Forza Horizon 5 is an extraordinarily beautiful game. Perhaps too beautiful. Like a gross buffoon in a ’90s teen comedy, I keep getting distracted by gorgeous graphics and promptly crashing my car. Why does this keep happening? Let me explain.
Imagine, if you will, a drive on a clear summer’s day. The windows are down, the wind whipping around the bodywork. Life is good. And then, ahead of you, a car approaches from the opposite direction. As they pull closer, the position of the sun coincides with the oncoming car’s position on planet Earth. The result is a retina-searing flash of light across their entire vehicle that leaves you momentarily blinded. The loss of vision gives you a few moments to wonder if you are about to perish.
Video game technology has advanced to the point where Forza Horizon 5 can now replicate that experience.
It’s all thanks to the game’s ray-traced lighting and reflections. The glossy, showroom ready panels on every vehicle now display an accurate reflection of their surroundings. This includes in-world light sources, like the damned sun.
Lighting has come up a lot since Forza Horizon 5 was announced at E3 this year. The Playground Games team famously went to Mexico prior to the pandemic and captured over 400 hours of skybox data using 12K HDR cameras. That data informs the way light is represented in-game. It allows the sky, the sun, and the light it casts to look and behave like the real thing, regardless of weather or time of day.
Anyway, whenever the reflective laser would get me, frequently as I hurtled around some dusty rural bend while the sun dipped toward the horizon, it would end in my car spinning off the road and into a paddock or a building. But I can’t not look at it. I can’t keep my attention from wandering. And because I can’t go anywhere in Forza Horizon 5 at fewer than 250kph, by the time I realise what I’ve done, I’ve already binned the car.
Forza Horizon 5 has dynamic dust storms, and driving into them reduces visibility to nothing. You’re flying blind, buffeted by the winds. Only a few feet on either side of the car are visible through the storm. Even these moments can’t wipe me out the way a flash of light on aluminium panelling does.
I don’t know why I’m like this. I wish I did. What I do know is that little touches like these are a big part of why I’m enjoying Forza Horizon 5 a great deal. There’s so much care on display, obvious in every frame. Little flourishes like the way water sprays onto the windshield depending on the source. How the side panels become muddy or dusty when hooning off-road, and how they wash off when I charge through a creek. The meticulously recreated interior of the Mercedes-AMG One, a car that hasn’t even progressed beyond the concept stage yet. It’s beautiful. It’s all so bloody beautiful.
If I can just focus on racing instead of staring at the scenery, I might actually get a podium finish from time to time.
Forza Horizon 5 is out now on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and Windows PC at retail and via Xbox Game Pass.