Marking yet another entry from the spin-off series quickly overtaking its source, “Forza Horizon 5” follows up one of the most well-received racing games in a long time. It has big shoes to fill, and it does just that, and more.
The “Horizon” games always set players loose in beautiful, sprawling maps as their main mechanic, and “Horizon 5” does the same, dropping us in a very condensed Mexico that still makes for the largest map ever in a Horizon game. This map is about 1.5 times larger than in “Horizon 4,” and considering how long “Horizon 4’s” map stayed entertaining, these increases are substantial. With the extra size, biome and terrain changes feel less jarring, which helps each map section feel incredibly immersive, from dense forests hiding ancient ruins, to sprawling deserts with dunes acting as ramps for a buggy, even to an actual volcano creating one of the most drastic elevation changes we’ve seen in this series. It all comes together to create y favorite map in the series. My only complaint is not even with the map itself but rather the road traffic or lack thereof. In “Horizon 4,” there may have been slightly too much traffic, as they could block players from doing tasks without frustrating interference, but here in 5, it feels like the developers dialed it back too much. I understand not wanting to interrupt gameplay, but it would be nice to have an option to turn this back up, as it adds life to a virtual world.
Now, another thing the “Horizon” series is known for (and most realistic racers in that regard) is impressive graphics that push the absolute boundaries of the systems they were on, and “Horizon 5” really delivers. The lighting and particles (dust, smoke, etc.) both got major upgrades, now with volumetric versions of each available at times. Reflections still look fantastic, but not especially better than “Horizon 4.” And yes, raytracing is indeed in the game, but never while your car is mobile. Instead, it is only used in “Forzavista,” a gallery in which you can inspect and observe the smallest modeled details of cars. “Horizon 4” touted impressive optimization on both the console and PC. “Horizon 5” maintains impressive optimization on the console front, maintaining a solid 30 frames per second on the base Xbox One, an eight-year-old system, and dialing the settings up with each step up in the Xbox family. On PC, things have been dicier. Day-one instability warded off many potential players, and a texture bug made it so the ultra setting looked like the low setting. Unfortunately, I had to deal with the latter version, and while I’ve only had a handful of crashes through my hours of play, I immediately ran into the texture issue. I also had to lower settings more than I was expecting, especially considering my relatively modest four-core Ryzen 5 and GTX 1660 Ti could run “Horizon 4” practically maxed out at 1080p and 60 FPS. I still sit comfortably at medium-high settings and a steady 60 FPS with only the occasional hiccup that I’m sure will be ironed out with time.
And of course, with a racing game with 504 cars at launch, I had to talk about them. There’s a wonderfully wide selection from exotic hypercars that leave everything in the dust to cult classics that can’t even begin to compete, and they’re all a ton of fun and unique. Upgrading and tuning are possible on almost all cars, and you can share tunes online or use other people’s tunes if you don’t want to bother with them yourself. The cars all drive well and feel real without being so real you need to put a lot of thought into it. The rewind feature also helps with this driving, allowing one to go back a few seconds if they made a mistake.
“Horizon 5” constantly receives updates as part of being a racing massively multiplayer online game. It is easy to party up with strangers and friends, though the servers do have trouble connecting people at times, which will hopefully be fixed with time. You can work together, against each other – even if you are playing on different platforms – or sometimes alone to fulfill “seasonal” objectives that are refreshed each week. These activities offer various rewards, such as “wheelspins,” which are random prizes from a cosmetic item, in-game currency or even full cars. Achieving multiple events in a season can earn you points to work up to season reward cars that are hard to obtain otherwise. Often part of these objectives are the “Horizon Arcade” events, continuing “Horizon 4’s” “Forzathon Live.” They are quite similar; players cooperate to reach some shared goal, such as a number of drift points or a number of (not a joke) dropped piñatas destroyed. Unfortunately, while “Horizon 4’s” offering maintained a steady player base, “Horizon Arcade” feels dead on arrival. I’ve had trouble getting through these events, as hardly anyone ever joins them. It’s hard for me to tell what’s different, beyond maybe connection issues, but Arcade is going to need a heavy rework to be as fun as it promises.
“Forza Horizon 4” was a hard act to follow, but with good music, great graphics, a great setting to explore, a vast map to explore and a bountiful bevy of cars to experience it all in, “Forza Horizon 5” raises the bar yet again for the open-world racing genre.