A van sits at the foot of the central volcano in "Forza Horison 5". Screenshot captured by Quint Iverson.

A Forza Horizon 5 Release Diary

by Quint Iverson, originally posted November 18, 2021

Forza Horizon 5 is a stuffed video game. It contains over 500 cars, more than 100 discrete races, and over 10 square kilometers of open world. There is no way to review Forza Horizon 5, because there is no way to meaningfully encapsulate Horizon 5's scope.

As such, this piece on Forza Horizon 5 is a journal, not a review: a collection of snapshots that should build to a picture of the game over the course of a month.

But first, a short rundown: The Horizon games, simulation racer Forza Motorsport's more arcade-y, open-world cousin, have always been about the power fantasy of the car as unstoppable object. At the in-game Horizon Festival, cars are able to transport people across almost any terrain without issue, given enough traction and momentum. That's the world these stories take place in.

Pre-Release Week: Spring

The first car I bought with in-game currency in Horizon 5 was the Reliant Supervan III. It's a low-rank car with three wheels designed for city driving. So, naturally, I gave it the engine of a supercar. The result is a machine I have lovingly dubbed The Spin Cycle: a car that will run at 130 miles per hour down a straightaway but will flip at least four times if you touch the steering wheel.

I will never race in The Spin Cycle--at least, not seriously--but I won't ever forget it.

Every landmark on the map--its cities, its biomes, even its central volcano--is based on a real place in Mexico. One of those places is the actual Mayan ruin Ek' Balam. The archelogical site in the real world contains the standing tomb of its 8th century king, Ukit Kan Le'k Tok'. I first discovered its recreation via a main story mission. As part of my mission, I place a pop radio satellite on an active archelogical site and drive on a canturies-old archelogical ruin in a 2019 Ford concept car.

I could not have felt any more like a colonizer.

Once, when driving up to a race, Horizon 5 gave me the option to play a player-made course beginning from the same point. The resulting race was one of the most constricting courses I've ever driven.

During the race, I jumped off a ramp in my bright-orange 2021 Ford Bronco--only to land directly on top of another racer also piloting a bright-orange 2021 Ford Bronco. I feel like a cat leaping onto an unexpected surface. For a moment, the Bronco my Bronco was riding on just kept going, as if two more tons of weight on its suspension wasn't enough to slow it down. I eventually fell off the car, ran away from the pack, and proceeded to win the race--but in a game about control, I've had never had so much fun feeling helpless.

Week One: Summer

I've realized that bringing an appropriate car to a race is just as important as driving well in it. Obviously, players shouldn't bring a hypercar to a dirt race. But some cars just fit certain racing styles more than others, and it's important for me to have a car for each in-game speed class that suits my style.

...so I've created a monstrosity:

B Rank A Rank S1 Rank S2 Rank
Road N/A N/A A Renault 5 Turbo. N/A
Rally N/A An Exocet Off-Road Forza Edition. A Metro 6R4. N/A
Tricks N/A N/A A Ford Focus RS. N/A

It's nice to have a goal to work toward.

One of the easiest ways to find Horizon 5's intended audience is to play through some of its story missions. The game expects players to understand an underground street racing society within one mission of introduction, but Lucha Libre?


Gotcha! In that case, I'll make sure that I...I mean Toro Loco...will be there!


That's the spirit!

That'll take a good 4-5 missions, bud. Sorry.

Week Two: Fall

Online races in Horizon are about precision, even in combat. You'll phase through other players if the game senses your speed will obliterate them, but anything else is okay. If you play dirty, a well-timed tap into a wall, house, or tree will send your competition straight to the back. Some players wiggle their noses defensively as they race like sharks looking for prey:

User jj krrt wobbling like a shark on the racing line. Screenshot by Quint Iverson.
Player jj krrt wobbling like a shark on the racing line. Screenshot by Quint Iverson.

On asphalt at fastest-legal speed class S2, races should come with a guarantee: Someone will ragequit or your money back. It's like a pillow fight where everyone has a secret bonus landmine within the fluff. For tryhards and insane people like me, it's never been so much fun to come in 8th place.

Week Three: Winter

I've recently started playing Horizon 5 with some of my friends online. I didn't expect how exciting it would be to see what they gravitated towards given the infinite choice of car. One of them picks out interesting cars, soups them up to an acceptable level, and covers the ones they like best in wood grain. Another has found one supercar they love from the game's opening selection and hasn't left it since.

Infinite choice means every player will look through the world of this game differently--and every time, it's interesting to watch.

I've finished the main story of the game, so what's left is the impossible task of completion--or, at least, finding my niche and settling in it. I'm finding my niche is changing. At first, I liked really drifty, heavy, rally-type cars, even on asphalt. I'm quickly finding that's not working out for me online, where competition expects perfectly tuned cars. So I'm still searching for something that will work well on the road.

So maybe I'll always be editing the disaster of a table, always experimenting, always looking for the new toy to play with. That's not a bad thing--in fact, I think that's exactly how the Horizon festival was always supposed to work.