Go! No “3,2,1”, no “On your marks, get set”, Forza Horizon 5 (and the series in general) wastes no time in getting you right into the action. In fact your first act in the game is to leap out of a plane in a series of cars and dive straight onto the beautiful open roads of Mexico.
One area which has a tremendous level of depth is the cars themselves. Adjusting tyre pressure and swapping out parts to tune your cars for whatever event you're about to take on is encouraged, and is something you can rely on the collective knowledge of die-hard fans if you’re unsure, thanks to a search option which lets you check out setups which have been shared.
If you’re feeling like online is a recurring theme, you’re not wrong. The narrative conceit for the game in the first place is a festival (or fiesta) in celebration of cars which wouldn’t be too out of place in an early Fast and Furious film. Horizon Festival is all about bringing people together, and the team has made sure they carry this spirit into every aspect of how the game is put together.
Not only will you see other players mooching around the map as you explore, but you’ll be pitted against other players’ Drivatars, digital echoes of their racing style, in races and events. While not a new idea, in fact the series has brought them in from the main Forza Motorsport series since its second outing, the compiling of player driving data makes for far more unpredictable and interesting AI opponents.
Hooking up with players in real-time is where things get even more fun though, as there are four main modes – Open Racing, Open Drifting, Playground Games, and The Eliminator – with tons of different types of events between them.
Open Racing is as straightforward as things get, challenging you to road, dirt, cross country and street races. Open drifting, as the name would suggest, is all about the drift, so you’ll be sticking to roads and trying to nail those corners, while Playground games include flag rush, king and survival. The Eliminator returns from FH4 as the Forza Horizon take on Battle Royale, pitting up to 72 players against each other into head-to-head races within a gradually shrinking area of the map.
The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is some of the most beautiful escapism you can experience.
On top of that there’s Horizon Arcade, which is more of a collection of minigames which you take on together as a group. Perhaps you’ll need to maintain a certain speed within an area of the map to score, or drift for as long as possible around a certain bend. These challenges, admittedly, do tend to be “drive around a specific area”, but to dismiss them as only that is reductive, as you can easily find some fun and memorable moments as a group.
Individually, your in-game persona will be the one interacting with the NPCs as you drive around. You can customise your character with different looks and physical appearance to an extent, including a wide variety of prosthetic limbs, but the general build and vibe of the different characters still feels a little flat. The game does call you by your real name, if you have it shared in your Xbox or PSN profile, as it has in previous games.
As you drive around, discover roads, smash billboards and complete other challenges, you’ll unlock accolades which let you progress through the game and unlock more events. You’ll also be given wheelspins, a free lootbox mechanic earned by completing in-game challenges, to unlock more cars, clothing for your in-game avatar and all sorts of other goodies.
While races are all well and good, you might find the expeditions a welcome change of pace. These involve exploring a specific area, which might, for example, have a tropical storm going on, and take pictures or find jumps to establish it as a new area for the Horizon Festival and unlock new events in that part of the map.
Since we were playing ahead of release, there were a few bugs here and there, but far less than we’ve seen in other pre-release titles. One technical issue we hope is sorted out is how the game handles the Series S’s Quick Resume feature. With online games this can often be very hit-and-miss in general, so perhaps it’s to be expected, but we didn’t manage to jump back into the game easily, whether we played on or offline.
The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is some of the most beautiful escapism you can experience. The cars themselves are as realistic as any buttoned up racing sim you could mention and the vast vistas and rolling hills are a joy to tear along, sending cacti, road signs and other debris flying.
Handling varies considerably between vehicles, meaning it can take a while to find a vehicle, or handful, depending on the road surface, which works for you. Once you’ve found the groove though, it’s totally up to you how you explore the expansive, marker-filled map. The towns, landscapes and even historical ruins you’ll find are all recreated with the care and attention of a team that has taken the time to make a game that feels like exactly what they wanted to make, with no compromise.
Game Pass, and a very comprehensive set of accessibility options, lowers the barrier of entry for this Forza Horizon more than ever, so, whether you’re new to the series, or just eager for another adventure, Playground Games has given you a sandbox with everything you need.
Everybody knows solitaire. Whether it's the card or the marble game, both of which have a similar vibe, solitaire is tactical and even therapeutic. The same is true of The Solitaire Conspiracy, a clever take on the concept drenched in international espionage and pushing the tactical element with a few changes to mix up gameplay in unusual ways.
Different visual filters (unlocked by completing levels) can mix things up a bit, but there’s no getting away from some repetitiveness in the gameplay. There isn’t a wild variety of setups and arrangements, just the set number of factions and therefore cards you need to sort out.
Visually, the game is very stylised, which combines well with the music to heighten narrative drama in what is, essentially, a fairly straightforward card game. While the musical score can go a bit over-the-top at times, the character artwork definitely brings the teams to life.
Outside of the campaign, there’s a couple of additional modes which offer slight tweaks on the standard gameplay. These don’t necessarily lend themselves to sitting back for a leisurely afternoon playing cards, though.
In the end, immersing yourself in and uncovering The Solitaire Conspiracy is a fun way to spend a few hours. Challenging yourself to be more efficient with moves can then keep that going for a little while longer.
You might come into this latest Marvel title from Square Enix with trepidation, given the mixed reception to Marvel’s Avengers in 2020, but, from the word go, the characters in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy grab you and don’t let go.
On top of that are dialogue-driven, call-to-arms moments where the team huddles up and, if you choose the right prompt, is revived with a damage buff. These moments are underscored by a classic 80s beat, giving the player a bit of an energy boost as well.
Finally, there are contextual, button-prompts which can pop up during combat, such as having Drax throw something, or the whole team doing a series of finishing moves.
Since you are generally dealing with a lot of enemies, crowd control is crucial, so you need to use perks and other moves constantly, but getting exactly the right move, on the right enemy, at the right time feels more difficult and frantic than it should.
The story explores both Quill’s history, as well as getting the team out of their latest spot of trouble, and takes you to a variety of exotic planets, fighting everything from your more standard man-with-gun-foes to giant cubes with spikes inside.
Getting exactly the right move, on the right enemy, at the right time feels more difficult and frantic than it should.
The attention to detail on display, particularly with the character and enemy design, is outstanding. For example, as you’re making your way around different platforming areas, you’ll see Groot growing his way up to reach ledges.
You’ll notice the care taken on the dialogue as well. If you decide to wander off looking for crafting parts or secret costumes (which are plentiful and, thankfully, not hidden behind microtransactions), one of the team, usually Rocket, will ridicule you for exploring a dead end.
Of the locations you’ll visit, the one with the most character is the Guardians’ home – their spaceship, the Milano. Whether it’s the personalisation of each crew member’s quarters, or the way the team interacts with one another without you, it all feels really natural.
Filling the locations are Easter eggs to everything from the 1980s to the comics themselves, whether it’s trinkets you’ll pick up, alternate costumes from comics runs like the Age of Apocalypse, or throwaway references in dialogue to characters like Death.
It’s not just NPCs chatting away either, as you chip in on the team’s banter, or they look to you to make the plan, which can have an impact on how encounters go down. Of course, as with all dialogue-driven gameplay, you’re never sure if you’ve picked the wrong option or it was always going the same way.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun, exciting space adventure from start to finish, and there are very few reasons you should be hesitant about jumping in on the adventure. You’ve got this, probably.