Review – Forza Horizon 5
I used to think that it was impossible to improve upon Forza Horizon 4. I’m not saying I wasn’t expecting a sequel, as Microsoft’s executives need to put food on the table at the end of the day, but I never thought I’d ever play a sequel that would overshadow its predecessors in a way that made them look archaic in comparison. Then the Forza Horizon 5 trailer dropped during E3 2021 and made me want to believe in a miracle. I needed to play the damn thing and witness the impossible by myself. It looked too good to be true. And so I did. The lunatics at Playground Games have, indeed, achieved the impossible. Forza Horizon 5 is just… wow. I’m lost for words.
Before we proceed, let me clarify one thing: I’m in love with this game, but I’m not a lunatic to think Forza Horizon 5 reinvented the wheel. I doesn’t shy away from the typical Forza Horizon formula. This is still an open world racing game, where you’re free to explore a humongous map full of different activities. You can partake in traditional races, head-to-head challenges, drifting and rampage competitions, set pieces, and much more. You can still get classic rides by restoring derelict cars found in hidden barns. The UI is identical to the one from Forza Horizon 4, the GPS lady makes a comeback with the same exact lines, everyone still calls you by your name, and so on. It’s the usual, but improved. In every. Single. Level.
You name an element in the game and it surpasses its predecessor. Let’s start off with the obvious: the setting. The United Kingdom was fun and all, especially regarding the country’s history with motoring (any Top Gear fans in the house?), but geographically speaking, the UK didn’t exactly impress anyone. There was a castle here and there, and there were a handful of hills in Scotland they insist on calling “highlands”, but the setting was mostly comprised of green hills. The Australia setting from Forza Horizon 3 had more variety, for example.
Then there’s Mexico. This is, bar none, the best setting ever put into a Forza Horizon game, and dare I say, in any open world racing game ever. There are deserts, sand dunes, heaven-like beaches, dense jungles full of flamingos, swamps, historical villages, and even a freaking volcano and Teotihuacan. Yep, the Aztec archeological complex. If Aztec temples aren’t your thing, don’t worry, there’s also a Mayan site for all you biased Mayan culture otakus. In a way, this map makes no freaking sense: Teotihuacan and the beach resort of Tulum are located a mere dozen miles away from each other, but that means that you will never feel tired when looking at your screen.
How would you, anyway? This game is freaking gorgeous. Shockingly gorgeous. So far, one of the best-looking games this brand new generation of games has to offer, alongside Ratchet & Clank‘s latest outing. It doesn’t matter where you are in the game, be it in the middle of a tropical rainforest or in the middle of a colonial village, Forza Horizon 5 just showers you with eye candy. The cars, as to be expected, look amazing. Their interiors are lifelike. I do own a Lancer in real life and made sure to compare its interior to my car’s, and boy oh boy, the attention to detail is ridiculous. The game doesn’t feature ray tracing during normal gameplay, only during the Autovista mode (a.k.a., the “drooling at your car” mode), and in no moment did I miss it. The lighting was just stupidly lifelike whenever and wherever I was.
This game looks amazing in both quality mode and performance mode. The first mission, the one you’ve seen in previews and trailers, has the game running on quality mode by default, and I’d suggest following suit, up until the conclusion of that activity, just so you can drool at the vistas you’ll be presented with. Once that’s done, switch to performance mode and delight yourself with the game’s pristine framerate. Don’t worry, it will still look downright gorgeous, whether you decide to play it on a Series S or a Series X. Hell, even the Xbox One version looks impossibly good for that system’s hardware. I’m convinced the folks at Playground Games are wizards after seeing a video of the Xbox One version in motion.
This is the first Forza Horizon game I have played at 60 fps, and the difference is night and day. Don’t get me wrong, this is one of the very few games, especially when you consider it’s a racer, that runs at 30fps as well as it does with double the refresh rate. Being able to blast at 260mph on a souped up Koenigsegg like a maniac with a death wish at such framerate, with very little (if any) pop-ins, is just worthy of wanting to buy each and every dev a beer as a way to thank them. I never noticed any slow textural loading, as I had noticed in Forza Horizon 4. This also impacted positively upon the gameplay, which, despite being identical to its predecessors’, didn’t need any improvement whatsoever. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, right?
One of the things Forza Horizon fans usually criticise about these games is the franchise’s tendency of being, well, too generous with its players. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer their way of showering players with sports cars at every corner instead of Gran Turismo‘s insistence on forcing you to drive with a preowned Toyota Yaris for five hours before you can buy your first coupé, but previous Forza Horizon games felt a bit too easy and demotivating with how often they gifted you with powerful sports cars right from the get-go.
