Forza Horizon 5 is a breathtaking racing game with broad appeal and outstanding accessibility options
- Developer: Playground Games
- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
- Release date: 5th November 2021
- Genre: Racing, Open world
- Platforms: Xbox One/Series X|S, Windows PC (Steam/Xbox)
- Reviewed on: Xbox Series X/PC (R9-5900, RTX 3080, 32GB RAM)
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Forza Horizon 5 Review
Forza has been a mainstay of the Xbox ecosystem ever since it launched on the OG Xbox some sixteen years ago and has been reliably consistent in both quality and appeal. Forza Motorsport was stagnating somewhat, resulting in the development team taking a lengthy break while they work on rebuilding the racer, but its sibling, Forza Horizon, has been going from strength to strength.
Forza Horizon 4 represented a huge leap for the franchise, and they added many new features, worthwhile seasonal content and numerous updates and DLC, both free and otherwise, that has kept fans entertained all the way up until Forza Horizon 5’s release.
Forza Horizon 5 is more of a continuation of the series than a complete reimagining, but it’s definitely much more than just a re-skin with a new map. Everything about the new game is bigger and better than ever, with all of the content that made Horizon 4 so appealing, plus some new treats added for good measure.
With a game so big, it’s hard to know where to start, so let’s start with the biggest of all; the map. Living in England, I loved the take on Great Britain we got in FH4, but as much as I like my home country, we’re not exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to biomes and varied landscapes – hills, fields, small lakes and idyllic villages are great, but you don’t want your entire map to look like this.
Set in a stylised version of Mexico, Forza Horizon 5 has a breathtakingly beautiful world to explore. This shift to Latin America has given the environment much more variety in the topography and it’s much more fun to explore. The sand dunes of the Baja region are perfect for some off-road racing but travel around the map and you’ll find lush dense jungles with Mayan relics, huge steep-sided canyons, open plains interspersed with forests, quaint seaside resorts, hill-climbs up mountains, and even a volcano to ascend.
It’s atop this volcano that you get the best sense of the scale and grandeur of Forza Horizon 5. The draw distance is outstanding, and the viewpoint from the peak affords you views of landscapes you likely dream of visiting. Ribbons of tarmac stretch out as far as the eye can see, winding their way through the hills and valleys of Mexico.
Get in closer and the level of detail and fidelity Playground Games has achieved is astounding. Everything down to the smallest detail is rendered beautifully. As you’d expect from a CaRPG like Forza Horizon, though, it’s the cars that are the real star. There is a roster of over 500 cars, accurate down to the smallest of joins and even the stitching on the seats.
It’s an incredible roster of vehicles, from Acura to Zenvo, with the finest examples of classic racers, modern muscle, retro hot hatches, blisteringly fast hypercars, and everything in between. If you’ve played any Forza before you know exactly what to expect; Every car feels unique to drive, and all can be tuned, upgraded and given a fresh lick of paint.
You can do it all yourself, but if you’d like to let someone else do the hard work, there are already thousands of user-created setups and paint jobs to download. Some of the artwork put onto these cars is exceptional, and whether you prefer race-car inspired realism or out-there exotic designs and tribute cars, there’s sure to be something to suit your pride and joy.
Accessibility has been a key focus for Xbox and the wider gaming community at large, and Forza Horizon 5 is possibly one of the most accessible games ever made. As well as all the usual options for various types of colourblindness and narrators, cutscenes can be displayed with American Sign Language interpreters – a first for video games as far as I know. Additionally, there is a new Tourist difficulty mode, in which the AI will virtually stop and wait for you to catch up if you have an accident, and a game speed modifier, which will lower the speed of the game in 1% increments down to 40% of the original pace. Throw in assists that can steer your car and auto-brake and this version of Forza can almost literally be played by anyone, regardless of ability.
In terms of gameplay, not much has changed since Forza Horizon 4. There are dozens of race events to take part in, umpteen side activities to complete, and the now obligatory showcase events. These showcase events are still scripted, playing out like one of those Top Gear special races, pitting cars against aircraft and jet skis; They are designed to let you win by a bumper, but that doesn’t make them any less spectacular.
Joining the excellent Horizon Stories you may be used to, a new feature for Forza Horizon 5 is the Adventure and Expedition events. These take you on mini road trips around some of the sights of the game world. There’s a minor narrative running through them, and for the first time, your character can speak. I really enjoyed these, and though relatively few in number, it’s something I’d love to see more of in future games. Some of the dialogue and interactions are cringe-worthy, but this story content helps flesh out an already rich world into something grander and more involving.
I would have liked to see Forza Horizon make some changes to help guide progression, as it’s possible to jump into a hypercar from the get-go and use it successfully in most of the events, missing out on hundreds of cars that are just as much fun to drive. With so many vehicles in so many categories, they could have made more events that require specific vehicles classes to encourage you to experiment more, with the higher tier vehicles unlocking as you work your way through the game.
I know you can just choose these yourself, but when it’s all open from the start you don’t get that feeling of accomplishment when you take out a fast car for the first time. Within the first few hours of play, you can open up almost every event on the map, which shifts it from a meaningful career into a checklist of events to finish. The Horizon Stories are better structured, weaving their narrative into the gameplay, and I’d like to see them give the racing side of Horizon the same attention.
That is just nit-picking, though. The biggest appeal of Forza Horizon 5 is how playable it is: It looks absolutely stunning, it loads up incredibly quickly, there’s so much to do, it’s great to play with friends, they add loads of seasonal events to take on, the accessibility options are some of the best out there, and there is a healthy paid and free DLC roadmap in place. You’d really have to dig deep to find anything remotely negative to say about it.
Forza Horizon 5 takes the foundation laid by its predecessor and improves and builds upon it in every conceivable way. You can lose yourself for tens of hours and still barely scratch the surface. It’s possible to play the entire game offline, but online, especially racing with groups of friends, is some of the best fun I’ve ever had in a racing game.
If you have one of the new-gen consoles, Forza Horizon 5 is a must-play. It’s the kind of game you put on to show off just what your shiny new console is capable of, or if you want to test out your new TV or monitor. It’s not only the best Forza Horizon game so far, it’s one of the best games to have released on any platform this generation.