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Forza Horizon 5 Is The Racing Game for RPG Fanatics

Picture of Maki
Co-Founder of Time wasters. I gravitate towards open world, action RPG’s and combat or sandbox survival. I play mostly Xbox Series X, PC or Meta Quest 2 - but my trusty NES is never far away.
forza horizon 5 review

Forza Horizon 5 was reviewed on Xbox Series X. This review is complimented by thoughts from our very own Pogoplay, who has been a long-time fan of the Forza series.

Take it from me, a seasoned RPG fan with very few racing games under my belt – Forza Horizon 5 can and will turn you into a racing addict, if you give it the chance.

I’m happy to report that the glitching seen in the video above (captured on launch day) has not returned in my 35+ hours of play time.

When it comes to racing games, I’ve only ever dabbled in 4 my entire life. Gran Turismo 2 on Playstation was my introduction to the genre. Although, I suppose technically Super Hang-On, for SEGA Genesis was the first categorical racing game I ever played. After the Gran Turismo days, I took a liking to Need for Speed Underground 2 and after that, Burnout 3 Takedown. Burnout 3 is the most recent on that list, and it came out in 2003! So what happened? Where did my apparent affinity for racing go?

What you’ll notice about those titles, is that they are all Arcade Racers, save for Gran Turismo which is considered a Racing Simulator. Super Hang-on had intuitive controls and fast paced action, Burnout 3 offered non-stop adrenaline-fueled fun and NSFU2 boasted career progression and a compelling story. I found something unique in each of these games that drew me across genres into Racing but it didn’t last – that is until the most recent installment in the Forza Horizon series.

Oh to be 16 bit again

An Intro Sequence Only Forza Could Follow-through On

First things first, if you haven’t watched the gameplay video at the top of this post – STOP. Go back up, and watch the heart-pounding madness that is Forza Horizon 5s intro sequence.

Are you back? Great! Let your heart rate settle back down, now let’s get started.

After a brief and visually stunning introduction to Horizon 5s Mexican setting and the apparent country-wide racing festival that has taken over the region, you’re immediately thrust into your first race. What better way to enter then by parachuting from a cargo plane, right? When you land you realize two things immediately: #1 The graphics are just as good as they were teased in the intro. And #2 the music is everything. Are the songs timed to the gameplay? Or is the gameplay choreographed to the songs? Either war, the perfect combination of how the racing feels, looks and sounds is all tied together by the guiding voice of your compadre – Ramiro, flying overhead.

At some point during your races, you’ll be introduced to the Rewind feature which will actually rewind time to a previous moment in the race, in about 5 second increments. So next time you are having the lap of your life and then mess everything up with an ill-timed turn, you can just rewind to a second before your mistake and give it another go! Some hardcore racers may not like this (you know who you are) and they are welcome to turn this feature off in the difficulty settings later. The guiding line showing navigation, optimal drive line as well as breaking indicators can also be toggled off but personally, I really enjoy it.

This may look familiar, I kept my starter car, the Ford Bronco. Only this one now has an 850hp engine and some serious off-road upgrades…

After taste-testing 4 different vehicles and biomes in unique races (with unique music) you’ll wind up making one of the most epic entrances ever into a Horizon event outpost. Here you’re met by the event coordinator, the pilot as well as a legendary mechanic. After some brief, and very inclusive character customization, you will finally pick your starter vehicle and be off to your first real event in the open world of Forza Horizon 5! If you’re not totally hooked at this point, there may just be no racing game out there for you (and that’s okay!)

Arcade Racing Fun Meets Simulation Complexity

Okay so I was hooked by the fast-paced action of Forza right from the beginning, but did that hold up dozens of hours later? Was I oversold on a brilliant introduction only to have my newfound romance slowly sizzle into char as the mid-game content stretched thinner and thinner? If you haven’t guessed, I have been hurt once before…. *cough* Cyberpunk… *cough*.

The short answer is no, I am still in a budding romance with Forza Horizon 5, and I don’t see us filing for annulment any time soon either.

The long answer lies in unpacking the careful balance that Playground Games and Xbox Studios have achieved with this newest installment in the franchise. They’ve combined all of the intuitive pick up and play style fun that got me into Super Hang-on with highly technical, difficult and rewarding racing sim mechanics that I saw Gran Turismo fans sucked in to. There are mysteries to solve and legends to uncover. There are even compelling characters with missions to push your story forward like in NSFU 2. Honestly, it’s all here! Do you want to jump in to immediate, heart-pounding races for 45 minutes, then put the controller down and get back to your life? Do you want to painstakingly tune every detail of your 1991 Skyline GTR for 3 hours, down to tire pressure and gear ratios, until you’ve maximized your chances of destroying the competition in a high-stakes drift event? Whatever you want out of your racing experience, it’s here for you, in Mexico.

All these settings are customizable, but if this looks too complex, you can also download setups that other players have saved and uploaded!

It can be as difficult as you want, as easy as you want, as technical or straight-forward as you want. When I started, I began on the default difficulty, and what I would consider to be “Arcade Mode”. I used automatic shifting, driving lines guiding the way, pre-set tuning options, and all other gameplay settings on default.

