Forza Horizon 5 represents Playground Games' latest and greatest installment in the series, taking us to the lovely environs of Mexico. We've used the previous game in our GPU benchmarks since it launched three years ago, so it's time to see how things have — and haven't — changed in the ensuing years. We received early access to the review code, and thankfully it's on Steam from the start this time, so no more fussing with the Microsoft Store. There are still a few lingering bugs and glitches to fix, so this is a preview of performance rather than the final say, but let's get to the testing with some of the best graphics cards.
You might think one of the biggest changes would be the advent of ray tracing hardware and technology. The previous game came out right after Nvidia's launch of the RTX 20-series GPUs, and it didn't try to leverage the tech. Forza Horizon 5 was designed with the latest generation Xbox Series X|S consoles in mind, which means it can make use of the latest hardware. Except it can't, really.
Apparently, the only place you'll see ray traced reflections in Forza Horizon 5 is in ForzaVista. What's that, you ask? It's a special version of the garage. Yeah, that's as underwhelming as it sounds. Hopefully there's a change of heart, as we'd love to see how RT reflections change the look of the main game. There are lots of shiny cars, some wet roads, and buildings with windows, so it might be worth a modest hit to performance. Maybe.
According to Microsoft, the game also uses ray tracing to enhance the 3D audio, though it's unclear how much this matters — and whether it even uses GPU hardware to accomplish the task. You can enable ray tracing on everything from the latest GPUs down to old hardware like a GTX 980 or RX 5000-series, so it's presumably not nearly as GPU intensive as ray traced graphics workloads.
For now, all testing doesn't include ray tracing — or at least, the open world racing portion of the game, including the built-in benchmark, doesn't include ray tracing. We'll revisit this topic if/when things change.
Forza Horizon 5 Test Setup
Intel Core i9-9900K (opens in new tab)
MSI MEG Z390 Ace (opens in new tab)
Corsair 2x16GB DDR4-3200 CL16 (opens in new tab)
XPG SX8200 Pro 2TB (opens in new tab)
Seasonic Focus 850 Platinum (opens in new tab)
Thermaltake Toughpower GF1 1000W (opens in new tab)
Corsair Hydro H150i Pro RGB (opens in new tab)
Phanteks Enthoo Pro M
Our test hardware continues to use a Core i9-9900K CPU and other components. While Intel's Alder Lake CPUs are now available, along with two other generations of Intel CPUs plus AMD's Zen 2 and Zen 3 families, we haven't upgraded our GPU testbed yet. That's because outside of 1080p testing, most of the tests end up being largely limited by the GPUs, especially at 1440p and 4K. We're looking to update to the i9-12900K starting in January, most likely, but the i9-9900K still does quite well in all the games we've tested.
Forza Horizon 5 is a "GPU agnostic" game, meaning it wasn't actively promoted by AMD or Nvidia and shouldn't contain any optimizations that specifically benefit one company's GPUs. Of course, the predecessor was also "agnostic" but did tend to favor AMD GPUs. Perhaps that's because of its console origins, or maybe just because AMD's GPUs were better at handling generic DirectX 12 code.
We're using AMD's 21.11.1 drivers, which came out this week and specifically mentioned Forza Horizon 5 optimizations. Unfortunately, we still experienced a few oddities with our AMD GPU testing, particularly on cards with "only" 8GB or less VRAM. There's a note in the reviewer's guide saying the game currently has a bug that causes it to use an excessive amount of memory on the Extreme preset, but that appeared to affect AMD's GPUs more than Nvidia's cards. Nvidia's 496.49 drivers are also Game Ready for Forza Horizon 5.
Regarding AMD's oddities, the RX 6600 XT has 8GB VRAM, which should be sufficient. However, when you launch the game, it seems to end up in either a "good" or "bad" state. Our baseline performance on the 6600 XT at 2560x1440 and extreme settings were 37.5 fps, using a "good" series of tests. But it was entirely possible to end up with a less-than-ideal launch, where the same settings would instead yield performance of around 28 fps. Presumably, an upcoming patch or driver update will fix the problem.
We'll discuss the settings in a moment, but for this initial look at PC performance, we're using the High and Extreme presets and running the built-in benchmark at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K — all with upscaling disabled. Of course, extreme isn't absolute maximum quality (e.g., you can still increase the MSAA, FXAA, SSAO, Reflection, and SSR quality settings a notch or two), but sticking with the built-in presets makes for fewer potential errors in testing, so we're doing that.
