The first major expansion for open world driving game epic Forza Horizon 5 has been a long time coming. Following the launch of the Hot Wheels add-on this week, 19th July, that marked an eight-month gap between the initial game release in November 2021 and the release of its first new area – the longest wait in the series’ history.
Prior expansions for Forza Horizon games include a stormy island, Fast & Furious movie tie-in, the charming Lego Speed Champions and in 2016, Hot Wheels.
Ah yes, we’ve been here before, as Horizon 3’s diecast addendum previously adorned the giant plastic strips of childhood happiness across the Australian-based environment. So, when this latest Hot Wheels-themed addition was revealed during the Xbox and Bethesda showcase in June, there was a hint of underwhelming regurgitation.
The excitement was further dampened by the recent creation of a superlative dedicated Hot Wheels game, Unleashed, which showed the prior Forza version a fresh set of Loop Kickers.
Thankfully, Forza Horizon 5’s Hot Wheel downloadable content does enough to warrant another purchase for franchise fans and offers something unique enough when compared to the Milestone-created game. Just.
When you break it down, there’s a brand-new environment – that you load into from the main Mexican map – supposedly fifty miles above the main game’s arena. This is strewn with orange track, some Hot Wheels model cars brought to life and further races, PR stunts and unlockables to complete, win and discover.
The goal is to become a Hot Wheels Legend. The various tasks are broken down into five main categories or ‘ranks’, with each subsequent section only unlocked once you complete most sub-tasks. All the while, the story missions run you through the history of Mattel’s leading toy brand.
The structured progression is welcome, with a clearer goal than perhaps Horizon 4’s Lego equivalent. Although, at the same time, other than the environment, there’s no new way of completing items, such as the collecting bricks mechanic previously seen.
Each rank is split into major and minor missions, the latter being mostly optional. You continually rise through the levels thanks to medals received upon task completion, sometimes unlocking Hot Wheels-themed avatar clothing and brand-new cars. There are 15 vehicles to collect in total, 10 of which are new to the game and can be used elsewhere once acquired.
The dialogue starts strong, but by the second story mission, it sounds like an advertorial – as if the American toy giant’s marketing team either wrote it or had too much influence over the script.
“All accessories are fully compatible, of course.” Cringe.
No, you’re here for the addictive reward loop that this title is known for, and the Hot Wheels Expansion delivers this in spades. Imagine working in an office sitting next to a free vending machine, treating yourself to a chocolate bar after every successfully sent email – that’s what this expansion feels like.
You’re constantly earning experience points every time you move – now including a largely pointless G-Forza rating each time you are upside down or sideways on – and the draw to earn new cars is strong. Rewards, medals, ranks, XP, Speed Traps, leaderboard comparisons and now Tank Balloons to find and smash. It’s what a public relations expert would call ‘engaging’.
The vehicle handling, crucially, isn’t quite as alluring, however.
That’s partly because you’re now driving along a shiny plastic surface as opposed to dirt or asphalt, and also because the Playground Games development team is having to adapt the existing physics engine for a new task.
When it comes to tight corners or hairpins, it simply doesn’t work. Your brakes will lock up, the hand/parking brake doesn’t seem to help you tip into a corner and you must brake earlier than you think. Not, there, but way back there. Thank goodness for the rewind feature…
Mercifully, the majority of races are held on fast and flowing sections, but when a corner does crop up, it’s quicker and simpler to wall run. Yes, wall run. Forget the brake trigger, keep it pinned, smash into the barriers and snatch those positions. No matter what vehicle or how quick, hitting the barrier always works.
A real clanger, doing the right thing and slowing down for the corner will soon go out of the window. Another erroneous move we encountered was constant crashes on the PC Steam release when using a wheel, however, the Xbox app PC version was stable.
Still, the sensation of driving upside down on a magnet strip, or pulling off a loop at over 200 mph, is a pulse-raising thrill.
This is one of the best-looking environments racing video games have ever seen too, with varied biomes of active volcanos and luscious jungles continuing the fine Horizon tradition of genre-leading surroundings. The changeable weather and time of day conditions are the icing on the cake.
One minute you’ll be racing towards an untimely death down a vertical drop towards flaming lava, the next drifting down a water slide or slipping sideways on ice. Each area feels like a distinct location, and the different surface types plus ludicrous track layouts combine to deliver entertaining races.
Just, avoid the hairpins, yeh.
When the Hot Wheels Expansion finds a flow – mixing the best of prior Horizon attract loops and design – there’s a riot to be had. If I were eight years old, this would blow my tiny little mind.
When you’re floundering around trying to turn around, it’s a little frustrating and other than the track design, there’s no new ground broken. A curious concoction, the Hot Wheels Expansion isn’t an essential purchase, but it is a worthy one for those looking to extend their Forza Horizon 5 experience.
|Release date||19th July 2022|
|Available platforms||PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S|
|Best played with||Gamepad|