Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

Bronco. Every. Time.

This has been my motto while playing preview build Forza Horizon 5, the latest iteration of Playground Games’ open-world racing series. Horizon is Forza Motorsport’s cool, micro-dosing cousin with festival vibes, ridiculous racetracks in lush environments and of course a virtual garage full of beautiful vehicles.

Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5

Horizon 5 takes place in a fictionalized Mexico, making it the perfect stomping place for the Ford Bronco in 2021, an SUV I’ve been drooling over for more than a year in reality. It’s the first new model in 25 years, it’s designed after the first generation of the Bronco that Ford rolled out in 1965, and best of all, it comes in a cactus gray colorway. However, for many reasons — the global chip shortage, supply chain delays, and the high cost of it all — it is unlikely that I will soon get my feet on the pedals of a new Bronco. It’s there Horizon 5 comes in.

Horizon 5 begins with a yellow Bronco Badlands strapped to the floor of a plane, ramp lowered behind with clear skies soaring past. When you start the game, the vehicle falls out of the plane and puts you in a parachute on the edge of a snow-covered volcano. Immediately you drive at high speeds, follow a trail down the burning mountain and get a feel for the Bronco. It moves like a heavy piece of machinery, tilts at fast turns and cannon cuts down the road, robust and yet sensitive. (The obligatory, “I like my partners as I like my SUVs” goes here.)

And then the next car falls from the sky – a zippy 2020 Corvette Stingray Coupe that drives very differently than the Bronco, lights a dime and floats across the road. After a few minutes with it, a 1989 Porsche 911 Desert Flyer parachuted past a herd of flamingos zooming down forest trails with great handling. Finally, the Mercedes-AMG One, a super-fast hybrid sports car, ends the trip by driving a plane.

Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5

Each of the starting vehicles has its own sensitivities and strengths. They all land eventually at the Horizon Festival, a massive music and racing adventure held in the Mexico Desert. This is the game’s main hub, and it’s a party atmosphere filled with pink characters, crowds of cheering fans and a relentless barrage of fireworks, confetti and hot air balloons.

This is where you get the chance to choose a vehicle for the first time, and this is the origin of mine Horizon 5 mantra: Bronco. Every. Time.

It’s not that the Bronco is the fastest or smoothest vehicle in the game, but it does feel really rolling through the rugged desert landscape. It’s the vehicle I want to drive in real life, and it’s incredibly satisfying to maneuver it up winding mountain roads, along charming city streets and into the heart of massive dust storms.

To be fair, I do not actually choose Bronco every time – there are some races that the SUV simply can not win due to its top speed and wide turns, and for these I will gladly use one of the sports cars. But when it comes to exploring, I’m all about Bronco.

Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5

That said, all vehicles are in Horizon 5 is magic. They get cracks in the windows and dents in the doors, but they are really indestructible, and no matter how many setbacks they make, they always land covering. Plus, if you ruin a turn or run into a solid object, you can rewind time. Finally, Horizon 5 is a cactus-clad fever dream of running, jumping and crashing, and then resetting and doing it all over again.

The preview includes the first 90 minutes or so Horizon 5, which offers a world map with a handful of races to complete and bonuses to earn by driving around and smashing the environment. There are several layers of customization in the game, from character creation and accessories to vehicle design and purchase. The preview ends when you unlock your first house in the game, a beautiful pink casita surrounded by cacti and mountains.

I play Horizon 5 on the Xbox Series S, the mid-range platform for this title. It’s on its way to PC, Xbox Series X and S, and the Xbox One console family, and the biggest difference between these platforms will be graphical fidelity and loading times. Xbox One players will see loading screens, while PC and serial players will not, as these platforms can take advantage of SSDs. There is also no raytracing on the Xbox One versions.

On Series S, Horizon 5 runs smoothly and looks beautiful so far and maximizes with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and 60 fps without raytracing. The final version is limited to 30 fps with raytracing, but this feature was not live in the Series S preview build. Playground Games promises that raytracing mode will be in the Series S edition at launch. Even without a boost, Horizon 5 is a treat to look at, with four different biomes, dynamic weather and seasons and dense, inhabited environments.

After more than a year of limited travel and stay-at-home orders around the globe, Horizon 5 is a nice, relaxed escape. It is lightweight, yet very detailed, with realistic environments and vehicles, and it offers the challenge you want. There are several difficulty options for each race, but there is also the option to just drive around, drive up a volcano or sail along the beach. Horizon 5 is the escape I need right now, and the bonus I’m allowed to do in Bronco of my dreams.

Forza Horizon 5 will be released on November 9, and it will be included in the Xbox Game Pass.

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