With Forza Horizon 4 stealthily adding partial menu narration in an update some years back, I was definitely curious whether the main-line Motorsport or the spin-off Horizon series would get full accessibility first. I've always loved the idea of speeding round a track at indeterminate velocities, if only because it's something not easily accessible in real life.
With Forza Horizon 5 having arrived long after accessibility discussions have become a major talking point in the industry, just how playable is this latest entry with absolutely no sight whatsoever?
Moving through the settings, I realised an interesting and frustrating flaw in the narration: every time you move to a new option, it says "option highlighted (option name)", as well as things like "control type: Value Selector" rather than just saying the currently selected value like "on" or "off". This can cause issues in terms of menu fluidity and was a problem that Forza Horizon 4 experienced as well.
Starting a game and choosing a name was as straight forward as browsing through numerous menu options. Being a Halo fan, I decided to call myself "Master Chief", though there are others there like Brute and Arbiter as well in addition to more standard names. With that out of the way, I Pressed A and the game began.
The opening cutscene doesn't have audio description, which is a real shame as it would perfectly replicate the experience of being at a cinema, which is what it feels like this game wants to go for. The skip prompt didn't seem to work either for some unusual reason during later tests, but I'll chalk that one down to either a narration bug or a bug overall.
The next prompt I received was "press A button to jump into the horizon", which was narrated as well, to my surprise.
Though I was frustrated, I'd seen numerous assist options and believed I'd configured them correctly. I decided to get sighted assistance to check and it turned out that using the save and continue option hadn't quite worked as I'd expected.
Needless to say though that the irony of hearing the words "we doin' it so much better" playing in the background while I tried to extricate myself from whatever tangled car wreck my gameplay had become was not lost on me, but I was still interested to see whether the assists were as useful as I thought they were, after some testing with assistance as well.
Then you come to numberplate customisation which, though it could be narrated, is unfortunately not meaning that again, other than just pressing A to skip through the characters and get whatever the game gives you, you'll need sighted assistance for this, at least at the moment.
This meant I could drive the entire tutorial route without assistance, though of course steering was technically not required at all with the way this works (and the lack of audio cues that would enable me to do so reliably anyway).
After skipping through the character customisation as above and remembering that the car selector is not narrated (though car choice names are spoken through dialogue as a non-ideal workaround), you are told to set a route to the first showcase.
The problem with this is that the map isn't narrated and it is a cursor-based system, with no way that I could see to get around it at this first juncture with any kind of DPad snapping, list of destinations, etc. Unfortunately there's also no way to back out of this onboarding process, so you will have to get sighted assistance here.
Once done though you can just drive to the first showcase as the assists will kick in from here.
If accessibility elements to account for this were added though, I have confidence that this part would be fully playable, being the first Forza game to allow me to even select what events I want to undertake on my own terms.
With the first showcase out of the way, the time comes, again, to set a destination. However, there is now a filter that you can use, though unfortunately, again this is not narrated.
Once a route is set (with sighted assistance or brute force), I can drive off to my heart's content, but then comes an interesting and yet easily resolvable issue: Button Prompts.
When you approach a mission, there will be a prompt you have to hit to start it (at least this does hold true for things like races and other events that I tried). However, those prompts don't always seem to be where the racing line takes you, so sometimes you have to just be lucky and stop in the right place. This actually means that without sighted assistance you can spend a lot of time just trying to drive to the start of events without actually finding them, which is, as you can understand, infuriating.
Having either a wider radius for these prompts or have your car automatically stop in the right place when you reach your destination could be useful options here as potential ideas., though there may be other ways around this as well to allow for a fluid and smooth driving experience.
In terms of customising my character's clothing, I found that a large amount of the items had basic descriptions, but some were described as "natural" which seemed rather confusing to me. Moreover, when I went to purchase, for instance, a green cap, I was told "do you want to buy this for 11800 credits?" but without any indication of how many credits I had to my name in the first place, which was unfortunate. After all, who wants to go on a spending spree and then realise that they've blown all their money on the first item by accident?
