Photo Credit: Playground Games
Forza Horizon 5 opts for that old adage: if it's not broken, don't fix it. England-based game developer Playground Games, which has made every entry of the ever-improving Forza Horizon racing franchise since its inception more than nine years ago, doesn't mess with the formula that it delivered upon and honed over time on its predecessor. Forza Horizon 5 is a lot like Forza Horizon 4, which is not a bad thing. The series' fifth chapter — available November 5 to premium customers, and November 9 for everyone else — is an iterative update. It's not trying to reinvent the wheel. Cynics will complain about lack of game innovation: asset reuse, copy-paste, and old wine in a new country. But that says more about the racing game industry that we will get to in a while.
It doesn't hurt Forza Horizon 5 — which is a great game in its own right. The in-game Horizon Festival takes players to Mexico this time around. That means we are shifting to right-hand-side driving in Forza Horizon for the first time since 2014, following Australia in Forza Horizon 3 and the UK in Forza Horizon 4, both left-hand-side (as in India) due to the shared Commonwealth roots. Forza Horizon 5 also marks the series' return to the Americas since its origins in 2012.
More importantly though, Mexico allows Forza Horizon 5 to be hugely diverse. Unlike say the UK, which lead game designer Ryan Greene called “too tree-heavy” on a multiplayer session with journalists. Mexico has 11 different biomes, be it lush jungles, pristine beaches, historic cities, or dune-heavy deserts. They also bring dynamic weather events, from dust storms à la Mad Max: Fury Road, to lightning and torrential rain that adds drama to the proceedings. As always, Forza Horizon 5 makes you experience the varied biomes Mexico has to offer in the beginning.
And as it must, all of this looks great. Forza Horizon 5's Mexico is a joy to drive through, be it when I'm speeding on the super highways at speeds in excess of 350 kmph in the ultra-quiet all-electric Porsche Taycan Turbo S, swinging through the curvy inner streets on the prowl for bonus boards in the hungry and powerful Lamborghini Centenario, or cutting through forests and jumping off rolling hills in the mood for some skill points and collateral damage in a heavy-duty big-tyred pick-up truck. The aforementioned emergent weather patterns further contribute to that joy — they feel realistic (or as close to as possible) even on the Xbox One X that I played Forza Horizon 5 on.
On its more powerful cousin the Xbox Series X, you will get to pick between two video modes in Forza Horizon 5: quality (4K 30fps) and performance (4K 60fps). Just like the choice Forza Horizon 4 offered on the One X. Now the One X has no graphical choices. What does quality mode offer on the Series X? You can expect more detail, greater draw distances, and ray-tracing (albeit in ForzaVista only). These features are available on the Series S too, though it's locked to 1440p resolution naturally. All this detail comes at a cost too. Forza Horizon 5 sports a massive download size — 103GB on PC and Series S/X, and 116GB on Xbox One. Ouch. That's half the console space for Series S owners.
Forza Horizon 5 is also great to play. Playground Games and Forza Motorsport's Turn 10 Studios have refined the driving controls with each entry. And they have really gotten into the groove the last couple of occasions. If you are coming from Forza Horizon 4, you will feel the tiniest of differences — making it more or less a seamless transition. Another case of my opening argument. It's arcade-ish for sure, but there are hints of simulation that leave room for player improvement. In turn, that means Forza Horizon 5 is easy to pick up — though I'm biased here given the total time I've spent with the franchise — but still got a lot of depth that you can explore, as you push deeper into AI difficulty and then onto PvP (player versus player) modes.
Playground Games is also making it easier to pick a proper car. When you arrive at an event and pull up the car selection screen, Forza Horizon 5 will display a list of “recommended cars” from the roster you have at your disposal. This is a nice touch — it gives you an idea of what the race demands and which car will perform well. If you don't see that section, Forza Horizon 5 will instead give you the option to buy recommended cars.
Speaking of PvP, Playground Games has culled “Ranked Adventure” on Forza Horizon 5. Why? The game's creative director Mike Brown said that “Ranked Adventure made winning super important. It made people really want to win a lot, and get very angry when they couldn't.” In other words, it made Forza Horizon 4 toxic. No game developer wants that, and it's clear why Ranked Adventure is gone.
