When the original Forza Horizon launched, it was supposed to be a neat little experimental spinoff leveraging the Forza brand to deliver a different kind of racing experience. Taking the authenticity, production values, and love for all things cars and motorsport the series is know for, and blending it with far greater accessibility and a more easy-going experience that was more focused on arcadey fun than simulation, Forza Horizon struck the perfect balance, delivering the best of both worlds. With each successive game, Playground Games further honed that formula to perfection, to the extent that, by now, Forza Horizon has, in many ways, overtaken the Motorsport line of games as the “main” Forza series in many people’s eyes.
Forza Horizon 5 continues that upward trajectory, to no one’s surprise. Excellent driving, stellar visuals, consistently fun and varied activities, and a large and beautiful open world serve as the foundations on which Playground Games’ newest open world racer serves up what is probably the pinnacle of this franchise so far.
"Excellent driving, stellar visuals, consistently fun and varied activities, and a large and beautiful open world serve as the foundations on which Playground Games’ newest open world racer serves up what is probably the pinnacle of this franchise so far."
After having conquered the racing scene in Great Britain in Forza Horizon 4, in Forza Horizon 5, you’re headed to Mexico- only this time, instead of just participating and competing in the Horizon Festival, you’re also helping set it up. That setup serves as the framework for the entire game, tasking players with driving all across the country and taking on races to set up new events across various motorsport disciplines, from street races and dirt races to cross-country races and PR stunts, and much more. As you establish more Horizon sites and outposts, you unlock more racing events to compete in yourself throughout the entire mode.
For an open world racer that wants to emphasize freedom and player choice, that’s an excellent setup. For essentially every activity in the game – optional or otherwise – you get Horizon Adventure points, which are used, in turn, to unlock more mainline missions and events, known as Horizon Adventures. Every “chapter” of Horizon Adventure can be accessed right from the get go, and that complete lack of linearity, combined with the fact that the game rewards you with Horizon Adventure points on a near-constant basis, means you’re always free to do pretty much anything you want.
And there’s just so much to do. Forza Horizon games having a plethora of varied, excellently designed, and consistently enjoyable racing and driving activities isn’t exactly news at this point, but Forza Horizon 5 takes that to new heights. From regular races to street sprints through city streets to grueling off-road events to so much more, there’s always a litany of different kinds of races to participate in, and in typical Forza Horizon fashion, courses for all of these races are consistently impressive, whether that’s because of the tricky corners you’re asked to pull, or the wide and long stretches you’re allowed to speed up in, or the beautiful locales you drive through, or a combination of all of the above.
"From regular races to street sprints through city streets to grueling off-road events to such much more, there’s always a litany of different kinds of races to participate in, and in typical Forza Horizon fashion, courses for all of these races are consistently impressive, whether that’s because of the tricky corners you’re asked to pull, or the wide and long stretches you’re allowed to speed up in, or the beautiful locales you drive through, or a combination of all of the above."
Outside of races, other bite-sized activities are peppered in throughout the open world, including exhilarating danger sign jumps, drifting zones, speed traps, XP and fast travel boards to smash, barns to find, houses to buy, multiplayer races and modes to play, and more. And of course, you can also just always cruise about the open world aimlessly, which never stops being fun.
Some events and races are more enjoyable than the others, of course, which is to be expected in a game this big with so much to do. For instance, throughout the game you’re regularly unlock story-focused questlines, each focusing on a different kind of driving discipline and a particular character (or set of characters). The stories themselves are easy to tune out, as you’d expect, but the races and events these questlines bring are not particularly interesting either, and do tend to get a bit repetitive. Thankfully, there’s never a lack of other things to do, all of which contributes to making progress in the game, which means you’re never forced to do the story missions. On the other hand, there are the Showcase Events, which you’ll be unlocking at certain junctures throughout the campaign, and as Forza Horizon fans would have expected, these are the highlights of the game. Whether you’re racing against a plane or against jet-skis or on a winding 30 minute-long cross-country course, with its Showcase Events, Forza Horizon 5 is always at its creative, bombastic best.
