This week saw the surprise announcement that several Forza Horizon veterans are leaving Playground Games to form new triple-A studio Maverick Games. Among them is Mike Brown, the Creative Director of Forza Horizon 5.
While these departures probably won’t affect Forza Horizon 5, they will undoubtedly have major repercussions on Forza Horizon 6, which is rumoured to be in development and releasing in 2025.
With new creative talent behind the wheel, Playground Games now has a golden opportunity to take Forza Horizon 6 in a bold new direction.
Recapturing the glory days
Microsoft and Turn 10 are touting Forza Motorsport as a “reimagining” of the franchise, with the aim of recapturing the spirit of the Xbox original game. With recent Forza Horizon games getting stale, Forza Horizon 6 needs to do the same.
Forza Horizon games used to be unique and exciting, but the newer games have become boring and formulaic.
Forza Horizon 5 boasts impressive graphics, a picturesque open world, and a huge roster of cars. But it doesn’t do anything new. As a result, it was essentially a re-skin of Forza Horizon 4.
One of Forza Horizon 5’s persisting flaws is the lack of feeling of progression. In the original Forza Horizon, you started in a Volkswagen Colorado and worked your way up, collecting wristbands to enter harder events.
In Forza Horizon 5, Super Wheelspins hand you the keys to the fastest cars in the game without you having to work for them. This gives you a quick dopamine rush, but there’s no long-term sense of achievement or reward.
Progression in Need for Speed Unbound is the polar opposite. You start the game with limited money to buy a car and upgrades. Race payouts are also low, forcing you to spend time with your starter car and bond with it.
Combined with surprisingly challenging AI racers and the risk of losing all your money in cop chases, the first few hours can feel like a grind. But this gives you a satisfying sense of reward when you eventually get to drive faster cars.
Forza Horizon 5, in comparison, has hundreds of cars, but they don't feel special. When you can swap between so many different cars on the fly that feel the same to drive, they feel disposable. This needs addressing in Forza Horizon 6 to reignite players' love for cars.
A new direction is needed
Forza Horizon 6 needs to recapture what made the first game so special. At the same time, it also needs to feel fresh instead of repeating the same formula. It's proven to be a winning formula for Playground Games, but players are getting fatigued with familiarity.
While it was the biggest launch in Xbox history, Forza Horizon 5's player numbers have fallen rapidly. Recycling old cars from previous games as DLC isn’t engaging players. Neither is forcing them to play repetitive and uninspired Festival Playlist challenges to unlock new cars available for a limited time.
Need for Speed Unbound has its flaws, but at least Criterion Games took risks. Its bold art style gave Need for Speed a new sense of identity – something that Forza Horizon lacks.
The Horizon Festival was integral in the first game. A unique celebration of music and motoring, it had a memorable atmosphere, a simple but engaging narrative, and a clear focus, with the aim to defeat Darius Flynt and earn the title of Horizon Champion.
None of this is in Forza Horizon 5. You start the game as the festival boss, so the races have no urgency. Mexico may also be diverse, but the world feels empty and lifeless, making it dull to explore after you’ve completed the campaign.
A new hope
Playground Games need to find new ways to engage players in Forza Horizon 6, whether it’s a compelling story campaign, inventive new game modes or a denser map that feels alive.
With Forza Motorsport set for release this year, we’re unlikely to hear anything about Forza Horizon 6 until next year at the earliest.
But with fresh blood breathing new life into Playground Games, there’s hope that Forza Horizon 6 can give the franchise a much-needed refresh. Another bland open world with a checklist of familiar events isn’t going to cut it.
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