, and more. But in the hours I’ve put into the game so far, none of these planned diversions were what grabbed me.
I’ve never really been a huge fan of racing games, but I have played a lot of open world games. And the simple joy of driving in Forza Horizon 4, plus the faithfully-rendered British countryside, makes it an unexpected standout in an overcrowded genre. Just driving—like a maniac doing insane burnouts in a picturesque village set to classical music, or like a cautious grandparent trundling along in the correct lane (the left)—is a pleasure. It’s the joy of driving super-fast cars in places and in ways that you never would in real life because you’d go to jail, or die.
Forza Horizon 4 isn’t Grand Theft Auto; rather than frenetic and cartoony, the mood is placid and photorealistically-rendered, which somehow only adds to the fun when you do something patently ridiculous like tear through a fancy patio and the game awards you points for ULTIMATE WRECKAGE.
In short, you can play Forza Horizon 4 like a racing game, but it shines as a driving simulator. (And in 4K on PC, it looks amazing.) My favourite things to do in this game have nothing whatsoever to do with winning races, and most of them are only tangentially related to progressing through the game in any way, if at all. Basically, you’re chilling and doing whatever you feel like, and there’s a ton of room to stretch out and relax in Forza Horizon 4. And it’s fun. It’s a game about nothing, Jerry!!! Which is for the best, because the “plot” is paper-thin and absurd—a racing-series-slash-EDM-festival that occupies a portion of Britain for all four seasons, year after year? That’s not a festival, that’s a regime change.
In any case, here’s the five best things to do in Forza Horizon 4 that have absolutely nothing to do with racing.
The pastoral British countryside is chock-full of quaint windmills and herds of grazing sheep that get more and less fluffy with the changing of the seasons. The best thing to do with this setup is rip through the sun-dappled scene in an obscenely fast car and chase the sheep. You cannot actually hit the sheep—how they can outmaneuver an Audi doing 120 is beyond me—which only makes it more fun since the chase never stops. I may be a cat.
In the winter, one of the large lakes in the game freezes over. At night, with the snow gently falling, it takes on the character of a scene from Fargo except the grisly murder never happens; it’s all mood. The best thing to do here is to drift along the ice while something appropriate plays on the in-game radio station—preferably, Clair de Lune.
Hay bale soccer
To my great and slightly embarrassing delight, the bales of hay that litter the fields in the game’s fall season are interactive. I quickly discovered that a really fun thing to do is dick around in a ridiculous vehicle—for me, it was some Italian thing with a name I can’t even pronounce—and play some hay bale soccer. Just go really fast and push around some hay bales and have a laugh, mate. Why is this even part of the game? I don’t know, but I love it.
As previously mentioned, this game rewards destruction and not just with points and accolades (my favourite: LANDSCAPING). The way loose bricks fly up at the screen with an ultra-satisfying ratatatatatatatatat as you plow head-on through a low wall that could have been erected in the 1800s for all we know is its own reward. You can also knock down trees, street lamps and signs, patio furniture (but not houses—I tried), so there’s plenty of mess to be made in the game’s many picturesque villages, hamlets, and countryside estates.
Just driving through an open field, man
There is just something about the way grass in this game rushes up to meet the eye at the bottom of the screen—beautifully rendered and artfully blurred—that I really do find irresistible. It reminds me a little of galloping across the green expanse of the Playstation 4 Shadow of the Colossus remake, although with a lot more than one horsepower and without the cinematic “rule of thirds” framing. I could do it all day, and it’s even better when you’re taking a Bugatti off road and doing donuts in the dirt.
Is Forza Horizon 4 a great racing game? I’m not qualified to say. But as a driving game, it’s a fun and relaxing way to let your inner maniac out. And because you should know, I played this game for free using a review code instead of paying $59.99 USD. Forza Horizon 4 is out on Xbox One and PC on October 2.
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