One thing about this whole sit at home lark is that it’s given me plenty of time to think about games. As an additional, very small silver lining, it’s also given me plenty of time to scribble some thoughts down, particularly those which let me rank entire series of games. Now obviously, for a list-type article to work, you need to have been playing the games in question for long enough to know what you are wittering on about, and this is definitely the case with the Forza franchise. When I first got access to my beloved Xbox 360, it came with three games, two of which would go on to foster much love for the series that they came from – Forza Motorsport 3 and Gears of War 2. The third? Well, not so much as it was Halo: Reach.
So, while I’ve been twiddling my thumbs at home, I made a decision to take these initial throes into Xbox gaming as a starting point, before going forth and ranking the Forza games, in order of greatness – from the fast right up to the furious. I also debated on whether to include the Horizon games, as the serious stylings of the Forza Motorsport series are very different to the wild, go anywhere gameplay of its Horizon cousin, but I ultimately decided as both flavours have Forza on the box the whole damn lot are being included, as is the most recent release of Forza Street. Unfortunately.
So buckle up, as here we go!
I’ll start at the worst end of the spectrum, and gradually work up to the best of the series, but first a disclaimer: I never played the original Forza Motorsport, being a confirmed Playstation and Gran Turismo boy at the time, so I can’t include it on the list. Apologies to the fans of the genesis of the series.
I want to make it clear from the start, I include this abomination of a game only for the sake of completeness, and because my editor reminded it it existed!
Forza Street is a low point in the illustrious Forza franchise – a cheap, rubbish “driving” game in name only.
What offended me most was, I think, that the driving experience was reduced to nothing but braking and accelerating. No steering, no drifting, no exploring; press one button on the mouse to go faster, lift off it for braking when the games says so.
I have to be honest, I didn’t play this for too long, pretty much as I was disgusted by how diluted the Forza brand had become, but what I did play, I hated.
Avoid Forza Street at all costs is my advice if you want to get the full Forza experience.
Forza Motorsport 2
This was a problematic game for me. It may be because I played Forza 3 first, or it may be because I found the game to be very grindy, and stingy with achievements, but Forza Motorsport 2 and I never really clicked.
I hated the time penalties that you got for going off track mostly. You see, my group of friends back in the day all had consoles split between the Xbox and PS2, and we used to organise contests to see who could hoon it around a track that was common to both Forza and Gran Turismo, sending a photo to prove our times. The Xbox boys were consistently slower, not because they were worse drivers, but because they were punished so harshly for running off track, something that didn’t happen in Gran Turismo.
Other than the annoying penalties, in comparison to Forza 3 it wasn’t the best looking game in the world, and although it had some great cars – mainly the Top Secret tuned drift cars – it all just felt a bit scrappy.
Forza Motorsport 2 is nowhere near a strong contender for this list, sadly.
Forza Motorsport 3
My first love in the Forza series, I spent a lot of time with Forza Motorsport 3.
I loved everything about it: the challenging tracks, the great cars, the tunability, even the livery editor. One fond memory centred around a lowly MX-5 which I eventually turned into a fire breathing drift car, and going sideways around Fujimi Kaido in pursuit of a drift score of over 100,000 for an achievement kept me out of mischief for a while. Blasting this little car within inches of sheer rock walls and through tunnels, before finally hitting the score required, is still a cherished gaming memory today.
It was here where the much loved rewind feature was actually introduced to gamers, and this made life so much easier. Carrying too much speed into that hairpin and crashing horribly? Reverse time, and make sure you use the brakes. Pipped at the finish line? Rewind time and slide across the track to block the bounder.
I will always have a soft spot for Forza 3, and have promised myself that one day I will return to finally pick up all the achievements.
Forza Horizon 2
Forza Horizon 2 is the difficult second album; the game tasked with following the absolutely groundbreaking Forza Horizon. It was also the first Horizon game to be released for the shiny new uber console, the Xbox One. As a result, it looked amazing, with massive areas to drive through and no loading screens.
This is always the beauty of the Horizon games: when you’re not racing or competing in a drift contest, you can just pootle about the place, picking out likely destinations in the distance, driving to them in as straight a line as you wish. In fact, sticking to tarmac and driving down all the roads in the game was a real challenge, as the temptation to go offroad was always there. It kept me playing for a good long time.
