The presentation of Forza Horizon 5 surprised me in three ways. First, of course, are the amazing visuals – some say it's going to be the prettiest game to date. We'll be literally able to count spines on a cactus. And here, that level of detail makes sense, because in addition to the meat and potatoes of racing, this is, after all, an open world game where you can take your foot off the gas and just explore or enjoy the ride at your own pace.
The surprising second thing is that the release will come much sooner than the next Forza Motorsport, while the previous Horizon was released a year after FM7. Lastly, I was surprised by the setting – Mexico isn't the first country that springs to mind when you're thinking car racing.
All of these, however, are excellent news, and it not only promises the best racing game ever – it seems the final nail to Sony's coffin. It has been a long time since Gran Turismo 7 was announced for the PlayStation 5, and the only thing we learned since is that the game will not be released this year. Sony once again lose virtual racing fans to Forza, and I suspect that their offering will not be able to match it either. Microsoft managed to win with the idea for a spin-off of a flagship series and also delivered the quality that possibly makes Horizon the hallmark of the entire Forza IP.
I was happy to hear nothing about personalized avatars and drawing glittering gumboots during the presentation of Forza Horizon 5, as that's something that really bothered me in the last game. These elements will return, however. Actually, there will be even more customization, as the game will allow selecting the voice, gender, or even limb prostheses.
There will also still be seasons, though obviously unlike those we got last time. It's hard to expect snow to suddenly cover all of Mexico. Instead, we'll have a period with heavy rainfall and some areas of the map flooded, and a time of drought, when such places become perfect for offroad racing. The story campaign also promises to be interesting, with an emphasis on exploring rather than just winning races.
Sony overslept, Microsoft blazed the trail
Things used to be simpler. All we needed from a car game were racetracks. Sony had its Gran Turismo, and Microsoft had Forza Motorsport. These were virtually identical productions, with a similar set of tracks, cars and gameplay modes. What's more, subsequent installments mainly offered graphics improvements. So, Microsoft decided to be the first to try something new and create Forza Horizon – a more casual, fun, accessible, and freer game. A game where that was more about the pleasure of driving than mastering corners and learning tracks by heart.
Sony, on the other hand, increased the hardcore, with Gran Turismo Sport not only by requiring the same amount of dedication to mastering the tracks, but also by pitting players against each other in online PvP, so you were not only against highly realistic physics, but also mean drivers. It was exciting, but let's not be fooled – compared to the accessibility of Forza Horizon, it was an offer for a handful of e-sports enthusiasts, and a very limited group of core motorheads.
And it doesn't look like that's going to change. In the first year of next-gen, Sony has nothing in store for virtual driving enthusiasts again, while Microsoft will release a gorgeous game on Christmas that anyone can play regardless of age or ability, where everyone can win and generally drive however they heartily wish. Not to mention that Forza will also look gorgeous on the discount Xbox Series S console, and will be available on PC, Steam, and Game Pass. Microsoft owns.
Will the release of Gran Turismo 7 make a difference? I don't think so, especially if it's going to be a typical track spinner with idiotic AI again. Great graphics? Insignificant, because you don't have the time to admire it anyway. Fans will be happy to see the game return, of course, but as it is, GT7 won't even attempt competing with Forza given all that Microsoft managed to brew up.
Because in addition to Horizon 5 available to everyone in Game Pass, a new Forza Motorsport may be released by then. By offering such a great casual game for everyone, Microsoft buys itself time to round out the hardcore offering, which probably appeals to less people today than it used to. Racing games have undergone an evolution in which Microsoft has excelled and even pioneered, while Sony has been left behind a bit like Nokia and Microsoft itself when it missed the Android revolution.
Direction: Top Gear
I feel that racing games have gone through a similar evolution as the iconic Top Gear show, specifically when it was hosted by Clarkson, Hammond and May. They used to test cars, talk about whether they were worth driving to work or if they were fast on the track. Gradually, however, more and more entertainment seeped in, along with absurd challenges and, above all, big-time travel – expeditions to unique in all kinds of cars, which later served as the foundations of Grand Tour by Amazon.
After years of driving over the same tracks over and over again in Forza Motorsport, Forza Horizon is just like a Grand Tour the video game. It's an adventure, where the most important thing is fun. And so I understand why Mexico. They could have gone for the remotest areas of the globe and it wouldn't matter all that much. Locations don't matter as much as diverse gameplay, freedom, and the sense of adventure straight from the TV show hosted by the three Englishmen. It's going to be a game that everyone can enjoy: your dad or grandpa, as well as your teenage daughter or cousin – not necessarily fans of motor sports.
It’s got snowy mountains, epic canyons, beautiful historic cities, stunning coastlines, jungles, rolling hills, farmland, multiple different types of desert… it just has everything and then you add on top of that the fact that it has this culture that’s known and loved all around the world, the art, the music, the people, there couldn’t be a more exciting option for the Horizon festival than Mexico.
Mike Brown, creative director at Playground Games (via: Pure Xbox)
As much as I myself enjoy track racing and fighting for lap times, I think the future of car games is open worlds. The creators of the subsequent installments of Grid, Dirt, or Project CARS are painfully aware of this – these titles that were forgotten about five minutes after their release. The thing is, Forza Horizon has set the bar so high that no one seems able to beat it, as evidenced by Need for Speed going open-world, or Ubisoft trying its luck with The Crew.
So on the one hand, I'm not surprised that Polyphony Digital is holding back with developing a direct competitor, but on the other – who if not Sony can help challenge Horizon? The Japanese certainly have the means, facilities and technology needed to make a racing game that will again make car fans scramble to pick their favorite racing game. Because so far, the choice is simple – and it's Forza. Microsoft lapped everyone alse, and other racing games are now mere vanishing points in the rear-view mirror. If Gran Turismo doesn't start taking its title literally, it will continue to sniff the exhaust after faster and better rivals.
Darius Matusiak | Gamepressure.com