Although it’s built on the same foundation that helped drive some of the most impressive digital racing sims in recent memory, the Forza Horizon series from Playground Games has never really been about racing. Which is a strange thing to say for a game that lets you jump into any number of Fords, Toyotas, Ferraris, and Lambos. On that last note, there’s nothing quite like a matte baby-blue or hot-pink Countach to ignite one’s neon love.
It’s also strange because Forza Horizon 5 features seemingly countless dirt, off-road, street, and circuit races to take part in. Those a-to-b and loop-around bits of accelerating and braking where the goal is to finish first. In this latest installment, the racing is plentiful.
But you don’t really need to worry about pole position when playing Forza Horizon 5. Or, keep tabs on your career as a digital driver who wears one of those jumpsuits emblazoned with motor oil badges that loves nothing more than to spill champagne everywhere.
The Forza Horizon series is about the drive. And when you think about the real-world equivalent, having a beautiful or awe-inspiring backdrop amplifies the enjoyment. Doubly so if you’re in a comfortable ride with tunes playing and the engine humming. Throw in a passenger you enjoy talking to, or simply being with, and we’re starting to enter the exponential territory of bliss.
The Forza Horizon series is about the drive. And when you think about the real-world equivalent, having a beautiful or awe-inspiring backdrop amplifies the enjoyment.
Forza Horizon 5’s digital Mexico is not only expansive, but stunning in its sheer beauty, diversity, and scope. You can drive anywhere, on-road and off, and drive with others convoy-style via seamless co-op. For the simple pleasure that is driving, Forza Horizon 5 nails it. And that’s before it gets all game-y and you’re stopping to take on a jump challenge, drive through a hidden board, or take part in a multiplayer mini-game where the goal is to drift like you’re summarising the entirety of Initial D in a couple of minutes.
Built to take advantage of high-end PC and Xbox Series X hardware, Forza Horizon 5 is without a doubt a visual leap forward for racing games and the series. The environmental detail is exceptional no matter if you’re going 10 km/h or 200 km/h, and seeing the level of detail in everything from a roadside shack to a giant cliff-face is awe inspiring.
Each biome you get to explore adds a level of variety not seen since the series made that trip down under. And although we’ve got a soft spot for Forza Horizon 3, the Mexico presented here is more inviting than the series’ digital Australia. The addition of extreme weather in the form of sand-storms and the ability to stumble upon a hidden waterfall or temple in a forest adds a true sense of adventure. The transition between each style of locale is never jarring either, there’s a seamless quality that makes Forza Horizon 5’s giant play-space feel real. In fact, as an open-world it’s comparable to the likes of GTA’s Lost Santos or even The Elder Scrolls’ Skyrim.
From forests to jungles to volcanic mountains and vast deserts, you’d need to drive for several hours just to get a glimpse of it all. And in terms of photo-real backdrops, which is backed up by an excellent in-game photo-mode, it doesn’t get much better than this.
For car fans the ray-traced reflections when in Forzavista mode offer up a level of showroom gawking that has to be seen to be believed, making just this one feature something of a digital dream come true when you take into account the over 500 real-world cars on offer.
Forza Horizon 5’s digital Mexico is not only expansive, but stunning in its sheer beauty, diversity, and scope. You can drive anywhere, on-road and off, and drive with others convoy-style via seamless co-op.
As the fifth game in the series though, there is a definite sense of familiarity. The road might have a fresh layer of sediment, but you’ve driven this way before. As great as it is to search for hidden wrecks to fix-up after getting wind of a new ‘Barn Find’, having the same lifeless character models from previous outings stand and chat between story missions (with no option to skip dialogue) feels like the series standing still as opposed to moving forward. In its quest to create one of the biggest and most expansive open-worlds to drive around in and find stuff to do, some of the elements Playground Games has squeezed into Forza Horizon 5 feel like left-overs.
Which is a shame because a lot of the new story missions are designed in a way that makes them feel more like adventure game quests than something you’d find in a racer.
Although this might be a minor complaint, the radio stations are starting to sound a little stale too. Outside of a few region-specific additions the soundtrack is tonally the same as Forza Horizon 4’s, which sounded the same as 3’s. For a game built on the idea of celebration and creating and fostering a festival vibe, where are the DJ sets? Or the wide-range of genre stations, the cheesy ‘80s tunes, the ability to create your own playlist. The lack of curated indie or more genuine underground techno or house music is disappointing. For some that whole line about “if you’re in a comfortable ride with tunes playing” is vital.
In the grand scheme of all that is Forza Horizon 5 though, the complaints are minor. So much of what’s here is wonderful, that the blemishes feel more prominent than they actually are. Like discovering those first few scratches on a new car, it can be hard to look away. A sense of familiarity, a few issues with the stories lacking character, re-used elements from previous games. Minor dings to what’s still worthy of a showroom. Forza Horizon 5 excels where it counts, and that is giving you the ability to drive around a beautiful and inviting locale and take part in any activity you see fit.
Outside of the intro sequence that lasts for about half-an-hour, once Mexico opens up -- it does so entirely. Getting to unlock new events and festivals (which are split across the different biomes and driving styles) is done in the order you see fit. You can basically avoid races all-together and progress through various showcases, activities, and story missions instead of traditional head-to-head stuff. Take part in multiplayer activities and be rewarded for it, or create your own expeditions, races, and even modes.
As the fifth game in the series though, there is a definite sense of familiarity. The road might have a fresh layer of sediment, but you’ve driven this way before.
There’s a lot here, which is something of an understatement. There’s seasonal and weekly challenges, and rewards covering the entire cosmetic and four-wheel spectrum. Wheelspins are back, but so is the sense that Horizon will be an experience that will evolve for many months to come.
Ultimately, the Forza Horizon series has always been about positivity, and an unabashed love for the singular thing that is driving. Infectiously so, which makes Forza Horizon 5 the most polished entry, in terms of overall structure and presentation, to date. With so many options, right down to being able to mess with the physics of an individual car’s tires, the UI is clean and easy to follow.
That’s not to say that the map doesn’t become a mess of icons at times, Forza Horizon 5 is so stacked it’s hard not to feel a little overwhelmed with options. But there’s never really a sense that you need to do any of it, or progress through a series of checklists before moving on to the next thing. And in the end this might be the genius at the heart of Horizon, you’ll want to keep moving, keep driving, simply because you want to. Because it feels right. And in creating a vast, beautiful open-world in which you can do that very thing, Playground Games lives up to its namesake.
What we liked
A stunning open-world Mexico to explore
Massive variety of activities, races, and multiplayer options