Once you unlock ANNA, the assistant that's been present in previous games (whose tutorial actually happens a little later on), the grind becomes generally easier, as she will set a route for you to travel to automatically, thus negating the need to use the map. However, she did seem to take me back to the first showcase multiple times, without moving me forward, though that could be because I hadn't earned enough points to unlock the next one or because that event was always closer. Moreover, she kept taking me to different championships rather than the one I was part-way through. Having access to the map as a narrated list of destinations would likely nullify this, as I could then pick and choose where I went next, bypassing the need to use ANNA completely.
Unfortunately, if she marks a "challenge" as part of the accolades system, though what the challenge is shows up on screen, this is not narrated. This means that you have no idea what you're driving towards and thus, for instance, might be going too fast to hit a prompt, much like the earlier showcase issues. You may also drive through a point at the start of a challenge without realising it, unintentionally failing it should you crash if it is not one that has an entrance prompt.
To be honest though, all of these things could again be tweaked and improved via patches and updates and are nowhere near as large-scale as what's already been achieved with being able to get from point A to point B.
Not knowing how many credits I had, I got sighted assistance to confirm that I had enough to get the recommended car, but I also had a car voucher if I wanted to use it. The choice of whether to do so or not was narrated, but unfortunately, the screen prior to that, where you choose your design for the car, was not correctly narrated (in that it said something that seemed like mor of a file or asset path rather than just a design name). Also, creator's names are not mentioned as part of the narration, so I just ended up picking the first one on the list, which is not the way I'd have wanted to go about it. Having descriptions as a feature that could be added as a part of the design, much like alternative text in images, could be a way forward here.
Though I didn't get much in the way of cohesive opportunities to try this out, it turns out (from my limited experience) the answer is "pretty doable". On entering a convoy, the idea of "horizon tour was suggested" and with the narrated Forza Link system, I was able to acknowledge with ease. Thinking that I would have to drive there, I was concerned when a route didn't appear. However, it turned out I needn't have worried, as when it came time for the event to start, I was teleported there anyway.
The only major bug I saw was that when the countdown to Horizon Tour starting was in progress and on screen, it didn't say a number, it kept saying "Horizon Tour" every time it counted down (i.e. "Horizon Tour", "Horizon Tour", etc), until the prompt changed to "Event starts in 1 S".
This makes them currently completely inaccessible as a gamer without sight, given there is no set location for them (at least unless you buy the Treasure Map DLC), which you arguably shouldn't have to do just to get a better experience). The only thing I managed to complete that was similar was actually part of a mission, which is why it worked as it had a route attached.
Just having the same information as sighted players is useful as it gives you a sense of the high speeds you may need to go at to achieve these goals. However, I also discovered another issue: Either the goals are not feasible for sighted players as well, or the racing line is not designed to provide a 3 star path as, even gunning the engine and letting the assists take over pretty much completely, I was unable to earn anything past 1 star.
At least I was able to complete this part of a Horizon story, but I would love to be able to show my potential and work towards multiple stars on these adventure missions (if I were able to find them myself).
However, if you are already in a championship, it doesn't necessarily mean that ANNA will take you to the next part of that event directly, which then means that you'll see the "Do you want to quit the current championship?" prompt far too often. Once again, making her point you to the next event in a championship as a priority could be a great option here.
The only strange thing about cloud gaming is the complete absence of haptic feedback, something that in Forza Horizon 5 can be the difference between you making a turn or missing one completely. I hope that there comes a point where this data can be supplied as a part of the game's stream as currently with FH5 asw an example, you either get OCR or haptics and not both, unless you're playing the PC version of the game, or even through the Xbox App (i.e. not Console Companion), which would provide both haptics and OCR possibilities.
All in all though, it's a smooth experience if you want to play this great game on the go, in spite of the caveats and likely need for sighted assistance mentioned above.
It's also another game to add to the list of those that are potentially playable but lacking in key areas. As much as you can get round some elements with brute force, it's not advisable at this point in time and it's probably best to get sighted assistance for the full experience (in part to make up for all the information you're missing out on with a lack of narration).
Though my initial prognosis was pretty bleak in terms of the accessibility of this title, I really think that, amongst other things, with tweaks to what is narrated and streamlining the narration itself, this game could be the first fully accessible Forza title as a gamer without sight.
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