Back when Forza Horizon 5 released in early November 2021, we published an episode of Access-Ability focused on the game’s launch accessibility settings. We praised the game for featuring a wide array of accessibility settings designed to help disabled players engage with the mechanics, including slowing down the game speed and being able to rewind races in single player without penalty, but one of the game’s most exciting promised accessibility features was not ready for release day.
Ahead of launch, developer Playground Games made a big deal of touting the addition of Sign Language Support to Forza Horizon 5 in a post launch update, but without giving a clear indication when the update would come to the game. That update is now live, four months later, and I spent some time this week checking out how it works in practice.
So today, on access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about Forza Horizon 5’s Sign Language support update. We’re going to talk about how the setting is implemented, where it has limitations, and the length of delay required to see it added into the game post launch.
If you’d like a really in depth explanation of the value of sign language over subtitles and closed captions, and an explanation of the struggles inherent in bringing sign language interpreter support to video games, you can check out our previous Forza Horizon 5 video. However, I will give a very brief summary here for the uninitiated.
Sign Languages are not a monolith, and vary country by country. Just because two countries feature similar spoken and written languages doesn’t mean their sign languages are the same, or similar. A great example of this is American and British spoken English are nearly identical, but American Sign Language has more in common with French Sign Language than British Sign Language, including totally different alphabets. They feature regional dialects and slang that vary by region, the same way spoken and written languages do. You’ll also find that different communities within a country use different sign language variants, such as the Black community in the United States often using Black American Sign Language, which comes with its own sign variations.
Sign language is not a single language, and should not be treated as such.
Most sign languages differ in sentence structure, grammar rules, and use of terms to their counterpart written languages. Sign languages convey a lot of tone, emotion, and pacing that are not conveyed in subtitles alone. Subtitles and closed captions will tell you the words being spoken, or the sounds made, but often not the nuances of those.
So, with that all out of the way, how does Forza Horizon 5’s implementation of Sign Language Interpreters work in practice?
Released as a post launch update four months after the release of the main game, Forza Horizon 5 allows players to add a picture in picture display to their screen that, during cutscenes, adds an on screen American Sign Language or British Sign Language interpreter to the game, with some inconsistency involved in what the game considers a cutscene or not.
Turning on sign language support in game is simple, and can be done before the game starts up for the first time on a fresh save file. By going into the accessibility menu, players can turn on ASL or BSL interpreter support, select whether the interpreter should have a background or not, and what colour, and whether they appear on the left or right side of the screen, at a central height, or at the bottom or the screen.
Of note, Sign Language support only shows up in the accessibility settings menu, and not in the language options menu. I understand why this is the case, but it’s a shame to see sign language placed away from other languages, in that it comes across as not treating it fully as another localised language. This ultimately feels fitting, as the in-game execution very much doesn’t treat this as a pair of fully localised languages which could be used to play the full game without missing any information.
With either ASL or BSL switched on, it quickly becomes apparent how inconsistent the game’s use of sign language interpreters is. Lots of ambient dialogue during gameplay is not paired with sign language interpreters, such as voice over audio telling you about new challenges while you’re looking at the map screen, the voice of your SatNav giving you directions as you approach turns, mission start dialogue, and radio DJ conversations about the world. Even many of the game’s fancy showcase missions lack any kind of sign language support for their narration of your dramatic mid race exploits.
Many moments in Forza Horizon 5 which I would consider cutscenes, such as a scene where the camera circles your car and you are told about a new online multiplayer feature, do not feature sign language support.
The game’s opening mission highlights the inconsistency of the feature well, as the sign language interpreter regularly comes and goes, with much of the dialogue simply not given interpreter support because you are mid gameplay, despite often having equal importance to understanding the opening moments of the game.
Additionally, it’s important to note that much of the game’s sign language including cutscenes are front loaded in the game. If you start a brand new save file today, you will likely see a lot more sign language support as a new player than someone who picked up the game four months ago at launch and has been playing regularly.
When on screen and in use, Forza Horizon 5’s sign language interpreter support is actually a very well executed addition to the game. As someone with hearing issues on one side, and a wife who also has reduced hearing, I know that eventually, as a couple, we are likely to eventually need to learn British Sign Language to communicate effectively with each other. As someone trying to slowly learn BSL, I have restarted a new save on the game, and am really appreciating having Sign Language on screen to follow along with.
It is important to note for people in my position, the sign language interpreters in game are not using Sign Supported English, but regular BSL, only mouthing certain words, and BSL sentence structure. This is not a problem, but bear it in mind if you are someone who relies on lip reading and spoken sentence structure when understanding and following signs. If you use lip reading and existing spoken sentence structure to supplement your understanding of sign language, you won’t have that here to rely on.
In terms of the actual execution of the added sign language support, my only real complaints are the fact it’s not more comprehensively included in most of the game, took four months to be added to the game, and only supports two forms of sign language.
While it is fantastic to see a game developer finally take the step to add sign language support to a AAA video game, their implementation comes with issues. As we mentioned before, sign languages are as varied as spoken languages, and while this is a wonderful step forward, it’s a real shame the game won’t support nearly as many languages for sign language users as it does for hearing users. In a perfect world, you should be supporting this feature for the primary sign language in each country you have a spoken and written localisation for.
I’ve mentioned a few times in this video already, but one of my biggest complaints about the inclusion of sign language support in Forza Horizon 5 is the length of delay required to see it added to the game. For players who benefit from the inclusion of sign language interpreters, having to wait until four months after launch to see that support, only to find it covers limited languages, and such a small part of the in-game voice acting, is a real shame.
If they’d used that four month delay to add a wide array of sign languages, or interpret the whole game and all of its dialogue, that might have felt understandable, but as it stands the lacking support offered here feels all the more lacking given how long after launch it arrived.
I am really glad to see Forza Horizon 5 dip its toes into adding sign language support into a major AAA video game, but in practice I find myself wanting to see more.
If Playground games include sign language support in a hypothetical Forza Horizon 6, I’d like to see it there at launch, supporting a wider range of sign languages, and including sign support for all spoken dialogue, not just specially selected cutscenes.
As it stands, Forza Horizon 5’s sign language support is a nice supplement to subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing players, but it is not a full replacement, and does not have the complete localisation attention paid to it that you would find given to a spoken language addition.