When you think about racing games on Xbox’s platform, there’s really one name that dominates the landscape, and that’s Forza. However, in 2012 Turn 10 switched up the focus from high-quality racing simulation to something with a bit more freedom in Forza Horizon, and ever since then, both games have been evolving side-by-side. In 2023, the most current entries in each franchise are Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon 5, but which one is the better racing game?
To compare the two games means to compare the main mechanics between them, because at their core they’re both discernible as being Forza. However, where Horizon has open-world exploration, Motorsport has authentic racing and tuning simulations. There’s definitely plenty to love about both games, making them both worth playing for different reasons.
One of Forza Motorsport‘s main focuses is on making the experience of racing feel real and instill a love of cars into players. It makes the car itself your personal playground to go and test on a track, letting you do so much to it to make it yours that the game encourages you to save and share specific configurations.
While that depth certainly is impressive regardless of who you are, not everyone is interested in tuning their car down to the anti-roll bars, and that’s certainly Forza Motorsport’s consequence. If you just want to enjoy the race without thinking too hard about the next race and how you’ll change your car from the inside out, Forza Horizon is more of the game for you. Not to say that you don’t have the freedom to tune your cars in Horizon, but as you play you’ll come to find so much else to do that you might not even think about.
Horizon is a much more lighthearted game, but the focus is still all about cars. Where Motorsport encourages you to focus and refine your technique until you hit the podium, Horizon has no problem with you driving across the map and trying something different. Horizon is the name of a titular festival of which you’re an attendee/contestant, and there is an almost overwhelming amount to do at any one time.
On top of that, Motorsport makes me feel almost obligated to play in the view of being in the cockpit, and I don’t feel blocked or uncomfortable in that situation. The realism of how it plays makes me want to feel like I’m actually driving the car, but Horizon is a different story. I play almost solely in third-person because there’s so much to see around me, I find it harder to explore the world if I’m stuck in the bubble of my car, not to mention I like to swing the camera around to find new things.
Winner: Forza Motorsport
When it comes down to realism and authenticity, Forza Motorsport takes it over Forza Horizon 5. While it is possible to jump a car off a ramp under a plane dropping motorcyclists, it might be a bit of a stretch as to how well it goes in the game. Motorsport keeps all of its focus on keeping races as close to reality as possible, so it takes the win there.
Soundtrack and Immersion
Something that I had never really thought about until after I had played a few races in Forza Motorsport is that it feels incredibly quiet on the track. The focus on racing would certainly be broken if there was music playing as you knifed through a turn, but sometimes as I played the Rivals mode I would feel a strong absence that I think I developed from having played Forza Horizon 5.
It’s interesting because many games might spring for just some filler music that’s cheap and accessible, but as I sped down a muddy back road and cycled through the stations, I was surprised to hear Dua Lipa or The Offspring just as if I were cruising down the road in my real car. Things like that really ground the game, making it more enjoyable to cruise around aimlessly.
The music doesn’t feel distracting in Forza Horizon 5, if anything it feels like it’s a part of the storytelling. The hosts on the radio give commentary that reflects your progress in the game, making it feel like you’re actually having an effect on the festival around you. As you go through races, the music doesn’t make me feel like I’m struggling to focus over it, but it feels like the soundtrack to my own personal adventure.
Making that adventure even more personal, you can also customize what your actual character looks like in Forza Horizon 5, unlike Motorsport where you can only choose a racing suit. Being able to choose from a rather large collection of clothing options gives Forza Horizon 5 the feeling of an RPG, without feeling weighed down by it. You can customize anything from your socks to your mask, which I think is pretty impressive. I don’t see Starfield letting me choose my socks and shoes.
Winner: Forza Horizon 5
When it comes down to the overall vibes of each game, Horizon takes the win over Motorsport. You can choose what cars you want to drive and when, you can take your car offroad for some mudding and can choose from a wide variety of music to score your adventure. While Motorsport gives variety in the cars you can choose from, Horizon gives you variety in cars and plenty more, which gives it a leg up.
The interesting thing about looking at both games side by side is the fact that they really do have similarities in all the right places, but the differences make them each unique and replayable in their own way. I’ll find myself driving around in circles not even doing events in Horizon because I just want to see where a certain road goes or see if I can hit a corner a little faster than before. That feeling isn’t entirely absent in Motorsport, but it’s more so replaced with a gratifying level of focus and challenge.
The point of each game is almost entirely different, while maintaining the same core values. Motorsport prioritizes its love of the sport of racing first and foremost, and the cars are the beating heart of it all. In contrast, Horizon prioritizes the love of adventure and the festival life, but it centers that around cars and what they allow you to do. Both games are love letters to cars in their own way.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Forza Horizon 5 manages to combine the structure and quality of Forza’s racing with the freedom and flexibility of an RPG. The scale of the map is so big that there’s plenty of all different types of racing to do to earn you accolades, currency and experience. The game fits cleanly into the landscape of RPGs on the market, with a racing festival being the perfect setting to network and explore.
Winner: Forza Horizon 5
When it comes down to the overall car experience, the race is incredibly close. However, because it shows off more of what cars can do, while also providing a breathtaking environment to show off the brilliant graphical prowess, Forza Horizon 5 takes the win. Forza Motorsport brings graphics like very little that I’ve seen elsewhere, but only really lets you see them on the same list of tracks. The stunning beauty and variety of the world in Forza Horizon 5 just can’t be argued with.
Overall Winner: Forza Horizon 5
To say that one game is “better” than the other feels unfair to some degree because with all their similarities, they are far from the same. To compare the feeling of racing between games even doesn’t feel right because where Motorsport is tight and refined, Horizon is loose and gritty. Motorsport likes to encourage you to take some time alone on the track and practice, while Horizon throws you into an open world with other online players and encourages you to drop what you’re doing and have fun.
Any preference between the two games has to come down to a matter of style. If you love track racing and clearing your mind to focus on a single task, then Forza Motorsport is going to be the game for you. However, if you’re more of a renegade/free-spirited type, then you’ll love the freedom you’re given in Horizon to make what you want out of the massive open-world map.
That all being said, the game that I would recommend to more people is Forza Horizon 5. I love Forza Motorsport — maybe even more so than Horizon — but that’s because I love seeing what certain cars can do and how I can play with them while challenging myself to refine my technique. Forza Horizon 5 has a much more broad spectrum of racing that would be attractive to more people, while Forza Motorsport caters more to the niche of players who not only love racing, but love cars at their core.
Forza Horizon 5 is more of what I consider to be “fun” than Forza Motorsport, but I think “fun” isn’t necessarily what I’m looking for when I play Motorsport. It’s a certain desire for a challenge that drives me to hit the track, but there’s never a bad time to load into Horizon and just go full throttle to some great music. For that reason, Horizon takes the top spot on the podium over its big brother. This time, anyway.
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