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I don’t really like racing games, but I really like Forza Horizon 5. Shall we get into that, briefly? Let’s.
Racing games, today, bore me more often than not. Fiddle with this setting, adjust that variable. Track temperature and tyre pressure. A thousand painstakingly detailed pieces of motoring equipment recreated so as to be so lifelike you won’t even know you’re in a game. Yawn. I ache for more releases like OutRun, like Daytona USA, like Cruis’n Blast - which came out this year but hardly enough of you noticed. Racers that are less simulators, more thrill rides. Too fast, too wild, too out of control, and that’s the point. Pure driving fantasies. The roar of a good arcade racer gets my skin tingling, every time. The meticulous attention to detail of so many of today’s home console equivalents… yeah, not so much.
Watch the breathtaking opening to Forza Horizon 5 below…
Xbox’s Forza Horizon series isn’t OutRun, or Daytona USA, or Cruis’n Blast, but it leans so much more into ridiculousness than realism that I’m sold with each and every iteration. This is a series where every little dumb thing you do - from launching your million-quid machine off a cliff edge and landing it 600 metres later on top of a farmhouse, to deliberately ploughing through a forest using your clapped-out crap-wagon as a four-wheeled lumberjack - adds up to experience, to credits, to fun. I love picking it up for 30 minutes, racking up a stack of points doing whatever I want, and putting it down again feeling fully satisfied. The Horizon series is perfect for those in-between moments - no time to properly get into a game, but plenty enough to reward yourself for three-starring a speed trap and drifting down a mountainside in a motor painted up like an anime disaster.
Forza Horizon 5 looks incredible. You’d never mistake it for looking at a photograph, but its environments and cars are rarely less than stunning. But that’s pretty much where its connection to the real world starts and ends, as - subject to personal settings - you can make your ride of choice an indestructible missile tearing through picturesque Mexico. Bumps, bangs, prangs, head-on collisions, all fine, nothing to worry about. This is how I play: options maximised for mayhem and the sim-like elements turned all the way down. That said, it’s your game, play how you like. If you want to be boring, you can be.
And if you’ve already played a previous Forza Horizon game, most notably the current-gen third and fourth entries, you know what you’re getting into with 5 - and that more of the same vibe it gives off is, in this instance, a good thing. I don’t know if I’d drop 50 quid on a boxed copy of Forza Horizon 5 since I outright own the last few games already, which offer the same brand of chaotic open-world driving in beautiful settings, realistic cars screaming across landscapes out of a dream holiday. (And, um, the streets of Edinburgh.) But as a day-one Game Pass addition, at least in its most basic package, Forza Horizon 5 is irresistible. Its main changes are largely superficial, with new environments and weather conditions alongside better-than-ever character customisation features, but it’s now my go-to Forza even as 3 and 4 remain installed on my Xbox One X. Apologies to Australia, but you’re so 2016.
And on that, this is a game that performs brilliantly on hardware now starting to show its age. I’ve not taken Forza Horizon 5 for a spin on a base Xbox One, but from what I’m told it plays as right as the cooling rain that falls in it, turning the tarmac into a treacherously slippery challenge. Loading times are longer and yes, there’s a little sparkle missing from the visuals - but when I pick up the pad for another 30 minutes of hooning through idyllic hamlets along the Mexican coast, there’s no notable shortcomings to be seen in this game from a presentation standpoint. Unless you count the radio, that is. The radio sucks.
Just as OutRun was as much about the feeling and emotion of the drive as it was crossing the finishing line, Forza Horizon 5 succeeds because winning isn’t a particularly important part of its DNA. Every little thing you do leads to more and more new stuff to see, certainly across several weeks of casual play. Eventually you’ll run out of icons to drive to, stars to fill, houses to buy; but just as Forza Horizon 5 never suffocates the player as other open-world games do with a torrent of markers that claim equal importance, it also lets you simply be in its world. Want to hop into the front seat of a total fantasy and put your foot down until you reach the ocean? Take a relaxed tour to the top of a dormant volcano and drink in the view? This is that game. Sure, you can race, if you want - but why not take your time instead?
Find our top 40 games of 2021 - featuring Forza Horizon 5 - here. You can also check out our PlayStation Game of the Year, our Nintendo Game of the Year, and our PC Game of the Year.
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