Get your plane tickets ready as Playground Games invites players to another Horizon Festival with Forza Horizon 5. ¡Viva México!

From the moment the game loads my heart was in my mouth, with me controlling exotic cars that had, just moments before, been launched from the back of a cargo plane (in flight). Forza Horizon 5 puts its cards on the table straight for the start.

Everything about the game is designed to be over-the-top.

The introductory race alone, though the Mexican landscape, racing against two motorcycles, a plane, and a guy in a wingsuit was exhilarating and had me smiling ear-to-ear.

Forza Horizon 5

The Forza Horizon games have always felt like the antithesis of the dry, overly-serious (but still excellent), Forza Motorsport games. The games’ missing campaign, as it were, and Forza Horizon 5 is no exception.

Back in 2013, Playground Games took Turn 10 Studio’s incredible Forza Motorsports game engine, with its sublime car physics, and loosened a few nuts to create, in the original Forza Horizon, an arcade racing game like no other.

An open-world extravaganza of cars, set against the fictional Horizon Festival. Part burning man, part Cannonball Run, the Horizon Festival is the perfect setting to showcase a crazy racing competition on-road and off.

Forza Horizon 5

The first Horizon Festival took us to the US state of Colorado introducing us to a vast open-world ready to explore and race across.

For the next festival, we were off to the French and Italian Riviera, where the world opened up even more with fences now smashable for some true “off-roading”. Australia was up next before 2018’s Forza Horizon 4 took us to the United Kingdom.

Forza Horizon 5 takes us to Mexico, giving us a huge map to race across. As before, it’s a microcosm of the diverse country’s biomes. From desert to rainforest, and even an active volcano, The game certainly delivers an exciting and new environment.

Forza Horizon 5

If you’ve played any of the other Forza Horizon games, you know exactly what to expect. Playground Games have found the perfect formula for their games and don’t seem keen to change it. And I don’t blame them.

As with the previous games, players are participants in a massive festival of racing. From old classics to high-tech modern racing cars, there are over 500 vehicles in the game at launch. These can be won or purchased at the Horizon Festival hub.

Unlike many similar extreme sports games, Forza Horizon 5 never feels the need to force the “awesome” to be down with the kids. The game design and presentation are exciting and immersive without the need to be “zany”. Some of the radio presenters can be a bit grating, but that’s also true in real life, though.

Forza Horizon 5

The cars handle perfectly, but probably not accurately.

The Horizon Festival gives you, its star driver, a free pass when it comes to the laws of physics and the limits of vehicular structural endurance. This is as much down to the realistic physics simulation of Forza developer, Turn 10’s game engine as it is Playground’s arcade tweaks. It doesn’t take much to get to grips with the cars as you drift around turns seemingly with ease.

Whilst Forza Horizon 5 is based on a serious vehicle simulation, the emphasis is on fun and exciting racing across a vast open world. As with all the Forza Horizon games since the second one, you can drive anywhere, smashing through fences stone walls, bushes, and general detritus.

Forza Horizon 5

The game world is breathtakingly realised and open from the start to explore. The reproduction of Mexico’s landscape looks amazing. The combination of dusty roads and jungle makes it look very similar to Forza Horizon 3’s Australia. The difference, though is that this map seems a lot bigger and a lot higher.

I took a car for a run, aiming it at some mountains in the distance (the type that is usually just a backdrop to the actual environment), straight-lining it through fields and fences.

I reached the mountains, crossed over the top mountains, and found a gorge and more rolling hills on the other side. Not only is it a huge game world, but it also doesn’t hide the fact from the players, giving them beautiful vistas that go for miles.

Forza Horizon 5

But the cars are the stars. Expertly modelled from their real-life counterparts, the game allows players to get up close and personal, checking them out in the Forzavista virtual showroom. Ever wanted to see what it looks like climbing into an Aston Martin DB5?

Well, you can do just that.

Each car feels different to drive. Car performance can be improved and customised by installing new parts. Increasing horsepower, braking, and handling, as well as gearing and weight reductions, can give you the edge over other cars.

New cars can be unlocked or purchased in-game. Players of other Forza games will be awarded free cars for their loyalty. I got six cars for playing the previous Forza Horizon games as well as Forza Motorsport 6 and 7.

Forza Horizon 5

The game is based around a series of racing events and championships that become available as players progress. The events around the main stage hub are expanded by opening new venues throughout Mexico.

Each of these venues has a specialisation that adds road racing, dirt racing, PR stunts, street racing, and my personal favourite, cross-country events, to the map. To unlock these hubs, you need accolade points earned from winning races.

The races are fast and (for want of a better phrase) furious. Cars jostle for their positions with little regard for each other. Personally, I don’t think that there’s any other game that offers the same motor-racing thrill. The game can be played via a third-person chase-cam, interior camera (with or without steering wheel), bonnet cam, or clean bumper view (my personal preference).

Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5 is free-flowing with activities and rewards. Your car collection increases quickly as the game progresses, similarly, the never-ending flow of cash allows the purchase of upgrades and outfits for your in-game avatar.

