|Publisher||Xbox Game Studios|
|Platforms||Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S (reviewed), PC|
|Release Date||November 9, 2021|
Microsoft’s open-world racing series Forza Horizon may not have quite as long a history as other franchises like it’s big brother Forza Motorsport or Sony’s Gran Turismo, but it has been going strong since its 2012 debut, building its own fan base and accolades as new installments drop every few years. This year, the series sees its fifth entry, Forza Horizon 5, this time set in Mexico. Does Horizon once again deliver a high-caliber performance?
As is typical of racing games, Forza Horizon 5 contains very little in the way of objectionable content. You can freely tear across the open world, knocking over fences and crashing into other vehicles, with no repercussions other than some cosmetic damage to your car. The game contains a radio with several different stations to listen to; while I couldn’t listen to all of the songs, some of them have suggestive lyrics and bleeped-out curse words.
Just like with previous entries in the series, Forza Horizon 5 puts you into the role of a “superstar” racer at the Horizon festival, a larger-than-life racing scene in which you not only compete in standard races against other cars, but also hurtle down mountains, race against a train, and take part in other crazy antics. The lighthearted, happy-go-lucky vibe can get a little too silly at times for my taste—the festival officiates treat you like royalty no matter how well you play, and the large “#squadgoals” text that appeared during one story event earned a little eye roll from me—but I appreciate the emphasis on fun rather than perfection, especially since I’m nowhere near a racing game pro (as evidenced by how hard I got spanked when I dipped my toes into multiplayer).
With every Horizon game, the location plays a huge part in the overall experience, and Horizon 5 is no different. The team at Playground has beautifully recreated the varying biomes of Mexico, from lush forests, to sandy beaches, to city streets, to the rocky caldera looming over it all. Every aspect of the presentation is gorgeous. The only underwhelming new feature is the sandstorms; it’s a neat idea on paper, and these massive dust clouds look impressive from a distance, but once you get inside them, you’re simply surrounded by an orange haze that just moderately reduces your visibility. I’d much rather be outside of them where I can enjoy the grand vistas and impressive detail, or even in the midst of a rainstorm.
The game proceeds at whatever pace you like, and there are no shortage of activities to keep you engaged. The open world is full of side objectives, like smashing billboards for XP or racking up a high score in a drift zone. Practically everything you do, even just driving around in the normal course of exploration, earns you experience that goes toward leveling up, which in turn gives you roulette spins that grant you cars, in-game currency, and more. The festival expands throughout the region as you complete races, time trials, and various other events, introducing new types of driving like cross-country and street racing as well as even more open-world goodies to find.
As someone who doesn’t play that many racing games, I love how friendly Horizon is to racing novices like me. Not only does the aforementioned reward loop keep me feeling like I’m accomplishing stuff even when I’m just goofing around, but the game by default gives you plenty of help, such as providing a driving line to help guide you and tell you when to slow down, a rewind feature that lets you go back when you’ve made a mistake either in the open world or during a race, and an auto-upgrade option that will take care of all the details of improving your various cars. The game will even offer to adjust its own difficulty depending on how you’re faring. Enthusiasts, meanwhile, can remove the training wheels if they like, fine tuning all the various details of their cars as they please and setting the difficulty high right out of the gate. Horizon doesn’t discriminate between pro or novice; everyone can have fun.
I’m also blown away by the way the game lets the community enhance the overall experience through their creativity. Players can create their own racing challenges to share with others, and the best-rated ones will appear more often for more people to see and enjoy. Talented artists can make unique paint jobs for different cars and share them as well; every time you buy a new car, you are presented with a number of these community-made paint jobs to choose from if you so choose, and I’m impressed by the variety that people have come up with. I’m particularly a fan of the Kaguya Shinomiya-themed 1989 Toyota MR2 SC I found.
Of course, all these wonderful things wouldn’t mean much if the actual driving didn’t hold up, but I’m pleased to say that the fundamental racing controls are just as good as everything else in the game. The controls are slick and responsive, and each car handles differently depending on the type and age of the vehicle in question. Driving on dry streets, wet streets, and open ground all feel unique, and your choice of car in a race can make all the difference depending on how it handles pavement vs. dirt.
I spotted a few other minor glitches here and there, such as a few instances where my car would come to a complete halt for no reason at all, as well as an audio bug that played radio dialogue during a cutscene. But the technical issues I found were rare, and couldn’t come close to tarnishing the otherwise stellar overall experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Forza Horizon 5, and I heartily recommend it to genre veterans and newbies alike.
The Bottom Line
Forza Horizon 5 delivers a visually stunning and highly polished open world racing experience that's fun for racing veterans and newbies alike.