Forza Horizon 5 review

Forza Horizon 5 has arrived, and of course, it’s arrived in grand style. This is one of the best-looking, easy pick-up-and-play racing games I’ve laid my hands on. It’s an iteration on what made Forza Horizon 4 good, but everything you want is here – great tunes, beautiful cars, and awesome scenery.

Much like the previous iteration of the game, the open-world driving formula is back, but this time the action has moved from the quaint countryside, roads, and hills of my home country (England) and we’re going farther afield, and somewhere a little more exotic in Mexico. I’m a big fan of England, being English, but it’s nice to go to an environment that’s got the diversity that Mexico has. There are towns, beaches, deserts, mountains, and also sandstorms.

The Forza Series blew many fans away with Forza Horizon 4, and I think 5 is only going to cement Playground Games’ place at the top of the charts for creating a racing experience. The introduction of the open-world and the regular updates, the Forza Festival, plus a great campaign – all these elements are back in Forza Horizon 5. You can feel the confidence of the developer almost oozing out of the screen when you play this game, the music, the graphics, the quality of the racing, it screams confidence and accomplishment.

If you are new to the Forza Horizon series then you have plenty of game modes to get your teeth into. Forza Horizon has so much content (maybe too much content?), but a good place to start is the Festival Playlist. Here’s what you’ll place as your created character, where you’ll collect cars, explore the map, take on different races and challenges plus the great co-op Trial. There are seasonal championships and weekly challenges too to keep you coming back time after time. Each week a different car is in focus, plus you have more casual challenges and other online features too.

If the campaign isn’t your thing and you want to five into online multiplayer then Forza Horizon 5 has you covered with a wealth of multiplayer modes. In Forza Horizon 5 the online multiplayer hub is called Horizon Open, and you have different sections divided into racing, drifting, Playground Games, and the Eliminator. Racing is great fun, although the team has dropped the competitive ranked mode from 4, which will no doubt upset some people. That’s the tricky balance with online multiplayer games, you want to make it welcoming for new players while keeping your hardcore fans happy. It’s not an easy balance.

Co-op mode is great fun, and much of the campaign can be played through with friends. Horizon Tour is a nice new addition, this is co-op racing which is similar to Trial, but a little bit less intense, where the AI seems to have been dialed back.

For newcomers to the franchise, the game can feel a little overwhelming with its menus upon menus plus a map that’s full to the brim with markers and stuff to do. The best thing to do is get stuck in and give things a go, and soon that confusion will be replaced with the comfort of understanding the systems and UI, and you’ll then be able to ease into any big race, or just enjoy the view as you go for a cross country drive.

There’s a nice photo mode in the game, where you can photograph the cars. All of which look incredible. I’ve been playing this on my Xbox Series X and the game runs brilliantly smooth, there’s not much loading time to speak of at all, although there are the sneaky long animations when cars get ready for a race, which is the racing equivalent of a single-player story ‘go through this gap’ moment, which helps with loading times. Whether you are playing in 4k 30fps or 60 fps, this game looks amazing.

The game will satisfy the collector in you too. Forza Horizon 5 provides you with a steady trickle of new cars to play with. Whereas 4 felt a little stingy with dishing out cars, 5 rectifies that almost immediately and soon you will have a plethora of cars at your disposal and options to drive. You can get these from events, oy by playing the slot machines in-game. There’s also a car collection menu, which is a nice way to visualize your collection and it also shows your objectives and collectibles too. It could easily be very messy, but the team at Playground has done a good job here.

Mexico always makes for a great setting. The map is large, with varied biomes. The weather can change throughout the seasons as in the previous iterations for Forza Horizon, making for hazardous driving conditions. There’s some really bombastic stuff going on here as your car gets dropped into a volcano, followed by massive ramped jumps… it’s pretty spectacular stuff. All the while the music does a great job of keeping the pace and excitement up, combined with the fast-paced racing action. As well as the beautiful scenery, the game does a reasonable job of telling a story through its Mexican characters. Sometimes it does feel like one massive ad for the country of Mexico, but when it looks and sounds this good, I think I’m sold. Given it’s Mexico, then the weather isn’t quite as wild as it is here in the UK, thankfully the sun is out much more often making the driving conditions much better.

There’s a vast improvement in 5 over 4 when it comes to the story elements and how fleshed out our main character feels. This includes a nice story about Vocho, the Mexican VW Beetle. There are also other Expeditions too, which are festival outposts, and offer a nice little side track of exploration and demonstrating just how vast Forza Horizon 5 is. Expeditions are a nice new progression tool that helps the campaign. All activities are rewarded with Accolades, which are essentially your achievements in the game. Earn Accolade points and you get rewarded with Expeditions and also Stories, Showcases, or signature races. It sounds a little convoluted, but the rewards are pretty special. Forza Horizon 5 gives you plenty of ways to unlock new content through racing, exploring, taking photos, taking part on Drift Zones, and a whole lot more too. The sense of progression here in Forza Horizon 5 has been implemented really well, with players progressing in pretty much any activity they take part in.

Forza Horizon 5 is one of the most accomplished and entertaining driving games I’ve ever played. This is the open-world racing game that you could quite easily sink hundreds of hours into, and you could easily play this game to the end of the year and still not be bored with it. The graphics and performance are fantastic and the pumping music combined with the pace of the racing keeps your heart pumping throughout the play sessions. It’s not the massive leap forward that Forizon Horizon 4 was, but it’s probably the best racing game out there right now. Plus it’s on Xbox Game Pass, so there are no excuses not to play.

Developer: Playground Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platforms: Xbox and PC
Release Date: 5th November 2021