Forza Horizon 5: A Ride of a Lifetime

Forza Horizon 5: A Ride of a Lifetime

I, like plenty of other gamers, grew up in the age where some of the titans of racing games were the Need For Speed Underground series, Midnight Club, and Burnout. What all of these games have in common is that they reached a peak that they could never reclaim. EA’s NFS titles after 2005’s Most Wanted were new but never exciting; Rockstar’s Midnight Club LA was incredible, but the game still fell behind on the previous entry content wise; and Criterion’s Burnout Paradise would be the last game in the series, now laying dormant for well over a decade. Despite having these games, their predecessors and successors in the years after, no other racing game could evolve or revolutionize the open world racing genre.

Playground Games’ Forza Horizon is different. Forza Horizon didn’t need over the top customization to sell it like Need For Speed Underground 2. The world is massive, the car list is large and varied, and respects car culture. However, the handling model is more realistic like its Forza Motorsport counterpart. The result is a game that is beautiful to look at and wonderful to drive. Remember, this game released in 2012, 9 years ago as of writing this review. Playground Games have made four sequels in the time since then, and each one builds upon the last while continually improving the formula.

However, Forza Horizon 4 is the first time where players began to see sequel fatigue setting in. Horizon 4 put far more emphasis on super and hyper cars than all other car types, the progression relied on the spin of a wheel that could grant next to nothing, it lacked meaningful progression, and the performance rating system made less and less sense. These issues are just some of the problems the game had, but players realized the series is now dropping in quality. With an exponentially increasing expectation in quality from the playerbase from being the fifth game in the series, Playground Games has a lot of pressure to deliver a high quality experience. Did they deliver? Well, let’s just say that my Steam account stated that I played ~32 hours… over the course of four days.

Presentation – Sticking the Landing

Forza Horizon 5‘s main menu opens up like all of its predecessors: the game shows a number of backdrops showcasing the world with elegant music. Right at the start, this game feels like home. The introduction to the game’s world is nothing short of bombastic. All the other games always begin with a mad dash to the main Horizon Festival site. Horizon 5? You don’t start on the road; you start in the sky. The game begins with dropping the player from the sky from a cargo plane not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times. Each airdrop sees the player landing in another car rushing to the festival site, whether it’s through a sandstorm or through the wilderness. All of these culminate in airdropping the player in the new Mercedes-AMG ONE, the game’s cover car, meeting up with all the other cars the player used just moments ago. In a blaze of glory, the player reaches the festival site first. The introduction does everything it needs to acquaint the player with the new world: It is thrilling, unexpected, and insane, and I love it.

Character customization is back and improved. Players have even more freedom over their character driver. They can now use either the masculine or feminine voices on any character the player wants. Appearance is expanded too. Players can now give their character prosthetics and also have a greater range of clothing options. Interestingly, Playground Games programmed Horizon 5 to remember returning players. If you played the previous entries, the game will use the character model you used and your name. Simply, the series now actively carries over your information from the previous games into the latest title, a great addition nevertheless. Car customization got a boost as well. More rims and body kits are welcomed, and car decals are higher quality. Unfortunately, players still cannot add any to the windows. Customization is teeming with life and allures players to give customization a try.

The menus look nearly identical with a few tweaks to the UI, and nothing is wrong with that. They mostly use whites and soft greys in tandem sprinkled with bright, solid colours when selecting menu items. The menus are also shaped with rounded edges. Overall, the appearance is modern, simple, and avoids any tacky designs that won’t age well. Everything feels familiar while making the menus more navigable. Not much else needs changing since Playground Games already designed a great UI. This approach to menus also carries over in the music department.

The music playlist in this game contains a decent amount of contemporary songs from popular artists. Playground Games even managed to acquire Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby,” a 2021 hit here in the US, into the game. Other notable artists include Glass Animals, Deadmau5, Midnight Kids, SAINt JHN, and the Foo Fighters. While the game has many contemporary artists, they feel like they will age better than the likes of the early 2000s NFS games. The downside is that some songs will feel a tad too generic, but they still sound good and fit with the mood of the game. Plus, the game has different radios, like previous titles, to accommodate for everyone’s tastes. If you want classical music, then this game has it. You can also be like me on occasion and turn off the radio and then turn on your own playlist.

