Review: Forza Horizon 5

  • Release date: 5th Nov 2021
  • Version played: Xbox Series S
  • Completion: All houses, barn finds, festival events, stories and hall of fame.

One of Microsoft’s big games for this holiday season, Forza Horizon 5 keeps the strengths of its predecessor: some brilliant driving mechanics and a great map design, while also retaining most of its weaknesses.

The Mexico map in Horizon 5 is gorgeous. It features some quite diverse areas like jungle, desert, city and mountain (well, technically a volcano). There’s a lot to explore and do, including the main story of setting up different Horizon outposts.

These “story” events are great, and are much more tied into the game than the ones in Horizon 4. It created a much improved sense of progression in terms of playing through the singleplayer content, and features some spectacular moments like driving by an active volcano and driving in some impressive dust storms. Sometimes the spectacle of these events can make the freeroam mode feel a bit…static. These amazing storms only seem to happen during the story events, and the lava in the caldera is just a lake of water outside of that one mission. It could be that this changes based on season, but unfortunately the seasons are locked to real-world time, and it changes by a weekly basis. This was frustrating in the last time, and is still frustrating here, although playing about with the custom events (where you can set them in different seasons), the different seasons aren’t as different as in the previous game.

In terms of the stories, there are quite a few. The initial ones for each region are nice introductions to each area and the style of racing they focus on, while there are more specific ones like being a stunt driver, Mexican wrestling inspired car events (although there’s no car fighting), and helping test out a restored Beetle. The dialogue isn’t great, but it’s not awful and does the job well enough.

If you don’t like stories, you can focus on the different races instead: road races, dirt races, cross country (a mixture of both) and stunt races. There are also stunts such as beating speed cameras, drifting or maintaining a high speed along a stretch of road or getting a long distance on a jump. One new type for FH5 is trailblazing. Once you pass the starting gate, your goal is to get to the end point as quickly as possible, ideally going in a straight line. I think it would have been an interesting race type, but I feel it was not done as a race as the AI wouldn’t have coped with it (messing with the route creator, the AI is useless when they’re not on a road).

On the subject of AI, FH5 brings back the rather creepy drivatars, where unrealistic AI racers pretend to be your friends (as in they use the names of people on your friends list). I really wish Playground would add an option to have generic names instead, as giving them names you know just makes the races feel fake, as you know it isn’t them.

The reward system once again relies on a slot machine style system, giving you random rewards. You gain money very quickly and the cars just feel like they have no value, and once I bought the houses and had a few cars I liked, I didn’t feel like there was much use for the large amounts of money I had, and getting new cars just felt empty. Oddly, there are some customisation options which are exclusive in the “wheelspin” slot machine, such as different horns for the car. I would have easily spent the millions of credits I had on the one I really wanted, but grinding for the wheelspins and getting lucky is the only way (I was unsuccessful in getting it).

FH5 also has a fair few bugs (which may get sorted in future updates), such as the wheelspin itself not being given to you after most level ups, even though the game informs you that you have unlocked one. One persistent one was your car randomly halting for no reason, which would also cancel any stunt chains you currently have going. I fell though the map a few times, experienced a few crashes and there were lots of disconnections to the server (which personally for me was great, as it meant there were no other players, but it hadn’t activated “Solo” mode where AI drivatars would get in your way).

I had a few problems with the UI as it feels unintuitive at times. I love browsing for designs for the cars, but the browser makes it a pain to reset choices after you’ve changed cars. If you’re looking for a certain design, there’s a great search tool…but once you’ve found a design you like, the only way to know what car it is for is if you actually recognise the specific model. I found myself opening and closing the wrong menus quite a lot, too.

Forza Horizon 5 has some great accessibility features, but unfortunately not in the main area that affects me: colourblindness. It features the “filters” (which have never helped me out) and that’s it. I often didn’t know if I had set a waypoint on the map because the trail towards the marker was different to distinguish from the regular road colour, and the design tools don’t feature colour names, so I had to ask for help in picking the colour I wanted.

Forza Horizon 5 has some amazing gameplay, but features a lot of annoyances that hinder it.

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