Forza Horizon 5 – The Best Gets Better
Xbox Series/X, PC
How does the best get better? How do the champions continue to find the drive to improve and innovate? How does the cream of the crop keep the fire burning that leads them to the top of the pack in the first place? I can’t say, but one thing is for sure, Playground Games has discovered the secret because once again, Forza Horizon has beaten its own high-water mark.
Leaving the cold English countryside behind, the Forza Horizon festival has found its way to tropical Mexico, and it has brought the best driving experience that money can buy along for the ride. That isn’t hyperbole, just a fact. Forza Horizon 5 is the best driving game available, but that should be no surprise as Forza Horizon 4 was the best driving game available. No, the surprise here is that FH5 is better than FH4, a game I thought was nigh-on perfect when it came out and one that I struggled to imagine ever being topped.
Let’s start with the obvious things first, the graphics. I think it is fair to say that this is the best-looking game consoles have seen so far. In fact, running at max on a PC (that can hack it) it is probably the best-looking game available on PC. There is nothing else out there that showcases the power of the current crop of systems better. From the amazing detail in the cars to the magic of ray-traced reflections, this is a game that takes advantage of every graphical trick and feature that the Xbox Series X (and the attached 4K TV) can muster. The game offers a quality and a performance mode as is common these days and the differences are pretty standard. The quality mode gives 30fps gameplay with ray-tracing on and the performance runs at 60fps sans the flashy reflections. Honestly, I didn’t notice much difference running between 30 and 60fps and the ray-tracing is a significant addition to the game, so I stuck with the quality mode. Of course, if you are playing on PC and have the system to handle it, you can play at 4K with ray-tracing and an unlocked framerate.
It isn’t just the cars and tech that impress visually, the setting of Mexico is actually the real standout. From the beaches to the jungles and everything in between, Playground has created possibly the most visually impressive open-world map seen in gaming. In driving games, backgrounds often look good at high speed but show problems when the driving slows down, that is not the case here. I spent a huge amount of time at low speeds, taking in the amazing street art, the ancient temples and the stunning natural vistas. This is a racing game that actually looks better at zero Km/ph, something that is basically unheard of.
The final graphical flourish I want to talk about is the weather. Obviously, the seasons in Mexico aren’t quite as starkly different as they are in England, so to mix things up Playground has added new extreme weather events. These events are giant dust storms or tropical cyclones and offer both an amazing driving experience as well as showing off some spectacular graphical finesse. These storms can be seen from around the map and players are free to drive into them or avoid them as they please. Some events and activities call for entering these weather events, so they can’t be avoided entirely, but honestly, they are a white knuckle blast to drive through so it is totally worth chasing them down when they show up.
On the gameplay front, Forza Horizon 5 has moved further down the driving adventure path as opposed to a racing game. This has been the trajectory of the series since the first game, but it is even more apparent with this entry. In a lot of ways, FH5 is akin to a Driving RPG, with race events just one of the mission types on offer and while racing is important to the game, it is hardly the only reason to dive in. There are photography challenges, story events, collectable hunting in the form of rare cars and much more to tackle in the Mexican wilderness. Every activity you take part in, from simple skill bonuses to grand races goes towards your progression in the game, so just cruising and exploring is just as valid an activity as taking part in every race, further adding to the feeling that Forza Horizon 5 is the car game for everyone, not just those who love racing.
The structure of the game is slightly different this time as well and I quite like how things are set up. Instead of just competing in various events around the map, this time you are working towards unlocking events and activities in the game’s different disciplines. This means that players are free to tackle the game how they choose. Want to focus on nothing but dirt racing? Go ahead right ahead. Feel the need to dip your toes into the street racing circuit and the road race scene at the same time? Not a problem. The game caters to how you want to progress, never forcing players down a particular path. It really is about creating a driving experience that is uniquely yours, not one decided upon by the developers. Each discipline has an ultimate race to unlock, these races are epic 15-30 minute events that take you all around Mexico and are an absolute blast to take part in, capping off all your hard work in that race series with style.
Returning from previous Horizon games are the showcase events and once again they are real highlights. These events have players racing against wingsuits, jet skis, speeding trains and monster trucks in hair raising locations. These events also serve as a wonderful promotion as to what makes Forza Horizon so special. They celebrate the game’s desire to make cars fun for everyone, to make a car game that appeals to anyone who has ever had the idea that driving might be fun. It straddles the line between the serious nature of high-performance sports cars and over-the-top situations and is a better game for it. Forza Horizon proves the old saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” wrong because it is truly a master of everything it tackles.
Continuing the theme of being the racing game for everyone, Forza Horizon 5 is the most accessible title in the franchise. From excellent accessibility options for those with physical limitations to the ability to tailor the game’s difficulty to suit the player, everything about the game can be customised to make the experience enjoyable. Love the idea of twiddling with gear ratios and engine outputs? Go right ahead. Want challenging racing from high-quality AI? Got you covered. Simply want to hold the accelerator down and hammer through events in an expensive GT car? You can do that too. There are options for just about every scenario and playstyle imaginable with the game itself encouraging you to find your own personal comfort level and in no way punishing you for avoiding the more difficult modes.
The races themselves also adapt to your desires. If all you want to do is race giant old 4wds, the races will automatically adjust so that your competitors are in the same type of vehicle. This is true for every event, from the smallest race to the final challenges so it is totally up to the player as to which car they want to drive. It creates some crazy scenarios, like using an Aston Martin Vanquish in a rally event or a souped-up Toyota Baja truck in a street race, but if that is what you want to do Horizon 5 will not judge you. If that isn’t enough, the fantastic event creator from previous titles is back and is better than ever. Want to create tracks and challenges for yourself and friends? It is as simple as pie, and I can see the community really creating some interesting events using the tools provided.
What it all boils down to is that Forza Horizon 5 takes everything that the previous game did so well and adds a significant level of polish, all the while injecting meaningful and engaging additions along the way. The new structure feels more compelling, the overall experience more customisable and the creative modes more complete than ever. Add to that the fact that this is perhaps the best-looking game that has ever graced a tv and there is no doubt in my mind that Playground Games are one of the best developers on the planet. Forza Horizon 5, despite its focus on cars, is a game for everyone, not just those inclined to go fast on four wheels. Forza Horizon 5, more than anything, wants you to play it your way, making it perhaps the most welcoming game on any system.
The best, it seems, can absolutely get better.
If you want to join the Player 2 team as they play Forza Horizon 5, why not join the Player 2 Club? Simply search for P2AU or Player 2 Aus in the game’s clubs sections and join up. We can’t wait to see you on the road.
Forza Horizon 5 was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by Xbox Australia