Forza Horizon 5 (Review)

As a car enthusiast, I’ve watched the gaming world of racing grow and change, and Gran Turismo 4 got me into sim racing in particular as I bought an entire steering wheel setup just to play it.  Since then, the competition has grown, and while the Forza Horizon series is the arcade racing offshoot that uses massively sped up sim physics, I’ve been along for the ride ever since Horizon 2.  Is this formula growing stale or has it reached its peak?


GAMEPLAY

It’s easily the most balanced, accessible, and inviting…

Right trigger goes, left trigger stops, left analog stick steers.  It’s controller-friendly, arcade-sim racing.  Now before I move onto the activities, I want to note that it seems they further dialed back the sim aspects compared to prior entries: Horizon 5 feels just a little TOO forgiving for my tastes.  Though, this really is more of a note for racing enthusiasts like me than a knock on the game’s shift in balance between arcade and sim.  From there, though, the game makes sure you have all the tools you need to have fun.  That’s right, this game has also further focused its efforts on the fun and adventurous aspects, and in that it succeeds by having more explorable areas and a greater split in off-road racing.  By the time you’re doing the much lengthier late game races, you’ll have spent enough time dabbling to be semi-pro in just about every racing discipline or open-world activity (which includes the token Forza customization and modding suite that many know and love).  It’s easily the most balanced, accessible, and inviting of the Horizon series across the board, though I’m more of a circuit racer myself.  All is not perfect, however, and I found the online portion to still present a lot of last gen limitations in how it handles segment sessions and player visibility counts.  Hopefully that gets better soon, as I enjoyed every minute of every racing discipline and will always look for excuses to get behind the wheel again.


CONTENT

This isn’t a game you simply “beat”…

Speaking of minutes, though the game’s time count seems to be higher than I clocked, you’ll easily sink in 20-25 hours just doing all of the game’s main races.  From there, you’ll see that the world is still packed with sights to see and things to do like a Ubisoft open world, and they’ve already set up the upcoming seasonal races as well.  This isn’t a game you simply “beat” and move on, because just something as simple as inclement weather can change up and refresh the feel of races.  And then there’s always the battle royale… Yea, it has that.


PRESENTATION

…last gen underpinnings do rear their head…

This is easily the most cross-gen optimized game I’ve ever seen.  By switching to my PC and comparing the lowest possible settings to the highest, the scalability is a bit eye-opening.  This means that it looks great on the Xbox Series X, though I don’t recommend the performance mode as the quality mode presents a much more beautiful visual presentation.  And while this is probably THE best world reflection mapping I’ve ever seen (which will easily fool most eyes if it weren’t for the lack of reflecting other cars), the last gen underpinnings do rear their head in the seemingly lower quality ray tracing in Forzavista.  It seems to me this engine hasn’t been optimized for ray tracing, yet, and it shows as anything that seems to be more than a foot away from the vehicle reflects at the same low quality as the world reflection mapping.  And yet, there was a real upgrade that they did just for car enthusiasts like me: the sound (no, not the annoying characters that are all varied Chatty Cathys).  Not only can you now preview what your car sounds like with different engines AND exhaust mods, but there’s a profound beauty to turning up your volume, turning off the radio, and just hearing the roar of the engine in cockpit mode.  Eargasmic perfection, a worthy audio upgrade indeed.


CONCLUSION

…the game still survives my scrutiny…

You might assume I favor the game as a person who loves and works on my own cars.  But what that actually does is make me more scrutinous.  Fortunately, the game still survives my scrutiny, outweighing its own negatives with ease by focusing on a fun adventure.  Yes, it’s not perfect, and yes if I really wanted to, I can find all sorts of tiny things to point out, graphics included, that could use a little “more”.  But this is a game series that’s continued refining and polishing itself, and just like the paint on your car, the more time you put into taking care of it, the more it shines.  This is THE shining example of the arcade sim racing experience in an open world, even if it can be a bit too “arcade” at times.

I give Forza Horizon 5

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