The year 2020 was supposed to be many things, and one of those things was: the year Forza Horizon 5 comes out. Microsoft’s tick-tock method of alternating its Forza titles each year (Motorsport on the tick, Horizon on the tock) was an interesting way of achieving yearly releases without suffering on quality like other franchises have – using two separate teams to create these titles while sharing technology that benefits both. You could set your watch to Forza’s biennial release schedule with the Horizon titles launching on the even years in September or October (2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018).
Forza Horizon 5, therefore, was expected to be out in September or October of 2020, with a hilariously over-produced E3 presentation preceding. Alas, September came and went, and so did the launch of the new generation of Xbox console, and so did Christmas, and information about the newest open-world racing gaming in the franchise has remained scarce during the interim. Which surely means an existential crisis for diehard fans of the series like me, right?
Wrong. Thankfully Forza Horizon 4 continues to be an incredible source of entertainment, especially during the difficult times we find the global community still enduring into the new year. Whether you used to play but haven’t played in a while, or if you’ve never set foot in Playground Games’ recreation of the United Kingdom, there are lots of reasons to play Forza Horizon 4 in 2021.
Looking in from the outside, the most obvious example of Horzion 4’s longevity is the season change mechanic, which provides breaks in the visual monotony of driving the same roads over and over, but also provides unique handling challenges as well. Particularly during winter, as you’d imagine. Of course, you can choose to race any track during any season, but between races is where you’re forced to experience whatever the prevailing weather might be. And for the uninitiated, it is very different driving a track/circuit in the winter compared with the summer.
Personally, I’m a fan of lower-power, AWD cars (C class through A class) when there’s snow on the ground, while S1 and S2 are much more enjoyable during Summer, which means that each season also brings with it a new batch of cars that are ideal for the conditions, giving you a chance to explore parts of your garage that you might not have played with recently.
The addition of the two DLC maps – in the guises of Fortune Island and LEGO Valley – means that with four seasons and three maps, there are 12 different combinations of locations and conditions to enjoy. And while the DLC maps aren’t quite as stuffed with content, the roads and trails are completely different in style, meaning there is almost certainly a combination that will work perfectly for your taste.
All these maps and weather conditions add an incredible variety to the racing. Fancy a bit of supercars in a street race while the spring rain falls? Or maybe some mud-slinging in an offroad race in the autumn? Or a traditional winter rally race on some fresh powder?
Combine that with race modes against the clock, against AI, or against other humans, and the sheer variety begins to really spiral out of control. Whatever type of automotive racing you’re into, it’s probably represented in one way or another in Horizon 4.
So, you’ve experienced every season on every map and in every type of race. That must mean that now your time with Horizon 4 is coming to an end, right? Don’t even think about it, bud. We haven’t even touched the user-generated content yet.
Way back in 2018, less than two months after the incredibly successful launch of Forza Horizon 4, we were blessed with a free update to the game that provided players with the ability to create their own courses. Both point-to-point and circuit style races are possible, and with the size of the maps available, there is a mind-blowing number of possibilities.
Personally, I’ve spent dozens of hours constructing rally races that are 10 or 20 or more miles long, and experiencing these custom routes in the various seasons and in different classes of car will keep you going for hours and hours. The newly added Super7 events, released in December 2020, provide yet another element to this user-generated content and ensure that 2021 will be the game’s best year ever. For those with a shiny new Xbox Series device, there has also been a visual upgrade and there’s even been some new Hot Wheels car DLC too.
But it’s one of the more fundamental features from the Forza Horizon series that keeps me coming back for more. Collecting cars. If you’re a 90’s kid who grew up on Pokémon then you already know what I’m talking about. You gotta catch them all…
Forza Horizon 4 is no different, with a frankly insane list of cars to pick from, many of which are not available for purchase unless via the Auction House, a live online sales area where you buy rare cars from real players. Sometimes at insane prices too. The last time I checked, the cost of a Nissan Pulsar GTI-R was still in the millions, due to its scarcity.
Each month, the in-game Festival Playlist updates with a new set of challenges to complete. With each new monthly update, of which Series 33 was revealed just yesterday, the game offers four seasons of events, each with its own rewards including some of the rare cars.
There’s something about this game that makes me want to not only earn, paint, tune, and race an A Class Nissan Pulsar, but also earn, paint, tune, and race an S1 Class Nissan Pulsar. I don’t just want every car. I want multiples of cars because there is some kind of dopamine release when obtaining that sporadically available (and often strange) automobile and then doing events in it.
Forza Horizon 4 is, in my opinion, the most important racing game in recent years, and part of that is because of its perfect blend between sim and arcade. If you haven’t tried it on a wheel yet, you are missing out. Seriously. Yes. Really. A wheel. But that alone can only take a game so far.
What keeps it at the top of my “To Play” list is the ever-expanding list of cars, features, maps, customization, and more. And what makes it so important is that it breaks down barriers in the way great racing games used to do. The top six best-selling racing games of all time are arcade racers, and the top four are all Mario Kart. The average person isn’t looking for realism or immersion, they just want to have fun driving around, and the Horizon series harkens back to a simpler time when just going for a drive was enough.
It’s not for everyone, but it remains one of the purest expressions of what it means to enjoy cars in the 21st century.