The Forza Series of Video Games started in 2005, and I clearly remember having fun with the title, as all my friends were into it. The first Forza Motorsport was a true racing title, select your car from a menu, select a track, select difficulty, then go in a circle or meet the objective and finish the race. The latest game I’ve had a chance to play in the series, Forza Motorsport 5, was kind of the same game with new paint, new cars, and new tracks. Sounds kind of boring when you get down to the brass tacks, but oh man, has this series evolved.
Introducing Forza Horizon 5, and I did not expect a ‘racing’ game to catch me off guard like this. Forza Horizon 5 Creative Director, Mike Brown said at E3 2021 he wanted this to be the biggest Horizon game and included “There’s not any point being bigger if it’s more of the same. So, therefore, it has to be diverse as well.” And diverse could be in the title, “Forza Diverse Horizon Massive 5,” except that’s a little wordy.
Forza Horizon 5 throws you directly into the action with a 4-car sequence, the first being the drop of a Ford Bronco out of an airplane onto a mountainside. It sounds like a small child made that up, I assure you it happens. I am a huge fan of when a game can transition from a cinematic into gameplay without stopping, and this is flawless execution. Driving down the mountain forces the player to view the dynamic scenery. I recommend wearing a solid surround sound headset with this one for maximum immersion.
The crisp gameplay is a delight, and the driving mechanics have a weighty realism, but not stiff, and it is good fun to handle the Bronco. Whilst barreling down the mountain, the game showcases a good sense of speed, and its many biomes in this segment.
“Forza Horizon 5 throws you directly into the action with a 4-car sequence, the first being the drop of a Ford Bronco out of an airplane onto a mountainside.”
The next three segments were not a letdown either, you captain a Corvette C8 through roads, off-roads, and straight through a dust storm. Limited visibility from the storm adds a sense of danger to the gameplay and when the Corvette hits the water it splashes up on the lens, it’s just another attention to detail that Horizon 5 delicately handles.
A Porsche is the next car on the menu, and you’re injected into a jungle like atmosphere. The details of the surroundings add a whole new meaning to Horizon, the jungle is lush with greenery and waterfalls, and more importantly, all the cars drive very differently from one another.
The final segment lets you assault the asphalt with a supercar on a highway. Introduced like a professional wrestler in their prime, the Mercedes-AMG 1 rolls out of an airplane and makes a very notable entrance. This opening segment is truly a masterclass in showing what Forza Horizon 5 is all about, all the different gameplay elements, the weight of the vehicles, most importantly, the depth of the biomes the game has to offer.
“This opening segment is truly a masterclass in showing what Forza Horizon 5 is all about …”
There is a mountainous volcano with snowy peaks, a desert with dust storms to impair vision, a lush green jungle with waterfalls, and your traditional road fan service. Mexico is showcased amazingly in this title, and the lighting is done just perfectly to allow the player maximum immersion.
It is worth noting that this is the first Horizon game to be set in a non-niche environment, and it is exciting to explore other towering locations, and not only urban sprawl. There are temples to locate, 527 roads to drive on and many things to discover. This is the pure density of the title… there are A LOT of things to do in Mexico. This cannot be considered merely a racing title, it’s an exploration of Mexico with racing activities.
Driving around and viewing the scenery is brilliant, the day to night changes and seasonal changes make the game always feel fresh. On the first circuit of the game, I didn’t realize I had passed lap 1 until I looked and was on lap 3. Somehow, the game stays fresh during repetitions of the same race. There are 5 subcategories of offline activities in Forza Horizon 5. Basic circuit races, PR stunts, Expeditions, cross-country sprints, and storylines that add so much depth to the game. This is basically GTA without the ability to get out of the car, and without the gruesome subject matter.
“Driving around and viewing the scenery is brilliant, the day to night changes and seasonal changes make the game always feel fresh.”
Forza Horizon 5 doesn’t take itself too seriously and some dialogue is cringe-y, but that’s completely okay. The game market is over saturated with serious tones, and it’s nice to escape to the non-serious environment of Mexico. There are old school ‘barn finds’ to locate around Mexico. These are basically old school cars that your team fixes up for you, that are true to actual old cars in real life, and it is exhilarating to find these treasures. While fixing up these cars in the upgrade menu, you can flip the hood and see the anatomy of each vehicle’s engine. This is a killer addition, and for car enthusiasts it is a must-see.
Speaking of the upgrade menu, Forza Horizon 5 took special care in allowing fans to upgrade and customize their cars to the fullest. Need for Speed, hold my drink. You can add decals, upgrade performance, change colour, and ultimately create fully unique designs with the hundreds of car options available. Players can share these designs online, and after I found a Ford Supervan 3 customized in the stylings of The A-Team, that’s pretty much all I ever needed without knowing it. Any car can become off-road through a simple wheel change, so my Supervan 3 could stay out of the garage forever!
The title character can also be fully customized, with special attention to inclusiveness, allowing for they/them pronouns. I really thought it was strange that the game kept calling me Watson without me intervening, but I noticed it may have just been total coincidence, which is ominous.
The storylines take special care also, showcasing the first ‘barn find’ in the Volkswagen Beetle. There’s a whole story around it calling it ‘The Vocho.’ This is a nice touch and gives the game background, but some segments are callous in requiring perfection.
The final races in each of the games main segments are huge, gruelling time sinks, but they’re an absolute delight to play. My favourite of these is ‘The Colossus,’ as this 15–20-minute race takes the driver across the entirety of Mexico in one fell swoop. There are a few of these huge races which are incredible, I recommend taking a break beforehand.
“The storylines take special care also, showcasing the first ‘barn find’ in the Volkswagen Beetle. There’s a whole story around it calling it ‘The Vocho.’”
The difficulty of Forza Horizon 5 is an issue, I played average, which was slightly too hard, and Novice was way too easy. A dynamic system like MLB The Show, would have done wonderfully here, as a learning AI would have hit the mark just right. The fact a player cannot turn off pedestrian drivers was bothersome when trying to perform stunts, or any drifting point segment, as it is easy to be interrupted by passersby. There is a rewind function by simply pressing the Y button, but by utilizing it, the game starts to chug and slow down a bit, which doesn’t help. Notably, this could be corrected in the new generation versions. Small barricades halt the driver dead in their tracks. There are just general small issues to work around, but don’t break the game.
The online creation system is a blast, players can invent races, routes on current races, and many other elements. There are online Arcade type sections where players can play together and perform simple tasks to advance in stages, there are groups like clans in Destiny where players can work together and play together easily, there are multiplayer Tours, players can create challenges for others, playlists of challenges can be undertaken called ‘The Super 7,’ and I barely even scratched the surface of the online mode.
For a ‘racing’ game, Forza Horizon 5 knocks it out of the park, but it is unfair to call it just that. This is an exploration sandbox title that takes place in cars, with a faithful representation of Mexico with racing side quests. The attention to detail shows the level of care the developers put into the game, and it is just genuinely a blast to play.