“Vroom vroom” might not suffice as a full review of Forza Horizon 5, but I feel that these onomatopoeic utterances sum up my overall feelings of what is the fifth entry in arguably the best arcade racing series of all time. Forza Horizon 5 does little to alter the series’ standing, in either direction, and depending on your outlook that’s either a very good thing, or the kind of thing you’ll shrug your shoulders at as you’re too busy vrooming off into the sunset.
Forza Horizon 5 sees the neon pink-infused Horizon festival arriving in the beautiful locale of Mexico, bringing back some of the exotic glamour to the series that the British-bound Forza Horizon 4 couldn’t quite create. It certainly feels much closer to the Australian setting of Forza Horizon 3, with lush jungles and spectacular beaches waiting for you to tear through them, but there’s some unique elements at work here that cement Mexico as a perfect location for the sprawling footprint of Playground Games’ automotive festivities.
If you’ve played any of the previous Forza Horizon games then you’ll be well prepared for what’s laid out in front of you. The map is a truncated rendition of Mexico, a greatest hits package on an entire country. Towns and villages whip by in much the same way as they’ve always done, with the same level of guilt brought about by ripping through an innocent digital person’s fencing on your way to an XP board that some rapscallion planted on their property.
You can’t possibly miss some of the key locations here though, starting off with the remains of Mesoamerican civilisations found at Teotihuacan and beyond. Forget the guilt of broken fencing, how about the guilt of driving around a world heritage site in a gas guzzling 4×4? Still, this is a video game, and video games are silly. Forza Horizon 5 knows this, and while you’re motoring around this particular location it has you hop out to set up a radio transmitter so you can listen to some bangin’ tunes. Just like the Aztecs did.
From the first festival site, Expeditions send you out into the Mexican landscape to set up new Horizon outposts. Those outposts focus in on specific race types, ranging from your typical road racing through to off-road Baja courses through the desert. What they really do is add extra Horizon hubs to the map to the point that you feel like it’s taking over the entire country. It certainly adds coherence, even if I wonder what the digital locals will make of the never-ending party atmosphere that’s creeping across their countryside.
I don’t know why I’ve become so bothered about what these fictional characters think in this particular fictionalised country, but I wonder whether it’s because at one point I was brought to the home of Luis, where he gave a great little speech about family, and then his home became my home. I repaid this Fast and the Furious level act of kindness by immediately purchasing a different house and moving to the beach to live on my own.
Despite somehow evoking Catholic-level guilt, the characterisation is typical Forza Horizon fare. You’re surrounded by likeable (if loud) people who consistently shout at you over the radio while you’re trying to concentrate. They’re all unerringly friendly and refer to you as ‘Superstar’, so at least if you’re looking for an ego boost Forza Horizon 5 undoubtedly has you covered. The Horizon Story serves as the narrative underpinning that brings these characters together, breaking you out of pure racing to go and explore, often doing so with a lesson in Mexican history or mythology along the way.
I do wish that there were more options for your avatar to corroborate this strong sense of self. It’s fantastic to see an improvement in diversity and inclusivity, and the option of different prosthetics to represent players with missing limbs, but Playground has bypassed simple fundamentals like facial hair, makeup and facial customisation on the way there. Unlike most racing games they do actually trot out your avatar pretty regularly, so it would be nice to see some further development here. Maybe there’s a beard DLC on the cards?
There are further new elements to be found in Forza Horizon 5, but they amount to a refinement of the racing formula rather than revolution. This game features the Super7 and EventLab creation mode and Battle Royale Eliminator from day one, while Horizon Arcade is probably the most obvious and pervasive new addition, adding occasional challenges and minigames to the map that can evoke a little of the task-based multiplayer of Burnout Paradise. Race over there and get involved along with the other players populating your map and you can work collaboratively or competitively depending on what’s being asked of you.
Playground Games really want you to play together, and Forza Link is their latest solution for getting people to do so. Whether you’re playing with friends or random peeps over the internet Forza Link is designed to make transitioning from playing alone to playing with others seamless and simple. It works too, and should only improve, with some clever algorithms supposedly learning your preferences over time and hooking you up with players that are into the same types of events. Either way, you’ll find plenty of fun if you’re willing to let Link lead you there.
Forza Horizon 5 is simply stunning on Xbox Series X. If you opt for Quality Mode your refresh rate is capped at 30fps in 4K, but the eye-candy you receive in return is utterly glorious. Barring the tiniest bit of pop-in involving the detail of far-off cars, everything is rendered in incredible detail, all the way off to… well, the horizon. Performance Mode amps things up to 60fps and in return you lose some of the detail.
On the older consoles, the Xbox One X does an admirable job of giving you a 4K image, though not quite to the fidelity of the new Series X, but there’s the conspicuous loss of a 1080p60 mode that was featured in Forza Horizon 4. 60fps, it seems, is a next-gen exclusive. The Xbox One puts up a decent fight, and sticks to a solid 1080p30, but the visual quality and loading in of assets suffers.
Playing on the newer consoles at 60fps does help the handling feel snappier though, and for some that’s going to be even more important now you can opt for the simulation handling that’s available. That’s right. The mainline Forza series and its brighter Horizon offspring are closer than ever, with a sim handling option putting you more in control of the open world racing than ever before.
It feels brilliant, allowing more nuanced control that in most situations feels better suited to the frenetic drifting and racing than the normal arcade mode. Given the precision with which everything else is rendered here, it feels as though this is the handling model that Forza Horizon 5 deserves. For those that want to hoon about much as they did in Forza Horizon 4 there’s still that option, but it feels like this is really the most integral change in the whole game.