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Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Series S) Review

Playground Games has created the most enjoyable and exciting open-world racer on the market with Forza Horizon 5! Set in a fictional representation of Mexico, the game’s map is 50% larger than its predecessor and with it comes the most varied and environmentally diverse game in the series. For hardcore racers and casuals alike, there is so much fun to be had with this game, especially as you can avoid racing altogether and just enjoy driving the roads of Mexico and seeing all this beautiful country has to offer.

From the offset, I don’t generally play racing games – I used to, but I grew out of the genre over time. In fact, the last racing game I’ve played was Burnout Paradise over 10 years ago, and I barely remember playing it that much, though I do remember it being fun with the awesome slow-motion crashes. However, it was a little too ‘arcadey’ for my liking. I was a huge Gran Turismo fan, playing all the games on PS1 and PS2, however, by Gran Turismo 4 I found the series to become quite stale and I couldn’t really get into any other racing game series.

I’ve never owned an Xbox console until I picked up a Series S earlier this year, so Forza Horizon 5 is my first Forza game. I was going to play Forza Horizon 4 before 5’s release, however, I wanted to come into the series fresh so I could give my thoughts as a newcomer. I have since gone back and played a few hours of Forza Horizon 4, which I will come to later, as I wanted to be able to give a brief comparison between the games, especially as I was very much interested in checking out how Forza Horizon 4’s UK setting compares to Forza Horizon 5’s Mexico.
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Forza Horizon 5 has one of, if not the, best opening to a game I’ve ever played. It is so impactful at showing you exactly what the game has to offer, whilst doing so in the most dramatic and exciting way. The race to the Festival montage starts with you in a 2021 Ford Bronco being dropped out of an aeroplane to land on the brim of an active caldera volcano and has you hurtling past lava down the side of the volcano. The race then switches to the aeroplane dropping you off in the gorgeously sleek 2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8 Stingray Coupe and racing through the countryside before being engulfed in the orange clouds of a dust storm. The next part of the montage has the plane dropping you off in the heart of the vibrant Mexican jungles in a 1989 “Desert Flyer” Porsche which is perfect for handling the wet and muddy conditions as you drive through rivers and see the gorgeous wildlife on offer while narrowly avoiding hitting a flock of flamingos.

The montage concludes in another stunning sports car – the 2021 Mercedes-AMG One. It’s a stunning car that hits the road hard and fast as you travel up the coastline to reach the Festival celebrations. This opening could easily turn any non-racing fans instantly into an avid racer. It was such an epic and cinematic start that showcased the different environments and landscapes the Mexican setting has to offer while also giving you a feel of how each type of car, whether it be a sports car or 4×4 off-road vehicle, handles on the varied terrain. Thankfully, Forza Horizon 5 features a variety of equally exciting set-pieces as part of its campaign, through Showcase events, which keeps you captivated and always coming back for the next big adrenaline rush, whether it be racing against a train or battling it out against a couple of monster trucks.

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After that breath-taking opening, you’re introduced to Forza Horizon 5’s campaign narrative where you get to create your character with the usual options that you come to expect and a variety of different clothes and accessories to choose from, in which more can be purchased and unlocked via the game’s currency or won in the wheel-spin level system, which I will come to later. Your character, after competing in England, is now a seasoned racer and gets the opportunity to expand the Horizon Festivals across Mexico by competing in the Horizon Adventure that ultimately leads to you being inducted into the Hall of Fame. This took me around 14 hours to reach, however, I still had plenty of Accolades to unlock by completing all the activities on offer, and this ultimately goes towards raising my ranking on the leader board.

The game’s narrative is there really to get you from A to B rather than having a dramatic storyline which you would find in the Need For Speed series of racers. The character interactions are somewhat cheesy, and you can’t skip these scenes either. Unfortunately, the talking does translate over to when you are driving too, and it gets a little too chatty for my likening.
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Your Horizon Adventure begins with three starter vehicles of which two you experienced in the game’s opening – the Chevrolet Corvette C8 Stingray Coupe and Ford Bronco. Both are very different cars, with the Corvette being your fast street racer while the Bronco is largely for off-roading. The final starting car is the Toyota GR Supra, which is one of my personal favourite cars ever since my early Gran Turismo days and is a renowned drift car so is perfect for hitting those corners sideways.

