Since starting back in 2005, Microsoft’s Forza racing games have traveled a lot of digital roads. And the latest entry, Forza Horizon 5, delivers more racing, more exotic cars, and more of the realistic graphics that the franchise is known for.
In fact, this racing series is so well known, that you might guess gamers would be thinking, “Been there, done that.” But the new game launched with some 4.5 million buyers blazing out of the starting gate, making it what Xbox has declared to be the biggest launch for an Xbox Game Studios release ever.
So, what will you find behind the wheel of Forza Horizon 5?
The game starts out by dropping you out of the back of a cargo plane, where you’re strapped into a new Ford Bronco. You’ll soon hit the sand, cactus and scrub brush of a Mexican mountainside. And then as several other cars parachute down, it’s clear that Horizon 5—with a map of Mexican landscapes that’s 50% larger than the previous game entry—wants to impress with its new expansive scope. And character interactions along the way add more story to this franchise than past iterations.
The various gaming areas include vast beach waterfronts, sprawling towns, jungles, deserts, swamps and spots resembling old ruins. And along with all these graphically detailed hills, plains and tracks, there are also a number of weather effects that you’ll need to drive through: from tropical gales to blinding sandstorms.
And then there are those digitally pristine, eye-candy cars. You’ll start with a couple of pretty cool new vehicles that have only recently hit the streets in the real world: the above-mentioned Ford Bronco as well as the new Corvette Stingray coupé.
But your auto options rapidly expand to include more than 450 vehicles; that list includes practically every hopped-up street rocker, high-performance sports car and exotic racer that you might imagine. There are even full sized Hotwheels in the lineup. And that initial collection is reportedly only the first batch of promised vehicles. All in all, it’s a digital garage full of automotive awesomeness that your real-world bank account would openly blanch over.
As far as racing events are concerned, the huge map is divided into areas that each have their own racing festivals in full swing. And each area also has a particular focus, such as dirt racing, track speedsters and stunt challenges.
Players must race through the events to gain a token that unlocks a new festival area and then populates the map with its own events and competitive hurtles. Each of these zones is not only distinct in just its visuals, but in its weather effects, affinity for certain types of vehicles and unique landmarks.
Gamers can also choose from a variety of driving perspectives, from inside or outside the car. And they can drive offline against AI racers or join online competitions to test their skills against others there.
This is a driving game. So mastering the different tracks and each vehicle’s handling is key to Horizon 5’s enjoyment. (If you’re always fishtailing into a ditch during a race and coming in last, it can be pretty frustrating.) However, the game takes every skill level—from beginner to expert—into account and offers all the right settings help to aid the former while challenging the latter.
For younger or inexperienced drivers, each driving skill’s difficulty and realism—from steering to track stability to acceleration and braking—can be tweaked a little or a lot. Things can be simplified to the point that all a young gamer needs to do is pull the acceleration trigger and let the car do the rest. Or they can handle the steering and gas pedal while the drifting and breaking is done for them. Then, if winning becomes too easy, Horizon 5 will encourage a young gamer to up the difficulty for a better challenge.
In fact, sometimes tweaking the controls can help a player see how it should be done so that they can go back and try once more without the game’s assistance. It’s a well-designed system that ups the fun-quotient all on its own.
There is light violence in the mix as vehicles sideswipe or crash into one another. And you can see the dimpled sheet metal and cracked windows as a result. If they’re so inclined, players can simply drive around the open map smashing into other vehicles and scenery: ranging from cactus and palm trees to beach chairs and sheds. (However, no one is ever injured or killed.)
On top of that, players can determine the amount of sheet metal and engine damage their cars will sustain. And some of the smashing, reckless driving and sideswipes can even earn experience points.
That said, Horizon 5 isn’t designed to give that kind of smash-and-bash play much encouragement. And if gamers drive too far afield—such as trying to motor out into the ocean—the game simply places them back on the nearest roadway.
There are also some rock-focused tunes underscoring the driving and racing events. But the music can be turned off if you so desire. The character creation menu offers a choice of gender pronouns.
You can find a lot of driving and racing games on store shelves these days. But few are as eye-pleasing and interactive as Forza Horizon 5. Add in this game’s settings help—that can boost younger driver’s skill sets and ease them into learning—and you’ve got a very welcoming, checkered flag-worthy combination.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.