Imagine dropping out of a plane behind the wheel of the new 2021 Ford Bronco, straight onto the side of a volcano where the following 30 seconds is nothing but sweet jumps, stunning views and a roaring soundtrack. This is your first experience in Forza Horizon 5, which is unquestionably the greatest racing game of all time.
As the name suggests, the fifth instalment in the exceptional Forza Horizon series taken the fictitious Horizon festival to Mexico, which immediately proves a welcome change from the dull setting of the fourth game, Britain. The gorgeous sprawling Mexican map is easily one of the best looking in a video game ever, with crisp sharp colours in all directions, from a vibrant red exhaust-exploding super car to the lush green foliage you blitz past in a second. No corners have been cut in the design and development of Forza Horizon 5, and what Playground Games have created is an intense and spectacular symphony in sound, environment and adrenaline.
In every previous Horizon game there has been a part of my brain which thought ‘this would be a perfect game if not for ‘x’’, but after 14 hours of ridiculously satisfying gameplay this is the first instance where, even whilst attempting to be as pedantic as possible, there are no negatives to be found whatsoever.
For context, my main issues with the franchise until now were the abundance of tedious and unnecessary cosmetics for your player avatar, and while they are still present here for those who like them, they have been pushed into the back seat for players to decide whether they wish to indulge them or not. I have also found the mid-race checkpoints to be too close together, particularly in off-road races, forcing racers to constantly bottleneck or risk being held up for missing a checkpoint. In Horizon 5 this is no longer the case, as even if you just happen to miss a checkpoint slightly, provided your car is reasonably close to the checkpoint flag, the game will count you as having passed through it. This was the only thing stopping me from giving Forza Horizon 3 a perfect score as I had numerous occasions where I’d have to use the game-changing rewind ability to adjust my position by a couple of feet so the game wouldn’t boot me into last place. Forza Horizon 3 is now my second favourite Forza game with a score of 9.9 out of 10.
Back to Horizon 5, long-term fans of the franchise will rejoice to hear that the bump or crash required to reset your growing skill multiplier is now considerably more robust, making higher scores all the more possible as a result.
The dramatic variety of ways you can spend your time cannot be overstated. If you aren’t in the mood for one of the 90+ race events the game offers, you can feel free to pursue storylines where you assist characters in the Horizon festival with tasks such as taking photos of certain cars or getting to a location as quickly as you can. If you would prefer something more leisurely, you can while away the hours completing stunt jumps or speed traps, searching for classic abandoned cars in barn finds, or just simply exploring Mexico in whichever car you fancy.
There are 538 cars in the game at launch, and if Forza Horizon 4 is anything to go by, there will be at least another hundred added in post-game content over the years to come. Horizon 4 received constant content updates for three years after it launched in 2018, and there’s no reason to doubt that Horizon 5 will be any different.
Speaking of cars, the game organically persuades you to use different ones in each event by recommending a selection to you at the beginning of your chosen race event. The decision is ultimately down to you, but I enjoyed experimenting with new rides the game is constantly giving you for completing side objectives, which you often weren’t aware you were working towards. For the most part, I have used a different car in every race, but as I gradually find which best suits my driving style, I am settling into a rhythm with my current favourites. That doesn’t mean I don’t find cause to return to experimenting fairly often but it’s nice to find a vehicle which really connects with me, like a favourite hoodie to bring out when the weather turns cold.
The racing in this game is, quite simply, flawless. Special care has clearly been taken in ensuring all AI cars are of a similar spec to your own to keep the pack close together and constantly battling for first place. Even playing on a lower difficulty, I often found a careless mistake would bump myself down a couple of positions, but through the rewind mechanic which I adore, or just by paying closer attention to the race, I have won all but one event so far. For context, the only thing I am being distracted by is the mesmerising backdrop and skybox, as well as the sun glints and reflections bouncing off the cars around me.
Due to the wildly varied terrain, different vehicles are required to quickly traverse Mexico: nobody likes spending an eternity trying to get a low-slung sports car through a fast-flowing river when a rugged 4×4 is waiting in the wings to take over in a fast transition. I am yet to complete a coast-to-coast drive without getting distracted and going off to do something else, but the 25km drive is something I’m sure I will wind up doing multiple times over the coming weeks. This can also be made easier by the conveniently placed highway which horizontally spans the centre of the map, allowing fast progress if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.
Fast travelling has become somewhat restricted from previous Horizon entries. Where you could previously move to select locations throughout the map at no in-game charge, now there is only one location at a time: the player’s house, which you can move depending on how many properties you own. Breakable boards can be found while exploring that bring down the cost of fast travelling and add to the other boards you can break which reward you with bonus experience points. The ‘follower’ mechanic from Horizon 4 has also gone, replaced with traditional experience points which I greatly prefer.
I purchased an Xbox Series X just for Forza Horizon 5, a decision which I questioned the logic behind right up until starting the game. All doubt was dashed from my mind within minutes, and the rapid dash down the volcano I mentioned earlier had my jaw in my lap with constant bursts of laughter and incredulous gasps escaping me in between the moments my Ford left terra firma. I subconsciously held my breath all the way down.
Thanks to the game releasing on Xbox Game Pass today there really is no reason to not play this absolute masterpiece of glorious game design. The soundtrack is impeccable, with a few surprises I’ve decided not to spoil in this review that genuinely had me change plans so the song would keep playing. All this, and deliriously delightful visuals the quality of which has never been seen before in a racing game.
Forza Horizon 5 has killed the open-world racing genre as it is sheer perfection. There is nowhere to go from here, no improvements to be made, no trivialities to be trimmed. This is the game to play on Xbox or PC, an outstanding achievement in design, my game of 2021 with an unreserved score of
10 / 10
Guest edited by Catherine.