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Forza Horizon 5 on Xbox Series X
I’ve always loved cars. Ever since I was a kid, pushing toy models of Ferraris, Jaguars, Lamborghinis, and Lotus around my parent’s living room was a favorite pastime — drifting around the kitchen’s vinyl floor, then going full off-road by taking them outside, where the little plastic tires were often shredded to pieces on the stone floor, much to the frustration of my parents. Swiftly sent back indoors, I’d sometimes then construct ramps out of store catalogs and magazines and hurtle the cars up and over, imagining the driver inside putting the pedal firmly to the floor as they soared over a death-defying jump.
Several times when I was playing Forza Horizon 5, I realized why the game feels so great to play. It’s the digital evolution of how I spent countless hours in my childhood. An extensive sandbox of varied terrain, ramps, adrenaline-pumping showcase events, and a veritable selection of cars, trucks, and buggies than I could ever dream of having in my matchbox collection.
For those that have played a Forza Horizon game before, the format of the latest entry is going to feel rather familiar. You’re dropped into a new real-world location as the Horizon Festival kicks off. An epic racing event teeming with drivers looking to prove their skills and cement themselves in the gas-scented history books alongside the greats that have come before them. Having already honed your skills at countless festivals before this latest excursion to Mexico, you’re just there to prove a point. And prove it you will by partaking in showcase events that see you hurtling down the side of active volcanoes, embarking on excursions through ancient temples, launching yourself off ramps to set new Danger Sign records, and, of course, winning plenty of races.
Things have changed a little bit when it comes to the actual campaign progression itself, though. While the events that you’ll partake in largely remain the same from previous events, each one earns you Accolades which, in turn, unlock the next chapter of your Horizon Adventure. The festival is divided up into several stages — the Horizon Apex area is focused on Road Racing, for example, while Horizon Wilds is all about Dirt Racing, Horizon Baja is Cross-Country racing, Rush is PR Stunts and Street Scene is Street Racing — each with their own Horizon Story, Showcase (except for Street Racing), and epic endurance event to round things out.
To unlock each new stage of the Festival though, you’ll need to embark on something completely new for the series in Expeditions. These require you to help out one of the festival organizers find the perfect spot for the base camp by smashing open boxes, placing radio station signal boosters, discovering iconic landmarks and other objectives. Some of these felt stronger than others, the Baja one a particular standout which saw me drifting my way up the side of a grumbling, active volcano, ticking off a list of optional objectives at the top, before hurtling down its side in a buggy as it grows more and more active. In comparison, the Street Racing expedition simply had me racing into a village and then back out of it in a souped-up car. Nothing too exciting to write home about.
Alongside unlocking each of the stages through these Expeditions, reaching a new chapter allows you to cherry-pick which element you want to unlock. Not fancying the Horizon Story? Then go straight for the Showcase event instead. It gives you the freedom to take on the content in whichever order you want, and because of the sheer amount of chapters there are to unlock, it feels like you’re constantly progressing, which adds to that warm and fuzzy rewarding feeling that I felt Horizon 4, in particular, lacked.
There’s a staggering amount of content here, too even beyond what’s required to unlock all of the various chapters. After just a few hours, my map of Mexico was flooded with icons, tempting me to embark on a cross-country trip to perfect a Danger Sign, set a new PB on a drift section, or burn some rubber as I blitzed another Speed Zone. There’s a wealth of ordinary races in each discipline, too, allowing you to try out the extensive variety in the game’s roster of vehicles, and take in the stunning sights that Mexico has to offer.
As always, Showcases feel like the standout events you’ll want to check out, putting you behind the wheel of a pre-selected vehicle as you face-off against jetskis, monster trucks, planes, and freight trains. They feature all of the epic slo-mo action shots that we’ve come to know and love from these headline events and more often than not end with you winning by a cat’s whisker. If anything, that’s my only gripe here. Showcase events still feel a little too scripted in that you’re always going to win or lose by the tiniest of margins, regardless of how perfectly or poorly you drive. Ultimately, it adds to the tense, heart-pumping atmosphere that each Showcase brings, but it took away from the tension knowing that I was more often than not going to win regardless of how much the odds seemed to be stacked against me at the beginning.
Then there’s Horizon Stories, which try and provide a little more background context to the high-octane racing that you’ll be doing. In one series, I was helping snap moody photos of vehicles in intense weather conditions or by landmarks to help with the festival’s promotional material, and another helping a scientist gather research and results on the sandstorms that blow through Mexico. My personal favorite saw me becoming a ‘Mexican wrestler’ of the car variety, with all of the over-the-top drama and commentary you’d expect from a real wrestling match.
There was a ton of potential here to offer up truly unique objectives and missions for players to complete in these, but too often the missions simply fell into one of two types: racing to a location in a set amount of time or racking up skill points within a time limit. I’d have loved for the wrestling to actually pit me and another driver in a sumo-style wrestling match with monster trucks, or for the photography-based Story to require me to snap photos that involved more challenging requirements than just driving to a landmark and taking a photo of it with my car in the picture. Even with these feeling a little uninspired, the various cars you’re put behind the wheel of in them helps to keep things interesting enough to make them worth checking out, even if they’re not reaching the same dizzying heights as the Showcase events.