The problem with Forza Horizon 2 though is that although the locale changed to that of France and Italy, the gameplay hadn’t, and so it just wasn’t as novel as the first game was – it didn’t immediately just blow you away with the sense of freedom.
FH2 was a solid game in its own right, and driving around as a posse with like-minded friends was a blast as always, but it would always sit in the shadow of its predecessor.
One thing that this game did have going for it though, in a manner of speaking, is the DLC that tied in with the Fast and Furious franchise. Forza Horizon 2 presents Fast and Furious is nothing but a snappy title with the standout car in the pack being Toretto’s Dodge Charger, complete with ridiculous engine sticking out of the bonnet. And yep, this was as hard to drive in the game as it looked on the screen, but it was flipping (often quite literally) good fun all the same.
With a standalone expansion that handed out an easy 1000G, while also giving us access to some of the coolest cars from the Fast & Furious movie franchise, this expansion was not only a lot of fun, but helped to extend the lifespan of the game. A lot of players I know came back to Horizon 2 because of this expansion, and it certainly helped to repopulate the servers again. So thanks Dom Toretto, you gave this game a shot in the arm with your automobile based antics!
Forza Motorsport 6
Forza Motorsport 6 was another cracker of a game.
As the developers, Turn 10, got used to the power of the Xbox One, the series went from strength to strength graphically, with the cars now looking almost like they would be if you stood in a showroom, and the tracks coming across exactly as they did in real life.
Strangely though, Forza 6 – yep, the sixth in the series – suffers the same fate as the second Horizon game. It’s a great game, but it wasn’t the game changer that Forza Motorsport 5 was (the first to hit Xbox One), and it also wasn’t as good as the seventh game. It falls between two stools almost, and the fact that it was noting more than good isn’t enough to lift it up my list sadly.
There’s only so much reinventing of the wheel – if you’ll pardon the pun – that the average punter can stand, and while Forza Motorsport 6 is good, it is not outstanding.
It’s an evolution not revolution – pick your preferred cliche – but this is as high as it can go.
I remember seeing Forza Horizon being hyped as it led up to launch, concerned with how Microsoft were diluting the Forza brand.
“Just what were they thinking? It would never work”.
Then the demo dropped, I downloaded it to see what the fuss was about, and my jaw was stuck open as a pre-order was put in. Needless to say, I’ve been a convert to the Horizon brand ever since.
Forza Horizon was a complete game changer; gone were the shackles of the track and in its place was a game where you could go anywhere, race a jet fighter and generally hoon about the landscape, just having a blast. There were no “Wrong Way” indicators, no rules, just good, clean fun.
The online worked magnificently as well, and running around the countryside, just exploring with friends, setting impromptu challenges like who could be first to the top of a hill or who could pull off the most ridiculous series of drifts and 360 spins kept the fun flowing.
I seem to have got lost down memory lane a bit there, but the upshot of my ramblings is this: Forza Horizon changed the landscape – quite literally – for the Forza games. And it has never looked back.
Forza Motorsport 5
Forza Motorsport 5. I remember it like it was yesterday: I hadn’t been able to secure a reservation for the Xbox One, and so thought I was doomed to be playing on the 360 for the foreseeable future. Then, one fateful Saturday, the day after launch, I walked into GAME to be greeted by a salesman, who asked if I had an shiny new Xbox One. “No”, I replied, and to my amazement he said that someone hadn’t been in to pick up their console, and the time limit had just expired. Would I like to buy it? Well, I just about bit his hand off, and while my credit card cried itself to sleep that night, I was the proud owner of an Xbox One Day One Edition.
From there, I was blown away by Forza 5. The difference from one generation of console to another, the way the thing looks, how it all ran so silky smooth, the inclusion of Formula One cars: all these things and more endeared Forza 5 to me straight away.
In fact, I was so excited I actually took the console to work with me, and lunch breaks turned into competitions centred around who could get the Lotus F1 car around Spa the fastest. From there, a whole league of Forza fans was spawned, with nightly contests online.
