The first expansion for Forza Horizon 5 fails to capture the speed and excitement of the iconic toy cars.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Forza Horizon 5 a great racing game. To some it might be the huge selection of cars or the vast open world, others might point to the refined gameplay, and some might just marvel at the impressive graphics. In short, Forza Horizon 5 delivers the complete package, and that has always been the series' main strength. Yet the successful formula doesn't work quite as well when it comes to the newest expansion based on the popular toy cars Hot Wheels.
As in the main game Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels takes place in Mexico, but on a separate and much smaller map. Impressively, the climate and landscape are just as varied as ever, meaning the snow barely has time to melt of your wheels before you are crossing a shallow river in a lush canyon. Most of the racing though takes place on the classic orange Hot Wheels tracks, this time blown up into real-life proportions, making for perhaps the most impressive (and certainly the most hazardous) theme park in the world.
It's a visually stunning recreation of Hot Wheels, and during the first couple of minutes it's pure joy to drive trough the iconic loops, ramps and various other obstacles that make up the classic toy tracks. Yet the excitement quickly dampens when you realise that despite the magical location, this is just more of the same.
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What has always appealed to me about Forza Horizon is the special blend of arcade action and (somewhat) realistic controls. While you sometimes drive at ridiculous speeds and perform feats that are worthy of the Fast and Furious movie, you still have to hit the brakes at least a few moments before cornering. It's a great recipe. But it doesn't really work for Hot Wheels where it's all about breakneck speed and brakes just for show.
In that regard, the expansion brings little new to the table. You can drive over speed zones that give you a major boost, but they cover the whole track, so you don't even have to drive strategically to use them. Of course, I'm not arguing for Forza Horizon 5 to suddenly turn into Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or even Hot Wheels Unleashed. But more power ups or some changes to the actual car physics would have gone a long way making the experience feel different from the main game.
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To be fair Playground Games never promised to radically alter the successful formula. In that way, this feels more like a content pack than an actual expansion. But even then, they could surely have done more in terms of fan service. Just like in the main experience you get to drive through a story mode, though the term is rather loosely applied. During the five main missions you perform exciting tasks like driving to one location, then driving to another location, and, would you believe it, driving to yet another location.
This of course is just as boring as it sounds, and to make matters worse a new character named Haley keeps jabbering about how much she loves Hot Wheels by feeding you trivia over the radio seemingly lifted straight from Wikipedia or some sales material. Now that I think about it, she might have been in the main game too, but who remembers, as Playground Games seem incapable of creating even a single memorable character - which doesn't bode well for their upcoming Fable game. Dedicated Hot Wheels fans will learn nothing new or exciting, and most players, including me, will probably just tune out or mute the TV.
To end on a more positive note, what you do get with this DLC is 10 new life-sized Hot Wheels cars, a lot of new races and challenges to complete, and a new visually stunning track layout. It's actually quite impressive how Playground Games has managed to create a condensed version of the main game, and you can easily squeeze 10-15 hours out of this expansion. But that is just it. Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels feels like even more content in a game that wasn't lacking it to begin with. Also, I felt the new races were somewhat unbalanced (more so than the main game), as it seemed completely random whether I ended up winning by miles or struggled to get into the top half of the race.
If you have finished every challenge, driven every road, and your hacienda has been turned into a multi-storey car park, then maybe a fresh batch of Forza Horizon 5 content will appeal to you. But, everyone else is probably better served sticking to the main game.
6 / 10
Plenty of new content. A lovely recreation of a real-life Hot Wheels Park.
Doesn't add meaningful gameplay based on the license. Story mode is just phoned in advertising. Plays like a slightly less exciting version of the main game.