Forza Horizon 5 from developers Playground Games is a seminal work to the racing genre. The studio has mastered the craft of open-world racing and continues to build its racing foundation upon Turn 10’s incredible engine. It is no surprise that close to a million players are already playing the game ahead of its Xbox Game Pass launch. However, with that strive to perfection might come repetition and complacency. Luckily, Forza Horizon 5 does enough to keep things fresh and offers an astounding and memorable experience in Mexico.
Developer & Publisher // Playground Games, Xbox Game Studios
Platforms // PC, Xbox Series X|S
MSRP & Release Date // $59.99, Nov. 9, 2021
Reviewed On // Xbox Series X
The Art of Racing
If there is one aspect of Forza Horizon 5 that continues to excel after all these years, it is the driving mechanics. It sets the benchmark for the rest of the open-world racing contenders out there. Since it is built upon the Turn 10 engine, an engine used for a racing simulator, it is easy to say it is good. But what makes it good, is the pure attention to detail of the different facets of the driving mechanics.
Every car feels distinct in its handling and every terrain type also reacts uniquely to your car. As expected, driving a Ferrari Portofino on the tarmac feels distinctly different than driving a Bentley Bentayga SUV on a grassy knoll. Everything from turning speed, acceleration, tire grip, weight, and momentum is beautifully recreated in Forza Horizon 5’s driving mechanics. The sense of speed alone is breathtaking.
In some instances, racing games might fall short when it comes to making players feel like they are speeding down a motorway. Luckily, Forza Horizon 5, like its more recent predecessors, nailed that sense of speed. When you go 300 km/h you and make a slight turn, you feel that turn intimately. The line between being thrown completely off course and staying on the track is razor thin. It is exhilarating and that same feel also applies to assists you may have turned on for your car.
The assists also have a distinctive feel to them. When ABS and traction controls kick in, you feel the car correcting itself and that is well represented in the controller and its rumble features. Of course, you can adjust your assists to your liking. You can make it where the car almost drives itself up to the ultra car aficionado where no assists are present. Taming the car then becomes the game unto itself. Especially a beast of a car like the Lamborghini Aventador Superveloce. To put it simply, driving in Forza Horizon 5 is exquisite. Not only that but there are subtleties that add wonders to the driving experience.
For instance, if the back of your car gets sprayed with water, then the back wipers automatically kick in. It is a subtle yet nice touch that adds to the presentation of the game. But that brings up another fantastic feature that remains a staple within the Forza Horizon series, which is its accessibility and depth of the experience.
Fine Tuning Your Forza Horizon 5 Experience
Forza Horizon 5 continues the excellent accessibility options that it provides to its players. By accessibility, it means that players can fine-tune their experience. Everything from the Drivatar AI difficulty to the assists and even auto-brake can be customized to match the exact experience players are seeking. You can even choose non-binary pronouns for your character. But back to the racing side, if you want to play Forza Horizon 5 as an arcade racer, you can. If you want something more in-depth when it comes to tuning the different car components then you can fiddle to your heart’s content.
As with other Forza Horizon installments, you can even download other players’ tuning loadout. The same applies to car decals as well. You get a sense that the community is a big part of the game and is always at the forefront of every customization option in the game.
Personally, I just upgrade my different car parts while not going too in-depth in the specific car tunings. Growing up playing games like Gran Turismo on the PlayStation 1, that is the sweet spot in terms of my depth of customization. However, there is a level beyond my preference that gearheads will love and appreciate.
In fact, Xbox-centric YouTuber and Forza fanatic, Dealer Gaming, relayed that this is the most in-depth tuning system he has seen in a Horizon title. This goes to show how incremental under-the-hood (pun intended) upgrades go a long way in the Forza Horizon series. It would have been nice to see a new and improved car damage system implemented in the game. Perhaps manufacturers probably didn’t want that for their cars. So it’s understandable why car destruction and deterioration take a back seat (again, pun intended). Though one thing that did receive a stark upgrade is the graphics.
Forza Horizon 5 is without a doubt a looker. Playground Games’ recreation of Mexico should be commended. Not only in terms of graphical appearance but also its accuracy. Some of the recreated Mexican vistas look exactly like their real-life counterparts. It is astonishing how detailed the models and different locations look in the game.
Though some of the towns appear lifeless since there are no pedestrians in the more urban areas of the map. But again this is a racer first and foremost, not GTA Mexico. Of course, the cars look impeccable as well. It’s almost like you’re watching an episode of Top Gear or The Grand Tour that’s set in Mexico.
The game features 11 distinctive biomes that are beautifully recreated in the game. Everything from jungles, to deserts and mountains, makes an appearance in Forza Horizon 5. Vegetation looks dense and lush, while some sandstorms are menacing and beautifully depicted in the game. Believe me, as someone who comes from the Middle East, the sandstorms in the game are legit. Regardless it is a visual showcase and one of, if not the best, graphics I’ve witnessed in 2021. On the performance side, the game excels once again.