On choosing your starting vehicle you set course for your first Showcase event. This event whisks you out of your starter car into a Ford Escort RS Cosworth for a brilliant sprint race, not against cars – that would just be boring, but against the giant jet plane that has been dropping your vehicles out of the sky, which then drops a couple of dirt bikes to pit against you too. This race is again an epic showcase of what Forza Horizon 5 has to offer as you race through the countryside on roads and dirt tracks and then round the tight narrow streets of a small town. The adrenaline rush of this race is relentless, and I loved it. It instantly pulls you into the game at full throttle with an air of confidence that states, “I dare you to put this game down”!

After the pulsating start, Forza Horizon 5 gives you a minute to recompose yourself and you are offered a couple of story missions that are a complete change of pace and don’t even feature racing. One is hopping into a Jeep Gladiator to get a photo within a dust storm, while the other has you tracking down a retro Volkswagen Beetle. From there the map begins to open up with a few activities and events for you to participate in at your leisure or you can proceed with your Horizon Adventure and conclude the introduction to the game by unlocking your first house – Casa Bella, which you get for free.

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There are numerous houses that you can unlock throughout the game, each with its own price and come sporting a gift or special unlock. Casa Bella unlocks Skill Songs on the radio, where these songs will offer double Skill Points when being played. The main property you really want to purchase is Buenas Vistas which unlocks Fast Travel so you can quickly travel to any road across the vast map for a small cost of credits. This comes at an incredibly hefty price of 2 million credits to unlock, so you might wish to spend your credits on just unlocking cars if you’re happy to travel the conventional way.
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Once you have your first house and completed a few events, Forza Horizon 5 heavily starts expanding. You progress through the game by earning Accolade Points. These are earned by completing Accolades which are in-game achievements that unlock in a variety of ways including finding new locations, winning races, or taking car photos, to name but a few. With Accolade Points in hand, you can then choose to unlock new Horizon Adventure Festival locations, of which there are six in total, which open new racing challenges that correspond to the racing type the new festival site is known for. For example, the Horizon Rush Festival will unlock PR Stunt series of challenges that include Drift Zones, Speed Traps, Speed Zones, Trailblazers and Danger Signs.

There is no specific pathway to unlocking these Festivals, as you have complete freedom of choice, therefore you can focus on unlocking the race types and challenges that most appeal to you first. Within each Horizon Adventure Festival are the Expedition events, and it is these that move forward the campaign’s narrative through characters interactions and feature the very best driving set-pieces.

The freedom and variety within Forza Horizon 5 is remarkable, if not a little overwhelming. It isn’t long before your map is absolutely littered with races and activities to take part in and to be honest, I would have much rather have had a more structured approach in unlocking content, such as only being able to unlock a couple of Festival locations at a time. Thankfully, you can filter what races and events you want the map to show so at least you do have a way of focussing on activities you specifically want to do.

If you don’t want to follow the campaign narrative of Forza Horizon 5, there is still so much on offer and you will always be progressing with the game by unlocking the Accolades associated with the events and activities that you take part in. There are secret barn locations to track down to find rare vehicles, points of interest to locate and fun side-stories that have their own separate narrative – some of these are quite amusing, especially the V10 one where you’re a stunt driver. The Speed Zones, Drift Zones, Danger Signs, and other activities sprawled across the map all have a 3-star score system and thus, give plenty of replayability to try and achieve getting a perfect 3-star rating.
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Online modes play heavily into Forza Horizon 5, however, I initially had some server connection issues which seem to have now been resolved via a patch and is much more stable. I’ve participated in the Challenge 7 event where you are given 7 community-created activities and races. These vary incredibly and one that I played was simply reaching 88 miles per hour in less than 20 seconds in The DeLorean DMC – a great nod to the film Back to the Future! You can also participate within a battle royale mode called the Eliminator where you all start in a basic vehicle and can challenge other players to a short race to a location on the map. If you win, your vehicle gets replaced with a better one and the other player is eliminated. The more players you defeat the better chance you have of being the last one standing as your vehicle will progressively improve.

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I quite enjoyed the Horizon Arcade mode, which randomly pops up across the map each hour, where instead of racing against other players you instead team up to do fun mini-games and challenges such as getting Air Scores and seeing how far you can jump off a Danger Sign. These challenges usually last between 10-20 minutes and the score of everyone involved will accumulate and, if you reach the total required, you move on to a new challenge. If you wish to join other players to play more competitively then you can simply link up to any player on the map and ask them to join your Convoy, or if you wish to have a more permanent team you can join a Club instead.