In a very short while I found myself absolutely spoilt for choice as to which event to partake in and races opened up, dotted about the entire map. As well as races there are barn finds to locate, bonus signs to smash, speed traps, and other activities littering the landscape.

The game is set up with arcade settings by default.

Forza Horizon 5

But these can be adjusted for an additional challenge. The racing line can be switched off, or set to indicate braking only.

Vehicle damage, which is cosmetic only by default can be adjusted to affect performance. The steering can be switched to simulation, more in line with that of the Forza Motorsport game. The game also caters for manual gearing, with or without a clutch. Most people will play the game using a controller, but on PC it also supports the popular racing wheel setups.

This versatility, something that I’ve overlooked in the past, almost turns the game from an arcade racer into a racing simulator.

Forza Horizon 5

Whilst reviewing the game on PC via Steam I had issues connecting to the online element of the game.

Even on Steam, it seems that you need to log into a Microsoft / Xbox account to play the game.

It was this that seemed to be causing problems, requiring me to type my password every time the game started. Fortunately, I was able to get hold of an Xbox/Windows Store version of the game, which worked with no problems- hence the delay on this review.

Just like its predecessors Forza Horizon 5 integrates the online component virtually seamlessly into the experience. Xbox friends have “Drivatars” generated for them.

These are AI models of their driving style and populate the game world. You may find yourself racing against some familiar drivers even in single-player. If you want to go head-to-head with real people, online races can be accessed at the click of a button.

As introduced in Forza Horizons 4’s UK, seasons also feature in the game, though I doubt these will be as dramatic as snowy winters in the Scottish Highlands.

Early in the game, I did have to race through an impressive dust storm. There were also some earth tremors whilst driving up the volcano. So, I imagine drivers will have to face some environmental effects during the game. It would seem from the menu that summer is the wet season and spring is the hot season, beyond that we’ll just have to wait and see.

Forza Horizon 5

Each season lasts a week in real-time comes with seasonal challenges and events.

The game’s visuals have been upgraded from its predecessors, looking even better for this outing. This is not something to be taken lightly, considering just how incredible the previous games look. Even now the first Forza Horizon from 2012 still looks pretty amazing.

Forza Horizon 5 pulls out all the stops to deliver next-gen visuals that are designed for Xbox Series X. I reviewed the game on a PC powered by an Intel i9 10900K with an Nvidia RTX 3090 GPU. This enabled me to crank the visuals up to Extreme and run the game in 4K with HDR, getting a framerate of around 75 frames per second (this is at the native resolution with no downscaling tricks). This is a drop compared to that of For a Horizon 4, where I was getting 115 FPS. This drop in performance is likely due to the game’s impressive draw distance and general graphical makeover.

Forza Horizon 5

I did notice the framerate take a small dive a few times in the jungle areas, still way above 60 FPS, though. Testing the game with variable resolution resolved this, but personally, the drop in visual quality wasn’t worth the performance gains.

Disappointingly, ray-tracing on PC and Xbox Series X is not utilised in the actual game, just the Forzavista showroom. But, the game engine does such a good job of faking ray-tracing, that you’d never know it didn’t utilise it.

The reflections on the cars’ bodywork are amazing, as are the reflections in puddles.

Naturally, the game runs really well on the Xbox Series X.

Forza Horizon 5

The game visuals can be set for quality or performance.

I also got to test the game on an Xbox One X, running at 1080p. Even on the lower spec machine, the game runs faultlessly, still looking amazing. Running the game on an OG Xbox One presented a noticeable drop in resolution, but it still looked great and ran smoothly.

The Windows Store version of the game grants access to both the Xbox and PC version of the game, allowing progress to be shared between the two platforms. Whilst I’m no fan of the Windows Store, this alone makes it probably the best way to buy the game for PC users, just in case they ever need to play on an Xbox.

Forza Horizon 5

With the standard version of the game being free for Game Pass subscribers on release, Forza Horizon 5 is yet another reason to join Microsoft’s game subscription service.

The game is available in a few tiers.

The Forza Horizon 5 Standard Edition is exactly that, with just the game. The Deluxe Edition includes the Forza Horizon 5 Car Pass as well as the game, giving access to additional car packs as they become available. The Premium Edition is as the Deluxe Edition but with the two upcoming expansions, the Forza Horizon 5 Welcome Pack and VIP membership, which grants extra bonuses, emotes, and a free player house.

Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5 is more of the same, which is fine.

The presentation is slightly more refined, but still has same the superb gameplay that sets the series above its peers.

The new location is a perfect choice and the festival setting is both uplifting and a bit crazy. The game has a wonderful collection of cars that it freely gifts to players. Not only is the breakneck driving absolutely breathtaking, but so are the visuals.

One of the best games of the year, without a doubt.

Forza Horizon 5
Forza Horizon 5 (PC / Xbox Series X) Review
Game details

Released: November 2021
Rating: PG
Platforms reviewed: Xbox Series X, PC (Windows 10)
Genre: Racing
Developer: Playground Games
Publisher: Microsoft

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