Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Forza Horizon 5 (XBS, XB1, PC) Review

As hinted last night, SPC does have one last review to end the month of November here, and it's a doozy of a game. Last night we covered Metroid Dread, a serious contender for Game of the Year, and fresh off that game's heels is another destined for the same consideration. It's Forza Horizon 5, so let's hop into the driver's seat, clutch the steering wheel, and get ready to race with this review.

Nirvana in open-world racing form

My experience with racing games is quite limited, especially when we're talking cars from real life manufacturers and not something like go-karts with mustachioed plumbers inside of them. Therefore, it was with trepidation that I entered into the verdant greens, majestic mountainsides, and lush landscapes of Forza Horizon 5's Mexico, not really knowing what to expect out of this open-world racer. After all, this was my first time with the Forza series as a whole, understanding only that Forza Horizon was the more open of the two Forza line of games, with the other, Motorsport, being inspired by and modeled after PlayStation's Gran Turismo series. 

From the moment my modern supercar launched out of a transport carrier and had its wheels press and pound onto the pavement, I knew my vacation in the Forza Horizon Festival was going to be a seriously enjoyable one. A series of racing set pieces started my introduction to and adventure in Mexico: speeding through a sandstorm, getting rough and wild with some off-road racing, and finally ripping and tearing towards the Horizon Festival itself in a car that would cost more than a decade of an average person's salary. 

It was from there where I chose from one of the handful of starter cars to begin my feverish collection of vehicles that Mexico opened up considerably. It was my playground to enjoy and explore as I saw fit. There were various races of multiple types and disciplines to engage with, such as some circuit racing, some variety with cross country racing, some down and dirty off-road racing, and even some white-knuckle street racing. 

SuperPhillip's ride is ready to rule the road in this Horizon Festival.

But, racing events are hardly the only thing to delve into in Mexico during the Horizon Festival, but they do help earn great amounts of accolade points, allowing you to participate in more and more event types, such as the aforementioned street racing and even drag races. You can help build outposts from completing special set piece-like races where the challengers vary immensely, such as trying to beat a team of jet skis riding the swamp's waters as you tear through the nearby land in your vehicle. Or, better yet, how about contending with two gigantic monster trucks as they crash and bash through the landscape? These set piece races are less about the actual racing (well, until the very end of the race where crossing first is necessary) and more about enjoying the ride and thrills along the way. 

Aside from numerous races that you can compete in either against the AI or other players (and these races come in lap or rally forms) and the special races against asymmetric opponents, there are story-related missions to complete at your leisure as well. These range from heading to destinations to take photographs of ancient architecture and statues, to reaching a specific place in the designated amount of time. 

Story-based missions such as these insert some not-so-much-needed
(but enjoyable all the same) variety into Forza Horizon 5.

There is plenty of side content aside from the main repertoire of modes and events within the Horizon Festival. For instance, sprinkled around Mexico is a massive amount of bonus boards, rewarding cheaper fast travel prices and experience points for finding and crashing into them with your car. Some of these are positioned in such a way that they can't be accessed through normal means, such as those on roofs of buildings. Sometimes you need to take a leap from a nearby hill to reach them, and discovering how to reach them and how much speed is necessary to do so becomes a bit of a puzzle, one extremely satisfying to solve. 

Other than bonus boards, there is a variety of Horizon Promo challenges to take on, such as photographing other cars via the game's amazing Photo Mode (which all screenshots included in this review were taken in). There are also speed traps which require you to pass through them at a set speed to clear them, drift zones where you earn points for drifting through a marked path, and also danger signs, where you launch your vehicle from a ramp to see how far you can go while landing successfully. All of these speed and racing-related mini-challenges reward you with up to three stars for accomplishing them well, and they will seriously test your driving mettle even further. 

Races make up the majority of event-based content within Forza Horizon 5.

Then, there are all the multiplayer options available. There's taking on players in the Battle Royale-like Eliminator mode, creating and playing other Drivatars' custom-made racing events and challenges, delving into Playground Games like capture-the-flag and infection, driving the vast game world of Mexico and engaging with other players by challenging them to races or simply teaming up with them in Horizon Arcade skill-based challenges, and simply cruising through Mexico with your best mates. The fact of the matter is that there is no shortage of stuff to do within the Horizon Festival this time around.

Whether a ride in the country or a drive through the city, Forza Horizon 5's Mexico is a pleasure to race around in.