No one wants to feel worn down by poor presentation midway through a game, and Horizon Mexico is no different. The developers created a world that is extraordinarily magnificent to play on and to just stare at. Horizon 5‘s Mexico is the largest map of any of the games in the series to date with many different locations and biomes. We have the Baja, two coasts, several colourful towns, a desert, abandoned airstrips, rich jungles, ancient Aztec ruins, and even a volcano. What is even more fun is how the game has almost no limits on what the player can and can not drive on. The game says there are 578 roads to drive on, but those roads are a suggestion. If you want to scale the size of the volcano, then you can absolutely do just that. Wanna drive down the side of that same volcano? Go for it. What about driving at 300 MPH down the colossal highway? Sure! Jump the dunes of the desert? Yep, this game has it all. The locations blend far better than any previous game, especially Horizon 3.

What’s a neat detail is how when playing through the game, the characters that guide you will fill you in on the world. One of them, Ramiro in particular, explains how he grew up in the town you’re driving through. Another one fills the player in about the “Vocho”, an old Volkswagen Beetle that this character’s father used to race in. In fact, you restore it and get to keep it upon completing her storyline. These little details are great for making the place feel believable. Horizon 5‘s Mexico has a good amount of charm to it. Sometimes, the character’s lines are corny. Other times, they add to the relaxing atmosphere this game provides. Dialogue is a mix, but it has some pretty good moments. Besides, none of them are downright bad.

Everything about this game is bigger. The character roster, customization, ambition, and the world are bigger than ever before, both figuratively and literally. What about the cars? The cars are just as wonderful. At launch, the game provides 538 cars to purchase to find out in the world. This time around, the game doesn’t put too much emphasis on the high-end super cars. The balance feels better with a tad more emphasis on off-road and drift cars. Still, the car list expanded in each area. The three cars the game offers as the beginning vehicles are some of the latest cars, the Ford Bronco, Toyota Supra GR, and the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe. Incredibly, if the game detects that you played all four previous entries, then you will receive all the cover cars of those games for free. These are the Dodge Viper ACR, Lamborghini Huracán, Lamborghini Centenario, and McLaren Senna. Horizon 5 rewards its long-time fans by giving them fast and amazing cars from the past. Rewarding their loyalty is awesome and makes the player feel at home.

From the very start, Playground Games does what they can to welcome new and returning players. We get a good view of what the game offers, but how does the game play?

Gameplay – Hit the Ground Running

Like all racing games, what makes driving fun is how the cars handle and if the world compliments said handling model. Horizon 5 excels and then some. Cars feel a bit grippier than Horizon 4. They feel responsive while still maintaining a sense of weight and the risk of losing control. The suspension is certainly more realistic, and so road cars feel better while driving on anything other than pavement. These changes also make off-road driving even more pleasant. AWD (All-Wheel Drive) cars definitely drive better since Horizon 4 as the developers tuned them to not be the most powerful option. That change resulted in AWD cars having too much understeer, and no amount of tuning could make them feel better. You either had understeer or oversteer an unholy amount, never in-between. Thankfully, that issue seems resolved.

The revamped audio model also makes car sound symphonic and more like their real-life counterparts. Incredibly, swapping engines and/or upgrading them alters the sound of the car. As a whole, cars are very fun to drive as each has more distinctive characteristics. Oddly enough, some sounds like the V12 engine have been used for the same sound design in the past several games. While I’m not a fan of reusing the same assets repeatedly, as long as they still hold up, then I’m perfectly okay with their inclusion.

