You wind your way on a narrow gravel road down the rim of the La Gran Caldera volcano as the Mexican outback stretches endlessly into the horizon, probably further than you could ever see in reality. Welcome to a new kind of adventurous road trip. Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous in “Forza Horizon 5”. Ever since its release in November 2021, this driving game – available for PC and video game console Xbox – has been putting a gleam into gamers’ eyes, earning praise from critics, and satisfying players’ longing to get away. One thing that immediately stands out is the attention to detail and the sheer endless expanse of the virtual world waiting to be discovered.

Apart from the formal challenges, the journey continues through picturesque towns, past ancient ruins and through lush green jungles until you finally find yourself in the Baja California desert. This is precisely the appeal of “open world” games: there is no beginning and no end, no clearly predefined game course. The game’s world? You have to work that one out for yourself. And that’s not the only similarity to a “real life” road trip. Even the appearance of the cover star, a red Mercedes-AMG Project ONE, makes you stop and ask: Is this really just a game?

Mike Brown, Creative Director of “Forza Horizon 5”, Playground Games.

Der Blick beider fällt auf einen CL 500 4MATIC in der Lackierung designo graphit. Die Baureihe C 216 bietet bis heute ein fantastisches Fahrzeug mit markanten Linien und ruhigen Flächen im Wechselspiel, mit starker Ausdruckskraft und souveräner Ruhe, sind sich Knothe und Pfeiffer einig. Mit wenigen Schritten sind beide beim Auto. Die Freude über ein Wiedersehen mit dieser Baureihe steht beiden ins Gesicht geschrieben. Ihre kundigen Blicke gehen in alle Richtungen des Interieurs, die Hände streichen über die edlen Materialien und legen sich auf das Lenkrad.

The forces acting on the vehicle and the driver are reproduced with astonishing accuracy. No wonder: this is the work of a team of game developers and Mercedes-AMG engineers. 

More than racing.

The digital experience is so intense on your body, in fact, that you might have to pause and catch your breath. Your heart beats noticeably faster as your pulse is set racing. The configurator suggests going on a special adventure when you get the key to the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE. First, though, you need to get points and race wins. Not only can you configure the look of the car, but the optimisations of the gearbox, steering and brakes also flow directly and unfiltered into the subsequent gaming experience. The super sports car style feels stiffer, bringing the player noticeably closer to the racetrack in cockpit view and in TRACK mode.

The rear spoiler and other air intakes on the vehicle open up, optimising the aerodynamics. In ROAD driving mode, on the other hand, the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE barrels along many miles of Mexican country roads and flies through the scenery in an unforgettable tour of the senses. 

The (virtual) future of travelling.

“‘Forza Horizon 5’ sets a high standard in driving games in terms of driving fun and graphics. And the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE represents the highest automotive standards: it combines overwhelming racetrack performance with Formula 1 hybrid technology. This is extraordinary and there is currently no other vehicle that would fit better,” explains Michael Knöller, Director product marketing AMG & Sales Top-End-Vehicles. “We had access to CAD (computer-aided design) data along with huge amounts of reference material from the real super sports car for the interactive development of the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE, all supplied by the engineers at Mercedes-AMG,” adds his counterpart Mike Brown, Creative Director of “Forza Horizon 5” Playground Games.

In the process, this close collaboration created a fascinatingly realistic adventure that blurs the line between fiction and reality more and more. “This vast amount of digital reference allowed us to make the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE the most accurately implemented car in ‘Forza Horizon 5’, utilising CAD data to make sure the car’s surfaces are 100 per cent perfect, and even the timing of the car’s transition into and out of TRACK Mode are perfect to the millisecond,” explains Brown. Thousands of hours of programming work went into creating the Project ONE, not to mention the general programming effort for the entire game terrain.

A huge undertaking, but one that visibly pays off.  

After crossing a suspension bridge at a dizzying height, you can’t help but wonder if you’re experiencing the future of travel. More affordable as well as more climate and resource friendly in many cases, the incomparable thrill of a ride on real-life gravel roads is realistically captured. Virtual adventures have been an integral part of cultural diversity for decades though.

And Mercedes-Benz also looks back on historically long usage in many computer and video games: “As far as we know from our files, the first official Mercedes-Benz video game licences were granted in the late 1990s, when PCs and the first 32-bit video game consoles offered spectacular 3D graphics and dynamic virtual racing for those times. 

However, the current ‘Forza Horizon’ games in particular offer every gamer a huge choice, from early and timeless classics like the 300 SL coupé, the iconic AMG Hammer coupé, and the G 63 AMG 6x6 to current models like the GT 4-Door coupé,” explains Michael Knöller. He immediately goes on to talk about the digital direction Mercedes-AMG is taking. 

Driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, the gaming industry has been making record sales worldwide, especially since 2020, and has often already overtaken other entertainment industries such as film and music. All this makes it abundantly clear: it is short-sighted to regard games as a mere niche interest.

Place to be.

“Gaming and digital high-end product experiences are very important for us to connect with younger generations and new target groups. This actually already transforms our relationship to these potential future customers and fans, as, for example, ‘Forza Horizon 5’ has provided over 20 million players to date the opportunity to interactively experience a car that is limited to 275 units in real life,” Knöller says. A look at the statistics shows the effect this has: to date, players have driven Project ONE for over two million hours – an incredible 228 years in the vehicle.

Are virtual worlds the new place to be? Almost simultaneously with the release of “Forza Horizon 5”, Facebook is unveiling its plans for its Metaverse – a kind of social-digital parallel universe. It is not only there that virtual runway shows cause a sensation, digital luxury handbags fetch higher prices than their counterparts on shop shelves. 

New surprises.

Whether in the Mexican rainforest, paradisical beaches or impressive volcanic landscapes, “Forza Horizon 5” constantly offers new surprises that almost feel like you’re on holiday. An involved STORY mode lets the user interact with Mexican culture and history while offering a change from the daily racing routine. While the real-life version of the outstanding Mercedes-AMG Project ONE is a strictly limited edition, gamers can enjoy its virtual counterpart and its high level of detail. In this case, it is close to the highest level of realism available in the digital world. The Mercedes-AMG Project ONE stops in a small village with colourful façades in the scorching afternoon sun. Two men gaze appreciatively at the car from their balcony. 

A temporary end of the journey. This raises the question of what lingers most in your memory: Is it the beat of house music blasting from the speakers, tuned to the active racing, jumps and engaging track-side pyrotechnics of “Forza Horizon 5”? Or the lava that has already turned to stone, spewed out by the La Gran Caldera volcano and falling onto the road hot on the heels of the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE? Maybe it’s that ride in a sandstorm that makes you think of epic cinema blockbusters?

In the end though, it’s the sum of everything coupled with the certainty that road-legal Formula 1 technology will make its debut on the screen today, and on the road tomorrow.