Xbox Game Studios and Playground Games Forza Horizon 5 returns ahead of schedule to just about kick off Year 2 of Microsoft’s Series X|S generation of hardware. The Horizon festival has traded in grey medieval Britain for Mexico’s dynamic rainforests, beaches, deserts, a volcano, rivieras, Mayan temples, and gorgeous cities to race, drift, and jump through in the latest iteration of the hit arcade racing game.
Just like the past four iterations, Forza Horizon 5 is all about building the best car festival in the world that celebrates all types of races, events, and drivers. What’s different this time though is how the festival is built out. You continue to have a choice in how you expand the festival just like in past iterations, however that choice is much more expanded and even adds story elements to the larger festival expansions. Every ten thousand accolade points earned through races, PR stunts, story events, or just driving around, allows you to get an expansion. These expansions can range from adding a whole new type of race to the map to story-based quests, to unlocking the Goliath and event races. It’s a new type of variety that feels like a nice evolution of Forza Horizon’s progression model.
For my specific experience, it allowed me to not get overwhelmed by hundreds of different icons on the map and focus on mastering a type of race while continuing to progress. If I ever felt like I needed more activities to do to advance, I just used my next Horizon story expansion to unlock a new festival location. Plus the accolade system has been made more approachable. It allowed me to do what I want to progress, not just focus on a type of race or deal with a type of weather event. If I wanted to just do PR events to progress, I could. If I wanted to focus on pushing through story events and ignore races for a while, I was still earning accolades points. Plus, the accolades menu outlined in a very clear way what exactly I needed to do to complete certain objectives that spoke to the type of mood I was in. It felt freeing.
Now, I mentioned there being more of a story this time around. It’s not anything to write home about, but it was a nice addition that lets you the player feel more responsible for building out the festival. For instance, for one of the expansions, it involved driving up the volcano in the northern part of the map. At the top, several optional objectives popped up asking me to perform a survey of the volcano to make sure it was safe for the festival. While these objectives were quickly completed since it’s all done in the safety of the car, it was still a neat change, making me feel like I had an actual hand in things besides telling people what to build out next.
One of Playground Games’ greatest achievements in its Forza games is making the controls for their games just about flawless. I always thought that Forza Horizon had very tight controls before, but boy was I wrong. There is something they did with Forza Horizon 5. Something I can’t put my finger on. But this is the greatest feeling racing game to ever exist in my opinion. The controls just feel near perfect. It could be the physics feeling more accurate (except when you clip a rock and go into a 2060 spin as you do a danger jump), it could be that they tweaked the controls ever so slightly to make them more accurate to feel like driving a car, it could even be the decreased latency with the Series X and the new controller, but I just can’t get enough of how amazing this game feels to play.
The abbreviated Mexico built by Playground Games may be the most beautiful and well-designed map I have seen in a game ever. It feels like an act of love and respect from start to finish. For instance, the Mayan ruins are a featured part of the Horizon Wilds dirt racing event. They aren’t built out to be cool ramps, they are built out to be a part of Mexican history, and it shows during the intro quest for Horizon Wilds. It’s a set-piece that really makes the southern part of Mexico, along with the rainforests, stand out from the rest of the map. Then there is Guanajuato, a city located in central Mexico, that is used as the main focus of Horizon Street Scene, aka street racing. It’s filled with cafes, people cheering you on, and papel picado lining the streets as you race around. Plus all the buildings are vibrantly colored, lining the winding streets filled with tunnels and tight alleyways that when combined make a unique racing scene that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Finally, I want to touch on the customization options. Starting with car designing, there are not only more options when picking car parts, but they’ve also added masking to designing the paint job of a car. Once more people get their hands on the car editor, I can’t wait to see what the more creative portion of the fanbase can make. Then, with character creation, there were two nice additions that I was happy to see: the addition of gender-neutral pronouns and prosthetic limbs to the character creator. It’s this level of inclusivity that may seem like a small step, but can open up a whole new audience to this amazing franchise and community.
During my playthrough, I’ve only experienced two glitches. The first was caused by the game being left open for too long, leading to the game not properly pausing. For instance, when I opened photo mode, my car just continued to drive off ruining great action shot instead of staying in place. Another instance happened when I paused the game mid-race and came back to the race finishing up even though I was playing offline. However, a quick reset of the game fixed that. The more common issue I’ve run into has been server connectivity issues. This wasn’t as much of an inconvenience during most of my playthrough, except it led to a pop-up a little too frequently. It also led to a lot of headaches when trying to play with friends as loading took longer than usual while also leading to races not ending when they were supposed to in The Eliminator, Forza’s version of Battle Royale. The developers have commented though that they are actively working on the server issues and hope to have them fixed just after the official launch of the game.
While there isn’t much story, Forza Horizon 5 grabbed me in a way that felt like a once-in-a-blue-moon experience. Everything was enjoyable. I never got annoyed at the controls. If I made a mistake, I knew it wasn’t the game’s fault, but my own. Plus there was so much variety in what I could do introduced at a digestible pace that I never felt overwhelmed by choices. Playground Games brought back many of the features they implemented in past games (like Seasons and The Eliminator) that Forza Horizon 5 feels like a perfect sequel. If there were features that were in past games that were left on the cutting room floor, they definitely aren’t missed. In other words, Forza Horizon 5 is the prime example of what an iterative game series should do every time. Keep all the hard work from the past while refining it to make it its best version possible. Besides some patchable launch issues, Forza Horizon 5 gave me everything I wanted out of an arcade racer and more that I never thought I’d want out of it.
Overall, Forza Horizon 5 somehow raised an insurmountable bar to new heights. Playground Games once again showed off that they can make a racing game that’s fun and approachable for everyone. Regardless of your thoughts on racing games, if you have Game Pass, Forza Horizon 5 needs to be your next game. You never know, it could be the jumping-off point into a new genre that you never knew you’d click with.
Forza Horizon 5 is available now on Xbox and Pc.
Forza Horizon 5
- Rating - 10/1010/10
Overall, Forza Horizon 5 somehow raised an insurmountable bar to new heights. Playground Games continued to show off their prowess with game development and their striving to make a game that is fun for every type of player in every aspect of gameplay. Regardless of if you’re a racing fan or not, if you have Game Pass, Forza Horizon 5 needs to be the next game you play. You never know, it could be the jumping-off point into a new genre that you never knew you’d click with.