Beyond cars, Horizon 5 makes a huge step up in progression. Ever since the first Horizon game, Playground Games made each successive title more open ended in progression. This change makes approaching the game easier and allows players to play what they want. However, as time went on, the games became so open ended that when Horizon 4 released, the game felt directionless. In the current system, the developers managed to create a system that balances both freedom and structure. Horizon 5‘s system runs on a point based system called Accolades. Winning races, completing races with a manual and clutch transmission, or performing certain challenges earns Accolades. Earn enough Accolades to earn one point. Players can then spend this point on the different festival sites through out the world.

As players spend points on a festival site, they will unlock a slew of races, a showcase event, and a storyline. Showcases see players facing off against opponents in unconventional vehicles such as trains, planes, and even monster trucks. Storylines see players completing tasks for various characters in the world. “V10” is about acting as a stunt double for a film, “Lucha de Carreteras” is like Lucha Libre but with cars and finding shortcuts to win races, and the aforementioned “Vocho” is about restoring an old Volkswagen Beetle. These stories are only a sample. The game has more stories to complete, and they offer some really awesome rewards. “V10,” for instance, rewards a free Koenigsegg Jesko for mastering all of its chapters. Keep in mind that the Jesko, when properly tuned, can reach 300 MPH in this game, making it one of the fastest cars available.

When unlocking each festival, players will need to complete the expedition associated with it. Each expedition doesn’t just see the player driving toward the site. No, the player will be doing so in style while also helping another character on occasion. One expedition saw me speeding along in a parade float culminating in a large, epic jump off a cliffside. A parade float is such an odd decision for a vehicle but Playground Games made doing that event feel so satisfying. It simply worked really well. Another race type in each festival is the “Goliath” races, for a lack of a better name. These events are long, grand races where the player must endure a track that usually spans the map. One of these races is called the “Titan,” a cross-country race, which even in a nimble Ford Escort rally car lasted me 20 minutes. That race was gruelling because I played on a harder difficulty, but it felt so good to cross that finish line.

Speaking of difficulty, Horizon 5 offers so many options in regards to difficulty and accessibility. As per usual, players can set the driving line, ABS brakes, traction control, stability control, steering assist, AI difficulty and more. One feature that stood out to me was the ability to slow the game down, literally. Adjusting this slider will play the game at a slower speed. This feature is helpful for those who want to drive fast cars but don’t have the reaction time or coordination to handle them. Obviously, this feature does not work in multiplayer. For single player, Playground Games wanted everyone, no matter the age, no matter the ability, to enjoy this game to the fullest extent.

Upon levelling up all festivals to the max, the player has now reached the endgame and is now placed in the Hall of Fame. Earning Accolades no longer levels up the festivals, but they are now a symbol of how much players have committed themselves to the game. Reaching this point opens up a category of Accolades specifically for these endgame players. These new accolades actually offer some great rewards as well. Players may simply stop here as the game is technically “complete,” but the developers clearly intend for them to keep going. The rewards, cars, races, and discovery do not stop here. By the time you reach the Hall of Fame, you would have only driven on half the roads in this game. This gift keeps on giving.

On the multiplayer side, things keep getting better. The Eliminator mode is Horizon‘s take on the Battle Royale formula except with cars. Just avoid falling behind the pack. Super7 is a series of curated events with curated goals and curated cars. These are pretty great because they give different experiences than the ones you’re used to on top of being fun. The community events, however, are brilliant. Horizon 4 added an event editor that grants players the abilities to create their own races according to their own rules and have the tools and props to bring those ideas to life. Horizon 5 further expands upon the list of props. Even before the official launch date, people were creating some very unique stages. We are just at the beginning. As time goes on, people will make some absolutely nutty courses. Never underestimate the players’ imaginations.

Alright, I’ve talked at length about the events, structure, multiplayer, and so on. However, I haven’t talked much about cars besides their handling. Acquiring them is an interesting story. Races, like all other racing games, offer credits that players then use to buy or upgrade cars. However, currency comes from multiple sources. Each car has its own skill tree with perks to unlock. Performing and chaining stunts in that car unlocks Skill Points that players spend on a car’s skill tree. Some of these perks unlock the ability to earn more Skill Points and to maintain them for longer. Some abilities grant XP, points that players use to level up their ranking. Others outright grant credits, XP, and most importantly wheelspins.

