Forza Horizon 5 Preview – Welcome to the Initial Drive

At the Xbox Gamescom Showcase today, Microsoft and Playground Games gave players their first look at Forza Horizon 5‘s ‘Initial Drive’ and the opening of the game. Beginning in the back of a cargo plane, players are literally dropped into La Gran Caldera Volcano in the 2021 Ford Bronco Badlands. After a short parachute to the ground below, driving kicks off immediately and right away the impressive visuals of Forza Horizon 5 and the power of the Xbox Series X are on full display.

Set during Winter, the top layer of the ground is covered in snow and an incredible amount of detail is visible as the gameplay demo speeds across the landscape. An enormous satellite dish looms large on the horizon (no pun intended) and gradually fills the screen as it approaches. Rocks and boulders are scattered around and the sheer number of them is mind-blowing considering the fidelity of the visuals, speed of movement and rock-solid framerate.

Almost martian in its appearance, the La Gran Caldera Volcano is a perfect showcase for Forza Horizon 5 as it’s unlike anything we’ve seen from the series in the past. Creative Director Mike Brown explains that beginning at this location puts players at the highest point ever in the franchise’s history. However, what goes up, must come down and as part of the introduction to Forza Horizon 5, players will very soon be hurtling down towards one of the lowest areas in the game.

Forza Horizon 5

As the 2021 Ford Bronco Badlands descends into the Baha Desert, the environment very quickly shifts from a snowy, rocky Icelandic scene to one of sand and cacti. Introducing Forza Horizon 5 in this way is quite clever on Playground Games’ behalf. It very quickly establishes the visual language for this entry in the series as well as showing players just how different Forza Horizon 5 is from 3’s Australia and 4’s England. Players are only given a taste of the Ford Bronco Badlands though and as it launches from a cliff down onto the Offroad Baha Circuit, the camera shifts focus to another cargo plane. This time, carrying a 2020 Corvette Stingray.

Landing on the tarmac, the Stingray shows off some serious speed as it heads towards a distant dust storm. Moving past the rough and rugged terrains shown with the Bronco, the Stingray is driving through farmland, green and hilly. While not exactly lush, the farmland makes for a nice contrast against the harsh environments showcased by the Bronco.

As with the Bronco, Playground Games makes sure to show off a variety of environments with the Stingray. Heading towards the dust storm the Corvette goes from tarmac to a dirt road and through an enormous puddle. It’s a great way of demonstrating how much is on offer for players and how quickly conditions can change. The farmland area of the demo also gives us a look at just how far we’re able to see into the distance with Forza Horizon 5. It almost defies belief as the landscape seems to go on forever with the quality of the visuals and loss of fidelity appearing only as it would to the naked eye in the real world. The quality of the game world from this preview is staggeringly good.

Hurtling towards the dust storm, Mike Brown explains that they’re a new feature in Forza Horizon 5 and a special weather event. They can occur during races and will sometimes happen by design, however, they will appear in free roam and offer players something different to engage with. The dust storms are yet another visually stunning part of Forza Horizon 5. As the Stingray heads towards the storm, it appears as a thick, swirling mass; impenetrable to the naked eye. Once through the outer barrier of the storm the lighting instantly shifts, visibility is reduced to almost zero and the racing experience appears to be one that is very different from anything we’ve seen before.

Once the Stingray enters the dust storm, focus shifts again as players are given a look at the Porsche 911 Desert Fly landing in the La Selva jungle. Vastly different again from what has already been shown, the jungle is lush, muddy and thick with vegetation. You can almost feel the humidity thanks to some visual haze and water effects.

Mike Brown tells us that this jungle area features a huge number of lakes and rivers which makes for an interesting and unusual driving experience. As he’s speaking, the Porsche makes its way through a small village, a lone goat wanders across the road and a mountain rises up in the distance. I know I keep coming back to it, but the visuals in Forza Horizon 5 are gorgeous. The Porsche’s time comes to a close as it reaches a temple deep in the jungle.

Finally, the last drop takes place in Baja California as players will race to the Horizon Festival in the Mercedes AMG-1. According to Mike Brown, the AMG-1 takes the latest in Mercedes Formula 1 tech and puts it inside a street-legal car. Once again, we’re given a taste of yet another environment as the AMG-1 speeds along the highway on the rocky Baja coastline. Sparse vegetation, rocks and sand giveaway to more desert as the race to Horizon takes players further inland and into the desert. On arriving at the Horizon Festival, the AMG-1 flies past all the other cars on the road and the Forza Horizon 5 initial drive is over.

With Forza Horizon 5, Mike Brown says that he and Playground Games knew they wanted to make the biggest game in the franchise’s history and in doing so, knew to achieve that goal needed to make an incredibly diverse game world. Brown says that Mexico is “like the whole world in one country” which makes it the perfect location for the biggest Forza Horizon ever. Like the previous game, FH5 will include weather changes and effects which will shift weekly. Unlike England though, Mexico will experience the seasons differently as it’s a country with very different weather in real life.

Brown also says that with each successive game in the series, Playground Games has “leant into the idea of freedom and giving players the ability to chart their own path.” However, he concedes that in FH4, players could find themselves unsure of where to go next or what they needed to do to move forward. He believes the team has “done a much better job of signposting players” and assisting them in finding their way forward through the campaign.

So far, Forza Horizon 5 looks set to continue the trend of quality, excitement and racing excellence players have come to expect from the series and developer Playground Games. While we haven’t had a chance to go hands-on with Forza Horizon 5 it looks like a wild ride in the best possible way.

It won’t be long before we’re racing around the Mexican countryside though as Forza Horizon 5 launches for PC and Xbox Series S|X on November 9, 2021.

While we’re all locked down and stuck inside, this looks to be another game to give us the freedom we crave and help ease some of that tension, just a little bit.

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Leo Stevenson
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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