Coming off my preview of Forza Horizon 5 a few weeks ago, I was itching to get back into the driver’s seat and fully explore the beauty of Mexico once again. The fifth Horizon Festival has easily become the best one yet and the idyllic backdrop feels like a paradise. Once again, I kick off with one of the most visually appealing opening races bridging players from Britain to Mexico in one of the most stunning races the series has delivered yet.
What’s sticking out now that I have the full game is how seamless the experience is. The world is bigger than ever, and you can sense how big things are the moment you hit the open road. From the west, the first thing I tasked myself with is reaching La Gran Caldera, the extinct volcano situated on the map. I wanted to head east by hitting the dirt roads before hitting the pavement. It was about 10 minutes or so I realized I was nearing the other end of the map and without so much as a notification, I realized I’d crossed biomes to get here. Moving between Tierra Próspera and the jungles of La Selva is wild, and some of the most gorgeous backdrops the series has ever offered.
Welcome to the Horizon Festival
Forza Horizon has always been about player agency – giving you the freedom and resources to make the choices you desire within the world. Continuing by putting the focus on the player, Forza Horizon 5 is looking to keep you busy with an impressive list of cars put together for the festival, enough events to keep you coming back, and all the customization options you could ask for to make both your cars and character look like a superstar. The opening moments let you choose your avatar, select a nickname (I went with Zeus), your pronouns, and even pick what your prosthetic looks like before being jettisoned off a plane.
If you’re worried that Forza Horizon 5 may be a difficult game, I wouldn’t worry about being ostracized as you can adjust the difficulty level to suit your needs. As a day one Xbox Game Pass title, you may very well be interested given it is part of your subscription and if you’re a first-time player, there’s nothing to fret about as each race can be tuned to your level of skill. I can’t stress enough that exploration is as important as winning races and you’ll want to explore given how stunning and photorealistic the world feels in Forza Horizon 5.
Forza games are about building your adrenaline across multiple events and while ensuring your victory in the Horizon Festivals quests needed to win to become the best in the world. I’ll say that even after completing the opening race several times, the opening race is easily my favourite out of every opening Forza Horizon race.
This year’s inaugural opening race is a great mix of off-road and street racing paired with tons of jumps and stunning vistas. With a few exotic cars to give players a small taste of the raw power, these beautiful machines offer, all while showcasing a small slice of Mexico on your way to the first Forza Festival. The race ramps up rather quickly, giving you a stunning transition between each car type, climbing to a stellar finish with a Mercedes Benz hypercar race to the finish as a jumbo 747 descends to the festival. You’re given a lot of gorgeous backdrops from the start and these provide a great sense of the country, especially during hitting breakneck speeds of some of the most advanced cars on the planet.
A new addition this year is the inclusion of Expedition Mode, sitting alongside Horizon Showcases are these segments where you’ll race to a point on the map and be tasked to finish a checklist of things to do. An example of what I mean is you can meet up with your friend Rami who’s flying a two-seater plane and you’re following him in your car. While he’s racing you to Tulum, you’re learning about the area and culture of Mexico — essentially these missions allow you to learn more about the country.
When you arrive at the ancient ruins of the lost city of Ek’ Balam, you can complete optional objectives like taking a photo of a golden or jade statue, driving to the top of the temple, planting a radio beacon, and earning Accolades to level up your character and cars. Each time you finish an Expedition, you unlock a new Horizon Festival and new races to complete.
Showcase Events return but without sounding like I’m being too critical on these events, there are so only so many times you can complete a race of the calibre. Every Showcase is a brazen spectacle seeing as you’re usually racing against a plane or bikers, or base-jumping wingsuits but that’s not the issue I take with these races. It’s how much belligerent rubber-banding AI feels given in most cases the stress leading to the finish line usually ends with you winning regardless of how the race went.
Take it to the streets
Performance mode favours a solid and 60 frames per second while resolution aims to be a consistent 4K and 30 frames per second. In a series like Forza Horizon, I prefer higher frame rates where available. Whatever model you decide to go with, the game is a shining example of what first-party support for the Xbox Series X and Mexico is a stunning, diverse landscape that has taken over as the best setting the series has featured yet. From the moment you begin your Horizon adventure, you feel the magic of the terrain, the small villages, the crystal-clear water, the stunning mountain ranges and the rolling hills teeming with activities.
