After becoming the household name for arcade racing with Burnout 3: Takedown, Criterion Games released Burnout Paradise and it became what is considered by many to be the definitive open-world racing game. That is until today. And, of course, snatching this mantle is a considerable burden to bear, but it’s one Playground Games is capable of as they not only shoulder such comparisons, but also the weight of hope held by an Xbox player base who can’t help but shield their eyes from the blinding light at the end of the long tunnel they’ve been in for so long.
With their conquest of Great Britain in the rear-view, we’re whisked off to Mexico for the titular series of festivals. In this way, this fifth iteration sticks to the tried and true formula and takes few risks. That being said, you wouldn’t rush your car in for a service before due which is a laboured analogy that totally applies here. If it ain’t broke, and so on. It might not surprise you, but Forza Horizon 5 is a very confident game that’s bloody good at what it does.
Your meteoric rise to the Hall of Fame aside, there isn’t a lot of story to take in here, which isn’t a bad thing. After the game’s thrilling Initial Drive, a brief overview of what’s to come, and a showcase race against a couple of wing suited dirt-bikers, Playground throws you the keys and lets you plot your path through the game’s five scattered festivals which each focus on a certain racing discipline. A focus on varying styles isn’t new, but I’m not sure it has been done with such care before.
While its contemporaries might pay greater focus to the more gimmicky disciplines because of the fun appeal, plain old road-racing is given the same respect as stunt-racing here and the game, as a whole, benefits because all of the content is brilliant. It’s almost expected from the team at this point, but all of the expeditions and showcase events are outrageous and over-the-top, while each discipline’s final check-box is a marathon race from coast to coast that serves as a love letter for all that came before it.
Horizon Stories make a return and, despite some of the game’s woeful line-readings, these bite-sized helpings that see our racer take time out of sight-seeing to help someone put a restored Vocho through its paces, or stand-in for an incapable actor who perhaps lied on his résumé about being able to perform his own stunts is yet another nice cherry on top of an already hearty helping of racing.
Through the Super7, the game lets players try their hand at creating their own small curated events that follow the same formula. I do find the difficulty in these tended to be rather inconsistent, they were either blindingly difficult or they could be cheesed by driving in a straight line—cacti be damned—to the endpoint. While the user-generated content can be graded and filtered out, we’re kind of stuck with the in-box content as-is unless patched.
As a very casual racing game fan—and as someone who knows nothing about cars—Forza Horizon has always managed to be everything I want it to be. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and it suits my arcade leanings well. That said, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and, with its lineage, the game can be as technical as you like. Spending an hour fine-tuning a car and sharing it online with enthusiast rev-heads isn’t my idea of a good time, but the fact it’s there for people who want a little more than other arcade racers offer is a nice touch.
During my review period, I managed to amass a formidable garage of cars. With over five hundred cars in the game at launch, I’ve clearly got a ways to go. What I did notice was how most of the ones I got to drive felt really unique. It’s typical of a supercar to max out its handling, launch, and top speed, but obviously it’ll lose ten out of ten times off-road against a bog-standard, commonplace Mitsubishi Lancer. I did enjoy how the event variety, paired with a ‘horses for courses’ mentality, had me actually driving newly found cars while collecting them.
Talk about a developer living up to their name, Forza Horizon 5 is a literal playground offering up countless hours of fun. There’s an achievement for driving on every road in the game and, given fast travel is a paid luxury, I think this is a spirited team who want you to explore every square inch of their distilled Mexico. Once you’re in the swing of things, the game almost ambushes you with how much there is to do. If there’s not an event on a road, you bet there’s a speed trap, a drift zone, or a danger sign waiting. To describe it as dense is an understatement, and connectivity within the game’s world only serves to broaden that experience.
With drop-in and out functionality, it’s going to be the game’s ease of access that keeps convoys together. It’s the best kind of service game in that friends aren’t essential, but when they do come your experience will be enriched because of them. Most of the game’s events are built with co-op in mind, and the game’s Festival Playlist—which serves as a battle pass of sorts—points to a number of team-focused challenges that’ll keep people returning.
However you approach it, Forza Horizon 5 is a stunning game. While both graphics and performance modes have their benefits, I felt the blistering and stable framerate outweighed the small sacrifices made in a game that doesn’t offer ray-tracing, to begin with. The character models aren’t much to write home about, but they’re genuine afterthoughts when you consider how faithfully over five hundred cars have been recreated.
And that’s all before you stop to take in the world.
All I can hope is that the committee heading up tourism to Mexico pops the team at Playground Games on their Christmas card list this year because I’m sure I’m not the only one with a knee-jerk compulsion to pay a visit to this beautiful, picturesque land. Whether I was looking down on the world from La Gran Caldera or getting it sideways going past sacred temples in La Selva, every second I spent in this world was a genuine treat.
Some of the aforementioned poor dialogue aside, Forza Horizon 5’s sound design is generally really great. The use of ray-tracing to have the car’s output bounce realistically around their surroundings, whether it’s within a small township or at the beginning of a desert void, it sounded believably rendered and, as a compliment to the game’s striking visuals, served to sell the idea I was actually tearing through Mexico in a sports car I couldn’t afford if I lived two lifetimes.
What I didn’t love is how the game handled its licensed soundtrack. I had no issue with the track selection, in fact, there were a lot of groups I was pleased to hear. Whether it was a condition of the licenses themselves, but it seemed that many of the songs were edits that were cut-up, looped, and stretched into exhaustingly long remixes of the original cuts.
It wasn’t generally noticeable on sprint races, but after hearing eight straight minutes of “Caution” by The Killers and wondering how it hasn’t ended yet, it became apparent.
I’ve played a few open-world racers in my time, but I’m not sure I’ve ever come across one so feature-rich. It really is comprehensive, nailing the scope of its world while filling the world with meaningful things to do, offering a suite of multiplayer and co-op possibilities, and free-roam of a boiled-down vision of Mexico that’s begging to be explored.
Though it’s iterative in a lot of ways, Forza Horizon 5 is a near-faultless open-world racing experience that’s so sure of itself and its offerings that it goes the extra mile to sprinkle in the kinds of fan service that people go wild for. As a game it’s tremendous, but it’s also a brilliant, interactive postcard for a culture that is passionate about few things more than their country and their cars.
A gorgeous, big open-world
So many inviting activities to engage in
Excellent drop-in and out functionality
It looks absolutely stunning
Some off-putting difficulty spikes
Poor dialogue and heavily-edited soundtrack misses the mark