Forza Horizon 5 review

By Luke Albigés,
Forza Horizon 5 lets you set your car horn to play At Doom's Gate from Doom, making it an automatic 10/10 game. They say you should always lead with the most important stuff, so there it is. Actual Doot. What a time to be alive. Truth be told, there's so much to discuss here that wherever you started in trying to critique a game as massive as FH5, there'd always be a better place. The stunning Mexico setting is the largest and most diverse in the series' history, with activities in line with that variety to drop players into just about every form of automotive competition imaginable. However you like to race, whatever you like to drive, wherever you may roam, you can probably do it in Forza Horizon 5. And if not now, then almost certainly down the line. What we have here is just the beginning, after all. This Horizon festival is scheduled to run for years (lord knows how they managed to get permission for that), and if this is the baseline standard for what we can expect, the future is looking muy bueno indeed.

Forza Horizon 5 announcement

In fact, the long-term version of the game might actually be even better than what we get up front, since most of my issues with the game are extremely front-loaded. A lot of it pertains to characters, actually — obviously not a focus for a racing game, but still something you'll have to endure a fair amount of due to unskippable dialogue sequences in many of the non-standard events. Weird mannequins stare one another down awkwardly while their puppet masters have an equally awkward off-camera discussion, and while the local voice actors generally seem decent (and at least add a little Latin American flavour even when they're not), most of the English acting is pretty awful. The female main character voice sounds like she's delivering every line through a held-at-gunpoint Cheshire Cat smile, so ends up coming across as either simple or patronising depending on the context, and most of the supporting cast isn't much better. It's all hammed up to the Nth degree, which kinda makes sense for the larger-than-life radio DJs, but not so much for the regular racers at the festival. This is only made more egregious by the fact you can't skip these pre- and post-event chinwags, so while we wait to hopefully get a skip option in an update down the line, just try to smash out three stars on everything first go so you don't have to sit through more of it than you have to. Once you're done with things like those Horizon Stories, this complaint becomes one for the history books.

There's not going to be a whole lot more complaining here, either, because almost everything else about Forza Horizon 5 is superb. The setting has to be the franchise's best yet, combining the biome diversity of FH3 (perhaps even greater) with the local history of FH4 to deliver a map that is constantly surprising. Charging over the crest of a hill at sunset to see a sprawling urban expanse light up the night before you; speeding through a jungle in a tropical storm only to happen upon some stunning old Aztec ruins; burning from beach to mangrove to tarmac in a single Skill Chain… it’s truly remarkable. FH4's UK had about as much variety as it could realistically have had, but Mexico just offers so much more to work with, and Playground puts that environmental palette to exceptional use here. The studio takes further advantage of this through the new Expeditions — journeys to key landmarks around Mexico to help set up outposts for each of the core racing disciplines, as well as exploring these awesome locations in the process. These felt a little strange at first but quickly grew on me, and with plenty of optional objectives to tick off at each site, I ended up being a little disappointed that there weren't more of them. Fingers crossed the planned DLC will send us off on more adventures like these, as they're a really neat change of pace, even introducing light platforming and puzzle elements, which works a lot better than it sounds like it should. The Rewind button is your friend.

Forza Horizon 5 announcement

Or is it? Well, that's up to you. Once again, one of the main strengths of Horizon 5 is just how customisable its difficulty settings make everything. Aside from that warm satisfying glow from bossing a game around, admittedly all you get for agreeing to make your life more challenging is an extra helping of Credits, but it's better than nothing and leads to a difficulty system that you can perfectly tailor to match your skills. Disable the Rewind if you want to get rich quicker... just hope you don't regret it when you fly over the last corner and into the sea courtesy of a sneaky divot on an off-road course. Fiddle with assists to find a handling model that works for you, whether you're after a challenge or a laid-back road trip. Ultimately, Credits aren't really all that important and you'll end up sat on millions in no time, so this is more about personalisation than reward, but that only makes it even better when you finally find your settings sweet spot where races feel as exciting as you want them to. The way the camera starts to letterbox in as you approach the finish line in a heated contest is endlessly satisfying, too — it's an odd comparison, but it's like Tekken 7's end-of-round slow motion finishes in that it absolutely never gets old, and always just adds to the hype. If nowhere else, you'll see these for sure in the Showcase events, which are, as ever, set up to be clutch last-stretch steals against the likes of planes, trains, and jet skis, and while these are starting to feel as scripted as they clearly are, they're no less of an awesome spectacle, and FH5 at least has the decency to use them sparingly.