I’m not saying this isn’t the case in here, especially in the beginning, but a good chunk of the cars available in Forza Horizon 5 are locked behind objectives and accolades. The Horizon Festival hub acts like an in-game battle pass of sorts, giving you a list of seasonal objectives, each one rewarding you with a few points after completing them. You are then able to grab a few exclusive cars, ones not available on the normal in-game dealer, if you collect enough points. The same applies to the accolades. You can get a few exclusive rides by reaching certain in-game milestones. For the first time in forever, I was actually focused on playing a Horizon game not only for the gearhead power fantasy, but because of these side objectives. They also gave me a reason to test out different cars I wouldn’t otherwise drive, such as the Nissan 350Z.
Even if the game isn’t as focused on absurd set pieces as before, they are still present in here. They are still really dumb, reminding me of the glory days of Top Gear‘s absurdist challenges. You will be acting as a stunt double for a Mad Max-like movie, you will drive a carnival parade car, and you will race against a train, to name a few. But for the most part, you will be completing objectives and stunts, which need to be unlocked by investing career points on different stages. If you want to commit yourself to stunt jumps and drifts, you can, for example. I wouldn’t recommend doing that, as the best thing about a racing game is well, racing, but sure, it’s your power fantasy. Who am I to judge?
I have noticed a few odd absences in the car roster, namely Alfa Romeo, but all in all, there’s a bit of everything in here. Trucks, supercars, hypercars, VW Beetles, pickups, hot rods… you name them, they’re here. The franchise’s emphasis on customization remains as strong as it has ever been. It didn’t take long for me to acquire a GMC van painted after Scooby-Doo‘s Mystery Machine, a Holden painted like the Ecto-1, a Chevrolet Monte Carlo dressed as the Hornet from Daytona USA, the General Lee, the A-Team van, and so on. It’s something most people won’t even care about, but I love being able to drive around with these makeshift pop culture vehicles.
Forza Horizon 5 wouldn’t be a Forza Horizon game without a ton of good licensed music. I still mourn the demise of Forza Horizon 3‘s Epitaph Radio, but I cannot complain about the quality of the soundtrack’s curation at all. Even if I spent most of my time listening to Horizon XS (the rock radio), which featured bangers like Royal Blood’s “Trouble’s Coming” and Bring Me the Horizon’s “Teardrops“, I have to commend the team for coming up with amazing tunes for pretty much every single radio station. The pop station features Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” (a guilty pleasure of mine), the EDM radio includes a song from Deadmau5, the hip hop radio featured both Lil Nas X and Beastie Boys, and so on.
There’s just one thing I didn’t like about Forza Horizon 5 as a whole: the voice acting. It’s pretty cringeworthy. I get what the team wanted to achieve with it, they wanted to promote Latin pride with their Hispanic voice acting cast, but even as a South American myself, some of this voice acting felt way too exaggerated. The Spanglish uttered by the NPCs was a bit too much. Let’s just say that, with a game like this, I shouldn’t be reminded of Key & Peele‘s Carlito sketches every time I heard NPC Ramiro shoving some random Spanish words in the middle of a perfect eloquent English sentence just so we could be reminded that we are in Mexico. As if being able to drift around Teotihuacan wasn’t enough.
Forza Horizon 5 is the ultimate car enthusiast’s power fantasy. It’s a game that just wants you to go bananas and appreciate the beauty behind motoring, by offering every single tool, event, car model and online functionality available. It basically wants to act as your safe haven to enjoy driving around with ludicrous gas-guzzling V10s in an era where mentioning you like to analyze how fast a car can get from 0-60 is enough to condemn you as Captain Planet villain. It is also the perfect showcase of what Playground Games can achieve with the Series S/X’s hardware. Yet again, I have no idea how they will able to improve upon what’s already a borderline perfect racing game, but I won’t doubt them. I know they will deliver something even better with Forza Horizon 6. I just don’t know if my brain will be able to process it.
It looks amazing on quality mode and performance mode. It looks amazing on a Series S or a Series X. No matter how or where you decide to play Forza Horizon 5 on, you’ll be greeted with basically the pinnacle of open world racing visuals.
Forza Horizon 5 maintains the series’ tradition of allowing you to tinker its balance between arcadey controls and full simulation physics, but with the added benefit of an even more solid framerate. No complaints here at all.
Obscenely realistic car engines and yet another fantastic musical curation, with artists ranging from Dua Lipa to Bring Me the Horizon. The only negative in this department (as well as the game as a whole) was the occasionally cringeworthy voice acting.
It already would have been a 10 if it was literally just more of the same, but the vastly improved map diversity, amazing set pieces, and improved progression system elevate what was already excellent to unimaginable heights.
Final Verdict: 10
Forza Horizon 5 is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox Series S.