It’s been a strange launch year for the next/current generation of consoles. Many have noted that there haven’t been enough games that truly make the most of the massive leap in power they provided. Although Ratchet and Clank: Drift Apart and maybe Returnal were able to fly this flag for the PlayStation, Microsoft has only had Flight Sim that managed to offer something that seemed like a fitting use of the power upgrade. Now, however, between Forza Horizon 5 and Halo dropping on December 9th 2021, Xbox is starting to bring the big hitters to the table.
Forza Horizon 5 offers some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen, all while offering a huge amount of fun and content in what might be the best racing game I’ve ever played. What’s strange about this is that it’s not even an exclusive game for the Series consoles. Hopefully, this will put to bed the opinion that cross-generational games need to make sacrifices for the older consoles.
Unfortunately, on PC at least, it’s not without issues. But the game deserves huge praise, as it seems like all the work done on previous iterations of the Horizon series has been used to bring the biggest and deepest arcade racer ever to players.
At the time of writing about a week after release, the game has been tried by about 8 million players and looks to be breaking all previous records when it comes to Xbox games that have been released into Gamepass. There is no limit when it comes to this game and let’s remember this has been released at the same time as Call of Duty Vanguard and Battlefield 2042 (not out till the 19th of November but available on EA Access for a 10-hour demo). Normally those games suck all the online players in and away from everything else.
As with all Horizon games, it’s an open-world racer that has the player exploring the world to find new cars, races and stories. This time we visit Mexico and take in the sights from active volcanoes to Mayan temples. Outside of the change to the setting being a little brighter and sunnier than the previous setting of the United Kingdom, one of the biggest changes is the increase in verticality. Climbing one for the many peaks shows the scale that has been added this time around.
It’s very much a case of more in every way. That’s no bad thing as all of the previous titles play extremely well. Over 500 cars and a map that’s 50% bigger than Horizon 4 and that’s before you get to the new additions like Event Lab and Horizon Arcade. These aren’t something I’ve had a lot of time with yet but the tools on offer could keep the game fresh for years to come.
Customization returns for both cars and the player character. Although it’s more of the same for cars (outside of being able to hear the changes made to your engine as you go, which is a nice addition), there are a lot more options in terms of making your character your own.
The handling model has been tweaked slightly and cars now feel more responsive and easier to control during huge drifts around winding roads. This wasn’t something I knew the game needed, but jumping back into 4 to compare, it’s made a huge change to the game overall.
The Eliminator battle royal mode also returns but the map feels like it’s been created with this more in mind and once again this is only to its benefit. I never played much of this before, but this map seems a lot more suited to it and I’ve loved giving this a try so far.
Forza Horizon 5 is massive and whether you want to play solo or online against friends, there should be more than enough content here to keep you busy (at least until its big brother Motorsport makes its return).
Unfortunately, that brings me on to the issues. I don’t do scores for games, but I am struggling to agree with many of the perfect scores that the game has had from critics (although it’s not far off it). On Series consoles, these seem to be of less concern but on PC just now SSOA (Screen Space ambient occlusion), is broken for me as having it on produces large back bars on the road in front of my car. It’s such a shame as I have the power to use it but for now, it’s off the table.
There have also been several audio issues, with the in-game audio just disappearing completely and only returning after a restart. And finally, unless you set it to its highest, there is an issue with the texture rendering that gives loads of pop in and low-quality textures.
None of the issues above is game-breaking, but they are annoying enough to have spoiled a little of my time with the game. Compared to Horizon 4 which was as simple as setting everything to its highest level and racing into the game, it’s disappointing more than anything else. However, given the quality of everything else that developers Playground Games have brought to the table, patches and performance improvement should just be around the corner.
Now I’ve spent the time finding the correct settings, the game is truly glorious to look at. Very little can live with this game when it comes to how it looks and plays. The even scales down to the base Xbox One version of the game which still seems like a huge jump graphically compared to 2019s Horizon 4. My only issue here was that input lag was much more noticeable than on my PC (or even the X-Cloud version which is now running exclusively on Series X hardware).
Ray tracing is featured for the first time in a Forza game, but only in the ForzaVista mode (pretty much car porn mode lol). Already PC players have been hard at work and found a way to enable this in-game, and the results look amazing but as always this can mean a big hit in terms of the power needed for this to operate. I’d like to see this added officially but with it, this should also see DLSS or FidelityFX Super Resolution added which allows for the headroom Ray Tracing needs to not adversely affect performance too much.
To be honest It’s got me wondering where the series could go next and how they can improve it next time around. Japan has often been a fan request and it would be a huge change from the sunny beaches of Mexico.
Outside of the few issues I’ve had, Forza Horizon 5 is amazing and everyone should give this a try on whatever platform they can. Even if driving games are not your thing, I implore you to give it a go. Horizon 5 will get supported for years with content and is looking to be a real turning point for both Xbox and Microsoft addressing its slight lack of proper AAA titles! Excellent job Xbox, Happy 20th anniversary!