Forza Horizon 5 has several systems in place for upgrading and unlocking content, which I don’t feel the game does a good enough job in explaining how it all works. I’ve described the Accolade Point system that is used to progress the campaign, however, there is a classic levelling system in place through gaining Experience via every activity you complete. There are even XP advertising boards scattered around the map that you can crash into to gain the experience stated on the board. These are often by the side of the road or hidden away and some of them are in outrageous places, like on top of buildings, that require a lot of speed and finding a good ramp or hill to get some air to hit them. Once you gain a level you will be rewarded with a previously mentioned free wheel-spin, which is a random game-show prize giveaway that will unlock either credits, a car or accessories for your character.

Not only do you have the Accolate Point and Experience Point systems, but also the Skill Point system. On-screen you will constantly be seeing points awarded, at the top of your screen, for your driving ability and any skills or trick you do, such as, drifting around a corner or hitting some air from a jump. These points will chain too, giving multipliers that will only be broken once you crash into something that brings you to a complete stop or flip your car. These points accumulate to give you a Skill Point that you can use to unlock an ability on your car’s skill tree. Each car has its own skill tree, so you might wish to save these points until you find your favourite car to then spend them more wisely on upgrading that car.

Overall, having these three separate point systems in place feels overly complicated and it isn’t helped by the games menu screens being far too busy to navigate and find exactly what you want with ease.
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Forza Horizon 5 is visually the most stunning game that I have played. The lush environments that include beaches, jungles, swamp marshes, mountainous volcanic regions, ancient Mayan temples, and towns and cities such as Guanajuato, at times look photorealistic. The diversity of biomes on offer make having the setting in Mexico the perfect choice and Playground Games have done a superb job in capturing the cultural feel of Mexico too. When I played Microsoft Flight Simulator, I was incredibly impressed by its dynamic weather and didn’t think it could be surpassed, however, Forza Horizon 5 exceeds it. Driving through a rain-drenched jungle with mud spraying from your car and crashes of lightning all around you is exhilarating.

Even playing on the less powerful Xbox Series S, I’m astounded by what has been achieved. I might not be getting 4K visuals, but the game looks ridiculously impressive with the choice of two graphical modes – Performance at 1080P and 60FPS or Quality at 1080P and 30FPS.

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The Quality mode offers additional visual details, such as more decorative foliage, better smoke and particle effects, however, I largely played in Performance mode for the 60FPS smoothness. When racing at breakneck speeds, it’s hard to even notice the visual improvements that the Quality mode offers yet the framerate makes a big difference. The sound design of the cars, as you would expect from a racer, is also spot-on and helps to completely immerse you into the game. You can’t beat the roar of an engine revving and if that doesn’t interest you, you can stick on a radio station instead and listen to some largely contemporary music across the six stations that the game offers.

The radio stations didn’t do much for me, even Horizon XS which is the rock/metal channel. It had some bands I recognised, like Foo Fighters and The Killers, however, they didn’t have the memorable tracks from the bands so I largely found myself turning the stations off and listening to the purr of my car motoring along the roads or stuck on one of my own podcasts to catch up on.
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Obviously, the main draw of Forza Horizon 5 with racing enthusiasts is with its cars. At launch, the game offers a car list of over 520 cars with more to be added through Festival Playlists and DLC Expansions. All the well-known car manufacturers from Lamborghini and Ferrari to Audi and Mercedes-Benz are here. There are manufacturers I’ve never heard of within the game such as Acura and Hennessey, however, a couple of noticeable manufacturers like Alfa Romero and Fiat appear to be missing, for now. Cars can either be purchased, won during events and race activities or through the Wheel-spin prize. The range of vehicle types from top of the range sports cars to off-road buggies is incredible and each handles very differently depending not only on the vehicle itself, but the terrain that it’s driving on. Don’t think you will be able to win a race driving your Aston Martin DB11 through sand dunes as you will be constantly revving and slip-sliding all the time.

Thankfully when you start a race it gives you an option for choosing the recommended cars for that race type, so that you are properly matched up. There are some vehicles, especially the American muscle cars, that I really don’t get on with and struggle to traverse even the simplest of corners. Even the Ford Escort RS Cosworth, which is recommended as a rally-type for off-road racing, had me sliding all over the place when racing in its attended event and therefore I would resort back to the trusty Ford Bronco that is so much more stable.

