Playground Games is back with a new Forza Horizon, complete with a creditable PC port just a patch or two away from being something truly special. While the series has deep roots on Xbox consoles, Forza as a franchise is still fairly new to PC and it's had some definite growing pains. Forza Horizon 3, in particular, initially launched with some CPU-related issues, but the good news is that this area is much improvedthis time around. In fact, the overall improvement in this area is so dramatic, I have to wonder if the introduction of the Xbox One X 60fps performance mode may be partially responsible.
As things stand, the PC game takes everything that makes the console versions so good and allows users with suitably powerful rigs to play with fewer compromises. So yes, if you want the X's 60fps mode with full 4K resolution and improved quality settings, that's no problem at all. It's all there for you - if you have the hardware capable of making it happen. However, as we shall discover, despite the arrival of a new 'extreme' quality preset, Xbox One X owners get a robust presentation that delivers almost all of PC's visual feature set. It's mostly in ultra territory, with the next-level extreme only providing diminishing returns in terms of visual upgrades.
Starting at the beginning, Horizon 4's option menu deserves kudos. Users have in-depth control over 20 different performance and visual options. There's full support for 21:9 ultrawide screens (though some cutscenes do clip to 16:9) and if you don't have such a display, field of view can be adjusted for many of the game's camera views. Each graphical preset boasts between three to six different settings, and this time around Playground has also included a frankly brilliant benchmarking tool, reminiscent of the excellent Gears of War 4, and great for balancing settings against hardware. Let's just say that without it, this article would have been a lot more difficult to put together.
In the past, I've levelled criticisms at useless benchmarks that don't represent the in-game experience, calling their very point into question. Forza Horizon 4 fully stress-tests the racing experience, car AI, dynamic weather and all road conditions. It's only really missing deformable terrain and a cockpit view in presenting a complete outlook of the full gameplay experience. This benchmark really does go the extra mile: even if you lock to v-sync, the tool reports on CPU/GPU frame-rate potentials above v-sync individually, so you can better understand which component of your PC is the main potential limiting factor of performance.
CPU-wise, Forza Horizon 4 is a quite remarkable improvement over its predecessor. Based on the benchmark results, a Core i5 8400 has enough grunt to allow you to play the game at 120fps or more on extreme settings - providing that your GPU can keep up. That said, there do seem to be some scaling issues with Ryzen processors though that I witnessed when testing with a GTX 1070. CPU throughput is smooth throughout on the i5 8400, but my Ryzen 7 1700X clearly exhibits more stutter. We're still way north of 60fps and likely GPU limits, but maybe it's something Playground should take a look at. By and large though, we're looking at the firm basis on which to build a solid port. Combined with an RX 580, that i5 8400 is capable of delivering a 150fps minimum at 1080p, making this game a great match for 144Hz monitors. Interestingly, minimum frame-rates with the GTX 1060 are around 30fps lower.
In terms of the usual AMD vs Nvidia battle on this title, the mainstream GTX 1060 vs RX 580 head-to-head shows up some interesting results. At 1080p on extreme settings, Nvidia takes point. However, on lower settings as well as using higher resolutions, the 580 is significantly faster. Using the excellent benchmark, I've put together an outline of how much the settings cost at the various quality levels, which you'll find at the bottom of the page. We begin at the extreme or ultra preset and judge that as our base performance level - 100 per cent. Then we run through each iteration, note the performance advantage by lower that particular setting and factor the boost into the table. It allows us to build up a detailed picture of scalability - and we only wish we had the time to carry out the same analysis on an Nvidia card too.
While Forza Horizon 4 offers up a range of tweakable settings, there's only one easy win in terms of overall performance - MSAA. On an RX 580, dropping from 8x to 2x offers a big 28 per cent uplift in frame-rates, rising to an extra 33 per cent if you remove it altogether. Treat this one with care though: Xbox is set to 4x MSAA for a reason - Playground Games and Turn 10 define the Forza aesthetic with exceptionally clean lines and that practically demands decent multi-sampling coverage. That said, I reckon that 8x is a good shout for 1080p while 4K gaming can comfortably drop to 2x without unduly compromising the experience, while FXAA (not used in consoles) is good for resolve some in-surface aliasing.