Forza Horizon 5 Settings Analysis
There are quite a few settings you can tweak with Forza Horizon 5. The game includes six graphics quality presets, ranging from Very Low to Extreme, with Low, Medium, High, and Ultra filling in the gaps. The PC version allows for uncapped framerates if you disable vsync, and there's also ultrawide resolution support. Another bonus feature is support for AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR), except it's simply labeled "Upscaling" in the menu — but it has the same four options: Ultra Quality, Quality, Balanced, and Performance.
But perhaps the upscaling doesn't use FSR because the results on both the RTX 3060 and RX 6600 XT were extremely underwhelming. Visually, Performance mode looks like it's upscaling 720p to 1440p, but the performance only improved by 24% on the RTX 3060 and just 18% on the RX 6600 XT. Furthermore, while the loss in visual fidelity using the Ultra Quality mode may not be significant, the 8–10% boost to performance is equally so.
The above gallery shows Forza running at native as well as with the various upscaling modes — don't pay too much attention to the fps, since it's literally the performance of a single frame and can vary quite a bit. All of those were captured with a desktop resolution of 4K, which Forza will scale to fill using its own internal algorithm if you select a lower resolution. The results are... not great. I'd actually say FSR Performance mode looks better than native 1080p, but that's only because native 1080p looks so bad.
Beyond the presets, there are 16 individual settings you can adjust (17 with ray tracing). About half of these have a minimal impact on visual fidelity and performance, which you can see in the above charts that we generated by comparing everything to the Extreme preset as our baseline. We then turn down or disable each of the settings and retest — we left Shadow Quality on Low for these comparisons because turning it to Off also disables Night Shadows.
We're going to focus mostly on the Nvidia results, as the AMD testing was a bit more troublesome — you can see several of the settings resulted in worse performance when turned down, which doesn't make sense and likely falls into the category of larger variations between runs thanks to the issues we saw on the 6600 XT.
Outside of the presets, the most important settings for tuning are Shader Quality, Reflection Quality, Environment Texture Quality, and Shadow Quality. Most of the remaining settings didn't impact performance or visuals much. However, we also need to mention that turning Shader Quality to Low also turns off SSAO, and setting Environment Texture Quality to Low also turns down the Environment Geometry Quality. So even though we tried to test with each setting individually turned down, that wasn't always possible.
One of the interesting aspects of Forza Horizon 5 is that it supports MSAA, multi-sample anti-aliasing. The vast majority of modern games use TAA (temporal anti-aliasing) instead, and we're not sure why Forza continues to offer MSAA. Most deferred rendering techniques don't even work properly with MSAA, though it's also supported in Red Dead Redemption 2, so support hasn't completely died out. Anyway, most of the presets default to 2x MSAA, but anti-aliasing jaggies are still very visible, and they become extremely noticeable if you use upscaling.
You can see full image quality comparisons of the various presets in the above gallery.
Forza Horizon 5 PC Performance at 4K: What you need for 60 fps
We'll jump straight into the most demanding test scenario with our 4K benchmarks. There are two ways to improve framerates at 4K: Either buy a faster and more expensive GPU or turn down the settings. Above, you can see the 4K high and 4K extreme charts. For the former, the RTX 3060 and above managed to break 60 fps, while if you want to use the extreme preset and get smooth framerates, you'll need at least an RX 6800. Good luck finding any of the graphics cards in stock, as GPU prices remain horribly inflated.
We tested with a smaller subset of GPUs this round, though if there's any you desperately want to see added to the charts, let us know in the comments. You should be able to interpolate performance for most of the missing GPUs based on what we've provided, though some AMD GPUs with 6GB or less VRAM probably need a driver update before they'll run as expected. But in general, the standings correlate pretty well with our GPU benchmarks hierarchy.
The RTX 3090 claims top honors, followed by the RX 6900 XT. Nvidia's RTX 3070 Ti also manages to come in above the RX 6800, which proves that the game can run just fine with "only" 8GB of VRAM. AMD's RX 6600 XT stays ahead of the previous generation RX 5700 XT at high settings, but moving to extreme drops it below the RTX 2060 — that's appears to be a combination of insufficient VRAM with the current game code, plus poor scaling of the 32MB Infinity Cache at 4K. And again, this is a "good" run — we saw 20 fps on our initial run at 4K extreme.