With Performance to Match.
When it comes to the current-generation consoles, Forza Horizon 5 performs admirably. On the Xbox Series X, the version we tested, the game ran at a buttery smooth 60 FPS on performance mode in a dynamic 4K resolution. Though, for most of the time, the game hits that 2160p resolution. There are some slight texture pop-ins here and there, but it was never enough to detract from the experience. There is a Quality Mode that gives you ray tracing effects, though it locks the frame rate at 30 FPS. But honestly, once you go 60 FPS, it is hard to go back.
On the Xbox Series S, things are looking good as well. Forza Horizon 5 runs at a respectable 1080p resolution while maintaining a solid 60 FPS. All the different consoles produce a beautiful HDR picture as well. The HDR in particular pops as expected. Especially when you leave a tunnel, you will get blinded if you’re driving during the day. Note that the last generation consoles run at 30 FPS, but still looks great. It truly is a testament to what Playground Games achieved for a cross-generational title.
Intuitive Map Design in Forza Horizon 5
One aspect that stands out, but might not be obvious when you first boot up Forza Horizon 5 is the game’s map design. Driving around in Mexico is a seamless endeavor. Especially when traversing through multiple biomes. In fact, the transitions are so smooth you will not even realize that there is new scenery around. More importantly, there is a highway that cuts across the map. This is a brilliant design choice as it helps you get across quickly without feeling like a chore.
In Forza Horizon 4, some complained about driving around the UK map. They felt it became tedious after a while. It seems that Playground Games listened to fans and made Mexico a more accessible map that doesn’t feel like a drag. Again, the different biomes help break up the monotony of the map and always create a sense of freshness when driving around in Mexico.
Seasonal weather again makes an appearance in Forza Horizon 5. Though it must be said that Mexico does not have pronounced weather differences as compared to the UK. Typically, there are dry and wet seasonal periods. So it will be interesting to see how seasons change the looks of the Mexican map down the line when new seasons are introduced. Like the visual prowess, Forza Horizon’s audio design is no slouch either.
Diligent Audio as Always
George Lucas famously said that sound is 50% of the moviegoing experience. That same energy is also applicable in games as well and Forza Horizon takes its sounds seriously. Everything from the individually recorded car engine sounds to the pumping and diverse radio stations continue the long tradition of Forza Horizon’s diligent sound design and soundtrack choices.
Though I had to admit that on a personal level, I preferred the soundtrack from Forza Horizon 4. However, that is mainly down to preferring certain individual tracks. Yet the same level of blood-pumping tunes gets the job done in Forza Horizon 5. But, if there’s one weak point worth mentioning is that the voice choices for your character as lackluster. Fortunately, you don’t hear them too often to get annoyed by it. You’ll be too busy racing down in Mexican swamps or dunes. And when I say you’ll be busy, oh boy will you busy!
Like any other Forizon Horizon title, the game is chock-full of different events and things to do. Even the franchise’s take on Battle Royale, Eliminator, is quickly available once you hit the streets of Mexico. There are public events like MMOs and expeditions where you have to track down clues in an enclosed area. Again, these different types of events break up the monotony and keep the experience engaging. Even the main Horizon showcase is diverse.
There will be Horizon showcases that tackle different race types. You will find racing cross country, PR stunts, mainstage, dirt racing, and street racing. Best of all, you can choose any order of showcase you like at any point. This is a subtle, but again, welcomed change to keep you engaged, and it worked brilliantly. The progression system too received a well-realized overhaul as well.
Progression Evolution, Not Revolution
I love what Playground Games did with the progression overhaul in Forza Horizon 5. Especially the Accolades system, which rewards you for pretty much anything you can think of while driving. It creates constant dopamine rewards that keep you hooked. Luckily, Car Mastery, which is the XP and perks for cars, can be spent on any vehicle you want and not locked to one specific car model. This along with the Accolades system encourages players to experiment using different types of cars. Previously, it was very common to stick to a couple of your favorite cars in the Forza Horizon series. But now, you are at a disadvantage if you do, so experimentation is key to progress.
Final Thoughts on Forza Horizon 5
Forizon Horizon 5 is a closet embodiment of perfection for an open-world racing genre. Undoubtedly, the game is a graphical showcase with a performance to match. There is a ton of content and subtle changes made under the hood are meaningful and improve the quality of life immensely. From the map design to the revamped progression system, there was a lot of love spent on Forza Horizon 5. It is the quintessential open-world racing game and nothing comes remotely close. It is a clear game of year contender that should have the competition sweating.
Note – A review copy of Forza Horizon 5 was provided by the publisher and the Xbox Series X version was tested on performance mode.