ForzaHorizon 5 comes with several race types to keep you feeling the need for speed as you hurl from the west coast Baja to the Riviera Maya. Racing through jungles, finding, and competing in circuits within the small town and beachside villas is a far cry from ripping through the British countryside. I made my way through Race Events, PR Stunts including Danger Signs, Speed Traps, and Trailblazers, and Horizon Stories. As much as I loved racing through Britain and its beautiful rolling hills made it a sandbox. Moving to Mexico as the next location feels like a whole playground this time, offering a variety of biomes that are far removed from the previous game and a welcome change for the series.
Car variety is a big component of any racer and Forza Horizon 5 comes fully loaded with all the upgrades. A lot of brands are available from Autoshow, you have your regulars like Acura, Ford, Honda, and Nissan. You also have your supercars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani, and McLaren. There’s a good mix of car classifications and you’re sure to find a handful of favourites in each category.
With exceptional radio stations paired with the right car, you’ll spend hours exploring the sizeable area as many Drivatars share the roads. Before each race, you have several options to choose from to customize your race. From difficulty levels to accessibility chocks, you can adjust controls, his and gameplay, and audio and video. There are also the cool features of tuning your car before the race or if you’re looking for suggested tunes, can grab user-made tubes via the Tune Browser. You can adjust the tires, alignment, springs, and a wealth of finer details. Cars include a mix of Rear Wheel, All Wheel, and Front Wheel Drive, each class designed to cater to a certain type of race.
For those looking to customize their rides, Playground Games has hundreds of cosmetic and performance upgrades to be found in Forza Horizon 5. From the rims to the callipers, to the platform and handling to the drivetrain — everything on your car can be upgraded and customized. If you’re easily overwhelmed and find a car that resonates with you then you can auto-upgrade your ride and leave all the work to the game, too. It’s a great little feature I found taking advantage of based on time constraints to review the game but it’s something I’m glad to be included.
Furthermore, you can also tune the car’s tires, gearing, alignment, antiroll bars, springs, and more. Liveries are available online too and you can grab some neat decals for your cars, but unfortunately, there isn’t an editor that makes this process simple.
Playground Games brings back the season system from Forza Horizon 4 but with two new weather effects — tropical storms and dust storms. Weather effects are regional this time, so you can be in the desert and get a pitter-patter of rain or through the jungles where the downpour of rain makes visibility minimal. Paired with seasonal changes that see tropical storms last from June to November and dust storms running through to April. Weather still changes every week too, so keep an eye out and for some of the seasonable changes, you come across, also, around the volcano I’d suggest keeping an eye on.
Online has seen a bit of a revamp and a name change — Horizon Open. The name is to signify the inclusion of all players and to make their time within the game enjoyable. Horizon Open has been split into four categories (Open Racing, Open Drifting, Playground Games, and The Eliminator). Eliminator returns and was added in Forza Horizon 4 and is essentially a battle royale mode where 72-players race head-to-head while the map shrinks. Generally, you know what to expect if you’ve ever played Forza Horizon before and whether you want to race across the country, drift, hit the dirt — the choice is there.
Replacing Forzathon is Horizon Arcade a new mode filled with minigames that’ll task you with completing challenges with friends and strangers online and are available all the time in the world. There’s generally a great flow to Horizon Arcade and given how rigid Forzathon felt with its one game per hour, the change is wanted if only for the variety available on a whim. Some of the Mini Missions are standard like completing jumps but then you have Pinata Pop and Simon Says that are a blast.
I can say with certainty now that Forza Horizon 5 is a satisfying game and one that I’m going to be spending a lot of time with going forward. As promising as the game is though, there are small things that drag the experience down. NPC vehicles, for example, have a bad habit it disappearing off the map leaving long stretches of the road completely devoid of life at times, making the world feel lifeless — an issue that’s plagued the series previously What gets me are these pockets of characters only shown at the Forze Horizon festivals cheering you on leaving villas, ranches and beach getaways feeling more like ghost towns.
Forza Horizon 5 is a stunning, eclectic title that’s welcoming to both racing aficionados and newcomers. Is this game more of the same? It is, but also it improves on several issues its predecessor had and feels more streamlined. Playground Games continues to improve the series and definitively the fifth entry is easily my favourite in the series. Forza Horizon 5 is the biggest and best game in the series, moving players to the stunning landscapes of Mexico with limitless fun and adventures. It’s also the most accessible game in the series, never herding you into an event, instead, you are rewarded by exploring Mexico and there is no finer racing game or exclusive on Xbox.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]