With this one game, I think I did more to sell the Xbox One than Microsoft did. Mainly as I didn’t talk about Kinect.
Forza Horizon 3
As we narrow this list down to the best of the best of the Forza franchise, it becomes harder and harder to find any clear daylight between the games. Forza Horizon 3 is a good example – it does nothing wrong, and does a lot of things right.
Buggies are an amazing addition, delivering huge amounts of fun as we take them around the Australian Outback, and the sheer size of the game area itself was nothing short of staggering.
The way Forza Horizon 3 captured the look of the place, the real sense of “No Worries, mate!”, all the game needed was to be bundled with a hat with corks on and you could have been there.
The expansions were good as well, with Blizzard Mountain making an impact the first time you saw the vistas, and the Hot Wheels expansion being absolutely mental. Forza Horizon 3 was an absolute winner.
Well, kinda, because in this list it isn’t quite as good as the games that pip it, in my mind.
Forza Motorsport 4
This may seem like an odd place to put a game from the 360 era of Forza games, but bear with me. After all, this is my list, right?
The fact of the matter is that Forza Motorsport 4 was where I learned to fall in love with the livery editor. I spent hour after hour researching my favourite cars, then trying to recreate them in the virtual space. The process of designing layer after layer of vinyl, zoomed right in to see the finest detail, then applying to the car, building up more layers until a perfect facsimile was created, was something I found amazingly calming.
It helped that by this time Turn 10 had got to grips with the 360 hardware, and the game looked as good as any title released on the console, with silky smooth racing and amazing music.
This is the second best Forza Motorsport title of all time. And it would be the best if it wasn’t for…
Forza Motorsport 7
Yep, Forza Motorsport 7 – the pinnacle of the Motorsport games. And as you’d expect, it is the latest one.
With the addition of rain and wet tracks, something that arguably should have been in the game years before, the challenge is now a lot stiffer. Sliding a stupidly powerful race car around a wet track is thrilling, and you are only ever one extra ounce of pressure on the accelerator away from a horrible spin and/or crash.
With the game being optimised for the Xbox One X, it looks absolutely stunning, and with Turn 10 having now managed to fully understand the hardware for this generation of consoles, I honestly think there isn’t a better looking racing title available on any console. In fact, without spending a silly amount of money on a gaming PC, it’s as good as it gets.
It plays as well as it looks too – the racing action is fast and indeed furious. It wasn’t entirely as successful as the actual gameplay around the racing, as the car collector stuff and the buying of cosmetic items initially put me off a bit, but luckily the game had strong enough racing action to keep the interest high.
Forza Motorsport 7 is as good as Forza Motorsport gets. For now at least – who can even imagine what the next gen Forza will look like?
Forza Horizon 4
Forza Horizon 4 is my top of the pops, my pinnacle of all the Forza games.
Set in Britain, with the chance to actually buy Edinburgh Castle, this was always going to be a very strong contender on my list.
Driving through places that I recognise, while also getting the chance to drive on the correct side of the road, ensures that this is as close to racing perfection as you can get.
It looks amazing, it plays like a dream, and it is available for free for all Xbox Game Pass subscribers. What’s not to like?
However, it’s not just the base game that is amazing and the DLC packs have also been really good. The Fortune Island DLC introduced a whole new style of play, where you had to solve clues to reveal the location of treasure chests, and as the chests were found the puzzles got harder. With the introduction of scored Drift Zones too, this made the whole package a lot of fun.
However, it was with the LEGO Speed Champions expansion that Forza Horizon 4 really captured my heart. Featuring cool, miniature versions of iconic cars, all built from LEGO, it was a lot of fun. What could be better than messing around in a LEGO Mini Cooper, smashing the scenery to its constituent bricks, all the while blasting “Everything Is Awesome” from the car stereo? If the base game wasn’t good enough as it was, this really does lift things onto a new level. With LEGO supercars like the McLaren Senna and the LEGO Bugatti Chiron, this all adds a lot more playability to the game.
Forza Horizon 4 is as good as Forza gets and, dare I say, it is as good as racing games get. Period.
So, this is my ranking of the Forza games, taking them from the fast right up to the furious. How about you? What do you think? Is this list right or complete nonsense? Let us know in the comments!