Forza Horizon 5 is an absolutely stunning showcase of the Xbox Series X. Cars look incredible, and I’ve loved taking in the game’s lush and colorful landscapes as I’ve raced through the streets of Mexico blasting classical music. On a console that’s largely lacking in big-name exclusives, it’s one of the rare games that really shows what the latest Xbox is capable of. Turns out it’s also a fantastic portable game.
Hear me out. Yes, the graphics are amazing and are a joy to take in on a big screen. But Forza Horizon 5’s accessible gameplay and bevy of customizability options means it translates really well to something the size of a smartphone. I’ve been playing the game via console streaming with my iPhone 12 Mini plugged into a Backbone One controller, and I’ve been surprised at just how great a fit it is.
The most basic activity in Forza Horizon 5 is pretty simple: pick a point on the map or jump into a race and follow the big blue driving line to get to where you need to go. Even on the iPhone 12 Mini’s screen, the line is easy to see, and I can usually follow it without issue. The controls are straightforward as well. Most of the time, I’m only worrying about one trigger for gas, one trigger for brake, and navigating with the left control stick. All of that is manageable for me on the Backbone One’s smaller layout.
Forza Horizon 5’s generous rewind feature also alleviates potential frustrations from playing on a phone screen. While the racing line is helpful, I’ve definitely missed a few turns because I couldn’t see far enough ahead. But if I do end up blowing by a hairpin curve, I can just hit the rewind button to get another opportunity to more smoothly make the turn.
The game’s core structure lends itself to pick-up-and-play sessions. Forza Horizon 5’s huge map is littered with races and activities (I don’t know if I’ll ever complete them all), but most events don’t take longer than a few minutes to complete. That means it’s easy to accomplish something even if you only have 15 minutes to play.
Console streaming, for me, has been pretty solid. I’ve only seen a handful of frame rate hiccups, though that might just be because I live in a studio and am rarely a few feet away from my Series X and my Wi-Fi router. That said, the few times I’ve felt choppy performance has hindered my racing, I’ve just tuned down the difficulty a bit in settings to make things a bit more forgiving. I haven’t been able to try Forza Horizon 5 on Xbox Cloud Gaming, but if you want to get a feel for what it could feel like, check out Forza Horizon 4, which has a tiny but bearable amount of input lag for me. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)
Playing Forza Horizon 5 on a phone might not be ideal if you’re a more competitive racer. I fully admit that I play the game in a pretty relaxed way; I rarely veer from the driving line, generally play against AI cars on the average difficulty, make liberal use of the rewind feature, and often move on from a race after a couple tries if I can’t get on the podium. I haven’t raced against other players online. If I did that while playing on my phone, I don’t think I’d keep up.
But as games keep getting bigger, having a portable way to play and achievable goals to accomplish is more useful than ever. Part of the magic of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch was how well it worked in both long and short sessions in TV or portable mode, and I’m glad to see games like Forza offer a similar level of flexibility. So much about the game’s design lends itself well to short bursts of mobile gameplay, and its addictive cycle works no matter what screen I’m playing it on. (And since Forza Horizon 5 will also be available on Steam, it could be an excellent showcase for the Steam Deck.)
Microsoft will probably never actually make a handheld Xbox, but at this point, it doesn’t have to. If you have a phone and a controller that can connect to it, games like Forza become perfect portable experiences.
Forza Horizon 5 launches November 9th on Xbox Series X / S, Xbox One, and PC. If you buy the Premium Edition or Premium Add-Ons Bundle, you can play the game starting November 5th.
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