Forza Horizon 5 is the latest entry in the Horizon spin-off series made by Playground Games. As is usually the case for series entries with this subtitle, the game eschews a lot of the ‘simulation’ elements in favor of letting the player just have a good time.
That’s not to say that there isn’t any in-depth racing to be found here — there absolutely is — it’s just that you’ll be doing it on the side of an active volcano, or near ruins you’ve found deep in the jungle, instead of at a posh motorsport venue like the Daytona International Speedway. Every Horizon game is like a fun party; celebrating not only the different kinds of car racing but the ‘venue’ the racing games take place in themselves.
The Horizon Adventure
This time around the game takes place in Mexico, and there are several types of racing to enjoy, each of which becomes available after you complete expeditions as part of the ‘Horizon Adventure’. It’s while taking part in the Horizon Adventure that you’ll see the game’s most fantastic set pieces, some of which felt like they could be right at home in a more traditionally cinematic game like Grand Theft Auto V.
There are also side quests called a “Horizon Story”, where you’ll meet characters and help them achieve their goals. These can be quite involved and multi-stage affairs, but break up the traditional racing events quite nicely with trips to collect and restore a family’s run-down Vocho (that’s a VW Beetle, for those not familiar with the Mexican term) or study the area’s wild sandstorms.
Doing any sort of activity will earn you accolades and their associated accolade points and rewards, which are what will further your progression throughout the main quest of the game — taking part in the Horizon Festival that has descended upon the region.
This progression feels breezy and open-ended, but more importantly, it feels generally inviting to someone who isn’t one of those hardcore fans of the genre. I’ll be honest with you that I am not what you would describe as a racing game diehard, but it doesn’t matter as Horizon 5 just has this great vibe that makes you want to like cars as much as the characters in the story do. The voice acting is sometimes a bit naff, but we’re not here for the cutscenes really anyway.
In a lot of ways, Forza Horizon 5 is reminiscent of the Fast and the Furious franchise, in that it is an easy thrill to understand and it generally has an infectious enthusiasm for high-octane driving that is hard not to like.
At least there aren’t towers to climb
Also on the map are several collectibles and completables that have the potential to further increase your playtime as you drive around the 56 areas in digital Mexico and their 578 different winding roads.
There are over 200 wooden boards to break around the map for unlockable benefits. Some of them will lower the cost of fast travel, while others will give you an XP boost. I especially liked the ones that had to be solved like a puzzle in order to break them. You can also buy a total of seven different houses to use as your home base during the duration of the festival. Alongside that, there are Danger Signs which lead to thrilling stunt jumps, Trailblazer Signs and Drift Signs challenge you to rush or drift from one place to another, while Speed Traps, are speed cameras you’re trying to go past as quickly as possible for the clout.
Most of these mini-challenges are rated out of three stars based on time or score and will reward you with accolades based on how well you did. I don’t recommend going out of your way to do any of it really, because there are so many things to do that that way lies madness, honestly. You can spend real money on a treasure map to find all of these things, but I don’t like the idea of that.
Sometimes the number of icons and challenges on my map was definitely overwhelming even without a treasure map, so I just started to ignore a lot of them unless I was already nearby, rather than acting like a dog chasing cars. It can sometimes be a bit much and even made it hard to work out where my next ‘proper’ objective was once or twice. That was before I started hiding them with the filter options on the RB button, anyway.
Pretty cars, pretty environments
Another thing I’ve not really mentioned yet is how visually stunning the game is when running on my Xbox Series X. More than once I was quite taken aback by the beauty of what I was looking at as I drove around the towns, deserts, and jungles.
If Mexico doesn’t see a tourism bump after the release of Forza Horizon 5, then I’ll honestly be surprised. As is the standard for this console generation, the game offers both a performance mode that targets 60 FPS and a quality mode that is prettier but only runs at half the frame rate due to its increased resolution.
Racing games that come out near the start of the generation are always technical showpieces for the hardware, and Forza Horizon 5 is no different. Thanks to the masterful art direction, the locale, and the raytracing tech being utilized by Playground Games, it is frankly the prettiest racing game currently available.
Horizon’s weather systems have been redesigned, and now work in tandem with not only the game’s seasons but digital Mexico’s 11 biomes to make areas of the map look different in real-time. Combine that with the different times of day, and it can sometimes feel like a brand new area even when you’re driving along the most well-worn roads. While that may not sound important, Forza Horizon 5 is a long game, so more variety is always welcome.
The racer is frankly so pretty and varied in its locations that it makes me wonder if Gran Turismo will even be able to stack up against it when it eventually staggers out of the gates after its delay to next March. The competition at Polyphony Digital really needs to bring their A-game if they want to look better than this next year.
Baby, you can drive my car
There are several customization options in the game, both for your character and your car. While nothing in these menus and systems is groundbreaking, being largely as it was in Horizon 4, car livery designs from the previous game are still available. If you liked the way one of your cars looked in Horizon 4, you’ll be able to use the same look here, provided you’ve not jumped from Xbox to PC or vice versa.
You can share these liveries online, and if other people use and upvote them, you’ll receive a social currency called Kudos, although we didn’t really find a good use for it. EventLabs also allows you to create your own races and events, and share those too. It’s a neat feature and we’re excited to see it at its full potential once a bigger audience gets their hands on it.
Rounding out the social offerings in the new game are the Car Drop feature, which lets you gift a car to a mystery player from your collection as well as multiplayer-focused modes called Horizon Arcade, El Estadio Horizon, and The Eliminator.
There’s a new quick-chat system called Horizon Link which is designed to make grouping up for stuff like this easier. Horizon Link lets you send preset messages on the fly with the D-Pad, but we’d rarely get responses from our fellow journalists and influencers. We’re not sure what that says about us. What little we could play of these modes was sheer fun, and presented yet another way to break up your time driving around Mexico. There’s simply a lot to do!
Forza Horizon 5 has ultimately connected with me in a way that hasn’t happened for a racing game since Burnout Paradise all the way back in 2008 on the PS3. I eagerly suggest that you pick it up or download it with a subscription to Xbox Game Pass, (although note that you only get the base version gratis with that option and not the Deluxe or Premium version without paying extra) and take part in the racing fun even if you think it might not be for you. You might be surprised like I was, and lose hours upon hours playing it.