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Forza Horizon 5 Game review

Game review 04 November 2021, 08:01

author: Christopher Mysiak

An scholar, librarian, wannabe witcher, and a gentleman. Cars, guns and swords are his things, as are deep stories about serious stuff.

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor

The best racing game just became even better, and it doesn’t look like anything is going to claim the crown from Forza Horizon 5 anytime soon. However, “the best” doesn’t mean “perfect.” The competitors still have a chance to seize the throne.

The review is based on the PC version. It's also relevant to XSX, XONE version(s).

PROS:
  1. wonderful map of Mexico;
  2. tons of content, with much more to come, yield hundreds of hours of fun;
  3. refined driving physics, bringing the game one step closer to simulation;
  4. plentiful of single- and multi-player game modes;
  5. astonishing graphics;
  6. robust customization options for vehicles;
  7. improved car audio and great music;
  8. revamped campaign with numerous special events;
  9. there are hundreds of great vehicles to collect and drive…
CONS:
  1. …but many noticeable cars from FH4 are missing;
  2. there is still room for significant improvements in AI and physics;
  3. large amount of minor (but sometimes annoying) bugs.

This may be the most unsurprising release of the year, even more than FIFA 22 or NBA 2K22 were. Playground Games built a great foundation with installments 1-4, and it was clear since the very beginning (i.e. since E3 2021 reveal) that Forza Horizon 5 was going to be another brilliant entry in the series, yet one that won’t introduce any groundbreaking innovations. Anyhow, Microsoft finally gave millions of players a solid reason to consider buying next-gen Xbox Series instead of PlayStation 5. This game can become a powerful system-seller – perhaps more powerful than anything Sony released so far on their console.

Mexico!

Now, I’m aware of the fact that Forza Horizon 5 is available for Xbox One as well (and PC, but we’re talking about console wars here). However, 30 fps with uglier graphics is not the way it’s meant to be played, and nobody will be satisfied with such performance. Let’s bust this myth already: Forza Horizon 5 looks way better than Forza Horizon 4. Improvements in terms of lighting and shading, as well as ultra-detailed photogrammetric environments, makes FH5 feels truly next-gen.

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor - picture #1
If you played Forza Horizon 4, you'll immediately feel at home in FH5. For some it may feel too familiar.

There is also ray tracing for cars viewing mode, but it doesn’t add much to the visuals (Forza had spectacular reflections on vehicles long before the RTX showed up). More natural light, more detailed environment and greater drawing distance are key here. As a result, Mexico looks much prettier than FH4’s Great Britain, especially considering its exotic landscapes, with many breathtaking, memorable sights in 11 varied types of climates. I’m certain the photo mode will be more popular among players in Forza Horizon 5 than ever before.

Speaking of Mexico, another major advantage of the fifth installment over its predecessor is the fact that the new map is much bigger. Yes, that’s still many times smaller sandbox than The Crew’s USA or even Oahu from good old Test Drive Unlimited, but one could argue that Forza’s hand-crafted world, filled with unique areas and activities at every step, makes driving and exploring way more satisfying than in these titles. Especially that Playground Games brings back seasons from FH4, so Mexico will look differently every week.

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor - picture #2
Create your own livery, swap visual and mechanical parts, tune the engine - Forza Horizon 5 offers even more customization options for cars than previous games.

And what does Mexico offer in terms of activities? What it doesn’t offer… Asphalt racing, dirt racing, off-road racing, drifting, exploring wilds, performing big jumps and other stunts, treasure hunting, photo shooting – the list goes on and on. You can enjoy all these challenges on your own or with other players who populate the world (MMO-style), joining them in numerous PvP or co-op modes, like the battle-royalesque The Eliminator or Horizon Arcade. There is also an advanced editor (EventLab) allowing players to create their own challenges and build crazy tracks straight from Trackmania. Possibilities are truly endless.

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor - picture #3
Cars look gorgeous, but I expected more from ForzaVista with ray tracing. Forza Motorsport 7 still has prettier vehicles - even if their mirrors aren't reflected in doors.

I haven’t even mentioned the campaign yet. Playground Games tried to make the experience more cinematic, resembling traditional open-world games, by including more special events with cutscenes and dialogs into the game. Now, the narrative is still uninspired and dull, but the gameplay became much more varied than in Forza Horizon 4. Rather than jumping from one standard race to another, you can now spend much more time on expeditions, story missions, or showcase events, unlocked regularly on a gradual basis. And with the accolades system, the game also gives you a better sense of purpose, hinting what to do next in order to push the story forward.

Petrolhead’s paradise

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor - picture #4
It takes only a few hours (and several wheelspins) to put dozens of desirable cars into your garage. Some would say that building collection comes way too easy.

But let us not forget we’re discussing a racing game here. And the most important part of such a game are cars, naturally. There are more than 500 of them, split between diverse categories, like modern or classic sports cars, off-roads, hot hatches, SUVs, rally monsters from Group B, or even trucks and pre-war racer cars.

