It was a pleasant surprise when Forza Horizon 5 was revealed at E3 just a couple of months ago. Cycle-wise, we were really due for a Forza Motorsport instead, but the scope, scale and bold personality of the open-world Horizon series has continued to make it one of my favourite racers, with recent trips within my own backyard of Australia and, three years ago, the UK.
This time, Forza Horizon 5 is taking us to Mexico, and Checkpoint had an early opportunity to check out some gorgeous gameplay, along with being part of a Q&A with Mike Brown, Creative Director at Playground Games.
The opening of the game basically bridges the gap from the end of Forza Horizon 4 to Forza Horizon 5. While in 4, you were a newcomer to the Horizon Festival trying to prove yourself, in 5 you come in as a known superstar, eager to cement your legacy as one of the greatest drivers of all time and help set up the Festival on a new turf.
La Gran Caldera Volcano sets the tone as you’re literally dropped from the sky in a 2021 Ford Bronco Badlands, perfect for the off-road terrain like the volcano covered in snow and debris. The footage darts from vehicle to vehicle being dropped into the environment, including a 2020 Corvette Stingray that powers through the Mexican farmland, a dust storm in view off in the distance.
“…the biggest Horizon game ever needs to be the most diverse, packed with things to explore and do.”
If the conditions are right, random weather events just like this dust storm will kick off, testing your visibility and giving you a real thrill, from when you first spot them in the distance to when you chase them down for an extra challenge. While we’re told the dust storms don’t impact your vehicle performance so much, we’re informed that tropical storms definitely will, with what Mike referred to as “the most intense storms they’ve ever had in a Horizon game, with swirling debris and wind making a real impact”.
We’re then quickly shifted to the Porsche 911 Desert Flyer moving through the Mexican jungle, where there is a aura of humidity in the air, giving a dense, sweaty feeling, with large bodies of water to spin your wheels through so that driving conditions are constantly changing.
When discussing the choice to go to Mexico for this iteration of Horizon, Mike noted that “the biggest Horizon game ever needs to be the most diverse, packed with things to explore and do”, which had the team looking for a truly diverse host country. “Mexico is really like the whole world in one country, mountain tops, sandy deserts, tropical coastlines, canyons, historic cities with brilliant architecture and this culture that’s known and loved around the world. The people, the music and the history make it an exciting place to take a Horizon festival to.”
You might be wondering how the team were able to and gather their research for Horizon 5 to be so authentically made considering travel restrictions, but Mike assured us that the early research trips were done pre-COVID. Then, the tour guides and photographers that they’d made contact with were able to stay local and collect more references as development continued.
Regarding what was learned from players in the previous Horizon, the team wants to continue to lean into freedom and the idea of players charting their own path. But Mike noted that “there were situations sometimes in Forza Horizon 4 where you weren’t necessarily clear as to what goals you had next. In Forza Horizon 5, there’s still a huge amount of freedom to sidestep, explore the world, just do stunts or just do racing, but it also lays out objectives in a way that is more compelling”.
With a very colourful and diverse location and so many potential secrets to be found (the trailer shows a glimpse at a temple, with Mike sharing that it’s just one of many temple sites that have been recreated), the world of Forza Horizon 5 promises to be packed with things to do.
Music has always been a big part of Horizon’s DNA, and this looks to be no exception. “This is the strongest soundtrack we’ve had, with some original compositions in the game.” Mike adds. “This really allowed us to work with an artist, show them a section of the drive and get something that really works for that piece and gels with the experience.”
Overall, Mike is just excited for everyone to explore Mexico for themselves. “I really love the world, I think the world of Mexcio we’ve built is so much fun to explore, combining some incredibly different areas that feel totally natural. None of it feels “gamey” and that’s a real achievement from our environment team.”
Despite the fact Playground Games might seem like a well-oiled machine at this point, Mike shared that so far, the team have been really humbled by feedback from fans. “We’re so nervous and scared on what people’s reaction is going to be, as you tend to see all the things you didn’t manage to do and struggle to see all the incredible things that we did do.”
“When we show players, we see that instant reaction a person has and how they’re blown away by how good it looks or how fun it looks or how much there is to do, and it’s so great to see those reactions first-hand.”
We certainly can’t wait to get behind the wheel once again when Forza Horizon 5 launches on November 5 for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC, also available on Xbox Game Pass.