In a normal video game, you start out somewhat weak. You’re lacking powerful weapons, shiny armor, and over-the-top skills. You start from the bottom floor, square one, and have to overcome the odds. Forza Horizon 5, however, is not a normal video game.
The opening sequence is straight out of a summer action movie. Various cars are cargo dropped from mid-air. You traverse through the Mexican jungle, driving through ancient ruins. You take in a beautiful coastline along the ocean. Dust storms are no match for you as you drive straight into the heart of one. It culminates in arriving at the Horizon festival in style, flying through the air as the celebration kicks off in earnest. You, the star racer and main attraction, have finally arrived.
Life’s the Same, I’m Moving in Stereo
Logically, it would be hard to top this opening sequence of events. It’s natural for you to assume “wow, that was a lot of fun. It can only go down from here, though. I’m sure I’ll get to experience something like that a couple of times in the future.” You’d be wrong; Forza Horizon 5 continuously tries to one-up itself. Remarkably, it never gets stale or old. Each “straight from the movies” sequence is fine-tuned and well-paced. The more you play the game, the more you get hooked.
Just to give you an idea of how Horizon loves to one-up itself:
- You’ll drive up and then back down an active volcano. You can additionally argue that this is not the highlight of the mission.
- You’ll race against multiple monster trucks that weave in and out of your off-road track.
- You’ll escort a photographer into a dust storm.
What’s remarkable is, again, just how well-paced Forza Horizon 5 is. Developer Playground Games has done well to balance things out. Instead of continuously moving from one spectacle to the next, you’re given time to breathe. This includes during the missions as well; intermissions, for lack of a better term, allow you to explore your surroundings. These feel heavily inspired by platformers, as you’re tasked with finding and completing various objections before driving off at high speeds to finish the story mission.
Speaking of which, let’s touch on the story. As I mentioned earlier, gone are the days of being a random driver who is just trying to make their way up the ranks of the Horizon festival. You’re the main attraction, the star, the MVP, and the game isn’t shy about making sure you know this. In a weird (and potentially unintended) way, it adds credence to the absolutely insane tasks people ask to perform in the story. Remember when I mentioned you’ll drive up and down an active volcano? They’re not going to trust just anybody to do that, right?
Likewise, they’re going to ensure the proper expansion of the Horizon festival to their star racer. That’s what you’ll be doing throughout the game’s campaign. Accolades are a new feature to Forza Horizon 5. You earn them by completing various tasks, races, and other objectives on the world map. Obtain enough accolade points and you’ll unlock another story mission to expand the map. This is where the game can start to seem daunting.
She Says \”I Like the Nightlife Baby\”
Expanding Horizon takes place in a nonlinear fashion. You can focus on various types of the festival to grow, which will unlock different natures of races:
- Horizon Festival Mexico Mainstage is the main hub for all things Horizon and events.
- Horizon Apex features road racing and traversing through Mexican roads and highways.
- Horizon Wilds is the dirt racing portion that will unlock off road races.
- Horizon Baja contains cross-country racing, where you’ll race through checkpoints that take you all over Mexico. Literally.
- Horizon Rush is where you’ll find over-the-top PR stunts for clout.
- Horizon Street Scene comes as advertised. Street racing at high speeds as you dodge normal traffic.
Having the option to focus solely on a specific type of event is something I didn’t realize the importance of until now. Sure, technically I was able to do that in past Horizon games, but Forza Horizon 5 allows me to not litter the map with “Rush” or “Street Scene” events if I don’t want them. Even if, for example, I complete one of those campaign missions to unlock more of those events, I can always filter them out in the world map.
I cannot underestimate the importance of being able to filter your map in Horizon: at times, it’s incredibly daunting to see the number of tasks and events you have available. On top of that, I’ll occasionally completely lose track of where the next story mission takes place.
In a game that is oozing with polish and refinement, it’s disappointing to have this happen on numerous occasions. Forza Horizon 5 is a large game with an obscene amount of content in it. Why is it frustrating to find where I need to go to progress the story at times? How come it’s nearly impossible to find the fast travel billboard points that I’ve smashed to help save some time getting from point A to point B? If I can change cars anywhere in the world, why can’t I also re-paint them from wherever I want? It seems minor, but these are the biggest issues that plague Horizon. There’s a lot of information overload found within the game. For some, it’ll be enough of a deterrence to turn them off from playing.
What makes these issues even more puzzling are the accessibility features the game has to offer. Representation for your player character exists through he/she/them pronouns and prosthetics for your avatar. Both American Sign Language and British Sign Language support exists for cinematics. Color Blindness, High Contrast, and other subtitle options exist to open the game up to those that are impaired. The biggest feature, however, might be the speed modification settings. By reducing the game’s play rate, you can still reach speeds up to 200 MPH and maintain the game’s physics. Reaction time, however, becomes more manageable to whatever you’re comfortable with. This will open up the game to a new audience that was too intimidated to give Horizon a shot.
Let the Good Times Roll
After typing out over 1,000 pre-edited words, I feel obligated to mention that I am not a car guy. I can pump gas, scheduled oil changes, and call AAA. When playing Forza Motorsport, I stick with a crappy car (Mitsubishi Eclipse, Scion tC) and upgrade it to compete with the big guns. If I were to tinker with tuning my car’s set-up, I’d be completely lost without strategy guides online. The idea of collecting cars and traversing Mexico in free-roam is only appealing to me in theory. To be honest, I’m just not the target audience for the car-heavy features that exist in Forza Horizon 5.
Why does this matter? Because the Horizon franchise’s core, while rock-solid, remains the same. Race, collect cool cars, give them a nifty paint job, listen to awesome music, race on different terrain, rinse, and repeat. There were a handful of times it felt like Mexico was a re-skinned version of Great Britain from Forza Horizon 4. I started to wonder if we had reached the breaking point of the franchise and that it was starting to overstay its welcome. Most of these thoughts came within the first handful of hours of game time. The more I played, however, the less that became a concern. As you turn onto new roads and arrive at new destinations, you’ll realize that you’ve been saying “wow, that’s a lot of fun” on the regular.
At its core, Forza Horizon 5 is all about fun. It’s fun to drive through the jungle! It’s fun to scale an active volcano! It’s fun to drive in a tropical storm! It’s fun to dive into the community blueprint maps made by other players! The game does a remarkable job of (mostly) staying out of the way to let you have that fun. You won’t be burdened with constant tutorials. Sometimes the game’s assistant will have to talk about a now available feature, but it’s only a minor inconvenience at worst. I do get a chuckle, though, when driving too fast through the starting point of a race. Even if I slam the “X” button while passing the markers on a map, it won’t register. This results in me having to drive in reverse. Again, a minor inconvenience, but annoying nonetheless.
Rather than reinvent the wheel with each new entry in the franchise, Playground Games has continuously perfected it. The result is the true killer app for Xbox Series X/S, a far cry from Forza Motorsport’s disappointing debut on Xbox One. Sure, Horizon 5 came out a year after the console’s release, but it was well worth the wait. This is a game to not only re-define the open-world racing genre but gaming as a whole. It embraces everything you know and love about the franchise: fast cars, exotic locations, amazing music. Speaking of which, my wife said that the soundtrack “goes ignoration.” I’m told that this is a good thing.
Forza Horizon 5 is easily one of the best games of the year. The fact that it’s available on GamePass is an absolute steal.