My first car was a 1990 Honda Civic. It died a long time ago, but for years, it got me from place to place. It was an unimpressive car, inherited from my great grandmother who couldn't drive anymore. I put a Hogwarts sticker on the bumper, and had some plush toys on the backseat which got bleached by the sun. My car was boring and falling apart, and I was always envious of others in my town who had newer and nicer cars—you'd be surprised how many of my teenage peers had new cars in the late 2000s. Putting stickers on my Honda became my way of making it my own, even though my car sucked. In Forza Horizon 4, every car is about making it your own.
The Forza Horizon series has long been the goofier of the two Forza mainstays. Forza Motorsport is for the serious, mature racing game fan, while Horizon is more for the folks like me, the ones who just want to drive fast expensive cars over terrain they shouldn't be on, scattering flocks of sheep as they screech by.
That's how I play Forza Horizon 4. Loud, fast (or not so fast), and stupid. I get last place more than I get first in races, but I hardly care about the racing. The jolly NPCs who radio me still tell me I'm doing a great job, so who cares if I fumble on more than a couple turns? The fact is that I don't care about upgrading cars. All I care about is one thing only: making them look stupid.
This is my hobby in Forza Horizon 4. The other night, I spent three hours customizing cars, making them look as dumb as possible. A lot of my favorites are the most impractical: The cars that barely inch above 60mph, if that. I plastered five Top Gear logos on one narrow car, just because I could. On another car that looked like it was a retrofuturism fever dream, I made it bright green and put an Xbox logo on it. I decorate my cars with a specific design goal in mind: I want my cars to look like a kid borrowing their dad's Xbox One when they're not looking, and messing with their save file. I want to be the kid overwriting their dad's save, embarrassing them on the online streets of the United Kingdom.
But there is no grumbling parent in this scenario, just me, myself, and the stupid vehicles I customize. They remind me of the flame-bedazzled old cars I'd see at car shows my parents used to drag me to when I was a kid, except instead of flames, it's anime women. While I'm not creative enough to tweak with in-depth customization (for that, I tip my hat to the custom design "Livery" marketplace), Forza Horizon 4 offers enough tools for me to satisfy my creativity. Or rather, lack thereof with its plentiful sponsorship logos and color settings.
In our full review of Forza Horizon 4 from Kat Bailey, she writes of her approach to make cars more personalized, maintaining "her car" rather than building up an intense library. She tricks them out and customizes her favorites with purpose and love, like a mechanic to a fixer-upper (only in Forza, these cars are still in tip-top shape when she gets them—she just makes them better.) I appreciate this approach. It's basically what I do, only I have a juvenile purpose in mind. I'm Xzibit, pimping rides to oblivion.
The true fun comes in the form of the custom designs. From a Kinder candy decal to too many anime cars to deal with, there is a lot to pluck from in the online custom design database. I don't have the time or patience to dedicate to creating my own designs, but I do have the time and patience to sift through a lot of junk to find gold.
In the past, I've written about my admiration character customization, for making a character my own, whether through molding their face or shaping their style. While Forza Horizon 4 has that (albeit, very light character customization), I instead see the cars as my avatars. I make DHL trucks, making impractical deliveries in the dead of winter without chains on their tires. I turn ugly go-kart looking machines into something straight out of Mario Kart. Every car tells a story in Forza Horizon 4, thanks in part to its excellent photo mode, and thanks more so to its custom designs.
I'm still in the early goings of Forza Horizon 4. It's winter and I'm already tired of the snowy season; I'm readily awaiting for spring to clear the air and make the lakes unfrozen again. My log of cars right now is unimpressive, as the only cars I'm buying are the cheap and ugly ones—the ones like the 1971 Meyers golf kart, or the three-wheeled 1972 Reliant. (I have a thing for 1970s automobiles, apparently.) I'm still bad with car names, to the chagrin of my car-loving family, but at least I can pretend like I know what they're talking about thanks to Forza Horizon 4. Just ever so secretly, they'll never know I'm putting camouflage paint on Corvettes and Xbox stickers on Ferraris. Through the art of stupidity and making myself laugh, I'm learning about the very thing that has eluded me my whole life: differentiating car brands. My parents should be proud.
The more I play Forza Horizon 4, the more I miss my old Honda. It was a bad car. A clunky car. A dangerous car to drive in, to be completely honest. I think that's why I gravitate towards the rougher-looking cars in Forza Horizon 4; they remind me of what I used to drive every day, only I can make them look even more ridiculous. These aren't the sorts of cars you'd bring to a proper street race, and I appreciate that despite that, they're available to drive across Horizon 4's beautiful landscape anyway. For my ever-expanding collection, I wouldn't have it any other way.