Forza Horizon 5 doesn’t veer too far from the tried and tested open-world racing formula of the series, only now we get to explore the biggest land expanse in the franchise utilising the power of Xbox Series X/S.
Forza Horizon 5 is the latest iteration in the open-world racing series that keeps pushing the performance and visual boundaries with each release. Developed by Playground Games and published by Xbox Game Studios, players will be able to explore the lands of Mexico, replicated in amazing detail, in the largest explorable land expanse in the series to date. Get set to start your engines on November 9, 2021, on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC on Windows and Steam, and Xbox Game Pass including console, PC and Cloud Gaming (Beta). Players that purchase the Premium edition or pre-ordering the Forza Horizon 5 Premium Add-Ons Bundle through Xbox Game Pass will be able to race from November 5.
The opening sequence of the game had me grinning from ear to ear and in awe of how smooth the game was running on the Xbox Series X despite the incredible graphics unfolding around me. The detail of the cars was fantastic but being dropped in by a huge plane and then driving through snowy volcanic mountains, a jungle with waterfalls and flamingos, and the coastline of Mexico was amazing and without fault. I thought, surely if this is running so well on the Xbox Series X, surely the performance will suffer on the original Xbox One. However, to my surprise, it ran just as smoothly on that now-aging console at 1080p, albeit without as good reflections and sounds that Xbox Series X/S and PCs will be able to produce.
From a gameplay standpoint, there’s not too much different compared to Forza Horizon 4, and that’s not a bad thing at all. I found FH4 to be near perfect with the open-world shared multiplayer racing experience, heaps of customisable cars and seasonal events. Forza Horizon 5 has this in spades with over 500 cars to collect. I’m not much of a car guy but I liked choosing older models that I have seen in real life like the Mistubishi Lancer Evolution, Datsun 510, Holden Sandman and Toyota Supra. It’s one of the reasons I loved Forza Horizon 3 for the Australian cars. I thought it was a really great touch that players will get loyalty rewards depending on which previous Forza games you’ve played in the past.
Cars sounded great and realistic, but even more so in canyons as the sounds echoed around the narrow rock walls. It really did show off the power of the Xbox Series X and the technology behind the game. The new weather effects of huge dust storms and tropical rainstorms will spawn in the wild, though I didn’t come across any in my travels (other than within specific events). There are 11 key biomes around the map that show off the magnificence and diversity of the Mexican landscape. From lush jungles with historic temples, to volcanic mountains, quaint little towns with impeccable detail in the Spanish architecture, and seaside shanties. You certainly get a taste of various Mexican lifestyles if you take the time to stop and look around.
To start your Horizon journey, you’ll customise your character (which can be further customised once you find your first in-game house) and then choose one of three starting cars – a Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe, a 4WD Ford Bronco or a Toyota GR Supra. I chose the Supra and then drove to the first of many showcase events which was one of the hallmarks from Forza Horizon 4 for me. These showcase events, of which you can select which ones to unlock as you progress through the game, are curated to show off some amazing cars in even more amazing Mexican locations. The level of detail in the cars is outstanding and given I like to drive with the camera just outside the car, the reflections in the rear window were the best I’ve seen.
Once you’ve completed the first showcase, you’ll then start to unlock various race types just like in previous Horizon games. New to Forza Horizon 5 though are expeditions and you get to do one early on to get a taste for them. Like barnyard finds but with more story elements, you’ll travel to a specific location and then have several tasks to search for and complete. This game features a photo mode and parts of this first expedition have you taking photos of landmarks. This made photo mode more relevant and useful for me. In most games that feature photo mode, I’ll take a couple of initial shots to see what it’s capable of, but then I’ll hardly use the feature at all and often forget about it. There are also some photo challenges such as taking a photo with your car outside your first house, providing great reasons to utilise the mode.
You have so much choice as to what you want to do next that it can be overwhelming at times. As you complete races and challenges, you’ll earn accolade points. Earn enough accolade and you will unlock the next Horizon Adventure Chapter and gain some rewards like new cars, emotes, clothing and greetings. There are six Horizon Festival types such as Apex road racing, Wilds dirt racing and Street Scene street racing to name a few. Within these, there are three to four showcases you can unlock, and these were the main events that drove to me to complete other races and earn accolades. They really do a great job of showing off the amazing cars and locations in Forza Horizon 5 and if you’re getting a little tired of a particular area, these give you a great reason to move across to the other side of the map.
The weather effects I experienced within showcase events and the intro were great to experience and reminded me of playing the Fortune Island expansion from FH4. The difference here though is that each biome will transition through the game’s seasons independently with their own dynamic weather effects, rather than the whole world map having the same weather everywhere. The developers explain that this seasonal weather means that during dry seasons, you’ll be able to explore areas previously inaccessible in the wet season. I have only played in the Summer wet season in this review period, so I am excited to see the season change later this week.
The AI assistant Anna returns in Forza Horizon 5, though with a new module called Forza Link. This will track your status and that of the people you meet online, giving you more ways to link up with other players. As you’re driving along, Link will flash yellow which will indicate there are options to flag to other players that you’re starting an event or to broadcast a greeting. This will be beneficial to find others to race co-op or work together on the Horizon Arcade events, as well as find players for the Eliminator battle royale races which return from Forza Horizon 4.
Being an early access reviewer and being in Western Australia, I hardly saw any other players racing around in my sessions. This meant I couldn’t do any co-op or pvp races as I couldn’t create a convoy or complete any of the Horizon Arcade events that pop up each hour, so I just stuck to solo racing. I was able to race events that other players had created through EventLabs and once complete, you can give their blueprints a like or dislike to improve their rating. There are also rival times that can be set by you and other players, so you at least have some targets to beat, otherwise the AI is good enough to race against and you’ll see familiar Drivatar names from your friends list. When I was winning race after race and finding it a little too easy, the game prompted me to go up the next difficulty level and that sure changed the way I had to drive. Like the previous games in the series before it, Forza Horizon 5 is good easy-going fun in small or large doses and will become a staple on my games playlist, especially with Christmas/New Years holidays fast approaching.
Overall, I gave the game a 9/10. Forza Horizon 5 doesn’t veer too far from the tried and tested open-world racing formula of the series, only now we get to explore the biggest land expanse in the franchise utilising the power of Xbox Series X/S. Where it shines is through exploring the incredibly detailed Mexican biomes, earning accolades to unlock showcase events and working your way through unlocking over 500 fantastically detailed cars. I couldn’t test many of the multiplayer options in this review period, but the Eventlabs functionality will see players unleash their creativity in many ways. The seasonal event changes will keep the game constantly evolving and I’m looking forward to continuing my journey across Mexico.
This review utilised a key provided by Xbox/Microsoft. Forza Horizon 5 is available on November 5 for Premium Edition players and available globally on November 9, 2021, on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC on Windows and Steam, and Xbox Game Pass including console, PC and Cloud Gaming (Beta).
Written by: @ChrisJInglis