Even more importantly, each of these 500+ vehicles are a blast to drive. This is the one area where Forza Horizon 5 actually surprised me. I didn’t quite believe it when Playground Games claimed they refined the driving physics (already great in FH4), but they did. And it’s significantly better than before. Cars seem to have more weigth, they are not as eager to change directions while drifting and don’t feel like toys anymore. Naturally, you must turn off the assists to notice these changes. On the other hand, newbie drivers can use the new set of aids and choose lowered difficulty to race in a more relaxed manner.

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor - picture #5
Most rocks turn out to be too much of an opponent even for this powerful Ford Bronco.

Another area that saw important improvements is audio. Playground Games recorded new sounds for hundreds of vehicles, having heard many players’ complaints about this aspect in Forza Horizon 4. I believe people will be more than happy this time around. New audio is deeper, richer and more menacing – listening to V8s makes me smile instantly, unlike in FH4. Devs took one more step with this feature, introducing changes to cars’ sounds when swapping exhaust or adding turbo to the engine. However, if you don’t like that kind of sounds, there are also lots of great songs to hear in the radio, divided between six genres/stations (pop, rock, classic, etc.)

Champion’s weak spots

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor - picture #6
Playground Games is putting more and more emphasis on character customization.

Unfortunately, Forza Horizon 5 isn’t flawless. First, the game currently has many bugs. When playing online, traffic cars often gone, either spawning suddenly out of thin air, or vanishing equally abruptly. Every time I launch the game, my steering wheel settings reset to default (thankfully, the game enables us to save presets), while Windows Defender shows an alert that requires manual closing. There are also occasional graphic artifacts, numerous glitches in audio and video (partially bugged reflections while driving in hood view, or visible cursor), and other minor issues. It could take several updates to solve these problems.

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor - picture #7
Denser smoke is another factor that makes drifting more joyful than before.

And there are some things that Forza Horizon games always were doing less than perfectly – and the fifth installment still didn’t fix them. Among them, is the AI. Races would be way funner if the drivatars were able to compete more aggressively with players and didn’t politely brake once they get near your rear bumpers. It would make for an even better change if collisions between cars were improved as well, allowing for pushing rivals out of the road. Visual damage could be improved as well, but with hundreds of (licensed) vehicles, it would likely be extremely difficult to achieve.

VERDICT

While Forza Horizon 5 launches with a score of “only” 9.0, it has potential for even more. All Playground Games have to do is to eliminate bugs and bring back some missing cars, which could be done in a few months, with several updates. What about a perfect 10/10? It would require a multitude of further improvements to AI and physics. But perhaps Forza Horizon 6 will achieve that. I surely hope so, as this would give us the perfect racing game.

Super7 and EventLab modes expose other areas of physics that could be refined, too. The way that suspensions work in Forza Horizon isn’t well suited for courses with steep ramps, big jumps and other crazy obstacles. Even monstrous off-road trucks have too stiff dampers to handle such conditions, which often results in odd-looking crashes with obstacles they should easily overcome. The same goes for small rocks and other natural elements of landscape – they can ruin an off-road adventure all too easily.

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor - picture #8
Playlist Festival - this is where the real fun begins.

Last, but not least – we should talk some more about the list of cars included in Forza Horizon 5. 500 is an impressive number, yet it’s more than 200 fewer compared to FH4. What’s missing? Not only some cult models, like Ferrari 512 TR and 250 GT Berlinetta, Aston Martin One-77 and DBR1, Porsche 550 Spyder or Lotus Esprit V8, but also entire brands, including Alfa Romeo, Lancia, and Abarth. That’s a shame, even if we can expect these cars to return with post-launch updates that should be releasing at least until year 2023/24 (unless Microsoft isn’t planning to repeat the two-year production cycle for Forza Horizon 6).

King defends crown

Let’s conclude. Forza Horizon 5 is the ultimate offering for every car enthusiast out there, no matter if they are lovers of arcade or seekers of realism, preferring asphalt or off-road racing. Only hardcore sim-racers could be disappointed. Or maybe not entirely?

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor - picture #9
Expeditions are fine addition to the vast roster of activities known from previous games.

What’s even better, is that this is a long-term investment. Forza Horizon 4 set some very high standards in terms of post-launch support, receiving lots of free content for more than two years after release, and it seems that Playground Games is going to raise the bar even higher, introducing not only more cars and challenges every week, but also bringing additional game modes and even changes to the map itself.

Forza Horizon 5 Review - The King Becomes Emperor - picture #10

Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.

Therefore, while Forza Horizon 5 launches with a score of “only” 9.0, it has potential for even more. All Playground Games have to do is to eliminate bugs and bring back some missing cars, which could be done in a few months, with several updates. What about a perfect 10/10? It would require a multitude of further improvements to AI and physics. But perhaps Forza Horizon 6 will still achieve that. I surely hope so, as this would give us the perfect racing game.

Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com

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