Nvidia's 6GB cards and even the 4GB GTX 980 are still playable at 4K and high settings, but we didn't bother trying to get results for the 980 at 1440p or 4K extreme — it clearly ran out of VRAM with the higher texture quality. If you're only aiming for 30 fps, even an old GTX 1080 should suffice (barely), but dropping the resolution or settings a notch would be more advisable.
Forza Horizon 5 PC Performance at 1440p: 144 fps is possible
Dropping down to 1440p, the game ran surprisingly well even on older hardware. The GTX 980 could still hit 45 fps, and the GTX 1060 6GB was slightly better with 52 fps. That's using the high preset, which honestly still looks quite good. The ultra and extreme presets are nearly identical, and the biggest change from ultra to high is the lack of SSAO — easily corrected if you care.
The RX 6900 XT takes the pole position from the RTX 3090 at 1440p high, but the 3090 is back in the lead at the extreme quality setting. Both GPUs — and probably the RTX 3080, 3080 Ti, and RX 6800 XT — can basically max out a 1440p 144Hz display as well using high settings. The RTX 3060 averages 60 fps with the extreme preset, while everything else we tested came up short. For 30 fps, only the GTX 1060 and similar hardware would fail to deliver a playable experience.
Forza Horizon 5 PC Performance at 1080p: Playable for just about everything
Last, our 1080p testing shouldn't be too surprising in that every GPU managed playable levels of performance, from the GTX 980 on up. Sure, a few older/slower GPUs will potentially struggle, and integrated graphics solutions might need to drop down another notch or two, but only the GTX 980 came in just below 60 fps using the high preset. Of course, extreme quality is another matter, with the RTX 3060 and above required for 60 fps.
As you'd expect, Forza Horizon 5 ends up being more demanding than its predecessor. For example, the GTX 1660 Super averaged 114 fps at 1080p ultra (the highest preset for Forza Horizon 4), but dropped to 41 fps in the latest release. Some of that comes from higher VRAM requirements, though, as the 1080p high result was 95 fps. So basically, the engine upgrades and enhanced visuals drop performance around 20–30%, provided you don't run out of VRAM.
Forza Horizon 5 PC Initial Impressions
Officially, Forza Horizon 5 should be playable already (starting November 5 at 12:01am PDT) for anyone who purchased the premium version. You can also get early access if you're an Xbox Game Pass subscriber and purchase the Premium Add-Ons Bundle. For everyone else, meaning Xbox Game Pass subscribers and anyone who purchases the Standard or Deluxe editions of the game, it will unlock on November 9.
Fans of the series will find plenty of new content to keep them busy, and Microsoft says this is the biggest game world to date. Our cohorts at PC Gamer scored Forza Horizon 5 a 90%, high praise from the outlet, and the game's PC version sits at 91 on Metacritic. I'm excited to explore Mexico, taking my time to see the sights and sounds and unlocking more vehicles as I go — the usual fare for such a game.
As far as performance and stability, the game ran just fine on the Nvidia GPUs I tested, but AMD GPU owners may want to wait for the inevitable first patch or two. RX 6800 and above ran just fine, and probably the RX 6700 XT will do so as well, but 8GB GPUs seemed to have some inexplicable issues. The reviewer's guide says Microsoft is aware of the high VRAM use at the extreme preset, though, so it will likely be fixed in short order. Or, you know, just forget about the very slight graphical upgrades and stick to the ultra or high settings. We'll also monitor the situation with patches and driver updates, and if things change in the next week or two, we'll update our benchmarks.
It's a bit of a surprise that ray tracing graphics didn't make the cut for the open world areas of the game. It's not that we expect radically improved image quality, but one look at the side mirrors or the rearview mirror will quickly confirm that proper reflections aren't in use. Considering Microsoft is the company behind DirectX Raytracing (DXR), we expected better, but Playground Games seems to be content with making less dramatic upgrades to its racing engine. It says a lot when even the creators of DXR don't feel it's a must-have feature — on PCs or consoles.
After three years of benchmarking, it's about time to put Forza Horizon 4 out to pasture. We've been running into CPU bottlenecks on the fastest GPUs with that game for a while now, especially at 1080p, and now we have a good replacement. We'll give it a month or two before making the switch, just in time for our 2022 gaming test suite, and then it will be time to upgrade our testbed and run all the past three generations of GPUs through the new tests in our GPU benchmarks hierarchy. Then, if all goes as planned, maybe by the end of next year we'll even be able to buy graphics cards at more reasonable prices.
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