The latest game in the open world spin-off series, and the 13th Forza game over all, Forza Horizon 5 is a mostly known quantity. But nearly a decade after the Horizon series started, it feels like many are encountering it for the first time. And they’re loving it, in a way that’s sucking up all the oxygen in the room in a way that racing games rarely do.
Forza Horizon 5 had nearly a million players across console and PC over the weekend. The game wasn’t even officially out yet, but that’s how many people had decided to pre-order, or pick up the post-launch DLC bundle, in order to unlock early access. Since launching for real yesterday, the game has seen over 4.5 million players get behind the wheel and kick up dust in its lovely Mexico landscapes.
Xbox boss Phil Spencer called it the biggest launch for an Xbox Game Studios release ever, and revealed it had three times the number of concurrent players as 2018’s Forza Horizon 4. “We’ve invested for years in Xbox so more people can play…Forza Horizon 5 shows that promise coming to life,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Forza Horizon 5 is fucking awesome because everyone in game is perfectly okay with my character being named Count Driftula and I can launch off a ramp at 200mph while slamming on a car horn that’s just the Windows XP shutdown noise,” SomeGoodShows podcast host, Kam Konek, tweeted.
“Forza Horizon 5 is the nuts,” tweeted Hammeredcast co-host Matt Felsenthal. “It’s a video game that understands that it’s a video game, doesn’t make you sit through 75 hours of bullshit to start, you just…Go. You drive. Car go vroom, legitimate 10/10 cannot recommend enough.”
Kotaku’s Ari Notis similarly praised it in his review, despite the fact that it isn’t all that different from the last game or the one before that. “Forza Horizon 5 doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It doesn’t need to,” he wrote. “There are few true thrills in gaming that come without a catch, and Forza’s core is still, all these years later, one of them.”
Elsewhere players are reporting that Forza Horizon 5 is lighting up their Xbox friends list in a way not other recent games have. So far, it’s the highest rated game of the year on Metacritic. And there’s already no shortage of SEO clickbait to answer questions like “When will Forza Horizon 5 come to PS5?”
Micorosft has released plenty of great games in recent years, but none of them feel like they’ve so suddenly and completely taken over the conversation the way Playground Games’ latest has. After all the trials and tribulations of the Xbox One years, and a mergers and acquisitions spending spree to load up on new studios, Microsoft has a certified hit on its hands, one you can recommend without hesitation or caveats. On the one-year anniversary of the Xbox Series X/S launch, the new-gen consoles finally have their first must-have blockbuster.
It’s much harder to say why now, and why Forza Horizon 5, though I obviously have my theories. Game Pass is in full gear, with day-one access on both console and PC. It also launched day-and-date on Steam. You can even stream it to your phone.
It also seems reflective of the greater success the Series X and S are having over the Xbox One. Microsoft called the new hardware its biggest console launch ever back in January, and Niko Partners senior analyst Daniel Ahmad estimated last month that the company had sold 8 million units and had 20 million active Game Pass subscribers. More anecdotally, my Series S has become my go-to device for playing everything that’s not a platform exclusive elsewhere, not least because it’s cheap, works great, and fits snugly into my living room media setup.
Then there’s the irregular fall 2021 release calendar. It feels like a particularly weird time due in part to pandemic-fueled delays and the usual downtime that comes as players transition from one console cycle to another. Nintendo’s biggest holiday release was a free 2.0 update for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Sony is basically MIA. And the hype around big third-party blockbusters, like Call of Duty: Vanguard and Far Cry 6, regardless of actual merit, feels muted this year.
A perfect opening, in other words, for a colorful, exuberant shared-world racer that looks gorgeous in every screenshot shared on social media, and stupidly fun in every viral video clip. It probably helps too that Mexico’s diverse biomes and topography has captured people’s imaginations in a way that the English countryside from Forza Horizon 4 did not. That game felt like driving home for the holidays. The new one feels like embarking on your new infinitely instagramable dream life.
I can’t drive for shit and I’m still having a blast. Clearly I’m not alone.