While early Horizon games had to lean into this kind of pre-baked sensational action to sell the vision on then-current hardware, we're working with much more powerful tech these days, and part of the reason that Showcase events are falling out of favour is because that same kind of 'wow moment' is commonplace even in regular events. Deftly darting through a tight treeline to flick your back end out and just tag a checkpoint as you steal first place is infinitely more exhilarating than beating something that isn't even following the same course as you across an arbitrary finish line while some dingus on the radio yells "THIS IS VERY EXCITING," and while such events certainly have a place in the series, I for one am glad to see them scaled back in Forza Horizon 5 and used as part of the Adventures system alongside other concepts. Showcases are still cool, don't get me wrong — and they're exactly the kind of pro-wrestling-levels-of-scripted crowd-pleasing events you would expect to see at an event like the one portrayed here — but just like in the trailblazing early open world games, we don't need so much of that pre-cooked excitement any more. Tech, gameplay, and everything else have simply caught up to the point where emergent excitement can do just as much, if not more. And it does. Frequently. If anything, it's testament to just how good FH5 is and how far we've come that general gameplay is now capable of rivalling such over-the-top moments, and it's awesome.

Forza Horizon 5 announcement

A lot of this comes down to just how well Playground has mastered its craft over the years to deliver handling that just feels fantastic, whether you're tearing up tarmac or dashing across dunes. It's always just so satisfying when you work out exactly at what point your buggy tends to lose traction and can learn to work within its boundaries, posting clean lap times without ever losing that bite, or taking a track spec car out on the dirt just because you're so comfortable with how it drives that nothing will stop you from trampling mud all over that podium. Even most of the heavier muscle cars — a class which historically doesn't do anything other than straight line speed well — can be fun here with a few performance tweaks, and every vehicle really does seem to have its own feel, its own voice, its own personality. With well over 500 cars on day one, you're sure to quickly find at least one that suits how you like to play. But for once, the game is ready to take you out of your comfort zone and make you take a good look around your ever-growing garage to see what is really the best car for the job.

With such a rich... well, playground to explore, the new Accolades system is an amazing way to incentivise reaching beyond the usual go-to rides to take something new out for a spin and truly take in the sights and sounds of Mexico. Think of Accolades as a massively expanded in-game achievement system — pretty much every single event or stunt has several of these tied to it, some for basic stuff (get 1/2/3 stars, or use specific kinds of vehicles), some for cumulative stuff (total stunts performed, etc.), and some for oddly specific goals that will challenge you in new and often interesting ways. Again, I wasn't too hot on these at first (it inititally just felt like one menu too many in a game that already has plenty of mechanics, no pun intended), but once I realised that these all awarded points that contribute to your overall Hall of Fame leaderboard standing after you beat the main 'story,' I was all over them. Strategising. Synergising. An S1 Rally Monster win here to tick off four at once, a B-class Mini win there for four more... it's oddly engrossing, and I don't think I've ever seen a better way for a racing game to get players to use the full extent of their car collections than this. Even now, with every event won, every stunt bar the Drift Zones (which can get in the sea) three-starred, and most Stories done, I'm still left with hundreds of things to do in the Accolades list. And between the rewards that certain Accolades offer and the ever-increasing leaderboard standing for checking them off, I'm going to keep at it for a good while yet. And then again when they inevitably add more with each expansion. Consider me a wilful captive of this beautiful prison.

