So before anyone gets the idea that this is going to be another boring, racing review – I would like you to stop and think about why you have those feelings towards racing games? Have all the racing reviews you have read up to this point been incredibly boring? Well, then let me enlighten you.
My love for the Forza Horizon series started when I bought my very first Xbox One S. This brand-new console came with Forza Horizon 3 (and I believe it advertised some kind of Hot Wheels DLC with it). The problem was that the only racing games I had played throughout my life were OutRun and Road Rash, and this had been years ago when I was a child. I must also state that when I purchased this Xbox back in 2016, I had not been diagnosed as having hearing loss so I was still playing music far too loud and basically abusing my hearing.
Fast forward a couple of years and I finally have a hearing-deficiency diagnosis. I see that Forza Horizon 4 has been added to the new Game Pass service that has been released by Microsoft and that there was an offer to subscribe for £1 as a trial month. There was nothing to lose and therefore, I eagerly clicked the button.This is probably one of the best gaming decisions I have made.
Thanks to Xbox Game Pass, I played Forza Horizon 4 to death, and I do not say that lightly. I soon discovered that my favourite parts of the game were the off-road courses such as the dirt racing and cross country tracks. Having always been a massive fan of Lego as a kid, I played the Lego DLC with gusto – collecting every brick so I could add multiple extensions to my Lego house (that suspiciously looked a lot like a set I built as a teenager in the 1990s).
So fast forward onto the release of Forza Horizon 5. I felt very much like a kid waiting for Christmas Day, counting down the days to release and looking forward to whipping a car round a muddy track again (One of my favourite cars to use is the Ford Focus RS, which I have since replicated in FH5). I bothered many of my Twitter followers with the constant talk of Forza, playing the game on stream and even having a look at the accessibility settings. Which I guess makes a good dovetail into the next section of this review…
Since I am a hard-of-hearing gamer, I especially wanted to look at the in-game settings for my own personal disabilities and how exactly they would affect my gameplay style. I generally consider myself to be a casual gamer that focuses on the story and excitement in a game – rather than tactics or methods. So, upon looking at the Forza Horizon franchise, I decided that I wanted to experience the game for what it was, a casual racing sim. (I must state at this point that I have no interest in the Forza Motorsport part of the franchise, as I dislike Formula 1 and motor racing). So keeping this focus in mind, I was looking for settings within the game that would increase my enjoyment, which as we all know – leads to a general performance increase within a game. I was not disappointed.
When breaking down the settings menus into sections, we can see that that there are as follows:
- HUD and Gameplay
- Advanced Controls
- Language Select
For this review, I will be looking within the Audio and Accessibility option menus that are in Forza Horizon 5.
Since I am a hard-of-hearing gamer and a hearing aid user, I use over-ear headphones for the audio – mainly because it allows me to better hear the game. Upon opening the menu for the Audio settings, I am pleasantly surprised to see so many sound tunings for a racing sim. Scrolling through the menu, I am given many options such as turning different sections of the game up or down, and including such things as turning off the radio DJ just so you can play a continuous soundtrack across Forza Horizon 5. This allows for more focus within the game as a player and less distractions in driving. There is also a blanket audio preset which enables the sound to be centered around a certain aspect of the game. These are as follows; Default, Game Focus, Car Focus, Music Focus or Custom. These presets as an option enable the player to quickly adjust audio settings without any fine-tune adjustments.
Generally, I play with the game set to Custom as it allows me to fine-tune my game and allows me to turn up settings such as the radio volume and the GPS, whilst turning down such noises as the squeal of the tyres and the mechanical noises of the engine. I personally find these noises irritating and distracting to my gameplay, but I understand that audio settings within a game are personal and these may not be for everyone. It has to be said that this is the beauty of these personalised settings, as no two gamers are alike when it comes to accessibility.
Due to my disabilities, I do not drive. This is something that many Forza Horizon players will take for granted – as I assume that most will be able to drive outside of the game. I cannot drive due to my night blindness and I am considered to be a risk on the roads. This means that Forza Horizon 5 gives me the ability as a gamer to experience what I cannot attain in life and therefore, I can drive my favourite vehicle on my favourite map whilst listening to my favourite radio station. I originally became a fan of Forza Horizon 4 due to this reason alone, as the game was set within my home country of the UK and this enabled me some personal freedom to explore the landscapes in a car. I felt like I was actually driving and not playing a game.
