We like our video games sequels like we like new albums by our favorite bands: we want some evolution, but not to the point where it seems unfamiliar. Which is going to be a problem for some fans of the Forza Horizon series of open world racing games, since Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC) doesn’t add much in the way of gameplay to distinguish it from previous installments. But for people just looking for an engaging racing game — i.e., me — Forza Horizon 5 provides the same level of racing excitement as, well, previous installments.
For those unfamiliar with the Forza Horizon series,
they are open world racing games where you not only engage in point-to-point and multi-lap events on tracks and closed city streets, but can also engage in illegal street races, do some Dukes Of Hazard-style jumps, and get yourself into some crazy races, all while earning points when you drive particularly well…or particularly badly.
They also, like many racing games these days, give you multiple options when it comes to the handling and physics, including adjustable assists for the braking and steering, and whether your tires grip the road like they’re new or well-worn. As a result, you can play this like it’s a simulation, something somewhat close to an arcade game (though not to the point where anyone would call it Mario Kart-esque), or somewhere in the middle.
The Forza Horizon games take a similar approach to how hands-on you can be with your cars. Like in a sim, you can adjust numerous mechanical aspects, including the tire pressure, alignment, damping, brake pressure and balance, differential, and other mechanics that serious drivers would want to have control over. But you can also ignore these bits of detail with no penalty.
the Forza Horizon games let players chose the levels of realism individually. Which means you can still fiddle with the minutiae of a car’s mechanics even if you drive with all of the assists cranked up, or opt to make this a racing simulation even if you keep the brake pressure, et al., at the factory settings.
This series has also always boasted a wide variety of cars (including street legals, high end sports cars, and all-terrain vehicles) as well as an equally varied selection of surfaces to race them on (including paved roads, dirt paths, picturesque beaches, and muddy jungles). There’s also a full day and night cycle, as well as all kinds of different weather conditions.
As for navigating, the game will also, if you ask nicely, draw a line on the road telling you where to steer and where to brake. Though it’s actually more helpful in telling you how to get to the next event you want to enter (sorry, GPS lady).
As for what’s new in Forza Horizon 5,
there is, of course, all the stuff you’d expect from any racing game sequel. Set in Mexico, and occasionally the beaches of Baja, California, this not only boasts the usual compliment of new races and cars, but also the usual under-the-hood refinements to the physics, handling, and presentation (no pun intended).
But Forza Horizon 5 actually embraces its Mexican setting more than Forza Horizon 4 showcased England and Forza Horizon 3 was all-Australia, all the time. Except that it’s often done in exploratory missions that makes things a little awkward, culturally speaking. In one part, for instance, you drive around some ancient Aztec ruins, looking for a place to set up the Wi-Fi.
It also makes it weird that you get points for destroying things, especially when you realize you may have just knocked out power to a small town, thus stopping someone’s abuelita from watching her telenovelas.
It’s also annoying that you can’t skip these cutscenes. Or the showy ones whenever you chose a new car.
As odd as those bits may be, though,
they pale in comparison to Forza Horizon 5‘s most irritating addition: Stadium races. In these events, you drive on narrow tracks that have cement walls, as well as jumps that are either as wide or half as wide as the track. But while navigating a narrow track at high speeds could’ve been fun, any chance of that is ruined by how the walls are uneven and have ledges. As a result, cars constantly get stuck, and are never able to build up any real speed, making this less a test of skill and more a test of patience. Good thing these are just one of many events in this game, and thus easy to skip.
As for good things they’ve added to Forza Horizon 5, the most welcome is that they’ve finally fixed this series’ most ridiculous and consistent mistake: you can now turn the music off in the options. While you could always turn off a car’s radio, you had to do it every time you got in a new car. In the options menus, you could only turn it down to a whisper…an annoying whisper. Not now. Now, you can go in the menu and turn off all of the music. Y’know, like in almost every other game since the first cave man knocked two rocks together and made Asteroids.
Forza Horizon 5 also corrects a problem so prominent in games these days that I cut and paste the same paragraph into every relevant review. As with many, many games, the text in the menus is really, really small if you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV. Y’know, like your mama told you to. But this also has an option to make the menu type bigger.
In the end,
Forza Horizon 5 may not be a huge leap forward, especially for some fans (just ask the people who made Far Cry 6). But I’m okay with that. Especially since — thanks to its beaches and jungles and no weather systems — this feels more like Forza Horizon 3 than Forza Horizon 4, and I liked 3 more than 4. Though it also helps that 5 is the first Forza game in three years.
But mostly, I’m okay with Forza Horizon 5 not being an evolution because the Forza Horizon — and those in its sister series, Forza Motorsport — remain the gold standard by which all racing games are judged. The controls are still spot-on, the tracks are still nicely curved, and the competition is, well, competitive. All of which may make this feel a bit like a used car, but a used 1967 Chevy Corvette Stingray 427 is still a Corvette.