Every time you level up, you earn a wheelspin. They are random rewards at the spin of the wheel (obviously). The rewards range from clothing for your character, car horns (and some great ones at that), credits, or even other cars. Even the credit and car rewards have a range to them. In Horizon 4, the credit offerings ranged from 2,000 to 300,000 credits. Now, in a game where some cars cost millions of credits, 2,000 is beyond pitiful. The solution? Just add an extra zero! Horizon 5‘s wheelspins at their lowest grant 20,000 credits, not bad.

The cars, oh boy, are always nice to get, even the less popular cars. Wheelspins can offer some of the rarest or fastest cars in the game. For me, I managed to snag a Bugatti Chiron from a wheelspin. A multimillion credit car… and one of the fastest in the real world… given to me through a single spin of a wheel… now that moment was stunning because the likelihood is rather small. Sometimes, wheelspins may offer Forza Edition cars, cars with a bonus such as earning more skill points from clean driving or an increase in credit winnings from races. These cars are unique not in just that aspect, but the fact that they cannot be bought in the Autoshow. They have two sources; either the player must win one from a wheelspin or go to the auction house and get lucky. Some perks contain super wheelspins. These contain three simultaneous wheelspins, giving three random rewards. The chances to get what you want are higher, and the rewards are greater. They’re harder to earn, but they offer so much in return.

The auction house is pretty straight forward: players put up any car they please and let people bid on that car. Occasionally, the buyout for a car might be lower than the cost of it at the Autoshow. If the buyout is higher, then bidding is a good option, but competition is fierce. People will throw down credits just to ensure they get the more hard-to-get cars. However, at times, some people will miss the other options available, granting the opportunity for a cheap snag. Players have so much agency over how to earn cars all just by playing the game.

I didn’t really explain very well how XP and levelling works, so let me explain. Players have their own rank, starting at 1. Completing races awards XP. Every rank requires 15,000 XP to earn before moving onto the next, and it doesn’t increase in requirement with each rank. Thus, levelling up will be just as fast at rank 900 as at rank 1. Races are not the only way to earn XP. Speed traps, drift zones, danger signs, perks, and even spending Skill Points themselves earn XP. That XP then turns into ranks, and ranks award wheelspins. Essentially everything you do helps level you up, including collecting cars.

One feature that I thought I never needed but absolutely love debuts in Horizon 5, the Car Collection tab. Here, whenever a player earns a car, the game makes a note which cars players have collected. Earning all cars from a single manufacturer will give a little something special. These rewards can be XP, credits, and yes, wheelspins. Levelling up is so fast that every race is almost guaranteed to award a wheelspin. Every race also has me doing tricks, whether they be simple jumps or drafting an opponent, those things earn me Skill Points to spend on my car. The world contains XP boards that give an XP bonus upon smashing them with my car. If I want to transform a Ferrari Enzo into a rally monster to compete in off-road races, then I am free to do so and progress that way. All of those things earn me the credits I need and on occasion the cars I want.

In retrospect, everything you do in Horizon 5 is all in the service of unlocking more and more cars. No activity, no race, and no challenge fails to offer something that you will inevitably use to buy and win more and more cars for your collection. Even photographing cars give Accolades! Buying houses often comes with a car, gives the location of a barn find, and wheelspins to boot. The credits I accumulate from racing eventually add up and allow me to buy my dream car. Multiplayer functions the same and gives credits and XP for playing against other people. I can even gift other cars to other players! Forza Horizon 5 is one of the most rewarding racing games I’ve ever played, and the developers made sure to keep that pace going well after I finished the main game. They want you to collect as many cars as possible and enjoy them for all they’re worth. Upon making that claim, I still have more to say, but this game does have some imperfections.

