Having now spent a healthy amount of time with the launch edition for Forza Horizon 5, I’m taken aback by how well it performs on my machine. Looking back, I can fondly remember the energy surrounding the release of Forza Horizon 3 back in 2016. It was infectiously furious, in the best way. After all, it marked a turning point for the series and for Microsoft as a whole. One of the company’s biggest franchises that had been an Xbox exclusive for so long was finally making its way to Windows PC. For the first time ever, PC users would get to enjoy what Xbox fans had been raving about for several years.
The game came, and it certainly had a big launch. But, there was a problem: its performance was notably choppy and a little janky. Certainly still playable, yes. But, even machines that exceeded Horizon 3‘s system requirements would run into hard locks and stutters. Thankfully, Playground managed to iron out most of the issues. Yet, to this day, even in its delisted state, Forza Horizon 3 still remains somewhat problematic. This situation proved to repeat itself two times more with both Forza Motorsport 7 and then Forza Horizon 4. Thankfully, the issues noticeably got less frequent with each new release. And it’s for these reasons why, in the 12-plus hours I’ve put into Forza Horizon 5, I’m simply in awe of just how smooth the experience has been.
A history of hiccups
PC users, let’s be real. As nice as it is to crank up the settings, gaming on these machines can be a real pain sometimes. We’ve all been there, where a game that worked perfectly fine yesterday just randomly decides to say “Deuces!” the next morning. Then you end up spending hours on Reddit, Google, and YouTube trying to figure out what how to fix it rather than actually getting to enjoy your game.
Or, it might be a situation where the game does load up, but it’s just not behaving quite well on your system. You meet the requirements, and your settings aren’t going beyond the limits. And yet, there are stutters, hiccups, and just overall bad performance. In all my years of PC gaming, very rarely do I ever not find myself in such situations, and I’m sure many others understand the feeling.
Microsoft Flight Simulator launched last year to an extremely vivacious wave of fanfare. Despite its sky high review scores, mine included, there was no denying that it had some serious performance bugs. In truth, these bugs weren’t even properly squashed until only a few months ago. And yet, they still manage to continue to show their ugly heads from time to time for some users. This sim has become synonymous with bringing PCs to their knees thanks to its complex engine.
I’ve said all this to say, my hope for Forza Horizon 5 was 50/50. I wasn’t expecting it to be too problematic, but considering I’ve had to fight through issues with the last three Forza launches on PC, I wasn’t expecting it to be a completely smooth ride either.
I have no true idea what Playground Games has done behind the scenes, but just like with the level of quality in the game itself, the level of optimization in Forza Horizon 5 for PC has been completely knocked out into the stratosphere.
“Buttah!” is the only way that I can describe how Forza Horizon 5 runs on my machine. Upon its initial launch, the game defaulted to the “High” preset. I tweaked it just a bit, changing a few settings to Ultra, and leaving the rest on High, all while keeping the framerate target at 60 fps and the resolution at 1920x1080p. Between my RTX 2060 and Core i7, Forza Horizon 5 has been purring along like the sleekest jet. No hiccups, no stutters, jitters, memory leaks — no problems whatsoever.
I’m impressed; absolutely enraptured, to be honest. With all the different games I review within a given year, combing over the settings menu for a hot minute is simply par for the course. And yet, I’ve been able to enjoy Forza Horizon 5 as if it were the console version. That is, I’ve been able to simply just start it and play it—no troubleshooting, no reinstalling, no redownloading.
I remember the long hours of fiddling with Forza Horizon 3, and the frequent crashes of Forza Motorsport 7 at launch. Forza Horizon 4 definitely had a smoother release, but it too had some performance bugs. The most infamous was how the gameplay would move faster than the world was able to load.
So, with such experiences in mind, being able to jump into the larger and more technically complex Forza Horizon 5 and enjoy it with no questions asked is truly a showcase of mastery for the technical team behind the game.
That said, can I also just add how pretty the game is? The lighting engine has gotten a big overhaul, resulting in far more authentic looking shadows, highlights, and particle effects. Tire smoke and dirt look especially believable, and the way they interact with light sources is just plain gorgeous.
Night shadows also look exceptionally slick, and reflections (despite not being raytraced outside of the Forzavista mode) also look more impressive now. Texture quality on the vehicles continue to look as prime as expected, with the models retaining high levels of detail, even when the viewfinder of the camera is pulled in tight.
The dynamic skybox also puts on a show with well animated clouds and, of course, the inclusion of very pronounced weather effects. The powerful dust storms that roll through the desert look rightfully puffy and thick. The intense tropical storms in the jungle completely wipe out visibility and douse the screen with a healthy amount of droplets, simulating a wet camera lens. The effect of the different dirt materials that cling to your cars paint also seems more pronounced. Mud, water, grime, dust, it all coats the surface of each vehicle in a believable manner. Water ripples are nicely animated when ripping through rivers and streams, and droplets are sprinkled all over the hood and sides when it either rains or the car gets wet.
Foliage levels have also increased dramatically, with the jungle, forest and swampy areas of Horizon 5‘s Mexico looking exceptionally thick and densely packed. Natural features like waterfalls, rock formations, sand dunes, and water masks of the sea also look extremely beautiful. Especially when they’re cascaded in the powerful light of the sun, which seems to have an almost overpowering brightness to it at any given time.
Clearly, I’m more than floored by Forza Horizon 5‘s visual presentation. But, considering the sheer size of its map, after playing with it for a few hours I’ve come to realize a few reasons why it’s able to run so well.
For months, Playground has emphasized it’s implementation of “adaptive technology” to ensure that a solid balance of performance and visual fidelity is maintained at any given time. While these explanations were mostly in reference to how the game scales between the Xbox One and the Xbox Series console families, it definitely applies to the PC version as well.
Clever cogs and carburetors
The dynamic resolution and quality scaling option that’s long been in the series’ menus have made a return. And if your system needs to make use of it, the game will do its best to hit the target. Of course, the framerate can also be capped to further help with any tweaks needed. But, again, I didn’t really have to do much of anything. My time in the settings menu was purely by choice. I don’t quite recall the last time I was able to say that about such a large scale game on PC. But, upon closer inspection, you can really make out other ways Playground has tried to use resources efficiently.
Being an open world game, Forza Horizon 5 does still have to use some clever rendering techniques to continually keep striking that balance, as mentioned before.
What I’ve mostly noticed is trees and smaller foliage getting progressively more detailed as you drive loser to them. It’s not bad enough to be overly distracting, but it’s noticeable. Another thing is that while some scenery textures look extremely good, others are noticeably flat and muddy. Venturing up to the top of the La Gran Caldera volcano grants you the amazing privilege of viewing just about every inch of the game’s map thanks to the increased draw distance. Of course, far out scenery detail is noticeably lackluster, but still adequate enough.
When experiencing the game naturally, you’ll hardly ever truly notice these visual sacrifices and rendering tricks. They only truly start to become noticeable when venturing into the photo mode and panning around. By and large, Forza Horizon 5 still manages to turn out well as a visual showcase and remains a technical one, too.
If more releases came out like this on a regular basis, it would certainly make PC gaming a far more palatable experience. Of course, every game is different and thus, they all require different things. It’s near impossible to create a “perfectly” optimized PC port considering how fragmented the platform is a whole. Even so, at least in my book, Forza Horizon 5 is about the closest I’ve seen a PC game come to pulling it off.