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Forza Horizon 5 Review

Forza Horizon 5

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Release: / 2021/November 5
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Playground Games
Genre: Reviews, XBox One ReviewsXbox Series X Reviews
PEGI: 10+
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How do you perfect on perfection? That was the problem facing Playground when they came to create a sequel to the already incredible Forza Horizon 5. And you know what? They managed it.

That’s not to say that it’s a massive improvement. Quite the opposite in fact. This is not a revolutionary experience. You’re not going to rethink the racing genre off the back of this game.

But do you need to? When a game is this much fun, when it looks this good, when it feels this good – a sequel with minor improvements is enough.

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And playing it on Xbox Series X shows why you should own this console. The graphics are gorgeous and the load times – one of the big problems with racing games in the last ten years – are nearly non-existant.

But you could play it anywhere and the quality would still shine through. It’s a game that’ll last you for as long as you want it to – and at least until the next Forza Motorsport hits.

Welcome Back to Horizon

Mexico is a stunning location for a racing game, but who knew? When the Forza Horizon rumour mill fired up 18 months ago, everyone was desperate to see Japan. Little did they know that a country often a little closer to home held so much potential.

Empty deserts, lush woodland, volcanoes and mountains, towns and more. All is on offer here, and all of it is gorgeous. I’d be getting a little bit ahead of myself to talk about the graphics, but it’s hard not to: there are times when it feels we have basically achieved photorealism. The developers have done Mexico justice, both in terms of how it’s set up and how it looks.

But that’s a rave review for later. Instead, let me say this: everything you know about Forza Horizon is still pretty much true. You still drive around an open world, taking part in races. There will still be updates giving you more races. You can still interact with other players around the world. It’s still occasionally crazy, occasionally difficult, occasionally dull.

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But that’s the beauty of it being an open-world vehicular playground, and yes I know they won’t be putting the phrase on the back of the box. But it sums it up better than “racer”.

The truth is that Forza Horizon 5 can be anything you want it to be. You can play it as much or as little as you want, and it will happily fulfill that purpose. That’s pretty impressive.

So, yes, there are street races, and yes there are rally races, and yes there are giant action-packed races down mountains. And it does each of those things well enough to be worth your time. Better than dedicated games? Probably not, but that’s not a fair bar.

And with updates and user-generated content, there’s never any shortage of stuff to do. Horizon 5 is massive.

Racing through Mexico

…Which was one of the problems I had with Forza Horizon 4. Yes, it was huge and there was endless content, but in that endless content there was a lack of structure. I didn’t care enough to figure out what I’d done or hadn’t done, what was new, what was worth playing. I played it a lot to begin with, then I’d return occasionally and quickly move on. The gameplay was excellent, the gameplay loop not so much.

Adventures change that, at least to a point. You unlock points towards unlocking adventures, which are usually just scripted races or a spot of tourism. They’re sometimes amazing in their graphical prowess, or cultural view, but you’re not going to get a massive plot twist or police chase (because why would you?). But by giving you something to work towards that isn’t just more cars or more points for the sake of points, it gives you a sense of progression. As someone who has always enjoyed racing games from a distance, it gives me something to do beyond just drive to the nearest point on the map.

And yes, that’s another thing to unlock. Unlockables are a Forza Horizon staple, but they’re becoming unwieldy. Over hours and hours of tutorial messages popping up, I’m still pretty sure some of the unlockables are just there to have something to unlock. Skill points, for instance, just allow you to unlock more skill points, which don’t actually do anything else in the game.

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Cars are less of a problem. Petrolheads have no end of cars to enjoy. There’s been some criticism that there’s a lack of electric cars, and it’s a good one. But, realistically, the people who play these games religiously want something with a loud engine, go-faster stripes (or corporate branding – we see you Monster) and as much digital pollution as possible. And there’s plenty of that. Vehicles of every shape and size are available for purchase with in-game currency or to win in an in-game slot machine. You can also unlock them in stories or find them in barns – just like real life.

My other big problem with Forza Horizon 4 was a floaty difficulty that either gave me nothing to worry about or that put me at the back of the crowd from the second the starting light turned green. A helpful pop-up message would warn me that I was finding games too easy, but when I agreed I’d be left looking like your granny on a drive to the shops.

This hasn’t been as obvious in Forza Horizon 5. The helpful message is still there but whether through tweaks to their difficulty or through my God-given skill as a racing gamer (fat chance), this problem has fixed itself. You still have to tune your cars, something that I let other people do for me through downloadables. But I never feel I have an unfair disadvantage against the computer.

Graphics and Sound

I may not have mentioned it yet, but Forza Horizon 5 is a gorgeous-looking game. There has been the odd occasion where I’ve started to take it for granted, where I remind myself that this is an Xbox One game too. And then I drive round the corner or go to a party in a giant float (yup, actual mission), and it blows my mind all over again. It is a gorgeous-looking game.

A lot of it is in the draw distance and the textures. Textures are incredible. That moment in the trailer where what you think is a photo turns out to be gameplay? Yes, stop in the right place and you’d be forgiven for doing a double take. Grainy textures like sand, in particular, really seem striking, while tufts of grass can look a little too perfectly formed. But that’s a minor nitpick.

None of that “for a racing game” stuff. This is up there with the best of them, and I only wish Microsoft had their supersampling on the go so we might have had parity with the biggest and best PCs.

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Less of a minor nitpick is pop-in. You can see for a very long way, and that makes for some stunning vistas. There’s very little fog-of-war here. But then there are times when you’ll drive into a new area and something will appear three foot in front of your car.

In an otherwise visually stunning title, this is a small complaint. It’s also a regular issue on Xbox Series titles, and hopefully it can be fixed before we get too far further into the generation.

Sound is strong, but that’s about it. Raytraced sound does exactly nothing for my enjoyment of the game, but it’s always nice to hear how the engine’s roar. The biggest compliment you can pay for sound is that you hear it but you don’t necessarily notice it, and that’s true here. It’s at its best when you can just sit back and enjoy it.

Music is bad, although that’ll be entirely down to taste. The radio stations don’t offer much choice. Oh, except for the classical music station, which sticks out like a sore thumb. It’d be nice to have something between classical and hip-hop to enjoy. Of course, Spotify is usable, but better variety would save that from being the best option.

Forza Horizon 5 Review – Conclusion

Forza Horizon 5 is a fantastic game and not only for drift hunters, think lot of people will find it attractive for different reasons.  It builds upon the already incredible Forza Horizon 4 in a way that doesn’t disrupt anything, but which fixes some niggles many of us had. It’s also about as stunning to look at as you can get. My OLED has been very happy.

Better yet, it’s on Game Pass, so anybody can join in at Horizon Mexico and see for themselves just how amazing the party is.

Of course, now all eyes will turn to the next Forza Motorsport. Using all the power of the current generation consoles, it should be a huge step up. The thing that nobody seems to be thinking is where on Earth will Horizon go after that? Literally and figuratively.

Because you can’t keep perfecting perfection. Slight structure changes or a change in how you unlock useless skill points isn’t going to cut it if Forza Motorsport (or indeed the next Gran Turismo game) revolutionises everything.

But that’s then and this is now and, for now, Forza Horizon 5 is unparrelelled

 

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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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