All of this – the races, the activities, the aimless open world traversal – is fun, first and foremost, because the driving is fun. That doesn’t come as a surprise here, of course – that’s what Forza does best, after all – but it’s worth mentioning that the excellent driving mechanics of Forza Horizon 5 are among the game’s biggest strengths. No matter what vehicle you’re driving, no matter what kind of activity or event you’re participating in, you’re always, always going to be enjoying yourself on a fundamental level, simply because of how good driving and handling vehicles feels.
"Whether you’re racing against a plane or against jet-skis or on a winding 30 minute-long cross-country course, with its Showcase Events, Forza Horizon 5 is always at its creative, bombastic best."
The roster of vehicles available in Forza Horizon 5 deserves special praise as well. There are hundreds of cars available in the game, exhibiting an impressive variety of vehicles across categories, manufacturers, classes, and eras (and yes, the Warthog makes it in once again), and the series’ love for all anything and everything to do with cars and motorsport shines through constantly. Driving each car feels meaningfully different from all the others, and empowering and robust customization tools in the form of upgrades to purchase and equip and a number of finetuning options allow you to properly stamp your style and ownership on all the cars you collect. Vehicles are also unlocked at a pretty regular clip, which means you’re always looking forward to getting your hands on that next excellent car you can’t wait to drive.
Meanwhile, just as crucial to the game’s success is its open world itself. Forza Horizon 5 follows in its predecessors’ footsteps and crafts an immaculate playground for players to race through. Mexico is large, beautiful, and full of stunning sights and sounds. Without a doubt, it is easily the biggest and most varied Forza Horizon map yet, and truly captures the full range of Playgrounds’ fictional representation of the country where environments and biomes are concerned. Pristine beaches, dense swamps and forests, dry and cracked deserts, winding mountain roads with snow-capped peaks, charming towns and cities with colourful buildings and cobbled streets- Forza Horizon 5’s Mexico has just so much going on, all of it so lovingly crafted, so ridiculously detailed.
Unsurprisingly, the game also takes every chance it gets to show off its gorgeous open world, with race courses often being smartly designed to hit you with the perfect vistas at the perfect time. More than any other Forza Horizon map, Mexico feels complete, lived-in, and boasting meaningful diversity. On top of this, Playground Games then adds its signature festive flair to Mexico thanks to the all-encompassing nature of the Horizon Festival, from what you’re hearing on the radio stations to vibrant and eye-catching decorations scattered all throughout the world, among other ways.
"Forza Horizon 5 follows in its predecessors’ footsteps and crafts an immaculate playground for players to race through. Mexico is large, beautiful, and full of stunning sights and sounds. Without a doubt, it is easily the biggest and most varied Forza Horizon map yet."
And of course, all of the game’s strengths just shine through so much more because of its excellent production qualities in the audio and visual departments. Cars look and sound excellent, vehicles and environments are crammed full of the tiniest details, the world itself is varied and full of beautiful sights to see. These are things that Forza Horizon (and Forza in general) has excelled at for as long as it’s been around, but even so, this feels like a significant step forward for the series. On a technical level, Forza Horizon 5 is easily the best-looking Xbox Series X game I’ve played so far.
All of which is to say that Forza Horizon 5 cannot be praised enough. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best racing games ever made. If you’ve played its predecessors, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the sheer quality on display here is staggering, and made all the more impressive by the scope and varied nature of the experience. Playground Games has been honing this open world racing formula for close to a decade at this point, making meaningful improvements with each iteration- and with Forza Horizon 5, once again, the series has touched new heights. As impossible it may seem in the moment that it will be surpassed, however, if history has taught us anything, it’s that this is a series that never stops improving.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
Smart structure affords complete freedom in progression; A plethora of excellently designed races and events, each contributing to meaningful progress; A gorgeous open world with tons of environmental diversity; Vehicles feel excellent to drive; Impressive vehicle roster; Looks and runs fantastic; Spectacular audio design.
Story missions can be a little bland and repetitive.