After a two year break from the game I recently returned to Forza Horizon 3; my favourite racing game of the PS4 / Xbox One era. Specifically, I had wanted to replay some of the races in the Hot Wheels expansion, and within minutes of loading up the game I had sweaty palms and adrenaline shakes the likes of which I hadn’t had since the last time I played it.
The game is fun, yes, but the depth, variety and spectacle it delivers outshines every other racing game I have ever played, including its successor, which I have always given a tough time despite playing it for 160 hours.
As Forza Horizon 3 is constantly on my mind at the moment, this week I want to talk about five things that 3 does better than 4, and that I hope are brought back for the inevitable Forza Horizon 5.
In-Race Checkpoint Flags
My only gripe with Horizon 3, and I know it’s a petty one, is that in-race checkpoint flags are often too close together, causing some tight bends to become bottlenecks and break some of the growing excitement as an event nears the finish line.
Horizon 4 fixed this issue for the most part though the cross country checkpoint flags remain a bugbear of mine, as unless you are keeping a constant eye on your map you can easily find yourself misjudging a corner and compromising your progress. To those unfamiliar with the franchise, if you miss a checkpoint the game forces you back to just before the flags but allows other racers to carry on unhindered, even in offline mode. This often results in dropping to the back of the pack, and as most of the races aren’t overly long, there is little to no chance in clawing your way back into first place.
I hope whoever decided to crowbar awful cosmetics into Horizon 4 no longer works for Playground Games. I appreciate including them can add to the experience in games like Fortnite or Destiny, but they have no place whatsoever in a racing game. Their inclusion was not only unnecessary, but it would also hinder the progress of players who weren’t in the least bit interested in them, as instead of winning cars or credits like in previous Horizon games you often find yourself being rewarded with clothes for your avatar or dance emotes.
There’s nothing more galling in Horizon 4 than trying to collect credits to buy a car you want and being given a pair of sunglasses after completing a gruelling race. I hope these are completely erased for Horizon 5, and that if they must be in the game that they are completely optional and not held as something I should want to unlock. Give me Ferraris and Fords, not t-shirts and shorts.
The expansions for Horizon 4 were poor compared to those from Horizon 2 and 3. Storm Island had a fun and varied map, but the fact the overarching objective took the form of a scavenger hunt meant you were often given a small area to comb through to try and find an arbitrary prize.
The Hot Wheels expansion I mentioned earlier is possibly one of the best, if not the best, expansions of all time, where every event can be played multiple times without getting boring. The same cannot be said for the Lego Speed Champions offering for Horizon 4, and while I appreciate the long wide open roads, the map itself was far too generic to be of much interest.
Trees, animals and even an entire town made of Lego are fun and quirky attention grabbers to show off in a trailer, but when it comes down to being a racing game they don’t add much of anything. The inclusion of Lego cars sounds good in theory, but as they don’t offer any new customisation options I have to wonder what the point in them is?
If I could have built a tank out of Lego with a 0-60 time of a couple of seconds I imagine I’d feel very differently..
I feel like nobody would object to Horizon 5 just having a Hot Wheels expansion again, but with a bigger map, tuned driving mechanics and prettier graphics. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and after Horizon 4’s expansions were a swing and a miss, a return to tried and proven experiences are most definitely what the franchise needs for its next entry.
Forza Horizon 4 is set in the UK, where I live and where Respawning is based. It can be pretty at times (the UK not Respawning) but there isn’t much variety to our countryside unless you’re a fan of green fields, brown fields or a slightly different shade of green fields. Credit where credit is due; the Horizon 4 map isn’t a drab or uninteresting as it could have been, but when compared to the big and beautiful environments of all the previous Horizon games, I just don’t understand how Playground Games could decide it would be a fun place to set an open world racing game.
When weighed against the fact Horizon 3 which had a rainforest, desert, plains, a city, beaches and caves, Horizon 4 just doesn’t compare. No matter where Horizon 5 ends up being set (you can read all about my preference here), I can only hope it doesn’t result in another location where the most interesting thing you can find is a big stunt jump through a windmill.
Racing games are rarely well known for their story, and Horizon is no exception. The difference here is that the Horizon games always try to inject some form of basic story into their experiences without getting in the players way.
In the first Horizon game you played as a contender in the Horizon Championship in Colorado, facing off against named and voiced characters. It also had a clear rival in the form of current Horizon Champion, Darius Flynt, who you would have to defeat come the Championship finale.
In Horizon 2 the player took the role of someone working within the Horizon Festival who competed in the races, with 3 seeing the player take the role of Boss of the Festival, and so race locations and conditions were decided by the player in a way that suited the game structure. Horizon 4 saw a return to playing as a contender again, but this time without introducing other characters you could compete against, and so makes progression feel shallower than it had in previous entries.
What would you like to see when Forza Horizon 5 is eventually unveiled? Let me know in the comments which Horizon game was your favourite, and which themes you’d like to see more of in the future? Thanks for reading!