Forza Horizon 5: ever larger, ever more beautiful, ever more platform | Review
04 November 2021 5
Forza Horizon 5 does not betray its nature as an arcade component of Microsoft’s racing offering, counterbalancing the Forza Motorsport series it has a more simulative and technical nature. Nor does it betray the rules of iterative sequels, where the formula remains more or less the same but is refined, expanded and improved. However, there is also another aspect that in my opinion is crucial to fully understand the game: that is the potential as a platform, rather than as a game made and all done. Warnings in this sense had already been seen with previous chapters, but here they are expressed in an even more clear and evident way.
MORE AND MORE PLATFORM, MORE AND MORE SOCIAL
Forza Horizon has always had an open-world setting, and is designed from the beginning to be expanded with the passage of time. There are seasonal championships, new cars every now and then, events, specials, challenges and much more. But the more time passes, the more the Playground Games developers show that they want to provide the player himself with the tools to create his own challenges, adventures and races. At the end of last December, the Blueprint Builder debuted with FH4, which in turn is an expansion of the “standard” Blueprint. Condensing: The player can create their own custom course, and can add elements such as ramps, jumps, obstacles and other interface elements. All of this in Horizon 5 is native, and it’s more powerful than ever .
One of the most interesting news concerns the event creation system. Not only the parameters that can be specified (season, weather conditions, number of laps …) are many more than in FH4, but now there are also the most advanced Rules, which are almost comparable to a high-level programming language . There are many types of events that can be monitored and as many conditions and actions that are performed – simplifying a lot in the if / then / else style. Do you want to create an event that if you crash into a wall you are eliminated? You can! Do you want to create an event that when you overtake … Dunno, the engine becomes more powerful? You can!
It is not impossible to find limits to the sandbox developed by Playground , but you really have to work hard. And that’s just the starting point – it’s pretty easy to imagine that, as happened with Horizon 4, new features and options will come over time to unleash even more player creativity.
In addition to all the creative modes we’ve seen so far with previous titles, Forza Horizon 5 also debuts a new version of the mode called Super7 , also recently introduced in FH4 . In that version it was a series of seven randomly chosen challenge events to be overcome in series, while now it is the players who create and propose the challenges. You can choose eight different challenge types, and then specify various parameters, such as weather conditions, traffic, season, rewind availability or not – even constrain a specific camera. Once everything is set up, the player proposing the challenge completes it and his time / score will be the benchmark for those cards. If a card that is too difficult happens it is possible to choose another one. multiplayer – which perhaps at this point has become a reductive term, and it is more correct to define them as social . In the sense: the possibilities to play against (or with) other pilots remain and are many – the various races, the battles against the ghost track and even the Battle Royale are back, and some new events also debut such as Horizon Arcade, a series of minigames based mainly on the skills to be completed in a given period of time – but now they represent only a part of the ways that users have to interact with each other.
Everyone can get their own role in the game based on what they prefer to do : there will be the classic driver, the “mechanic” who develops and shares elaboration plans for the cars, the “coachbuilder” who develops elaborate aesthetic schemes, the creator of events, the creator of challenges and so on. With this new chapter, Playground has created a network of interaction possibilities more intricate than ever, the potential of which is enormous. Unfortunately it is impossible to understand now how successful the initiative will be: in these days of pre-release testing the number of players was very limited, as usual. Everything will depend on the rate of adoption.
A VERY VAST WORLD OF EVENTS
In short, wandering around the beautiful and huge Mexican map of Forza Horizon 5 I had more the feeling of testing a showcase of what the title can offer, be, more than a full game. But, it is important to point out, it is not that things to do in single player are scarce, rather . There are new types of events, practically all those already seen in previous chapters return and also increase in number. Stories continue to be mere sketches of “plot” and would be gleefully avoidable were it not for the hefty car rewards they offer. On the other hand, the cutscenes with the dialogues cannot be skipped.
This is, after all, the largest Forza Horizon ever, with a map that, according to the developers, has an area of the 50% higher than that of FH4. The settings are also much more varied – we go from dune deserts to lush jungles, from mountains to lagoons, from cities with typical South American architecture to the ruins of ancient civilizations, and there is even room for an active volcano. Weather management is more detailed: there are always seasons, but weather conditions also vary according to the areas of the map. For example, during the dry season there are sandstorms in desert areas, while in the jungles in the wet season it often rains and leaves fly. And so on.
CARS, CARS, CARS
The fleet is also larger, with a overall total of 460 cars at launch , where FH4 stopped at “sole” 460. To date, the number of cars in Horizon 4 exceeds quota 750, so who knows how far we will get with Horizon 5 – we can even hope to reach the fateful altitude 1000? Hard to tell.
Not only are there more cars, but the models are much, much more detailed and detailed than in the previous chapter. In ForzaVista mode ray tracing is also active , but to be honest the differences between having it activated and deactivated are hardly noticeable. On the other hand, we appreciate the greater possibility of customization of the cars, both from a purely aesthetic point of view and from a more concrete performance point of view. As mentioned before, the user can save their presets and decide to share them online.
However, the huge roster of cars can also be a limit if it is not exploited properly. The feeling is that FH5 does not tempt you to explore your own car park , which also grows at such a speed that it is impossible to keep up with it (after a couple of hours of driving I was already over altitude 20). Furthermore, more or less every car can be radically modified to reach every power class (A Renault 4 from 400 km / h? Of course yes), so it can be instinctive to remain attached to the group of car you know.
Among the great absences compared to the previous chapter, some Italian brands stand out – Lancia, Alfa Romeo, FIAT and Abarth. Everyone has their own tastes, but in Horizon 5 there is the DeLorean so for me the roster could close to a car. Seriously, it’s a shame not to find icons like the 037, the Stratos, the Deltone, the 8C or the various iterations of the Abarth 500, but as I said this is just the beginning. Who knows how many other vehicles will arrive in the next months / years.
