The main point of Forza Horizon 5 is to give us a great arcade racer, effectively the complete opposite of its cousin Forza Motorsport which focuses on a simulation experience. I’ve always preferred the Horizon series and that comes down to my preference for arcade racing. They ooze fun, deliver interesting locales to blast around, and every race event is well designed so that they never feel too similar. For the obsessive compulsives amongst us collecting cars is a worthwhile distraction, and for the artistically gifted it’s even better customizing them. Of course, whether it’s an arcade racer or sim the handling has to be on point, which it always has been, and for a more casual focussed game Playground Games have to nail not only the ability to pick up and play, but keep gamers chomping at the bit for another go. Does the latest in-car-nation bring the joy, as well as finally give the Series X|S a game to shout about?
If you have played any of the previous entries Forza Horizon 5 is more of the same, yet this entry feels like it’s been perfected, and is without a shadow of a doubt the best arcade racing game I’ve played in the past decade. The initial 10 minutes sucks you in immediately for the long haul! We get the varied intro showing us different cars and different areas of Mexico, which is the country this entry is based on; we’re dropped from a plane and have to get to different points of the map, which then swaps us to a different car and we head to the next… It’s aim is to show us how stunning this world is and also the expeditions the game is going to send us on. I mean we drive through a sandstorm which is fun in itself and very pretty to look at. I’ve been playing this on my PC and Series S both using a controller, and in my experience it’s been flawless. You can feel the difference of each car and even when it’s been tuned there’s tangible feedback. Pointing your racer at the right angle for a perfect drift is a precise affair, and changing vehicles means you may have to handle it differently. That’s the feeling you want though – the translation of the handling model and tuneability the game offers. Throwing a 2020 GR Supra around is a lot of fun and easy to pull off compared to a Corvette which requires much more delicate control. The last game’s handling was great, but this entry like everything else hits the sweet spot, and just feels like it’s on another level, Wheels are well supported too for those who have the option of picking their input method.
Much like the previous entries there are different event types in Forza Horizon 5 which come from the festivals you unlock, and boil down to essentially: street racing, dirt racing and drag racing; and are all varied enough to keep the fun going for many, many hours. As you play you get additional points whether that’s from drifting, clean racing or burnouts, and they all go towards levelling up. Completing events also goes towards an accolade system and works for unlocking more festival options. It’s never busy work, it always feels like there is something to do and aim towards, and the game gives you free reign of the map from the get go. This is particularly nice as you can choose where to focus first, with myself making a beeline for the dirt racing and cross country. It’s a lot of fun drifting over fields and down mountains, and even a volcano. Arcade events involve other people using multiplayer and have everyone working towards a goal in a similar way to Burnout Paradise, e.g., get air time or drift score in an area, and has replaced what was known as Forzathon Live in previous entries. It also delivers on the weekly events and monthly challenges to give you an extra objective and could lead to a legendary car reward. There’s a constant stream of events to do, and because they’re always varied it never feels repetitive, largely because of the impact the weather and season may have going from summer months to sandstorms.
Making a return in Forza Horizon 5 are collectables like the barn finds which will be a rare car from times past, and the boards to smash which are the usual XP and fast travel boards. These can be challenging with some of the boards hidden on the tops of buildings, so you need to work out how to reach it. It also still retains speed trap and danger signs areas to play around with… after all who doesn’t love flying high in the sky with your favourite car? It’s nothing new content-wise that hasn’t been seen before, yet the feel you get when playing the game is just different. Consider it a cocktail mix that’s been perfectly stirred. I’m always left with a big grin when I play, especially landing the perfect drift or jump. The game also gives a fun way to customize your car, whether you want this visually or mechanically. If you want a super fast Beetle then go for it, there’s the depth to tune it to perfection from the gear ratios to downforce levels and more besides. If you feel you’re not a skilled enough automotive engineer for this, then there’s an autotune which moves the car up a class. Better still, you can download custom tunes from other players, which can help if you’re trying to find a perfect balance for a drag race or drift event and are unsure on the specifics. Speaking of the game’s custom options, the accessibility settings which you set up initially are a nice touch for people who need the features, and aren’t buried in the menus out of the way.
Any car game needs to have a good selection to choose from, and there are 504 to start with, and more to come in the future I’m sure. I’m a sucker for collecting Japanese cars and I’m yet to be left wanting. From very old bangers up to the modern hypercars, there are too many to list but if I can go from tuning an old Civic or Escort to a 2021 Mercedes AMG-One, then I’d say that’s a big enough scope. Forza Horizon 5 also gives rewards out like candy on Halloween night, which can be from completing accolades or levelling up, and let’s you have a wheel spin, which could land you a car, clothes for your character, credits and so on. I’m yet to land anything amazing myself but it’s still fun. I have also been playing around with the game’s Photo mode, which admittedly I’m not great at using, however I like that the option is there and I have captured some nice shots (or at least I think so). Forza Horizon 5 does use this feature as a way of showing off the game’s visual treats, and given the Series S reduced specification it really does wonders here. The lighting effects, shadows and cars all look beautiful. Launching it on PC though shows it at its absolute best, though Playground have deliberately designed the game for scaling and in all honestly it doesn’t matter what platform I’m playing it on as I’m still in awe of how it looks. Raytracing isn’t fully present in the game (only in specific sections) but the PC version has been modded by a 3rd party to enable the option and get that full benefit to those with the horsepower to run it.
The audio work in this is fabulous too, the power of the cars really come through. To emphasise it, as well as being very clear on what changes are being made, whilst tuning you can rev the engine to see how it sounds once the extra parts have been installed. It’s a petrolhead moment I know, but hell if I’ve added 200HP to my car I wanna hear that engine! It’s simple things like that which add to the overall experience, and why it’s put me in mind of how much polish has gone into Forza Horizon 5. They’ve really taken their time at every stage and it shows at every turn. To put this simply if you liked any of the previous entries then this isn’t going to wow you with much new content, but it’s been finely tuned to make it perfect mixture of noise, graphics and speed. Every aspect seems to have been turned up whilst maintaining its unique identity, and leaves me wondering where the next entry can go as I just don’t see how they will top this.
Forza Horizon 5 is out now on all Xbox platforms and PC for around £50 for the standard edition, and is also available through Game Pass.