Forza Horizon 5 does still have a PvP mode — it's called Horizon Open — but it's nowhere near as cutthroat. Horizon Open is meant to be “more low pressure, more inclusive, more accessible.” Additionally, there's even a looser format in the co-op Horizon Tour that's casual and laidback, Greene said. The devs have also addressed the annoyance with teammates quitting PvP modes midway through. The remaining players will still be under pressure, but they will be better rewarded for it too.
If you want something even lighter, there's the rebranded Forzathon Live. Now dubbed Horizon Arcade on Forza Horizon 5, it offers 12 co-op minigames — for whoever is in the pink circle at the time of starting. That can include stuff like smashing piñatas, doing super jumps, breaking speed records, and so forth. You can also use a new Forza Link system — it's in the bottom-left of your HUD — to speed up matchmaking. It behaves contextually, so it will try to find players for the events you're close to.
That brings us to the campaign (playable solo or co-op, as before), where most Forza Horizon 5 players will spend their time naturally. The biggest introduction is the new story-driven Expeditions mode — it's a bit of a guided adventure as someone will either be driving beside you, flying above you, or sitting next to you in your vehicle. Expeditions usually involves driving to a place, like say an active volcano or Aztec ruins. Once you're there, you can unlock a bunch of optional accolades by finding objects of interest, if you're willing to spend the time in the area. Then you reunite with the non-player character partner who takes you on a wild journey, be it sprinting through a tropical storm or running down the side of an active volcano. It's meant to be the highlight of a region — and unlocks a new festival site in turn.
Outside of that, you will participate in similar kinds of events from previous Forza Horizon games. Road racing, dirt racing, street racing, and cross-country racing, it's all here. Given the limited amount of time I've had with the game — Microsoft gave us access only earlier this week — I can't say if there's more variety to the events. Though the fact that Forza Horizon 5's Mexico is the biggest map Playground Games has ever built, you would hope that to be true.
Of course, if you do run out of events, you can always create your own. Forza Horizon 5 includes a new EventLab feature for user-generated content. With it, you can create all manners of races, stunts, and challenges. EventLab in Forza Horizon 5 allows you to insert objects, fashion a route, set car class and more. You can even define all sorts of rules, be it handing points for hit objectives, changing car torque or gravity to mess with racers, or upending race parameters for an added dose of fun. Once you're done with your blueprint, you can use it to give your event a name, take it for a test spin, and then publish it for the community to enjoy.
As part of user-generated content, the liveries creator returns in an expanded form on Forza Horizon 5. You can customise your car in more ways than before — plus, you can use the game's new Gift Drops feature (found inside the in-game menus) to quickly share what you have made with other Forza Horizon 5 players.
Speaking of customisation, the character creator on Forza Horizon 5 is more diverse than ever. Apart from the usual racial diversity options, Forza Horizon 5 also lets you choose your pronouns and voice. Yes, your character talks in Forza Horizon 5 — albeit in a limited fashion. You can also swap in artificial limbs for any of your character's four, an important step in representation for folks with disabilities.
This aspect is also covered under the hood too. Forza Horizon 5's accessibility features allow high-contrast and colour-blindless UI modes, screen reader narration for the UI, text-to-speech and speech-to-text support for voice chat, and subtitles across the board in cutscenes and gameplay. You can also tweak moving backgrounds and game speed. Microsoft makes a big deal of accessibility, including in its flagship events, and its Xbox games are continuing in that spirit.
Forza Horizon 5 is a game made for everyone — but annoyingly, there's not many games like it. Need for Speed is the only other franchise I can think of that bothers with open worlds, but NFS ran itself into the ground a long while ago. Its new cousin, Dirt, has never ventured into that domain. Could that change with EA's ownership of Codemasters? It's sticking to the whole route-based thing with its next game Grid Legends, though it will offer more of a narrative. Essentially, there's a lack of competition — which inevitably results in a lack of innovation. Playground Games can offer up an iterative experience and rake in the money, because Forza Horizon 5 is in a world of its own. It's wonderful, but it's also sad.
Rating (out of 10): 9
Forza Horizon 5 is out November 9 on Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and Windows 10/11. It's available November 5 for those who bought Forza Horizon 5 Premium Edition.
You can also get Forza Horizon 5 with Xbox Game Pass subscription that costs Rs. 699 per month.