In the video embedded on this page, you'll get to see the visual impact of every single quality setting cycled through every preset, but there's much to learn by looking at Xbox One X - the game's lead platform - and the choices the developer has made there. If you're looking to match the console experience, and to choose the quality vs performance trade-offs made by Playground Games itself, we've got the full list of settings for you directly below.
Some of the differences can be a touch subtle, or may be context sensitive, so there may be some variations in my findings, but what's clear is that Xbox One X's 4K30 quality mode really does pile on the quality - overall, we're mostly at the equivalent of ultra quality settings here. The performance mode drops SSAO and moves some of the PC-equivalent presets down to the high preset. Curiously, static trees in the background look worse on PC than they do on either of Xbox One X's modes - I suspect that the static geometry setting is currently bugged on the PC release.
And it's the bugs, oddments and the occasionally baffling design decision that are the only issues that stand in the way of Forza Horizon 4 being an absolutely stand-out PC port. So, for example, the dynamic quality settings don't seem to work with the in-game benchmark (perhaps by design?). Meanwhile, turning off screen-space reflections actually makes performance worse, while dropping anisotropic filtering from ultra to medium seemed to lock it at that setting regardless of how I changed it afterwards.
|Console Equivalent Settings||30fps Quality Mode||60fps Performance Mode|
|Windshield Reflections/ Mirror Quality||Ultra||Ultra|
|World Car LOD/SSR Quality||Ultra||High|
Other frustrations include the fact that on my systems at least, Riva Tuner Statistics Server causes an instant crash when the game boots. In fact, there's a lot of crashing in the game right now, even with RTSS disabled - mostly when changing the settings and restarting the game. Yes, unfortunately, Forza Horizon 4 is one of those titles that demands a full restart when tweaking some settings - and this leads to further frustrations. For example, why does adjusting anisotropic filtering require a restart at all? It's just baffling. Regardless, AMD crashed more often than Nvidia in my testing, but obviously, this game shouldn't be crashing at all.
On top of that, there are many sequences within the game where you cannot access the PC options game menu to adjust elements like volume or graphics, such as when you're parked at your house. In my opinion, a PC game requires a lot of flexibility regarding menu and settings access and arbitrarily limiting that access can prove annoying.
In the final analysis, Forza Horizon 4 on PC brings us close to the complete package - it's a port that gets the raw fundamentals right, that's built on a remarkably solid CPU scaling solution, with a ton of tweakability in graphical settings. On top of that, Playground has integrated HDR support into the PC version this time around - a great feature to have and one that was bizarrely absent from Forza Horizon 3. All that's left is to tidy up the bugs, crashes and performance oddities and what's already a solid PC release should become a great one. But I'll sign off for now with a detailed look at the range of settings and where how the presets adjust in performance terms. That's a whole lot of data for you to work through...
|i5 8400/ RX 580/ 1080p||Extreme/On||Ultra/8x||High/4x||Medium/2x||Low||Very Low||Off|
|World Car LOD||100%||101.3%||103.3%||106%||107.5%||-||-|
|Particle Effects Quality||-||-||100%||100.2%||100.4%||-||-|
Will you support the Digital Foundry team?
Digital Foundry specialises in technical analysis of gaming hardware and software, using state-of-the-art capture systems and bespoke software to show you how well games and hardware run, visualising precisely what they're capable of. In order to show you what 4K gaming actually looks like we needed to build our own platform to supply high quality 4K video for offline viewing. So we did.
Our videos are multi-gigabyte files and we've chosen a high quality provider to ensure fast downloads. However, that bandwidth isn't free and so we charge a small monthly subscription fee of $5. We think it's a small price to pay for unlimited access to top-tier quality encodes of our content. Thank you.Support Digital Foundry