A perfect off-road vehicle, though it lacks a little speed, is the Warthog from the Halo series. It is an absolute must-buy and was one of my first purchases. Amusingly it handles much better than it does in the Halo games and I absolutely love trail-blazing across the countryside, splashing through rivers and smashing to pieces trees, fences and signs, with it. I also couldn’t help but wish I was playing this game with a PlayStation 5 DualSense controller – I hope that Xbox upgrades its controller at some point to include haptic feedback and adaptive triggers as this would greatly enhance the immersion of Forza Horizon 5 as you would literally feel the different terrain of the environments within your hands.
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Even though Forza Horizon 5 plays more like an arcade racer than a racing simulator, like its sister series Forza Motorsport, there are sim aspects within the game where you can alter and tune different parts of your cars. This includes giving the vehicle a new paint job and some of the community created liveries are brilliant and means you can turn your rather dull, 1983 Vandura G-1500, into the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine! The racing itself can be as challenging as you wish to make it. The game has difficulty settings and what I quite like is that the difficulty directly relates to how many credits you are awarded. The more challenging you make the game, the more rewarded you are.

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There is even the ability while driving to rewind back for a set period of time, which is incredibly useful if you take a corner wrong or get yourself into a spin, and if you feel that this is cheating then you never have to use this ability. As a casual racing player, I found the rewind feature especially useful for teaching me how to effectively corner and during online play, you can still use the feature but it acts as a disadvantage because the other players will be racing as normal, whilst you are rewinding so you end up wasting more time doing this than resetting your vehicle to continue the race.


Trying out Forza 4
After reaching the Hall of Fame in Forza Horizon 5, and seeing everything the game has to offer, I decided to go back to play Forza Horizon 4 so that I could make a comparison and see how the sequel improves over its predecessor. I’ve spent a few hours in Forza Horizon 4 and of course, the first major difference is the location and how the different seasons of weather play into the games. The appeal of Forza Horizon 4 being set in the UK is huge to me and Playground Games absolutely nailed the aesthetic with the setting largely being based in the Lake District and includes Edinburgh as its major city to explore. The map is a lot smaller than Forza Horizon 5’s Mexico setting and greatly lacks the diversity within its environments too. It’s largely just countryside and quaint villages.

Forza Horizon 4’s opening montage is nowhere near as epic either and just showcases the different seasons of weather that influences the game’s map. For example, when the Winter season hits, the whole map is covered in snow, whereas, in Autumn the trees have orange leaves and the weather is generally wetter. Forza Horizon 5 does have seasons still, but it is directly linked to a Seasonal Playlist of events that change on a weekly basis.

The game modes appear to be all the same, but Forza Horizon 5 offers so much more freedom and variety from the offset, while its predecessor is much slower to open up and unlock activities. Ultimately, I was very glad I chose to go into the Forza series as a newcomer with Forza Horizon 5 as everything it offers feels much more epic and confident. All the time I was playing Forza Horizon 4 I just wanted to be playing its sequel instead. It just felt less ‘alive’, probably because Forza Horizon 5 is a graphical powerhouse and having the dynamic weather and cloud system makes such a dramatic difference.

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Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Overall, Forza Horizon 5 is easily the champion of racers. The variety and freedom on offer, from the vast quantity of activities to vehicles and the different biomes of Mexico, all create the most enjoyable racer I have ever played. The Showcase events feel epic and are greatly complimented by the games’ gorgeous visuals, especially the dynamic weather system that adds an extra layer of excitement with dust storms that can engulf you and the tropical storms that you can see rolling across the sky for storm chasers to seek out. Whether you’re a racing enthusiast or not, Forza Horizon 5 will have you belted in for a complete joyride!

A Game Pass code was kindly provided so we can cover the latest Xbox games.

Forza Horizon 5

£54.99
9

Final Score

9.0/10

The Good:

  • - Ridiculously fun open-world racer
  • - Gorgeous visuals complimented by the dynamic weather effects
  • - So much variety on offer with an abundance of races and events, online activities, and vehicles to drive
  • - Designed perfectly for racing enthusiasts and casual racing fans alike

The Bad:

  • - Sheer number of activities and events could be overwhelming for some
  • - The campaign’s narrative is quite cheesy and there is far too much talking whilst driving
  • - Unlock and point systems over-complicated with too many systems in place

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