What really makes Forza Horizon 5’s extensive amount of races and challenges a joy to take on is the map of Mexico. This is the largest map in the series so far, coming in at a massive 107km² compared to Horizon 4’s 71km². Size isn’t everything, though, and Playground Games seemingly understands that. Mexico is an idyllic map for the series, offering more varied terrain than its predecessor, with a little bit of everything for petrol heads to fall in love with. There’s a winding road full of tight hairpins that weaves its way up the side of an enormous volcano, dense jungles that are perfect for snapping a stylish photo in or careering through in your favorite off-road vehicle, dirt tracks that allow you to slide around in rally cars, and plenty of long stretches of road for speed-junkies. Mexico is the perfect playground for racing fanatics, one that I never got tired of simply fooling around in without even touching the overwhelming amounts of content packed onto it.
Forza Horizon 5 is also the most beautiful game in the series thus far running at a native 4K resolution and HDR-enabled on Series X. While we’ve come to expect millimeter perfect models of vehicle exteriors and interiors, these look truly breathtaking with ray-tracing turned on in Forzavista, or in the pouring monsoon rains of Mexico as the sudden, bright flashes of lightning realistically reflect off the beautifully-polished chassis of supercars. Far too many times I had to quickly snap a photo mid-race, or as I was exploring the world just to capture the stunning lighting and shadow effects, or to take a closer look at the insane level of detail Playground Games has poured into the dirt on the floor. I never thought I’d see the pebbles, dirt and individual weeds and plants that make up the floor in a racing game, but it’s all here. The map of Mexico has it all, stunning visuals, a perfect design for all matter of gas-powered fun and various weather effects that change up the atmosphere and how the roster of vehicles handle.
With over 500 cars in the roster, Forza Horizon 5 has both quality and quantity in the ride department, too. Vehicles feel distinctly different across their various disciplines, and with an insane level of tuning and upgrade options available to players, you can tweak them to your preferences. Want to turn that Nissan Silvia into the perfect drift machine? You can! Lower that ride height, tweak the gear ratios, switch up the lock-differential and adjust the tires’ track width. You don’t have to engage with all this if you’re not sure what you’re doing, but it’s there for the community that’s grown around the existence of these tools in previous titles.
There’s also a number of ways cars can be exchanged between players, too. The Auction House returns after missing Horizon 4, allowing you to buy and sell used cars either through bids or ‘buy now’ prices, while Gift Drops allows you to simply give a car in your collection to another random player that they can seek out at one of the Barn Find locations hidden across the map. I particularly appreciate this latter option as it helps to continue building a positive community around the series, one that I’ve personally found to be very welcoming in my hundreds of hours spent in previous games, too.
Multiplayer hasn’t been forgotten about here, either. The Eliminator is back, bringing a Battle Royale/ Destruction Derby take to the racing action, while Horizon Tour allows you to meet up with friends or other players and tour across Mexico racing against Drivatars with five other players. There’s also the ability to just invite a friend to cruise around the world with you, or take on any of the races in a PvP or co-op mode and, of course, the leaderboards make a return allowing you to see just how epic that Danger Sign jump distance really was.
If all of the existing content wasn’t enough, there’s also Event Lab, a set of tools more or less the same as the developers used that players can make use of to create their own races, challenges and mini-game events themselves. These can be showcased in the Super7 event which allows you to take on seven community-built challenges with a rare vehicle up for grabs if you complete them all, or on their own.
It’s difficult to find things to fault in Forza Horizon 5; however, I did find it suffered from some difficulty spikes. On a few occasions, the game would ask me to increase the driver tard difficulty. I would do so and win for a few races before suddenly finishing 8th, 9th, and 10th. I was using the same car and didn’t personally feel I was driving any worse than I had been. These can feel a little frustrating at times as the AI drivers feel like they’re inexplicably speeding past you with little to no effort. It’s also not a consistent issue in every event, and so it can take a little bit of fine-tuning in the games, various difficulty settings, and assists to find the level of challenge that is right for you without feeling unfair or too easy.
I did also run into a few strange bugs. On random occasions when loading the game up, I was put back into a different car than the one I’d left off in, and when grabbing screenshots and video clips for this review, the audio cut out entirely for a few seconds. The game also crashed to dashboard once when loading into a Showcase event, but this was a one-off occurrence. Other than that, the game ran flawlessly. That being said, it’s worth pointing out that the game’s ‘Quality’ mode runs the game at 4K, HDR, and with ray-tracing enabled (in ForzaVista only) at 30FPS. You’ll have to choose the ‘Performance’ mode for 4K, HDR, 60FPS, though there are some minor graphical adjustments and ray-tracing in ForzaVista is disabled.
Forza Horizon 5 is a superb racing game. Despite these slight niggles it still manages to put a beaming smile on my face every time I go hurtling off a danger sign, masterfully overtake the leader of a race to snatch the victory, or perfect a drift. It’s easily one of the best-looking games on the Xbox Series X, and its extensive roster of cars and events will ensure it’s engine keeps quietly ticking over for months on end. With an abundance of multiplayer options and seasonal content frequently released to offer more rewards for your podium finishes, it’s the biggest and best Forza Horizon game you can play right now. Racing and Forza fans alike start your engines. It’s time for a whole new Horizon festival that you simply can’t miss out on.
Reviewer: Chris Jecks | Award: Editor’s Choice | Copy provided by Publisher.
- Stunning visuals and immaculately detailed car models
- Mexico offers one of the most varied maps in the series to-date
- Absolute shed-loads of content
- Different vehicles handle and feel distinctly unique to drive
- Bigger and better campaign
- Sense of progression encourages you to keep on racing
- Some strange difficulty spikes
- Horizon Stories don’t realize their full potential
- Showcase events still feel a little too scripted
Nov. 5, 2021
Microsoft Game Studios
Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC