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The RPS Advent Calendar 2021, December 17th

Vroom with a view

Don’t be shy about opening this next door – everyone behind it is friendly. Real friendly. Kind of surprisingly friendly, for people running a motorsports festival.

It’s Forza Horizon 5!

James: Forza Horizon 5 often feels like less of a nice game to play and more of a nice place to be. We all know of power fantasies but here we have something you could call a leisure fantasy, a drop-dead gorgeous sandbox where competition has equal billing with exploration, adventure and the simple joys of just bombing around for the sake of it. The weighty but arcade-leaning driving model makes this a perfectly viable and enjoyable way to spend time, and while it will inevitably put off those who want something more authentic and simlike… sometimes I just want to ramp off a cliff and admire the scenery, yknow?

That said, the events I find myself replaying most often tend to be the least chill. There’s the one where you chase a cargo plane through the jungle. The one where you drift around the lip of an active volcano. The one where you go rallying with a parade float. Even the bread-and-butter road races can come with exciting twists: one marquee event is a one-lap dash around the borders of the entire, massive map, a race that masterfully maintains its tension over the full fifteen minutes it takes in a decent car.

Not that this game would even think of rubbing a loss in your face. From the perma-enthusiasm of NPCs to the kaleidoscope of high score and XP reward alerts popping up on the HUD, the tone of Forza Horizon 5 is unrelentingly upbeat. Even the moment you first take the wheel, when an intro cutscene transitions into your car airdropping onto the aforementioned volcano, is accompanied by a musical drop from the soundtrack.

In Forza Horizon 5, a truck catches air while racing three jet ski riders down a river.

Such constant affirmation that you’re a proper legend, mate would be grating in most games, and honestly it’s treading a very fine line here as well. But for me, it mainly contributed to that feeling of Forza genuinely wanting me to be there, and to have a good time. Judging by the lack of microtransactions (beyond a one-off “VIP Membership” upgrade for a handful of bonus unlocks), there’s no sinister ulterior motive for this approach either. If anything, the free unlocks come thick and fast enough that grinding events feels unnecessary, at least for building up a versatile car collection.

Ah yes, the cars. There’s loads. I’m not a Car Person so couldn’t tell you if, say, the turning circle of the game’s Lamborghini Urus is faithful to that of the real thing, but with just over 500 models it’s impressive how distinct each one feels from the last. Picking the right wheels for the right event can save you some handling or acceleration woes, though again, Forza Horizon 5 wants you to have a good ride above all else, and knows the difference between rewarding motoring knowledge and enforcing it. Rival cars, then, are assigned to match up fairly with whatever you choose, preventing you from picking yourself into an inevitable loss. Plush hypercars also have more off-road capability than might be expected, though also within reason – I haven’t yet managed to scale a 60-degree incline in a McLaren.

Still for the most part, Forza Horizon 5 responds to the question “Can I try this?” with a beaming “Sure!”

“…and you’re cool for asking!”

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.