When scrolling down the menu and considering the music soundtrack within Forza Horizon 5, there is the option to toggle on/off a Streamer Mode. This is handy for streamers (such as myself) that may not want a copyright strike on their videos, due to playing the in-game music. This has been commonplace within modern games, especially when looking at the copyrighted music that has been placed into game soundtracks.
When enabling this Streamer Mode, the game plays a non-copyright soundtrack and some players may prefer this over the copyrighted soundtrack that the game ships with, as there is also no DJ on the copyright-free music which some players may find distracting.
Upon looking at the Accessibility settings, there appears to be more of a focus towards cognitive and vision-impaired players. I have not been medically diagnosed but I do have cognitive and vision issues, so I was interested as to how exactly these settings would affect my gameplay and how they would be helpful towards ongoing issues I have when playing video games.
The colourblind modes are completely customisable which is a nice touch – although the game appears to be lacking a high contrast mode to those that may be partially-sighted. Considering my own personal disabilities, it would be good if an option was included within the accessibility settings that disabled night-time races within the game. I have an undiagnosed vision problem which means that I cannot see that well in the dark, thus leading to night-time racing being difficult for me as a disabled gamer. I struggle to pick out shadows and the edge of the track, leading me to veer off course and down the odd hill (This also happened in Forza Horizon 4, but 5 appears to be darker – which makes races harder for me).
There are of course, subtitles within the game (and this thankfully, appears to be more of an industry standard – unless they get the sizing wrong…ahem. That is another piece for another time). There are multiple sizes of subtitles within the settings, which is handy for those that may need it. I like that there is the option to change the size, and I set mine somewhere around the mid setting. Looking further at the subtitle options, an ability to add a background to the subtitles is available. This is an option I am seeing far more in modern titles and it is good for players like myself. The background enables a player to pick out the subtitles from the in-game backgrounds, hence cutting back on visual confusion between the subtitles and the general gameplay. One thing I would like to see added to the in-game subtitles is the ability to have subtitles for ANNA, the
in-car GPS system. When the system is enabled, there are no subtitles for the directions – only for the speaking parts within the game. Technically, ANNA is a virtual presence device and so I can see how the game may not consider her to be a human voice – but I still believe that many people who may have hearing not as great as mine would benefit from such a system or other type of visual indicator to communicate certain info, like getting close a hard turn.
In a recent update to the game, there has been the addition of British Sign Language (BSL) and American Sign Language (ASL) in-game signers for the cinematic and narrative scenes – which is huge! Playground Games mentioned at The Game Awards in November 2021 and it is today March 1st that this ground-breaking accessibility addition to the game is being released. The image above was taken with the in-game BSL system on. The system allows to choose between American or British Sign Language, as well as the position for the interpreter and having a transparent background or colored ones. Adding sign language signers into a game using the picture-in-picture option is a first for video games, and it is especially heart-warming to see a AAA studio undertaking the work. I do not personally know BSL (other than the alphabet) but it will be a great accessibility win for many gamers out there that prefer sign language to subtitles. We must of course, remember that some d/Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing gamers may struggle to read subtitles, therefore sign language would benefit this part of the community better. In the current development cycle of accessible games, this incredible option can only be seen as a win for Playground Games.
One last thing to mention within the Accessibility Settings is the slider that enables the player to control the offline speed of the game. In all my trips around the sun, never have I seen the ability to slow down a racing game. This would be really advantageous to players who have poor reaction times or need the extra time or assistance to operate the steering of their drivatar. I know in many gaming spheres; this has received quite a bit of crap – mainly due to gatekeeping and a misbelief that racing games are not for disabled people. This irritation aside, I believe that it is a really nice feature to have within a driving/racing game and could open doors for other studios to enable such accessibility settings within other racing franchises such as F1 and Dirt. Time and again, we are seeing exactly how Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios are changing the face of accessibility within games, especially in franchises such as these when the inclusion of accessibility has been so poor in the past.
It must also be stated here that Forza Horizon 5 has won the Innovation in Accessibility Award at The Game Awards in 2021 due to many things I have mentioned above. With the competition for the award being rather steep – it is an obvious choice due to the accessibility settings within Forza Horizon 5 – as to why exactly Playground Games/Xbox Game Studios won this award.