No matter what you decide to do in Forza Horizon 5, you're always making progress in some way--whether that's gaining accolade points to unlock new event types, gaining skill points from driving in style to spend on perks for individual cars, or earning experience points to level up your driver rank. Doing the latter routinely nets you Wheelspins, which are roulettes where you earn a random prize, such as new cars, cash, cosmetics for your custom Drivatar, and unique car horns. Wheelspins and their big sister Super Wheelspins, which reward three prizes at once, can be earned through other ways than simply gaining experience points and leveling up, like completing seasonal objectives.

Don't mind me--just passin' through!

Seasons come and seasons go in the real world, and it's similar in Forza Horizon 5, save for the fact that these present unique opportunities to earn points each season in order to unlock exclusive, hard-to-find and legendary cars. A season in Forza Horizon 5 runs for about a month's time, and each week presents a new set of challenges and events to take on, and rewards to earn from them. Sometimes you'll be asked to compete in races against highly skilled Drivatars, while other times it's clearing a jump with a certain distance in a specific car. There are also daily challenges, offering Forzathon points for completion, used as another type of currency to purchase in-game goodies like rare cars, cosmetics, vehicle horns, and Wheelspins. 

The level of customization afforded to players in Forza Horizon 5 is simply insane in all the best ways. From customizing your car with custom-made liveries (yeah, I ride around like a bad ass with the adorable pink puffball Kirby painted on the side of my car--what of it?) to being able to tune your vehicle however you want, as well as making your own events, you can do a lot with Forza Horizon 5. Plus, each and every thing you create in the game--whether it's a custom livery, car tune, or racing event/challenge--can be shared with the Forza Horizon community. 

What do you think a driver feels when they look in their rearview mirror and see Kirby
racing up behind them? I think they feel absolute terror.

All of this nifty and cool content and features in Forza Horizon 5 would mean jack squat if the racing wasn't up to par. Well, I'll simply say that a racing video game series doesn't get to its fifth installment by having its cars habitually handle like crap. Even still, you can always tune your car to make it run the way you want it to anyway, if there ever is a problem! Nevertheless, the cars in Forza Horizon 5 feel fantastic, using realistic driving physics, such as having four-wheel drive vehicles work well off the pavement and having supercars like a Lamborghini burnout and enter oversteer if they attempt the same. Racing is intense and just awesome, making you feel like you're in the driver's seat of whichever of the 500+ vehicles you enter. 

Further, Forza Horizon 5 makes for an accessible game for almost all ages or at least all skill levels. The AI can be tuned to whatever difficulty you are comfortable with, and if the game sees you beating the AI handily and routinely, it will ask you if you'd like to up the challenge for your next race for a cash percentage boost bonus. Then, there's the recommended racing line that can be turned on and off at any time. This shows the ideal line to take a given race, and it will even change colors from blue to red when it's necessary to brake on an upcoming turn because you're driving a bit too fast. 

However, by far the best accessibility feature and an utter godsend to Forza Horizon 5 is that of the rewind button, designated to the Y button. It's totally optional, and can be used in and out of races. There's nothing more frustrating than participating in a 10 minute race, running a flawless race until you make a costly error late-race, losing first place and wasting 10 minutes of your life in the process. Rewinding remedies this annoyance, allowing you to retry turns without having to restart the entire race. Moreover, it's helpful in the open world to rewind if you get caught in a troublesome spot, want to redo a jump quickly without having to go through the hassle of driving back there yourself, and is just generally a massive timesaver. 

Forza Horizon 5 runs remarkably on the Xbox Series S, the Xbox that I played my version of the game on. Load times are negligible, coming in at the absolutely highest of 5-10 seconds. That's generally when loading races. Otherwise, even during instances of fast travel where you can warp across the map, the loading times are mere seconds, if even that. 

And I'm free... free-fallin'!
Meanwhile, the environments are immaculate and detailed. The foliage is a marvel to look at, the geography and geometry on display within are incredible, and the lighting only further enhances the beauty of this immensely polished presentation. No doubt the cars are the stars of the festival show, and these possess and push an insane amount of polygons to look absolutely incredible. Cars show visible destruction, such as destroyed fenders, broken-off side view mirrors, scratched paint, mud, and damage from colliding into walls or other cars. This is one delightful and damn fine game to look at, and I found myself marveling at its beauty more times than possibly the amount of cars in the game (and once again, that's over 500).

Forza Horizon 5 is a magnificently crafted open world racer with a world in Mexico that is varied in amazing geography that is just a blast to explore and drive about mindlessly in. Racing and driving feel tremendous and realistic in all the best ways (and some of the worst if you're not into realism and want a much more "arcade" feel than what's presented here). The absolutely massive amount of content currently in the game and constantly coming with seasons means you'll have plenty of reasons to keep returning to Mexico and enjoying the ride. I sure know I have so far, and I also sure know that I will continue to do so. 

[SPC Says: A]

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