‘Forza Horizon 5’ review: Forza love of the drive

Forza Horizon 5 takes the esteemed racing series to Mexico – but can the deserts and jungles of the country live up to the series' highs?

You’d think that in a genre where the main gameplay mechanic is always the same – driving a car – that deja-vu would be a feeling that you get more often. After all, how many different can roads be, really? Sure you can adjust your tuning, or experiment with different body types, but unless you’re someone who’s converted the cupboard under their stairs into a cockpit, you’d think that most driving games felt pretty similar. I’ve never found myself dealing with this until I played Forza Horizon 5. Because while it’s incredibly fun to play, looks incredible, and has so much content that it’s difficult to imagine you finishing it all before the heat death of the universe, it just made me want to go back to Forza Horizon 4.

Typically, since developer Playground Games introduced the Forza Horizon series, it has served as the chillaxed Uni student younger brother of the hyper-serious, Top Gear magazine-buying main series titles, Forza Motorsport, developed by Turn 10 Studios. They’ve lived quite harmoniously until now, trading off release years, meaning that players can ebb and flow between the two disciplines of drivery-pokery without tiring of either.

However, following Forza Motorsport 7, Turn 10 began work on a reboot of the series, which it plans to be the next big step for the franchise, as it debuts on Xbox Series X at some point in the future. That means that the last Forza game was Forza Horizon 4, a game that is incredibly similar to Forza Horizon 5, to the detriment of the latter.

The game begins with you jumping a car out of a plane, because it’s Forza Horizon after all, and anything less would be antithetical to the vibe. You land in Mexico; a vast map that juxtaposes harsh, muddy jungle roads with expansive deserts, and tight village streets. It’s certainly a different atmosphere from the Great Britain map of Forza Horizon 4, but frustratingly, you’re immediately playing one of the game’s showcase events.

These are set pieces that have you racing against a plane, which while visually cool, are a bit of a cheap trick after doing the same sort of thing so many times in the previous game. The plane will also slow down enough so you just eke out in front of them at the last minute, the pilot seemingly able to idle the plane while you spin your wheels in a ditch 40 meters from the finish line.

Your task then becomes performing enough daring feats and winning enough races to unlock events for the Horizon Festival, a celebration of cars that seems to mostly involve a lot of people standing around watching you attempt to beat your pal’s best time on the various speed traps around the map. As soon as the shackles were released and I could freely drive around the stunning Mexican countryside, I remembered exactly why I love these games so much.

Forza Horizon 5. Credit: Microsoft.
Forza Horizon 5. Image: Microsoft

The driving feels incredible. You never feel like the car is battling you to stay on the track, the sense of speed is immense without feeling like you’re about to fly off into a ditch, and the generous rewind feature and driving line mean that you don’t have to worry about being perfect, you just need to focus on the fun. And it is incredibly fun. There’s a basic combo system wherein drifts, burnouts, jumps, and other things that aren’t legal to do on most roads gain you points. Accumulate enough and you’ll earn upgrades for your car, which primarily improve how quickly you can rack up a combo, and make it tougher to break.

Forza Horizon 5 is a visual masterpiece on Xbox Series X. With the slight caveat of an option to pick between graphics mode and performance mode, at a rock-solid 60fps, you’ll wish you could slow down to take in the scenery more. Vistas from high above the fields, like the one found while drifting down a literal volcano, are genuinely breathtaking.

The open-world activities in the game (such as Stunt Jumps, Speed Traps, and Drift Challenges) will be familiar to anyone who’s played Forza Horizon 4, because they feel exactly the same. Forza Horizon 5 is great at making sure everything you do feels like it’s contributing to your progress in the game. You’ll earn accolades that unlock the next big showcase event from doing pretty much anything. You can focus on stunts, street races or anything else the game has to offer, and you’ll still make progress.

Forza Horizon 5. Credit: Microsoft.
Forza Horizon 5. Credit: Microsoft

The main story in Forza Horizon 5 has some great missions – such as the long expedition journeys that’ll show you around the map – and change things like the time of day, or the weather, to give the world a bit more personality. But as far as the other races go, and all of the open world challenges, I would much rather do them in Forza Horizon 4, because they just feel so similar. So, if I’m not getting any real changes in gameplay, and the cars are mostly the same, save for a few newer models, why wouldn’t I just go back to the map I love?

Forza Horizon 5 feels like a natural endpoint or at the very least a natural break for the series. The driving feels fantastic, and all the races and activities that the game offers will provide hundreds of hours of entertainment, but if you’ve just come off playing Forza Horizon 4 to death, there’s not a lot of reason to pick up Forza Horizon 5, unless you’re just desperate for more content. However, for new players (especially those with Xbox Game Pass) there are few driving games that offer the breadth of content, the visual flair, and the incredibly satisfying handling of Forza Horizon 5, even if the formula is starting to run out of road.

Forza Horizon 5 launches on November 9 for PC and Xbox. A console version of the game was provided by Microsoft for this review, we played on Xbox. 

Forza Horizon 5. Credit: Microsoft.
Forza Horizon 5. Credit: Microsoft

The Verdict

An incredible open-world racer that has all the high-octane action you’d possibly want, but a reliance on previous successes makes the game feels somewhat derivative. Whether you should play this or Forza Horizon 4 is literally as much of a coin-flip on which map you’d prefer, and for me, Mexico didn’t hold the charm of flying through the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Pros

  • Best-in-class driving
  • Endless content
  • Stunning visuals

Cons

  • Repetitive missions
  • Mexico isn’t the series’ strongest location
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