Forza Horizon 5 is the purest demonstration, thus far, of the power of the Xbox Series X and what this generation of consoles can really do.
There are some franchises that have such an outstanding track record, you just know the next iteration is going to be an absolute cracker of a game. Forza Horizon is one such franchise. I never really paid much attention to Horizon until the third game, set in my own home country.
After sucking me in with a spectacular visit Down Under, I’ve been hooked. Forza Horizon offers the kind of gaming experience I live for; easy to pick up and play, great for losing yourself for a few hours but with a depth lurking just beneath the shiny exterior always threatening to capture your attention for hundreds of hours.
I love to mindlessly bash around in Forza Horizon, soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying the visuals and marvelling at the open world. With Forza Horizon 5, Playground Games is delivering all this and much more. Even at this early stage, Forza Horizon 5 seems to be a racing experience, unparalleled in the realm of video games.
Forza Horizon 5 Preview
Where last time, we only got to watch Forza Horizon 5’s Initial Drive, I’ve now had the chance to play through it. It should go without saying that playing the game is far more thrilling than watching it, but I’ll say it anyway…Playing Forza Horizon 5 is far more thrilling than watching it. Just like in the video which premiered during Gamescom, the Initial Drive has players control four cars as they’re dropped from a cargo plane making its way to the Horizon Festival in Mexico. Each of these cars, and the locations they’re dropped into, gives you an early indication of what to expect from Forza Horizon 5’s Mexico and its racing experience.
Mexico is a vastly different country from those we’ve seen before. Horizon 3’s Australia bears some similarities, but it doesn’t come close when it comes to the diversity of biomes. Horizon 4’s Great Britain was a gorgeous place too with some incredible racing on offer, however, it can’t hold a candle to the spectacle of Mexico. Playground Games has really gone all out to create a game world that will truly blow players away. Not only does it include some of the most diverse and varied landscapes and biomes in the franchise, but it also has some of the wildest weather players will have seen.
Did I also mention that it’s huge? By just driving across the map, players are going to discover just how much ‘game’ there is to Forza Horizon 5. Honestly, after my hands-on time with it, I feel as though the gameplay potential is virtually limitless.
As you’ve likely seen in the Initial Drive video from Gamescom, Forza Horizon 5’s environments include volcanic calderas, jungles, desert and lush farmland, however, players can also drive through cities, race tracks, mountains and more. It’s pretty mind-blowing to watch the environment gradually change around you as you move from one biome to the next. And it’s so seamless. As much as Forza Horizon 5 is a showcase for Mexico and the talented team at Playground Games, it’s a showcase for the power of Xbox Series X.
Before you get into the racing, you’ll need to make an important decision; albeit one you can change at any time. Graphics Mode or Performance Mode. Personally, if I’m given the option to play a game at 60fps, I’ll take it 7 days of the week and Forza Horizon 5 is no exception. The sense of speed is unmatched, especially when selecting the 30fps Graphics Mode and, for my money, the visual improvement over Performance mode is negligible. If you have a high-quality TV and the know-how to get the best out of it, it might be worth switching but seeing as though Forza Horizon 5 is a racing game, with an emphasis on speed, 60fps seems like a no brainer.
The one caveat to that is ForzaVista. With Graphics Mode enabled, you’ll switch on Raytracing to make those immaculately rendered cars even more realistic, if that’s even possible. Seriously, I’m not even a car guy, but visually, Forza Horizon 5 is vehicular pornography. It’s almost obscene how good these cars look and for motorsport enthusiasts, it’s going to be the ultimate fantasy experience.
During the Initial Drive, I got a feel for a few different types of racing Forza Horizon 5 has on offer and, unexpectedly, I enjoyed the off-road racing of the first section in the Ford Bronco Badlands. Normally, I prefer road racing, but something about the combination of vehicle handling, speed and visuals won me over. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the other sections in Initial Drive, far from it, it’s just that the Ford Bronco and caldera combination, for me, seems to best represent the spirit of Forza Horizon 5 thus far.
In addition to my usual preference for road racing, I also exclusively race from a third-person perspective. In my hands-on time with Forza Horizon 5, I mostly stuck to third-person, however, thanks to the insane visuals and the game’s speed, I often switched to an interior view as it feels even faster. Speeding down the freeway in the Mercedes AMG-1 in first-person would make me literally shit my pants in real life. In Forza Horizon 5, I was only very close to doing so…
With the Initial Drive done, the Horizon Festival is able to begin in earnest. Here, players are able to create their character, customise their face, skin tone, hair, pronouns and voice. Playground Games has created an open and unhindered character r creation experience in which players are able to have their player look however they like, use the pronouns of their choice (He/Him, She/Her, They/Them) and have their chosen voice without it having any effect on any other choice. For example, you’re free to choose a character model which appears typically male and choose the “female” voice without it affecting your choice of pronouns. Hooray for freedom of choice.
After creating your character, choosing your first car and customising your licence plate you’re off on your first mission. This sees you racing a cargo plane, some stunt racers on dirt bikes and finally the same stunt racers wearing wingsuits. It’s suitably nuts and over-the-top and perfectly encapsulates the Forizon Horizon vibe. Once this first race is complete, you’re presented with the option of two Horizon Adventures. One has you racing off into a dust storm to get the perfect photo while the other tasks you with tracking down a Vocho (Volkswagen Beetle). This is another way Forza Horizon 5 gradually introduces the concepts and mechanics of the game to its players.
Both missions are fairly straightforward and easy to complete but they, once again, introduce different styles of racing, different types of gameplay and help players understand what’s on offer. By completing these opening missions, the game begins to open up and the map is populated with races, billboards, speed traps and the like. Even in this hands-on, which was limited in content, there was a tonne of stuff to do.
I spent my time honing around the freeways, recklessly taking streetcars across the desert, attempting speed traps and speed cameras and taking part in as many races as I could find. Sadly, the preview ended once I acquired my first house and so I sadly had to bid farewell to my Mexican vacation. It was bittersweet, I know I’ll be back but waiting to jump back in is painful. Forza Horizon 5 already feels like a game I won’t be able to, nor will want to put down. There’s such a variety of content on offer that it’s impossible to get bored and, given the sheer diversity in gameplay, environments and weather, it’s unlikely you’ll experience the same thing twice.
While there was no access to multiplayer in my hands-on (strictly a single-player affair), Forza Horizon 5 already feels light-years beyond where the franchise was before. The core may have remained the same but the fine-tuning of the gameplay and the quantum leap forward in visuals makes this game an absolute wonder.
To quantify just how good Forza Horizon 5 looks, while I was playing the preview content, I had a friend visit me and at first, he thought I was watching some racing footage. Once he realised it was a game, he was blown away. His exact words were, “This game looks too good, it’s making me feel sick.” As a chronic car sickness sufferer, I empathised with him but think he got it slightly wrong; “This game looks too good, it’s sick!”
Even though I was playing early, unfinished code, I’m very comfortable saying that Forza Horizon 5 is, by far, the best looking console video game I have ever seen. Ever. Nothing in this generation of games even comes close and seeing something that looks this amazing in the second year of the generation makes me beyond excited to see where we’ll go.
I cannot wait to get back behind the wheel of a car, any car, in Forza Horizon 5 and keep exploring everything that Playground Games’ Mexico has on offer.
Forza Horizon 5 will launch for Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X and PC on November 9.
Forza Horizon 5 was previewed on Xbox Series X using digital code provided by Microsoft.