Hands-On: Forza Horizon 5 takes familiar paths and Mex no apologies
Playground Games’ latest plays to the series’ strengths
Ever since Forza Horizon 5 was first announced, most assumed it was going to be similar to its predecessors.
Nothing we’d seen or heard about the game suggested it was going to be anything other than the same sort of thing we’ve been getting in previous Forza Horizon games, with the obvious difference being that it would be set in a new location with one or two little features thrown in to mix things up a bit.
Based on our first 90 minutes with the game, it seems this prediction was absolutely spot on – Forza Horizon 5, to all intents and purposes, does feel a lot like Horizon 4 but set in a different country.
However, that’s pretty much exactly what we were hoping for. This is one of those rare situations where ‘more of the same’ is not a criticism. As with the previous games in the series, Forza Horizon 5 revolves around the Horizon Festival, where racers and fans from all over the world descend on an area to take part in various races and other tomfoolery.
Forza Horizon 5 - initial drive
The country of choice this time is Mexico, which so far has proved to be an excellent decision. In our short time with the game we raced through jungles, nipped through a small town and hit obscene speeds on an abandoned, weed-covered airfield.
Naturally, as the first game in the series to have been developed with Xbox Series X/S in mind, Horizon 5 is also the best-looking game in the series to date, with two graphical options to choose from, Performance and Quality.
Those familiar with similar settings in other games should know what to expect. Performance focuses on frame rate, with what looked to us like a practically solid 60 frames per second, while Quality mode drops the frame rate down to 30fps in favour of greater visual detail.
From what we’ve played, we couldn’t really spot an enormous difference in visual detail between Quality and Performance modes, meaning in our view the latter is a no-brainer.
“From what we’ve played, we couldn’t really spot an enormous difference in visual detail between Quality and Performance modes, meaning in our view the latter is a no-brainer.”
The game’s creative director previously confirmed on Twitter that Performance mode “gets you” 4K resolution on Xbox Series X, but it wasn’t clear if he just meant that was the output resolution (which is a given) or the actual native resolution, which would be extremely impressive if so.
At this stage, it’s hard to definitively tell, but having played through the first hour and a half in both Performance and Quality modes the difference was negligible to our eyes, so most players will probably want to play in Performance mode for the added smoothness 60fps provides.
The actual gameplay seems to stick to the same formula fairly rigidly so far. There are the Showcase events where you take part in more elaborate races with set-pieces dotted along the way, there are cross-country races, there are circuit races… all stuff fans of the series will be familiar with.
They can all still be reached by driving around the open-world map to specific locations where the event can be triggered. You can still smash billboards to gain XP, and you can still take part in smaller one-off challenges that appear while you’re driving.
So far, all of the challenges we encountered had been seen in previous games; speed traps, jump challenges and the like. Even the Trailblazer challenges, where you pass through a checkpoint and then need to drive cross-country to hit another one within a certain time, make their return.
We were only able to play a couple of the story missions but one of them, simply called Vocho, was pretty entertaining. It appears to consist of seven separate sub-missions, but we only played the first two. A friend called Alejandra asks you to help her find an old VW Beetle (known as the Vocho in Mexico) that her great grandfather had locked in an old garage.
As you drive to the abandoned barn to find it, Alejandra fills you in on the history of the car and its importance to Mexicans. It lays it on a little too thick (“the two most important things to Mexican culture are familia and Vocho”) but as it’s a game trying to make the player enthusiastic about cars, we’ll let it slide.
After finding the Vocho, you then take on the second sub-mission, where you have to drive an enormous truck with the Vocho sitting in the back, trying not to damage it. We didn’t get to play any more of that but it was a fun diversion that had some substance.
So far, the only aspect of Forza Horizon 5 that doesn’t fill us with much joy is the overly enthusiastic dialogue and voice acting. That said, this has been a bugbear for some time and may just be because we’re grumpy old sods so if it hasn’t bothered you before you’ll be fine here too.
“So far, the only aspect of Forza Horizon 5 that doesn’t fill us with much joy is the overly enthusiastic dialogue and voice acting. That said, this has been a bugbear for us for some time and may just because we’re grumpy old sods so if it hasn’t bothered you before you’ll be fine here too.”
If you aren’t a fan of the overly excitable supporting characters who turned up to tell you how wicked and rockin’ everything was in other Horizon games, however, don’t expect the mood to have calmed any in Horizon 5.
You’re still very much in part-Gen Z, part-petrolhead territory, with everyone acting like Olivia Rodrigo did a Freaky Friday with Jeremy Clarkson and went on about a lot more than just her driver’s licence. With any luck, if the game goes on to follow the same structure as its predecessors the supporting cast should hopefully appear less frequently later on.
It says a lot, of course, that even the one thing that annoys us about Forza Horizon 5 so far – the voice acting – was something that annoyed us about other games in the series too. All this does is further enforce our hunch that this is going to be a similar experience to what you may have played before.
In most other circumstances, this would come across as a criticism, but given that Forza Horizon 3 and 4 were two of the best racing games of the last generation, we’re still looking forward to another sequel even though it doesn’t appear to rock the boat too much.