Image credit: Playground Games / Turn 10

Forza Horizon: When a Spinoff Outshines the Original

Forza Horizon 5Forza Motorsport

Forza Motorsport has a big, home-made problem: its spinoff Forza Horizon is better, more successful and consequently calls its existence into question.

Instead of making just a sequel with the same core and nigh identical gameplay formula in a new coat (yes, I am looking at you, Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed!), sometimes game developers get creative again and decide to take a well-established series in a different direction.

This is when we get spinoff games. By interpreting gameplay mechanics, characters, or story elements in unprecedented ways, spinoffs can give players a fresh and new perspective on the original game IP.

There are numerous examples of successful spinoffs in the video game world. Among the best are for instance Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance as an action-focused Metal Gear game, and Hyrule Warriors which derived from Legend of Zelda. Not to forget Fallout: New Vegas, which for many is even the best Fallout ever.

Mario Kart is the prototype of all spinoffs and has long surpassed its parent game in popularity and sales.
As casual as a racing game could possibly be, Nintendo’s Mario Kart Series has been fascinating millions of players across the globe since the first release in 1992. Image credit: Nintendo

Racing Game Spinoffs

Generally, most major game IPs also sport at least one racing spinoff. Whether Sonic, Lego, or Crash Bandicoot, they all have (had) their fair share of arcade racers. And admittedly, the best can offer some great arcade fun. However, there is one that rules them all, and that, of course, is Mario Kart.

The prototype of all successful spinoffs, Mario Kart is not only the most successful racing game franchise of all time. It also has long overtaken its parent game (the Mario jump and runs, which, in turn, are a spinoff of Donkey Kong) in terms of popularity and sales.

But there are also at least two big names in the virtual racing sector where the former spinoff has long since eclipsed the original. We are talking of Forza Motorsport and Dirt. While the latter is easily trumped by its spinoff Dirt Rally and has become practically irrelevant in terms of player numbers even with its latest main game iteration Dirt 5, the situation with Forza is a little different.

Forza Horizon vs Forza Motorsport: Spinoff vs Original

Launched in 2005 as the racing game franchise for the Xbox console, the initial Forza Motorsport was a good start. And it became indeed better with every sequel, eventually culminating in 2011 with the release of Forza Motorsport 4 for the Xbox 360.

But then in 2012, Forza Horizon came out. Conceived as a more “arcadey” open-world spinoff to Forza Motorsport, it quickly found its own niche and fans. All good? Nah, far from it. Because with Forza Motorsport 5 (2013) and Forza Horizon 2 (2014) things changed drastically.

While FM 5 was seen as a step back compared to its predecessor, FH2 was praised for its changes. Although FM 5 still sold better than FH2 (2.4 vs. 1.46 mio.), the new BoP had been established. The spinoff had become the more popular game. Then, with Forza Horizon 3, the spinoff for the first time also beat the base game (Forza Motorsport 6) in terms of sales (ca. 2.5 vs 1.0 mio.). This has not changed since. On the contrary.

Forza Horizon 3 was the first of the spinoff series to surpass its Motorsport counterpart in sales.
Forza Horizon 3 was the first Horizon to surpass its Motorsport counterpart in sales. Image credit: Playground Games

Forza Horizon: From Side-Kick to Protagonist

Forza Horizon 3 (2016) was the game which eventually turned the Forza world upside down. Praised by many as the best racing game of 2016, it was better than its predecessors in almost every aspect. Set in Australia, FH3 shone with even better graphics, more varied scenery, cars and classes. Also, FH3 was the first complete Forza game available for the PC, which may have also contributed to its success.

With Forza Horizon 3 the side-kick finally had become the protagonist. Since then, with every new sequel the former spinoff has made the once original more obsolete. While Forza Horizon managed to continuously grow in popularity and sales, Forza Motorsport seems to have stagnated since then, to put it mildly.

Forza Horizon 5 ist the most successful iteration of the whole Forza franchise.
Forza Horizon 5 is the most successful iteration of the whole Forza franchise with an estimated sale of at least 10 million. Image credit: Playground Games

To underline this, here are some more bare facts and figures. In December 2023, FH5 had 12,834 average players on Steam, peaking at 26,907. Its predecessor, Forza Horizon 4, still culminated at 15,475, with a player average of 6,177 for the respective time. Also in December 2023, it was reported that Forza Horizon 5 had surpassed 35 million drivers overall.

Estimates state that FH5 alone had sold more than 10 million times. Needless to say that FH4 and FH5 are loved by critics and players alike and have high scores on all aggregation platforms.

Forza Motorsport: Rough Start, Barely Got Going Since Then

But what about the newest Forza Motorsport? How has that been doing? Well, three months after its release, one has to state that even six years of development apparently were not enough for a proper comeback of the original Forza.

The Cadillac V-Series.R features in Forza Motorsport
Forza Motorsport released on Oct 10, 2023. Image credit: Turn 10

On the contrary, in total Forza Motorsport has failed to deliver. Not only has it had a rough start, it has barely got going since then. Be it overpromise, AI, career progression, or overall technical fidelity and game stability, Forza Motorsport still has basically the same issues it had on day one.

To be fair though, also Forza Horizon 5 has had technical issues especially on PC – and some of them have never been solved. However, from the get-go the game was on a much higher level and in total a much more enjoyable experience than the latest FM.

Does Forza Motorsport still Have a Future?

In numbers, the disappointment called Forza Motorsport reads as follows. On Steam it achieved a player average of 717 in December 2023 (November: 963) – that is ca. 1/18th of FH5 and 1/9th of FH4 – and has received “mostly negative” user reviews (38 % positive) since its release on Oct 10, 2023.

Also on the Xbox charts, Forza Motorsport is far behind its “spinoff” Forza Horizon 5, bobbing around somewhere in the middle of the 40 most-played games. For a Triple-A game with such big ambitions and resources, this is nothing less than a crash.

Forza Motorsport - Daytona and 10 New Cars Set For Update 4
Enjoy rejoining right on the racing line after exiting the pits at Daytona in Forza Motorsport! Image credit: Turn 10

Yes, Microsoft and Turn 10 promise to do better. Yes, the first updates have already brought various fixes. And yes, the game is designed as a service game and thus regularly provides players with new content and challenges. But will it ever be the Forza Motorsport that was promised to us?

Against the background of the many problems at launch and since then, the once auspicious PR phrases “Built from the ground up” and “Forza Motorsport is the most technically advanced racing game ever made” now only sound hollow and cynical.

The optimist in me wants to believe that FM just needs a bit more time to shine. The pessimist (realist?), however, thinks that it is highly unlikely it will ever recover but instead could rather turn into a total loss. If so, it would certainly not be the first big game IP to be hit by EOL and become unavailable, useless or unplayable.

What Is On the Horizon?

Fan Art for Forza Horizon 6
Forza Horizon 6 fan art. Image credit: pietrodonzelli.artstation.com

The losers in this scenario of course are the players who had high hopes for a Gran Turismo alternative on Xbox and PC. Forza Motorsport does not seem to be that. Maybe it will be Forza Horizon 6.

Here is my humble suggestion: Combine the many good things from FH5 with the few good things from FM, let the whole thing play in several open-world climate zones and simply call it Forza.

What do you think of Forza Motorsport? Do you know other spinoffs which outshined the original? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

Cars, motorsports and racing games addict since 1974, I am constantly hunting for perfect authenticity and deepest immersion from the safety of my sim rig.