As I won my first dozen races, I received a notification that I was winning too easily, and was propositioned to increase the difficulty. I couldn’t turn that down! I’ve never encountered this in a game before, not that I can remember. Nevertheless, this happened a few more times until I found myself on “Pro”, one level from the final difficulty, conservatively named – “Unbeatable”. As long as I choose my cars carefully, I can compete at Pro difficulty now but it’s very challenging and often takes a few tries per race until I figure out the track and which racers to overtake early. Unbeatable has lived up to it’s name and is seemingly impossible at this time but I don’t mind having something to work towards!

pixel art of pogoplay

“Accessibility is Horizon 5’s secret weapon. Regardless of your playstyle, visual differences, or level of experience, Forza Horizon 5 does a splendid job at catering to every audience, giving led-foot drivers, like myself, an equal playing field.”

I think that in order to progress to that final difficulty level I’d have to learn how to custom-tune vehicles, start shifting manually and go a little deeper on pre-race upgrades as well as brush up on racing strategies. Personally, I really love the natural progression I’ve found myself in – from arcade racing style to a more technical sim approach as I move into the end-game. I didn’t see this happening when I started, but I’m sure glad it’s panning out this way.

See video description for how to get this legendary classic sports car yourself!

What’s In It For The RPG Lovers?

What I loved so much about Need for Speed Underground 2, was the campaign progression and plot lines that were just engaging enough to tie my racing efforts together. Remember, racing alone isn’t enough for us RPG-lovers, we need a compelling narrative to get us from point A to point B! Throw some progression, levelling, inventory accumulation and open world exploration and we’re probably sold. Forza Horizon 5 has all that and more, tied together in a vibrant and captivating open world that even now upon writing this, I just can’t help but stop writing and go for a quick race…

Okay, I’m back!

This fictional depiction of Mexico is packed full of action and mystery. The game map contains but is not limited to the following:

  • Baja, Track and Street Races (both lap and point A > B)
  • Story driven missions and tasks
  • Multiplayer events: Races, skill competitions etc
  • Barn Finds (Hidden abandoned barns containing legendary vehicles in disrepair)

Shown above is about 1/4 of the total game map. Driving by road from the left to right side of what’s visible here would take about 4 minutes at top speed.

There are also mini-game type events in the free-roam world such as:

  • Speed traps and speed zones (maintain or reach a certain speed throughout the indicated zone)
  • Danger signs (ramps off of giant cliffs, hit with top speed to attain a certain jump length)
  • Drift zones (Chain drifts in a designated area)
  • Collectibles (Usually signs you smash through to collect experience)

Upon being unleashed in the open-world, I felt like a kid in a candy store – almost overwhelmed in fact. I immediately started tackling every event nearby and was actually pleased to discover that in the case of point A > B races, you spawn back into the world at the location your race finished! This mixes things up a little and always ensures you are moving around the map, ensuring things never feel stale as well as improving the level of immersion… Because isn’t that how it would work in the real world?

But what are challenges and missions good for if there are no rewards? Oh, don’t worry. We’ll wrap this up on a note of unlockables and progression systems!

Unlockables, Unlockables, Unlockables!!

I really appreciate a good progression system. Something that can hack into your dopamine reward system in such a way that it keeps you constantly craving more. This might sound malicious to you, but to me it sounds like the kind of game that can keep me focused, engaged and immersed. Forza Horizon 5 has definitely hit the mark in this department. At the end of every race, you’ll be awarded a wheel spin which is full of cash prizes, cars and other unlockables. There’s also a reward rating system that you’ll recognize from your favorite RPG games; Common, Rare, Epic and Legendary. And let me tell you, the first time you hit that legendary car or massive cash prize, you’ll be chomping at the bit for another spin!

You might recognize this Warthog vehicle from the Halo series… which I managed to win on a lucky wheel spin. It can also be purchased for a whopping 850,000 credits in the Horizon store!

Wheelspins are just one flavor of unlockables that Forza Horizon 5 has to offer though – you’ll also be leveling up regularly, spending skill points to unlock abilities on each of your cars and claiming rewards from hundreds of Accolades. In these reward systems and more, you can unlock:

  • Unique vehicles
  • Cash prizes
  • Emotes (Your character emotes before and after races)
  • Character clothing items
  • Horns
  • Tokens that unlock major story missions

You can spend your hard-earned cash on vehicles and collectibles, but you can also spend it acquiring Casas all across Mexico! Granted, these homes aren’t much more functional than being a fast-travel point for car-swapping and customizing your rides, but they also serve as handy fast-travel points. (At least one of the homes unlock a major quality of life improvement that I won’t spoil for you now!) You’ll want these fast travel points, because Horizon is HUGE! Some youtubers claim to be able to traverse the map from one end to the other in just 6 minutes. I haven’t replicated it myself, but I am guessing that this requires one of the few cars in the game capable of 300 miles per hour.

All In All

Forza Horizon 5 is a long awaited treasure for returning fans and an attractive, genre-bending introduction that even us non-racing fans can quickly find ourselves smitten by. Some will call it an Arcade Racer, some a Racing Sim, but what Forza is is actually in the eye of the beholder. It is what you want it to be. It will meet you wherever you need it to. If you’re still reading, just take the length of this review as a sign… I encourage you to give Forza Horizon 5 the chance to let you fall in love with it. There may still be hope for your relationship with racing games just yet.

“Accessibility is Horizon 5’s secret weapon. Regardless of your playstyle, visual differences, or level of experience, Forza Horizon 5 does a splendid job at catering to every audience, giving led-foot drivers, like myself, an equal playing field.”

pixel art of pogoplay

“Forza Horizon 5 is the pinnacle of a series that continually 1-ups itself with every iteration. An unparalleled experience in terms of racing titles and filled to the brim (and then some) with content.”

See you Race cowboy…

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