Criticisms – Watch for the Speed Bumps

As much as I praised the progression system for being rewarding, it’s still the same flawed system as Horizon 4. Whether or not you are able to get the car you want is tied to how good your wheelspins are. 20,000 credits is certainly a step in the right direction, but in a game about driving cars, character clothing is not very desirable. Clothing serves as fluff to the wheelspins. That pair of shoes you won could have easily been a Ferrari FXX K or 100,000 credits. Races don’t offer too much either. A standard race, even with the winnings bonuses from cars and the VIP membership will more often than not grant 12,000 credits. For players who don’t have the VIP membership, they will rarely see winnings past 10,000 credits. They’re helpful in the long run, but money comes mostly from luck rather than skill. Still, while I find tying progression to randomization to be bad, the number of wheelspins the game throws the player’s way are generous. Getting a bad reward from a wheelspin no longer stings like in Horizon 4.

The VIP membership is something I’m surprised more people haven’t talked about. What makes this piece of content concerning is that it grants double credit earnings from races, and it works in multiplayer too. Normally, any other game caught doing this practice would be crucified for giving players an advantage over others who didn’t purchase it. The gain is rather small in the grand scheme of the game, but that advantage over others still exists. Furthermore, players who bought the Premium Edition of the game also get several packs of free cars. Right off the back, those who are new to the franchise or bought the Standard Edition will start off disadvantaged. Despite Horizon 4‘s awful progression system, players can still be successful with relative ease. This game is no different.

One aspect I mentioned were the smash boards. These little boards appear all over Mexico. Running them over either grants XP or progressively makes the Fast Travel option cheaper. Collecting all the Fast Travel boards makes fast traveling free. Because Fast Travel grants a uniform, static bonus, all of these boards are in easy to reach locations. XP boards, on the other hand, work differently. They award varying amounts of XP. Boards with low XP are easy to find, while the high XP boards are often hard to reach. In previous entries, the developers were pretty clever with hiding them. In Horizon 5, they have some good hiding spots – kind of. I acquired almost every single board, both Fast Travel and XP in the game. I eventually noticed a trend on their placement; they are either on the side of the road, under a bridge, or in some obscure spot that requires a well trajected jump.

In all honesty, the hiding spots for these boards felt rather unoriginal. I’m not saying the developers are lazy. I’m saying that with a map as enormous as this one, they could have put them in better spots. My favourite and most hated one is a board I found up on a transmission tower. Finding it the first time was funny until I realized that I had to make a really precise jump by veering off the highway, speed off a small hill, and pray that I hit it. Thankfully, the rewind feature makes some of these tolerable, but the developers really got carried away with them. Some of them took a few minutes to get because the world has so many bumps and grooves, so driving off-road can be unpredictable.

The one I hated the most is in a dried up river – or what was a dried up river. What’s awesome about Horizon 5 is that Playground Games carried the seasons feature from the last game. Every week, the world enters a new season. When this game launched, early access players started in Spring. When the game released to the public several days later, the season changed to Summer. Specifically, the Summer season in this game is rather wet, while the Spring was dry. This fact is important because in a rainy season, a river in the map fills up. Thus, players cannot drive through it no matter the car. One XP board turned out to be located in said river. What’s even more strange is that the game tells you what season is coming up and its weather pattern. Before the public launch, this information was not available, meaning I did not know I would not be able to reach it a few days later. No ramp, hill, or ledge is capable of reaching the small platform the board sits on. I now have to wait two whole weeks before I can collect the final board because the game didn’t tell me what will happen. This issue is very minor. Still, timegating any piece of content is never fun.

A 5,000 XP smash board, the highest XP offering for a board, perched up on a transmission tower.

The performance rating system is still pretty absurd. The concept works off of the fact that cars are not equal, and should be pit against other cars like them. This system rates a car from 100 – 999 with class ratings at about every 100 point threshold. For example, cars scored between 700 – 800 are placed in the A class. The issue? The ratings make no sense! Some cars are placed lower or higher than what they should be for their power. Upgrades also suffer here. Racing tyres have the power to send a car into another performance rating while stock. Some tuning setups are difficult to make because of this reason. Although Horizon 5 is not meant to be a competitive racer, the system to try and balance out races is heavily flawed.