From a technical standpoint, Forza Horizon 5 offers very few flanks to criticism. The game world is rich, varied, full of detail and very convincing – the developers have made extensive use of techniques such as photogrammetry to recreate the settings and landscapes of real Mexico in the most realistic way possible. As for the car models, we’ve talked about them before – and the bottom line is that they’re some of the best and most detailed on the current scene. Maybe the human characters are a bit subdued, but it is true that they are rarely seen. The AI of the opponents is reasonably well modulated: in the sense that they are very easy to beat at the less demanding levels, and are very tough at the higher ones. But they always are in a convincing and coherent way: to understand it, it is not that they teleport behind you thirty seconds from the end to try to pass you to the last one.
Handling and sound of the cars are quite varied and differentiated . It doesn’t feel too much like you’re always driving the same car with a different body. The deformation of the models when activating damage is remarkably detailed graphically, but never gets too extreme. The physics of the environment is perhaps a little too arcade – light poles, gazebos, small trees and so many other obstacles look like cardboard shapes from how they fly away as soon as you touch them. Service information: The game takes up well 100 GB and is not dubbed in Italian (it is translated and there are subtitles for the cutscenes).
PERFORMANCE AND STABILITY
On the performance side, I was pleasantly surprised especially by the stability of the framerate in all circumstances. It is not obvious for a prerelease game, especially given the very large map and the fact that you move at great speed from one side to the other. My system with an RTX 3070 and a Core i7 – 5820 ka stock frequencies had no problem staying around the 72 Average FPS in QHD 1440 p with the preset “Extreme” (although the suggestion for my system was one step below, ie “Ultra”), and excluding the loading phases, the lower and upper peaks differ slightly.
The settings available on the PC allow a significant variation in both frame rate and quality – and this is just as true for aut or how much the setting. Using ultra-low details I was able to almost match my monitor’s maximum frame rate (120 Hz) even in 4K, but the graphics suffer a lot. With my system, it can be said that if I increase the resolution and go down one or two detail presets the frame rate remains more or less the same.
On the stability side there are lights and shadows (small, thankfully). In my approx. 50 hours of gameplay I observed a total of 4 crashes to desktop, again while I was modifying a car or messing around with creating events. That’s not an overwhelming average, especially for a pre-release game. For the rest, some graphic artifacts (see screenshot), a fall out of the game world and nothing more.
However, I got much more problems that seem to be attributable to the Microsoft Store , rather than the game itself: authentication failed, account unrecognized, downloads that start without any tangible indication, buttons you click and nothing happens and much more. Let’s put it this way: it’s not the first time I’ve played an early version of a game, but with FH5 I definitely broke the record for Windows reboots, app restores, and assorted tweaks. At present the Microsoft Store is difficult to recommend to alternatives such as Steam, unless absolutely necessary (ie: title not available elsewhere).
INTERFACE: TOO MUCH WRONG?
Perhaps Forza Horizon 5’s main problem is the user interface. Those who do not know much about the series risk finding themselves definitely bewildered by the myriad of things that happen all the time in the game and from the tons of menus, options, windows and controls. The result is that it takes some time to understand the many mechanics that allow the game to progress. I found seasonal playlists the most difficult to decipher – for example, you don’t know on the fly which events can be completed alone in single-player and which ones require a group of players. And then there are the clubs, the caravans, tot different places to look for various types of competitions. Microsoft introduced the virtual assistant and Forza Link, a series of quick (customizable) phrases to communicate with other players, but they don’t help much.
Even the management of upgrades is cumbersome – you have to go back to the garage (among other things: fast travel at home is always free if you go from the dedicated link in the main menu, but it costs if you go from the map), unless you find presets already made by others and in that case you can mount them instantly. The general argument is perhaps this: there are many commands scattered in multiple areas and this is often confusing. There are maybe 4 or 5 shops to buy cars . My hope is that for FH6 Playground you will opt for a complete overhaul of the UI; I understand that it is not easy, precisely because of the many possibilities that the game offers, but the risk is that few will engage in operations that are ultimately not difficult – the difficult thing is to find them.
LONGEVITY: THE ENDGAME IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
I put about twenty hours of gameplay to complete the main campaign and the map was still teeming with events to complete. Shortly before publishing this review I came to just under 50 hours, in the garage I have about 120 car on 560, the map is still uncleaned and I have literally hundreds of credits to unlock.
To this are added, as illustrated above, all the events created by community – simple “remixes” with different conditions of the races already present or completely new events, plus all seasons, campaigns and special events that the developers will decide to to integrate. As I said, this is no longer a simple video game, it is a platform. It has the potential to remain interesting and active for years.
The only negative is the difficulty. The game does not give much incentive to use few driving aids , or for example the manual gearbox instead of the automatic. They increase the credits a little, yes, but between the wheel of fortune and events of various kinds, there is basically no shortage. There is also a handful of rewards that specifically require you to set the opponent’s AI to the maximum level, but on the other hand you can activate all the driving aids you want. Same goes for the rewinding of time, which is practically always infinite even during the races.
With this fifth chapter, Forza Horizon confirms one of the best open arcade racers- world on the market , and Playground’s decision to focus more and more on user-generated content is the right way to go even further. Fun abounds for all ages, there are a myriad of activities to suit all types of players – even those who enjoy generating tracks more than running. There are really no negative points, if not the interface which is at times very crowded and it is a bit difficult to understand certain mechanics. The only risk is that for those who have already played all the previous chapters it is a bit of the same story, but this is the logic of the franchises by now.