I have been quietly looking for a driving game that covered the elements I found appealing in Need for Speed: World back before the end of its days. I liked the open world, the racing bits, collecting cars, customization, and the ability to get out and drive and race with friends now and then.
I have looked at a number of games since the demise of NFSW. ( I even miss that acronym, being so close to NSFW.) But a lot of titles were too limited or too focused on racing or only focused on modern cars or hae no open world to drive around or were made by UbiSoft, one of the few companies lower in my esteem than EA, and so failed to grab my attention sufficiently.
Then some friends over on Slack were talking about Forza Horizon 5, which I had not even considered. It sounded like it had many of the elements I was looking for. But it was also a $60 title that felt like it was focused mostly on consoles, and I wasn’t willing to put down that much money to find out.
Forza Horizon 5
And then I saw that it was available as part of Microsoft’s XBox Game Pass for PC (all gaming at Microsoft is XBox branded it seems), which is their subscription service for which you play a monthly fee to play whatever titles they throw in. It is normally $10 a month, which isn’t bad. That is less than an MMORPG subscription, so if there was a game I was into, that wouldn’t be a bad deal.
But when I went to go look into it at the Microsoft Store I saw they were having a special. I could sign up for three months of the for the XBox Game Pass for PC one dollar. I wouldn’t have to pay the $10 toll until February, and a lot can happen in three months. So I figured I could go all in for just ONE DOLLAR.
An Interlude to Complain about Microsoft
Going from “ready to buy” to actually playing the game was… annoying.
I already had a Microsoft account associated with my computer and I even have OneDrive active, so there is a credit card hooked up. All I should have to do is click “buy” and be ready to go, right?
Well, I could buy the game pass, but to proceed the Microsoft Store had be click on a link that opened up a browser window. However, despite the fact that I was logged into the machine with the credential I used at the store, the store didn’t want to pass those credentials along to the browser, which isn’t exactly a tough thing to do Microsoft.
So I had to log into the XBox site on my own. But, as it turns out, I have close to a dozen Microsoft accounts which I have accumulated over the years, some of which were for work, some of which were for other machines in the house, and a couple of which were just folded in from other companies that Microsoft has purchases over the year, and many of them have the same email address, so Microsoft seemed at least as confused as I was as it tried to force me to use one particular account… which didn’t even have the right email address… so I am pretty sure I have at least four XBox accounts now, including one connected to my early 2000s Skype account, something I am sure won’t ever come back to haunt me.
Eventually though I got signed in, read the obscure messages over and over again until I realized that it wanted me to download the XBox for PC app, which involved another ten minutes of getting it to go to the right account… I mean, JFC Microsoft… before I was finally able to see my game pass options, select Forza Horizon 5, and start to download it… through a soda straw.
I mean, it is a big game, but my internet connection isn’t that slow. At least that was just time. I had time, and eventually the download completed.
In the end though, I was able to get the game up and running and after a weekend of playing it, I have come up with the following.
Overall, Fora Horizon 5 , which I am going to call FH5 from here on out, scratches just about all the itches I was looking for and it plays very well on my now three year old PC which, between crypto miners and chip shortages, seems like it is never going to get an upgrade.
It looks good on the big monitor, draws well, plays well with keyboard controls… I was told I really should use a controller, and I have one somewhere, but the keyboard works well enough for me… and it is a big sprawling game with lots of things to do so you can play to your level of commitment at the moment.
It also has a wide range of difficulty settings. I have a post in me somewhere about how important having an “easy mode” is in games. I started off doing poorly in races and the game suggested to me some ways to dial things back. In doing so I was able to get my footing. It set the computer opponents to novice level and I turned on auto braking, which basically keeps your speed in check coming into corners automatically so every turn isn’t a physics demonstration as your car keeps going one direction while you’re trying go in another.
By the end of the weekend I had put the opponents back to average and turned off auto-braking, option for anti-lock brakes, but the fact that I even had those options helped me get past the initial stage of getting used to how to play.
I did tinker with some of the settings to see what they did. You can go as far as having your car auto-steer and auto-brake, which I think means you just press the W key and go. I tried assisted steering for a bit, but the way I drive it was like fighting a car with a bad alignment; it kept trying to pull me to the optimum line on the road while I was trying to hit some sign or cactus along the shoulder.
Oh, yeah, destructible terrain. You can crash through and destroy a huge amount of stuff. It is almost jarring to hit something that isn’t destructible, like a building, after plowing through a light forest, half a dozen guard rails, two telephone poles, and a billboard. Your car takes a bit of cosmetic damage… I think there is a setting for this as well… but keeps on going. It can be hilariously fun.
And then there are the cars. You start off with some modern models, but you have the option to buy some older marques. My interest tends to be in things 1995 and earlier, so I was all in on those options, the first purchase being a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am.
Donuts on the lawn…
After the modern Corvette I got, this thing was slow and very floaty when it got to high speed, but still fun as hell.
I also grabbed a 93 Nissan Silvia K, which actually turned out to be on par with the modern stuff. I could drive this and no be hilariously out of date.
Okay, maybe I do donuts too much…
There are all sorts of race type, including off road, so one of the early cars you get is a modern Ford Bronco. But once I got one of my barn finds… a game mechanic where you go find a car that then gets restored for you… was a late 70s GMC Jimmy, which became my go-to off road ride.
Jimmy at the race
Also, unlike old NFSW, you don’t need to stick to the roads. You can bust through the guard rails and go straight across country. (The game has a very relaxed view on guard rails, chain link fences, and road construction, often having you drive straight through these if the situation is right.) While the Jimmy has to huff and puff a bit to break 100 MPH without driving off a cliff… also an option… it is very good at taking the straight route across country and through whatever gets in your way.
