I’m in love with Forza Horizon 5, and here’s why

If you’ve read this blog or at least seen a bit of the content on it, you might know that I’m knee-deep into sim racing. Particularly, Assetto Corsa Competizione (ACC). What you might not know is that I haven’t driven in ACC for nearly half a year now. I still love the game and the idea it represents, but due to life getting in the way I haven’t found the time and energy to actually play it.

Getting into ACC after a long day of work would not only require me to mount my wheel. I would also need to be able to focus. ACC is unforgiving, and even though I love it for that, it requires the right mindset. A mindset I haven’t had in half a year.

It doesn’t help that ACC in its current form doesn’t really offer a goal in playing for me. After over a thousand hours in the game, I feel like I have progressed to my personal limit. And, not having a goal, I find it hard to have fun.

Forza Horizon 5, on the other hand, offers just that: plain old fun.

Forza and me

I’m not new to the Forza series. I played Forza Motorsport 2 and 3 religiously as a teenager. I made it to several top 50 spots on time trial leaderboards while racing with a gamepad. Ultimately, I stopped playing Forza when I moved out of my parents’ house at 17 to go to university. My Xbox never made it into my student room, as my parents rightly feared I’d be spending my time playing games. Instead of, you know, spending it on the (at the time) more important stuff such as studying or socializing.

Last year, I picked up Forza Horizon 4 on a sale. But, after having done each of the races and story missions, I didn’t feel compelled to stick around. It probably didn’t help that the game, a couple of years after release, was far from populated.

Horizon 5 was released November 9th, 2021. I wasn’t planning on playing it at release (since I refuse to pay full price for broken games), but a friend said I could get it with Xbox Game Pass. Which, incidentally, was currently having a good deal requiring you to pay just €1 per month for the first three months. So, I signed up, downloaded the game, and got to playing the damn thing with expectations set to medium.

When it booted, I was ill-prepared for what I was greeted with. Arguably the best menu song I’ve heard. Better than Halo 3’s. While I’m writing this, I’m listening to a one-hour-long looped version some madman recorded for Youtube. As it is an original composition for the game, it sadly can’t be found on streamers such as Spotify. But seriously, click that link and be amazed.

Anyway, I’m getting off-track (like I often do in Horizon 5, but more on that later). Let’s get back to the game.

Forza, the F is for Fun

Like many modern games (with ACC being a notable exception) the game starts you off by doing a few mandatory things, which take you about 15 minutes before you are actually let loose unto the Mexican landscape. And this is where the fun starts.

Right from that point on, you are free to decide what you want to do. You can buy any car as long as you have the money for it. You can immediately install any upgrade you want (within the game’s limits of course). Nothing is gated behind progression bars like in Need for Speed (Heat, or any other really). It is up to you to decide which car you want, and how you want to set it up.

You can make your car fit almost any situation. Want to make an offroad monster out of your Ferrari? You can. Is your Volkswagen too slow? A V12 might help. Want to make your classic Mercedes 300SL into a drift monster? Go ahead.

I remember an old TV ad for (I believe) Forza Motorsport 1. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like ‘this is my car, I’ve raced it from the bottom to the top’ and it showed the car evolving from a simple lemon to a racing monster. Well, this game is the very embodiment of that sentiment. This is true Forza, even though it is not Motorsport but Horizon. This is the game I grew up loving but on steroids.

If you don’t know what Forza Horizon is about, let me give you a quick rundown;

  • The series puts you in a wide-open world, and in Horizon 5 that would be based on Mexico.
  • The map is not only populated with AI traffic but also other drivers as Horizon 5 is set up like an MMO.
  • You are free, no, encouraged to leave the road and drive however you want. The map is littered with objects for you to find, ranging from XP-boosts to rare cars.
  • There are fixed races; circuit and street races keep you on the road, while dirt and especially baja races make full use of the map’s landscape.
  • These races can be done solo or against real-world players using any of the over 500 cars.
  • There are also games which can be played through matchmaking, such as capture-the-flag and even a battle royale-like “Eliminator”-mode.
  • You can get creative with making liveries and setups which you can share and earn you a little financial boost when used by other players.

The racing, against AI at least, is decent. I haven’t found a good balance in AI strength yet: they are either too slow or too fast. But, as most races are between 2-4 minutes depending on your car’s speed, this doesn’t matter. Because the driving is so fun.

While driving, I don’t focus on being fast. I focus on getting and keeping that damn skill-score meter up. On making awesome drifts and when I do, feeling like I made them happen (looking at you, Need for Speed Heat).

Not everything is perfect

On the other hand, the short races pose a problem, especially when driving online. If you make one mistake, you’re out. While driving solo, you can use a rewind button to correct your mistake. Online, however, you’ll lose precious time. Because the races are so short, you have virtually no chance of correcting your mistake. Combine that with loading times when driving online which are often as long as the races themselves (especially when someone in the lobby has the game installed on an HDD), this really puts a damper on the fun.

Some of the other online components are, at the time of writing, also still a bit wonky. Horizon Arcade events are not attracting the attention of enough fellow racers to actually complete the events. Load times for online races are sometimes longer than the races themselves. Connection drops are regular occurrences. I’ve had the game crash on me just once, but this was immediately after installing the hotfix which was supposed to fix them.

However, most of these things are to be expected and it’s normally the reason why I wouldn’t pay full price for new games. On the other hand, the game runs smoothly (~120 FPS) on ultra settings, even though my CPU (Ryzen 5 1600) is supposed to start showing its age after 4 years. But, truth be told, the game is far from perfect.

(Un)rewarding creativity

Forza has always had a great in-game livery editor, and Forza Horizon is no different in that regard. You can upload your designs, and when buying a car you get the option to use one of the uploaded liveries. If your design gets downloaded by another player, you get a small financial kickback.

This system is essentially great, but discoverability is a problem. Custom liveries are sorted by popularity. Many designs have been ported through from earlier installments of Forza (Horizon or Motorsport). Furthermore, Forza Horizon offers an option to follow certain players. This will cause their designs to be on the top of the list when selecting a custom livery, making liveries created by popular creators more likely to become instantly one of the popular options.

As someone just starting out with creating liveries, I’ve had no luck with people downloading my creations. To (hope to) counter this, I made an appropriately themed Forza Horizon 5 Hub, where I will post all my creations with a share code you can use to download them. Click here to see it in action!

I feel as though I will likely keep creating new liveries and vinyl groups for the foreseeable future. However, (and this is not a threat, more of a problem with the game itself) if none see my creations it might cause me to stop doing so. Making stuff is fun, but in the end, if you only make that stuff for yourself to see, why bother?

Closing remarks

Forza Horizon 5 is fun, and you should try it. It’s only 1$ a month for 3 months with Game Pass, if you aren’t subscribed to that service yet. If you want to hit me up, feel free to connect with me on my Xbox account. If you like the liveries in the pictures in this post, be sure to check out the Forza Horizon 5 Hub on this website.

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