Playground Games revealed Forza Horizon 5’s opening sequence of cinematics and gameplay Tuesday afternoon at Xbox’s Gamescom 2021 showcase, highlighting the varied terrain, weather, and biomes players will encounter on the racing game’s wide-open map of Mexico when it launches in November.
“I think our campaign learns a lot from Horizon 4’s campaign,” Mike Brown, Forza Horizon 5’s creative director, told media in a briefing event last week. The sequence shown at Gamescom bridges the ending of Forza Horizon 4 with the beginning of the latest racing festival. “There are all of these things that you can work towards, but in a way that feels more structured and more directed than it did in Horizon 4, but while maintaining freedom to progress through the game in a ton of different ways.”
In the presentation, the customary drive-in to the Horizon Festival that has begun each game in the series, a cargo jet drops four cars into a sampling of Forza Horizon 5’s 11 different biomes. The sequence starts with a 2021 Ford Bronco Badlands ascending a stratovolcano — Brown said it’s “just about the highest point we’ve ever had in a Horizon game” — and culminates in the $2.7 million Mercedes-AMG One hypercar racing the plane to the festival finish line.
In between, Chevrolet’s 490-horsepower 2020 Corvette Stingray takes the baton from the Bronco at the bottom of the volcano and proceeds to plow some Mexican farmland. That’s followed by Porsche’s rallying show pony, the 911 Desert Flyer, plunging into the dense Yucatan jungle and giving the Mayan ruins of Ek’ Balam a drive-by. It’s one of several indigenous temple sites that Playground Games have recreated for players to explore, Brown said.
“Having that many biomes creates challenges for us, for when those biomes meet each other,” Brown said. “And one biome has to blend into the environment in a way that doesn’t feel like you’ve crossed an invisible line, and suddenly you’re in a completely different place. Instead, the barriers are blurred, so that it feels natural.” Vegetation and ground covering helped Playground Games achieve this blending, Brown said, particularly in transiting from locations like Mexico’s rocky Pacific coast to a “living desert” still abundant with cacti and other adapted plant life.
Seasons, and seasonal weather, will also return to Forza Horizon 5, following the feature’s debut in 2018’s Forza Horizon 4. “Seasons will work a little bit differently in Mexico to how they worked in Britain,” Brown said. They will still change weekly, and players can see the effect in things like riverbeds drying out (providing new courses or shortcuts) and then filling up. Mexico will still have snow, Brown said, but it’ll be limited to the map’s highest altitudes, like the aforementioned volcano. Spontaneous weather events will include dust storms, also seen in Tuesday’s video, which left the Stingray covered by a fine layer of red grime.
There’s plenty to do, not just see, in Forza Horizon 5, Brown promised. The Eliminator, the 72-car battle royale race from Forza Horizon 4, will return with some adjustments. “I think the main difference is in the map,” Brown said. “We released Eliminator around about a year after Forza Horizon 4 came out. This time, Eliminator already exists as we’re putting the world together. So the world is now, I think, much better suited to Eliminator.”
There is also the Events Lab, shown during E3 2021, which allows players to create their own courses and races. While the stadium location seen during the E3 demo is “a great place to build, because it gives you something of a blank canvas,” Brown said, players will be able to use Event Labs’ building tools wherever they want, for the most part. Some areas of the world will be inaccessible to keep player-created events from running over pedestrians, for example.
The building will be supported by “a really in-depth rule editor,” Brown said. “I would stop short of calling it a scripting language, but it’s based on some of the design tools that we use to make the different features of the game.” The if/then nature of the rule editor allows, for example, things as granular as playing certain sound effects or adding score multipliers to overtakes or jumps within a race.
Brown said that the fact Horizon 5 got a three-year development cycle, instead of two, meant Playground Games could make a bigger investment in the game’s physics and handling models. “We’ve completely rebuilt the way the suspension works,” he said. “You might think, as I say this, an improved simulation would make it more challenging, but it’s actually the opposite. The springs of the car now behave much more like they would on a real car, and react to the terrain in a much more authentic way. Improving the simulation also improves the accessibility, which is a great result for us.”
Beyond the cars shown in the Gamescom presentation, Playground Games isn’t yet talking about the size of Forza Horizon 5’s fleet or what, specifically, it will comprise. But, “There is literally nothing to stop you from driving a hypercar around the jungle,” Brown said. They’ll just handle a lot more poorly than, say, the Bronco. Brown said Forza Horizon 5 has multiple types of mud for players to sling around — like thick, gloppy chocolate cake frosting that leaves deep tread marks, and sloppy slurry that splatters the windshield and hood.
Forza Horizon 5 launches Nov. 9 for Windows PC via Steam and the Microsoft Store, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game also launches the same day on Xbox Game Pass for both consoles and PC.