Lastly, I want to bring up this game’s performance on PC. For the most part, Horizon 5 runs well on PC on Ultra graphics settings, running the game at 1080p 60 FPS. Ultra was the highest tier of graphical settings since the series entered the PC market with Horizon 3. This time around, Playground Games introduced a new, higher tier, Extreme. My PC is pretty strong, two Nvidia GTX 1070s in SLI, 16 GB of RAM, and an i7-8700K processor. Sadly, this game doesn’t have SLI support (shocker, I know). The game runs as if I have one GTX 1070, but the game has no problem running with the previously mentioned settings, so I bumped everything up to Extreme. I had some stuttering, but my PC came to a halt when the game popped up a message, prompting me to turn down my settings. Why? Well, it stated that the graphics card ran out of VRAM. That message is… shocking. No other game has brought my PC to its knees like that, not even Cyberpunk 2077. At the same time, I can’t be very critical because my graphics cards are now starting to get dated. Then again, the visual gain seemed unnoticeable. Still, the game looks amazing on Ultra.

In addition, my processor acts very strangely with this game. I have no problem with CPU bottlenecks – except when I perform or even watch a live stream. Just like when my graphics cards struggled with graphics, so did my PC when playing and watching a live stream on Twitch. A message stops me dead in my tracks and warns me about streaming while playing. For a CPU that is excellent for live streaming games at 900p 60 FPS, I suddenly can’t play the game and just watch a stream? I’m not even streaming; I’m just watching someone else’s stream. Why is this game in particular an exception?

Even weirder, if I do watch a stream briefly without (supposedly) stressing my CPU, my game will stutter for eternity. This game does not care if you watched the stream for a few minutes or if it’s a low quality stream, the game will stutter. When this phenomenon happens, I have to reset the game completely. This issue is so baffling because it’s one that not only have I not witnessed, but it’s one I’ve never even heard of. In truth, this aspect of the game was the most frustrating thing I experienced during my entire playtime with it. Horizon on PC has always lagged behind on optimization just slightly, but now it’s really apparent. Hopefully in the future, Playground Games will address some of these issues. After all, these games always get better with time.

Verdict – The Finish Line is Just Up Ahead

Back in October, I reviewed Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. I was rather harsh on the faults of that game because those flaws really hampered what was a really solid entry in a stagnate franchise. Horizon 5‘s flaws do not detract from the spectacular package Playground Games has delivered. I have a hard time describing what the Forza Horizon series does that makes this game stand out other than being an improvement upon the open world racer genre with semi-realistic physics. As of late, Need For Speed Heat is an appreciation of the import tuner culture, Gran Turismo 7 is about car appreciation, and others like Assetto Corsa are racing simulators. Where does the Horizon series fit in this genre? I think I have the answer to that question, one that I can fit into a single sentence:

Forza Horizon 5 is a game that rewards you for enjoying the car you love.

In any other racing game, the developers pigeon hole you into driving a car you don’t want according to a certain event. They may put a performance requirement or restrict races to certain vehicle types. In Horizon 5, the developers do not care whatsoever about what you drive or how you drive it. All that matters to them is for you to enjoy that car to its limits. Everything from the world, creative tools, car parts, and customization do nothing but let players how they want to play. If you are having fun and keep playing, then the game gives you more and more to help you achieve whatever goal you want to reach in this game. Whether you are playing just for an hour over the weekend or want to be a completionist, Forza Horizon 5 offers so much for the price. I can confidentially say that I am thrilled to see what Playground Games has in store for the next year of DLCs.

Forza Horizon 5 is a brilliant masterpiece, and it’s nothing short of a Game of the Year contender.

What do you think of Forza Horizon 5? What are somethings you like or dislike about this game? Do you like the selection of cars? Leave a comment below and share what you think! Remember to check out our YouTube channel and Twitter for more if you like what you read. Until next time, thank you for reading. Take care!

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