With the gameplay and the understanding that I was comparing Forza Horizon 5 to the previous version, I had to keep telling myself that the previous game had three DLC’s, along with several complex maps to attach to that. I knew that driving around Mexico was going to feel weird and this was especially so with driving on the other side of the road and operating the car on the other side of the vehicle. It is not an accessibility setting, but I do wish that Playground Games would give you an option to decide as to which side of the car you wanted to drive in, this could add to the immersion of driving a car instead of playing a game. Playground Games give the options to customise many things within the game, but not this and it somewhat confuses me.
Even with all these quirks, the game has not been a disappointment to me and I am looking forward to any DLC that may come in the future (especially if there is another Lego DLC!). With the game being stuffed with content from the outset, I am still at a point where I feel that I have so much more from the game to experience – and I love that about the Forza Horizon games. Even in Forza Horizon 4, I had over 100 hours played and I was still finding races to complete and barn finds to discover.
The stunning graphics on my Xbox One X (Series X consoles are still quite scarce here in the UK) never fail to astound me every time I turn on my console. The realistic weather patterns and the landscape all add to the realistic nature of the game and this also helps to immerse the player into the game. I once flipped my car upside down from going far too fast off a ramp and landing on the front of the car – the whole time the car was spinning, you could see every detail so clearly and it is small things like that we take for granted that make this game so special.
It is very much one of those games that upon booting into the welcome screen, it will make you gasp out loud from the sheer shock of its beauty. It truly is incredible and I would love to meet the team that worked on the graphics, because they truly did hit it out of the park. I used to think the same thing about the graphics on Forza Horizon 4, I honestly thought it was one of the best looking games I had ever played. But Forza Horizon 5 really does blow that out of the water and I consistently catch myself thinking: “If it looks this good on an Xbox One X – can you imagine how good it looks on an Xbox Series X?”
It also helps that controlling the game is a breeze – from the many different controller options on Xbox, the ability to remap the controls through both the game and using the Accessibility features within the Xbox menu. I do not personally have any motor disabilities, but I have heard from many different people that Forza Horizon 5 gives so many different people of motion ranges the abilities to play. This as a disabled gamer and an accessibility advocate, makes me incredibly happy to hear.
The slick control system that Forza Horizon 5 has is very similar to Forza Horizon 4 – and I can honestly say that this is a game to behold and until you actually hold the controller in your hands, drive that vehicle and listen to the music (or whatever it is you like to listen to within the game) no review that I can type will really do it justice.
When looking at the HUD in-game – it is thankfully very similar to Forza Horizon 4, meaning that again the new game learning curve was reduced. Within the settings, there are options to change the HUD to something that would be more to a particular liking and of course – this is going to depend on the player and what they need from this HUD. I personally use the HUD that is very similar to what I used in Forza Horizon 4 with the speedometer and the digital readout.
One setting I did have to turn off when it concerns gameplay were the ghosts. These semi-transparent cars from other drivatars I found really distracting and decreased the amount of reaction time I had in hitting another vehicle, purely because I could not judge correctly as to how close I was to another car. I am not sure if this is a concentration thing for me or just a visual distraction, but I cannot say that I like them. Again, it is great that Playground Games have given players the ability to turn off features such as these.
The map is very similar to the ones from Forza Horizon 4, meaning that the learning curve is reduced somewhat and it means that you can effectively jump straight into the game without having to learn any new systems or doodads. Unfortunately, there is still no option to change the guidance line from blue/yellow/red – I find that it would be a big accessibility win to enable custom colours in the colourblind modes, due to not everyone having the same colours that they can or cannot see. Custom settings for the colour blindness mode would benefit this game across the board in many different options, not only the ones mentioned in this piece.
I loved so many things about Forza Horizon 4 and went into this like an excitable puppy. The Forza Horizon series has turned me from a gamer who hated racing sims, into one that is willing to have a look beyond the Forza series (although, I won’t play anything with motor sports). Even with all the quirks, the odd settings and the occasional falling off a cliff in the dark – this game has not let me down and in the multiple hours I have piled into this game, I can see that it will only get more exciting with new maps to explore and further cars to collect. Thanks to its design features and options to make it accessible, this is a fun game to get stuck into whether you enjoy racing games, collecting games or just games with a good soundtrack.