Forza Horizon 5 announcement

Wait, did I not mention that Forza Horizon 5 looks ridiculous? Because Forza Horizon 5 looks ridiculous. It's legitimately one of the most impressive games I've ever set eyes on, and while there might be the odd moment that breaks the illusion — be it slight foliage detail pop-in or anything to do with humans — it's incredible to look at pretty much at all times. Considering that, it's weird that FH5 seems to have such a fixation with sandstorms, which I'm sure are impressive to actually drive through when you're there and feeling it, but in game terms just feel like an N64 Turok track pack where visibility is reduced to five feet of brown. It felt weird when they showed it off in the original reveal of the opening race, and it's even weirder when it comes up in the game itself. Imagine making one of the most beautiful games available today, then not only adding this but actively celebrating a meteorological phenomenon that turns everything into a brown smudge. There is a kinda neat sense of pressure to these moments at least, even if it does mean you can't see what the hell you're doing, but all of the other weather effects are just so much more impressive. Lightning crashing over ancient ruins, the lashing wind and rain of monsoon season battering your car as you try to steady yourself on the course, clouds parting to shine a natural spotlight on your bold triple pass... there's no shortage of highlight reel moments here, but not being able to see where you are going is unsurprisingly not one of them. Just push through it, and get back to the game being exceptional.

Remember when I said I was done with complaints? Yeah, so that was a lie, but this one is a bit out there, so it gets a free pass. Forza Horizon 5 is generous, arguably to a fault. It's a weird complaint to make, but games need to offer structure and progression, and FH5 literally cannot stop throwing money, cars, and other stuff at you every few minutes. Between returning player rewards, Premium bonuses, lucky Wheelspin gets, and all the rest, you could very well quickly get desensitised to prizes, and it sort of devalues them to the point where you're so used to getting handed expensive supercars that it all just bounces off you, especially the smaller stuff. I find the Wheelspins inherently hilarious, gifting players priceless one-of-a-kind cars one second, and a pair of socks the next. Similarly, although it’s cool that all of the DJs have unique dialogue for acknowledging your many conquests, the vapid platitudes of these random disembodied voices are often hard to hear over the sound of your inbox filling up with expensive cars. Still, it’s a nice gesture, I suppose. While the Accolades system admittedly does lend a lot of new value to lesser cars so that it's not enough to just have that one megacar that can stomp every event, more casual players are likely to find themselves with a lot of power at their fingertips more or less from the get-go. Not a problem per se, but if you're the kind of person who likes to see meaningful progress over a passage of time, you might find yourself surprised and disappointed by just how much FH5 wants to gift you right away. You'll still need more — much more — if you want to be a good little racer and put the entire checklist in its place, but I don't think I've ever found myself as equipped to deal with things like three-star speed gates as I was here. Playground will still test you on occasion with challenges that make you think outside the Free Toys box, which is neat, but the game is still aggressively generous, which is a combination of words I never expected to string together so I still can't be sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing. Let's just say that your mileage may vary.

Forza Horizon 5 announcement

We should probably talk about achievements too, and the good news is that the one for winning a game of the wildly popular battle royale Eliminator mode made the cut, so we can all rest easy. Joking aside, it's actually a pretty interesting list, and while there will certainly be a few achievements that prove frustrating (no prizes for guessing which), it's a list that embodies the 'do everything' nature of the game really well and demands play throughout the seasonal changes, across all activities that FH5 has to offer. It's far from an easy list — I'm not sure my skills are up to getting more than the odd fluke win against Unbeatable Drivatars or three-starring enough of those wretched Drift Zones — but I don't hate it. A game that presents significant challenges can (and arguably should) reflect that in its list, and FH5 does just that, so kudos to Playground for that.

Oh, and your car horn can also play In The Hall Of The Mountain King, in case this wasn't a 10/10 enough game for you already.

Forza Horizon 5 announcement


Summary

Beautiful, vast, creative, varied, and exciting, Forza Horizon 5 is an incredible game that will have you hooning around Mexico for months. There's an amazing sense of variety to everything about this game, and the smart Accolades system should have many achievement hunters hooked as they explore the full extent of what this remarkable racer has to offer. Fantastic handling, interesting events, and a wonderful history-spanning selection of cars makes for an amazing experience — arguably the best game in the series to date, and inarguably the best game in the series to DOOT. See you in Mexico, amigos...
10 / 10
* Luke spent nearly 50 hours hooning around Mexico, picking up 35 of FH5's 53 achievements in the process. A review copy was provided by Microsoft, and played on Xbox Series X.
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Luke runs the TA news team, contributing where he can primarily with reviews and other long-form features — crafts he has honed across two decades of print and online gaming media experience, having worked with the likes of gamesTM, Eurogamer, Play, Retro Gamer, Edge, and many more. He loves all things Monster Hunter, enjoys a good D&D session, and has played way too much Destiny.