As I drop from the sky, after being let loose out the back of a cargo jet, I find myself landing in the heart of Mexico. The music picks up just as my car’s tires hit the ground and off I go, cruising around the diverse, tropical, and modern open world of Forza Horizon 5. That is the opening of Forza Horizon 5, and it creates an adrenaline rush of energy that the game manages to sustain for many hours past that.
The beautiful and vibrant country of Mexico feels alive in Forza Horizon 5 and the game manages to impress by improving upon the tried and tested formula of Playground Games’ open-world racer while fixing some of the core issues that its predecessor, Forza Horizon 4, suffered from.
One of those great improvements with Forza Horizon 5 are much tighter main-story quests that do a better job of guiding the player through the Horizon series’ collection of events and races. Forza Horizon 5’s Horizon Adventure is effectively laid out like a sticker book and after earning enough points, you can unlock one of the handful of stickers for six different types of events, ranging from street racing through towns and cities, to stunts that involve jumping off cliffs or hurtling through checkpoint gates, to off-road gauntlets.
Each of these offer their own quest lines, which helps provide a solid narrative as well as unlocking all other instances of that event for you to take on whenever you feel like it.
They can also unlock gruelling long-distance marathon races that keep you dialled in and focused on the road for up to 30 minutes.
For those that are familiar with the series, Forza Horizon 5 brings back classic activities like Barn Finds, Player Houses to unlock, and a host of XP boards and Fast Travel boards for you to drive through. While the Horizon Story adventures are a nice addition, I was slightly disappointed that there weren’t any new types of collectibles to hunt down throughout the world, with a lot of them either copy-and-pasted from the last game or feeling almost identical.
However, while little is expanded upon on the gameplay front, Forza Horizon 5 feels like the ultimate iteration of this formula, with all the bells and whistles finely tuned to perfection.
For example, collecting Skill Points in almost any scenario feels satiating and satisfying. There is rarely a moment when you are driving without racking up points for something, which is ideal as there is a wealth of upgrade systems tucked away within the menu for you to spend them on.
Playground Games has really built an addictive game for both car fanatics and those who love exploring open-world, collectible-filled maps. There are more than 500 Forza Horizon 5 cars and countless customisation options will keep the motorheads happy, while the thousands of accolades and XP and Fast Travel boards to run-down with your vehicle will cater to the explorers and completionists.
And, of course, all of that racing, drifting, and quest completion is set to a fantastic soundtrack made up of classic hits, current pop favourites, and infectious remixes. Pair that with the much more interesting open-world of Mexico, compared to Forza Horizon 4’s imagining of Great Britain, and driving manages to feel exhilarating pretty much all the time.
Beyond the core of what the Horizon series is known for, Playground Games has also thrown in the new Event Lab mode, which is very similar to Trackmania or Dirt 5’s Playgrounds mode. This community-led mode allows anyone to create their own Horizon events, whether it be knocking down giant bowling pins that have been placed in an arena or racing on a custom-made track based off of one of the events in the game.
While I haven’t been able to see the full extent of Event Lab, it definitely holds the potential that similar modes in other games have managed to deliver on and I can’t wait to check out some of the more wacky and off-the-wall concepts that players create.
In terms of additional content, there are of course plenty of microtransactions to tempt you, as well as seasonal challenges that look to bolster the Horizon series’ offering as a live service game. But with so much baked in already, it’ll probably be a while before you feel the need to splash out on any extra content.
Forza Horizon 5 is one of the most polished games of the year. It not only looks stunning, but it handles and plays fantastically as well. I’m also confident in saying that the opening sequence of the game, with Quality Mode turned on, is the best looking scripted sequence I have seen in any game, with excellent lighting and some drop-dead gorgeous reflections piercing through the screen.
The amazing visuals, the infectious gameplay and atmosphere that gets into your veins and pumps throughout your body, and the deep level of customisation, all come together to deliver a Forza Horizon experience that ticks pretty much every box.
Playground Games has nailed the formula with Forza Horizon 5 and my only hope is that the studio gets to flex its creative muscles even more within this vast and beautiful open world by supporting it for years to come.
Forza Horizon 5 Review (Xbox Series X)
The Horizon formula has been perfected in Forza Horizon 5. Playground Games has retained what fans loved in previous games, but also offers fine-tuned gameplay and a more diverse open world to explore. This is one of the most fun and polished games of the year, and with continued support and regular content, it has the potential to thrive well into the future.