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Forza Horizon 5 Review (Xbox Series X)

Gaming Nirvana

Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5 is the rare game that makes me wish I didn’t write about them. Not because of anything negative about the game, but instead because the nature of writing about them means I’m always moving onto something new, and I’m not ready to move on from this wonderful title. I’d rather be playing right now than writing this. This is a wonderful title that anyone who likes racing games needs to play, and even those who aren’t huge fans should try.

That I’m so enthusiastic about Horizon 5 doesn’t mean Forza has reinvented the wheel. Anyone who has played the last two Forza Horizon titles will feel at home with a game that follows the same basic formula. All the little details are better this time, from performance to graphics, the variety of modes, and the map itself. Forza nailed most of the details, leading to an outstanding game.

 

A Different Side Of Mexico

 

Forza Horizon 5

This time out, the Horizon festival is touching down in Mexico, offering one of the best open-world maps I’ve ever seen and a wonderful look into the country itself. The map here is absolutely huge, with hundreds and hundreds of events to participate in. This is a side of Mexico I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in a piece of media, let alone in a video game. It does a spectacular job of showcasing the incredible diversity of landscapes in the country instead of defaulting to tans and browns like so many things do. Forza Horizon 5 is bursting with color in a beautiful way.

You’ll spend time along beautiful coastlines, on huge mountains, in lush forests. You’ll encounter ancient ruins and cities that can at times feel very modern while others times they can be wonderfully quaint and dripping with history. I spent hours just driving around, filling in roads on my map, and enjoying the scenery around me. There’s always something wonderful to look at. The game’s stunning graphics help. The detail on these cars, in the lighting, in the way things like water and dust react are something to behold. The team at Playground Games didn’t let a cross-platform release stop them from turning in a gorgeous game. There are few better showcases of what the Series X can do.

 

Your Horizon Adventure

 

Forza Horizon 5

Once you start tearing around this gigantic world, you’ll find an absurd number of activities to choose from. Cross country races, track races, street races, dirt races, drag races, there are a lot of races. If you don’t want to race, you still have plenty to do. Speed traps challenge you to hit a high speed, while speed zones challenge you to maintain one. Danger signs let you release your inner daredevil. That’s before even getting into online options like custom events created by other players. The game’s awesome toolset allows these to be just as interesting, and sometimes even more so, as the ones the developers included in the first place. You even have the Eliminator battle royale mode, which some developers would release as a separate game.

Perhaps my favorite options to check out in Horizon 5 are the adventure chapters. You’ll level up as you accomplish things in the game, and eventually, you’ll get enough accolade points to unlock adventure chapters. Each of these is a mini-adventure, challenging you to a unique mission. Some of these allow for truly audacious gameplay, like when you get to race down an active volcano or interact with an airplane dropping cars from above. Some are more low key like the series of missions against a driver who can’t stand losing. They’re no less fun.

 

Collect Them All

 

Forza Horizon 5

Along the way, you’ll collect an absurd amount of stuff. Clothing to deck your avatar out, sayings to yell at other players racing along the map with you, barns featuring famous cars in terrible disrepair, and of course, more than 500 cars that offer more driving experiences than I can begin to describe. Whether you want to drive a high-end race car or a minivan, you’ll find what you’re looking for. The level of tuning and customization the main Forza series are known for is still present. Perhaps a bit less necessary than it is there, but still available for those who like to tinker. Simple premade upgrades work well for players who just want to race. Forza Horizon 5 never stops throwing stuff at you. You’ll feel like you unlock something new every five minutes. It just made me want to keep going and see what I might get next.

You’ll really feel the differences between those vehicles too. While it maintains the speed of an arcade title, there’s a little more realism than some games in the genre manage. Try taking a race car out into the desert and see how that goes for you. The cars here just feel so good. It’s a pure gameplay experience, that even if there weren’t that much to do in this game, it would still just feel wonderful to drive around. It’s that sense of gaming nirvana that most games strive for but so few ever even approach.

 

Nothing’s Perfect

 

Forza Horizon 5

Do I have any nitpicks? Perhaps a few, but they’re relatively minor. The Eliminator is fun but stops shrinking too soon. The area is still large enough that twenty or more cars can easily hide from each other, making the end of many matches drag to a crawl. The final race that starts when you get down to 12 players isn’t much fun either, the endpoint is random, but that means some players may start much closer to it than others, leaving some at a big disadvantage. For games that go so long, you’d like to feel things were fair at the end.

Loading times also seemed a bit long for what I’ve come to expect from the Series X, but considering how pretty everything is and how huge this map is, it’s fairly understandable. They’re certainly not terrible, but I’ve been spoiled by a game like Riders Republic that drops you in super fast no matter where you jump to on its map. I also don’t love that fast travel costs money until late in the game when you’ve collected all of the fast travel tokens. While it gets cheaper over time, and resources are common enough that it’s not a huge deal, I’d rather have been able to just go where I wanted. This map is huge, and if you want to get to a specific event on the opposite side, that’s going to take a long time just by driving. I get why the developers did this. They want you to explore this map, and to be fair, doing so is a ton of fun. There were times, though, when a specific adventure chapter was more than ten in-game miles away, and I just groaned. Or eventually, I just gave in and paid the cost to fast travel.

 

Conclusion

 

Despite a few minor quibbles, Forza Horizon 5 is a triumph for its series, taking everything the last several titles set up so well and making a bigger and better game than its predecessors. Any fan of racing games needs to check it out now, and even if you’re not usually into the genre, you may surprise yourself with how well it pulls you in. Forza Horizon 5 is a taste of gaming nirvana that is not to be missed.


Final Verdict: 4.5/5

Available on:  Xbox Series X(reviewed), Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PC; Publisher:  Xbox Game Studios; Developer: Playground Games; Players: Up to 12 (online); Released: November 8th, 2021; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $59.99

Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Forza Horizon 5.

Andrew Thornton
Andrew has been writing about video games for nearly twenty years, contributing to publications such as DarkStation, Games Are Fun, and the E-mpire Ltd. network. He enjoys most genres but is always pulled back to classic RPG's, with his favorite games ever including Suikoden II, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and Phantasy Star IV. Don't worry though, he thinks new games are cool too, with more recent favorites like Hades, Rocket League, and Splatoon 2 stealing hundreds of hours of his life. When he isn't playing games he's often watching classic movies, catching a basketball game, or reading the first twenty pages of a book before getting busy and forgetting about it.

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