Forza Horizon 5
It’s taken three years, but the fifth entry in the Forza Horizon series is here and offers up its grandest spectacle yet. Since 2012, this offshoot of the Forza Motorsport series has gone from having players race biplanes to now starting with massive races down a volcano. We have seen it evolve into one of the most exciting racing franchises on the market with a rock-solid formula that gets more refined with each entry. The past three games in particular have seen the stakes get raised in terms of scope, while the fifth entry brings even more variety to the table. One thing that the Horizon series has been known for is keeping players on their toes – whether it’s with expansions like St orm Island, LEGO, or Hot Wheels, offering up things that reward in-world exploration, or rewarding players’ creativity with an in-game auction house to sell their custom paint jobs. Forza Horizon 5 keeps everything that has made the series great so far, but expands it.
The concept of an open-world racing sandbox has come alive with different environments before and now players can enjoy a gorgeous version of Mexico complete with touches of culture like lucha libre being referenced in graffiti form alongside a slew of picturesque buildings, vistas, and a feeling that has been absent for a long time in the series – a feeling of being in a lived-in world. There are far more NPCs than usual and the feeling that you’re a part of a giant festival feels more intact here than it has since the first game. You’re still the God-tier superstar, but you’re not above doing normal tasks like finding things throughout the world.
While some collect-a-thon elements have always been present with discount and XP boards alongside barn finds, now there are small fetch quests placed throughout the environment to help mix the action up a bit and add some world-building. Searching for Aztec treasure areas is cool, as is using the in-game camera tool to take photos of rare objects. The fact that there are collect-a-thon portions baked into the main game will likely be divisive for some, but I loved it despite not being a big collect-a-thon fan for platformers where it fits in far better. Here, it’s done sparingly and in a way that adds a bit of background to characters while putting them in goofier situations than usual for this series – and that covers some ground. The increased attention to world-building is something that the series has needed to have come back and it’s nice to see it here.
It helps re-focus the action as well because for the past two entries in particular, you have had these top-notch games – but they felt a bit aimless with the benefit of hindsight. In real-time, it didn’t stick out, but after playing Forza Horizon 5, it’s clear that having everything parsed out more clearly with different allies taking control of certain racing genres helps a lot. It adds a sense of structure and allows the player to feel like what they’re doing is going towards a grander purpose. Having that makes the steady progression of earlier entries feel intact here – but far bigger and grandiose. It’s impressive to see just how much more fun Horizon 5 is taking one step backwards, but taking a few steps forward as a result.
It’s also impressive to see just how much the game’s core experience remains across all manner of playable hardware. In playing on a gaming rig with an HDD, a gaming laptop with SSD, and an original Xbox One, it was clear that the PCs provided a better overall experience – but the eight year-old Xbox One held up remarkably well. On an SSD, the environment loads up swiftly with a long draw distance without larger, new areas requiring loading times like on the Xbox One. The loading times are about 30 seconds for each new area on that console, with pre-race loading times taking up about that much time too – so playing on newer Xbox hardware or via the cloud-based streaming that uses Xbox Series X hardware will result in a better experience from stem to stern.
Playing on older hardware scales nicely though as the cars themselves and the framerate remain quite solid – with detail levels for the cars being quite high. Environments do take a hit in detail – especially when it comes to foliage. It’s rather dense and that does add to this feeling like a real world instead of an abandoned desert region. Still, it’s incredible when Playground Games and Turn 10 got out of the older hardware and it’s surprising to see a current-gen benchmarking game even playable – let alone play very well on it. It doesn’t feel like a downgraded port like a lot of Switch ports do either – where it’s a drastically inferior experience. It’s downgraded a bit – but the core game is identical.
It’s also great to see Horizon 5 taking the user-generated experience to new heights with the ability to create custom missions using existing templates. This enables street races, checkpoint races, or even obstacle courses akin to something like the Crazy Box mode in Crazy Taxi to let players run loose. Playground Games has even added new content to the game already using this method and it’s only going to get better with time. The same goes for the custom paintjobs, which are stunning early-on and include things like all-terrain vehicles with Jurassic Park-esque designs and even some inspired by classic NASCAR liveries as well.
Horizon 5’s sound design is top-shelf with its voice work being better than it’s been in the last few games while keeping a high-quality soundtrack – albeit one that has seen a slight drop from prior games. There is more variety offered up here than before, but the lack of CHVRCHES music is glaring after that group really came to define the franchise with several entries featuring their tunes prominently. Still, what’s here is good and fits in with the more relaxed atmosphere of this year’s game. The sound design is fantastic – especially with a great set of gaming headphones. Using a Dolby Atmos setup showcased car audio better than I could have imagined and let me know not only where rivals were directionally, but also gave me a far better idea of how far they were based on how loud their engine noises were.
Forza Horizon 5 takes an already-amazing series and makes it better with a grander scale, but also an increase in quality. Even in its earliest days, it’s clear that the game will have a longer shelf life than prior entries thanks to the revamping of user-generated content adding more kinds of gameplay to the mix. Having things like obstacle courses thrown in helps evoke a bit of Project Gotham Racing, while the increase in NPCs and overall world-building makes for a better overall experience. Forza Horizon 5 is a more back-to-basics game in the sense that it puts the player on an ascendable ladder and doesn’t feel aimless like the prior two games – which in hindsight, were a bit unwieldy with regards to giving the player a set path to actually enjoy its many offerings. Forza Horizon 5 is the best entry in the series yet and should only get better as time goes on and more content is added.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
This review is based on a digital copy of Forza Horizon 5 for the Xbox Series X provided by Xbox Game Studios.