Also, there is a whole cosmetic system for cars which I have yet to figure out beyond doing very simple pain jobs. But you can find car skins from other people, so I can sometimes be seen tooling around in a Hello Kitty bug-eye Sprite.
Styling on the road
There is a lot to like about this game and I have barely gotten myself started.
My A1 complaint about the game so far is when I want to exit and it tells me that all unsaved progress will be lost.
This is the message I hate
I mean, this message annoys me in most games, but in most games I know how to save and am just annoyed that it tells me that even after I saved just 3 seconds ago. (Looking at you Pokemon.)
But I have no idea how to save in FH5. I have tried to look this up and so far as I can tell, the game automatically saves, but only at specific points. If I finish a race it saves, if I buy a new car it saves, if I complete some story objective, it saves, but otherwise it doesn’t seem keen to keep up with your progress. You can free roam knocking over telephone poles and cactus for hours and if the game crashes, you will come back having lost all the xp you earned, and losing progress pretty much suck.
Basically, my “I need to log off because it is way too late and I need to go to bed” strategy is to go find an event to complete or, if I am in a hurry, to just go buy a new car. That seems to be the only way to ensure my progress is saved, which is kind of awkward. At some point I am going to run out of cheap cars to buy and I am saving up for that Aston Martin DB5.
Having mentioned crashing above brings me to the second issue, the game will crash. I have only had it happen a couple of times, but I will say that in the three years I have had this PC, the only time I have had it crash into a BSOD is with FH5. Still, I consider myself lucky as I know people for whom the game crashes constantly making it literally unplayable. But you can see why I want to know how to force a save.
It also gets disconnected rather regularly during peak play hours. I see this message off and on.
Once again it has come to my attention…
The thing is, in an open world game where you are often zipping around alone, it can be hard to tell if you are connected or not. And this relates to the save thing in a way, because I am also unsure if what I am doing/earning gets saved when I am in this disconnected state. The only bright side is that it seems to reconnect readily after short interval, so I have never been able to test whether or not it keeps progress.
Finally, I would really like to take more screen shots, but I haven’t figured out how.
Well, that isn’t exactly true, I have figured out three ways.
The first is to smash the Print Screen key, then tab out and paste whatever is in the clipboard into Paint.net or PaintShop Pro, but that is a little awkward and doesn’t lend itself to grabbing action during, say, a race.
Then there is the XBox PC overlay, which wants you to hit the Windows key and the Alt key along with the Print Screen key, which is a two handed operation that requires me to basically stop controlling the vehicle, which is generally barreling along at past 100 MPH, for what feels like an awkwardly long time.
Finally, there is photo mode, where one can take pictures of your stationary vehicle from very precise angles. I would have thought this odd except that NFSW had this very same feature, so it must be something that driving games or console players are really into. For me, my car sitting still is much less interesting than my car chewing up another section of guard rail because I am so bad at this game.
I get points in game for this too!
So there we go. Nothing horrible, but some annoyances.
Boy oh boy, this is really a console title, which means that its UI follows conventions that can seem Bizarro world strange to me. Why, for example, does M open the map but then not close it? Map toggling on the same key is very much a standard UI practice on the PC games I play.
And yes, I get it, the game was written primarily for XBox and PlayStation 5, where you have a limited number of buttons on the standard controller so, when translated to the PC the ESC key is the universal “make this bit of the UI go away” key.
Also, since this is FH5, which implies four predecessors plus however many other titles in the Forza series, there is no doubt a long UI convention history to be assumed in the design, things done a certain way because the company has always done it that way and now the players are used to it so they dare not change.
But as the outsider coming in to both series conventions and console design norms, I often cannot figure out exactly what I am supposed to do. I mean, sometimes it is obvious, but at other times… for example, I cannot figure out how to buy a car from the sales interface without apply a custom skin to it. Not that I mind, just look at that Hello Kitty skin on the Sprite, but it seems to be required, which seems odd.
The game is also telling me things or popping up rewards or what not all the time. A+ for feedback, but there are times where I am trying to drive or whatever and it is cool that I have hit another level and have three wheelspins to collect and whatever, but that all pops up, goes away, and fades from memory and I discover half of it by accident some time down the road.
Some of the things I want to do, like make skins for cars, well the UI is just at right angles to my view of reality. And there are guides out there about how to do all of this I am sure, but because it is primarily a console title, it doesn’t matter if I put “PC” and “Windows” in the search string, 80% of what I get back assumes I am on an XBox or PlayStation 5.
So some effort will need to be applied. But I am often just trying to figure out how the hell to do something or reacting oddly to why in the hell something is done in a particular way. The only analogy I can come up with is a long time WoW player trying to play EVE Online. It is just a bunch of new stuff to learn.
And then there is the XBox app, which you need to use for a number of things, including screen shots. I don’t think I have hit the Windows key on my keyboard on purpose more than two dozen times in the last 20 years, but everything in that app has you pressing it. Strange times.
This game would have totally been worth $60 to me. But for a DOLLAR? Amazing!
In fact, if it falls off of XBox play I will probably just buy it outright.
It is light and fun when you want and as serious as you need it to be when you’re down for that. I have had a blast playing it.
It certainly fills the niche I was looking for since the demise of NFSW. In fact, I was going on about it enough that Potshot decided to give it a go… and had the same problems as I did even getting signed up and downloaded, so it wasn’t just me… so he too is in FH5.
Of course, that meant we had to try to play together, but that is for another blog post.