Over the past decade, Forza Horizon hasn’t just grown to be the premier open world arcade racer series, it’s become one of the landmark technical showcases for what the Xbox series of consoles can do. Forza Horizon 5 is the first new game in the series to release for Xbox Series machines, but, as the racing heads to an open world rendition of Mexico, Playground Games has also had to design this game with Xbox One and PC in mind.
So how does it hold up? Is the game on Xbox Series X|S hindered by the last generation? Is that Xbox One family hopelessly compromised? Well, to put it simply, Playground Games has absolutely knocked this one out of the park. The game either looks incredible, runs impeccably at a fixed performance target, or… both!
Xbox Series X – Quality vs. Performance
Let’s start with the Xbox Series X and the default graphics mode. The ‘Quality’ setting runs at 4K with a target frame rate of 30fps, but because of this, Playground are able to really push those graphics settings and, while 30fps is rarely the go-to frame rate for racing fans, it still feels pretty damn good.
This is a series that has always aimed for 30fps, but this is probably the best that it’s ever felt, thanks in part to the excellent and natural feeling motion blur. The visual fidelity is simply sublime and, especially when you’re racing through tight and cramped settings, such as a jungle, you would be hard pressed to spot when and where the game engine is using lower quality assets or fading in higher quality ones. The dense foliage on trees, for example, always looks like it’s being rendered at high quality.
It’s when you get to the broader open spaces that you will start to realise that yes, there is actually some pop-in in the distance for ground foliage in particular, and when in the open world car detail will often pop as well.
Switch from 30fps to the 60fps ‘Performance’ mode (which requires a full game reboot) and you’ll immediately feel the difference. Playground state that this is still running at a maximum 4K resolution, but that “additional graphics settings adjusted to maintain target framerate”. In practical terms motion blur is reduced significantly giving it a much more gamey feel and pop-in is now noticeable, . However, it’s also just that much more responsive feeling when you play the game and, after a short time at 60fps, a switch back to 30fps feels like daggers in your eyes.
The great news is that whichever mode you choose to play in, you are getting perfect performance. I’ve barely noticed a single hitch while racing around this world.
Xbox Series S – Where Quality means 1440p
We don’t have an Xbox Series S with which to test, but from the game’s spec sheet, it will be offering a similar experience to Series X. For 9th November, the game will be updated to run at 1440p 30fps in Quality mode, and dropping to 1080p 60fps for performance mode. In the right hands, this console can absolutely live up to Microsoft’s original pitch.
Last Generation – Cut to black
So, what about the last generation? Well, first impressions are mixed, and this comes from the montage of racing action that starts the game, a staple of the Forza Horizon series. You drop from a plane into a volcano and get to take in some of the incredible scenery that Forza Horizon 5 offers as you race down its side, the game looking great on One X and decent on original Xbox One while hitting their identical 30fps targets.
The snag comes when you hit the first transition point. On Series X there’s an instant jump from gameplay to cutscene and then back to gameplay in another part of the world. On both Xbox One consoles, however, it unexpectedly cuts to a black loading screen. This didn’t happen in Forza Horizon 4, that’s for certain.
We’ve timed this first one at 37 seconds on both Xbox One machines, and because it cropped up, we loaded the game onto an external SSD. That still left us with blank loading screens, but the wait dropped to 13 seconds on Xbox One and 9 seconds on One X. Out of curiosity, we also booted this up on PC with a traditional hard drive for the game to run from and there’s no loading gap.
Xbox One X – Where’s my performance mode?
Thankfully, the rest of the game lives up to expectations. The Xbox One X targets 4K and it looks absolutely fantastic doing so. It’s right up there with the Xbox Series X’s general fidelity, seemingly blending the level of detail of Performance mode with the motion blur of Quality mode, or something close to that. It’s a testament to just how good the One X still can be. Unfortunately, the One X doesn’t have a performance mode of its own, which it did have for Forza Horizon 4. I really hope Playground can add that in down the line, because unless there’s a CPU or HDD limitation, it should be able to match the Series S.
The Xbox One is clearly the runt of the litter. The game still gets its graphical intent across, but the LOD scaling really shows this console’s age. As you race through jungles, you’ll notice that the tree foliage stays in its blobby low level of detail until you’re almost right up against it, at which point you will have whizzed on by. At times it feels like the game engine shouldn’t bother trying to pull in those higher detail assets. The gameplay still holds up though, and a steady frame rate in this situation is going to be the most important aspect.
Xbox One – Feeling the need for SSD Speed
But again, we have to come to the loading times and the effect that a traditional HDD compared to an external SSD can have on the game. Loading into the game takes a whopping 2:27 for the Xbox One to get from hitting Start to your car appearing in front of your house. It’s 1:44 for the Xbox One X, which is able to power through data decompressions it a little bit more. But, switch to an external SSD and that load time drops to 41seconds and 38 seconds respectively. On Series X? It’s around 19 seconds.
Of course, that’s without taking into account that there’s a pretty lengthy load to the title screen and that you’re then presented with menus at your house before you can drive into the open world. There’s a lot of time needed for that initial load in process.
Thankfully, once you’re in the game, loading breaks aren’t as intrusive. Fast travel is 10 seconds or less on all configurations (it’s down to just 4 seconds on Series X), and loading up a race is disguised a little by having something actually happening on screen.
Forza Horizon 5 – An Xbox masterpiece
All in all, Forza Horizon 5 is another graphical masterclass from Playground Games. On Xbox Series X you have a choice between 30fps and 60fps that could actually be quite tricky to make, given how good the game feels to play even at the lower resolution. Then you have Xbox One X, which is very competitive against the new top tier console, even if you miss the 1080p60 option from Horizon 4, and the lowly Xbox One still delivers a decent, albeit clearly compromised experience. And if you do have an SSD handy, then the older generation does benefit some from the faster storage.