It wouldn’t be entirely fair to say that Forza Horizon 5 is just Forza Horizon 4 in a new setting.
Developer Playground Games has nipped and tucked around the edges in meaningful ways. The main progression route is much more flexible and open-ended this time, allowing you to accomplish your overarching objective—winning a spot in the Horizon Hall of Fame—in the order you want by playing whichever sort of events you like best. The new Expeditions, which unlock the different disciplines and their corresponding headquarters, inject just enough “main mission” flavor to stand apart from the rest of the game, with big setpieces and small story beats and side objectives. Deeper and less-constrained part customization is a welcome addition, especially if you’ve ever wanted to make a Koenigsegg engineer weep by turning an Agera into an offroader. It’s also the first title in the series to be native to Xbox Series X/S, with all the graphical enhancements that entails.
Multiplayer gets quite a few touches, too, with some new and reimagined modes, less friction when getting into and switching between different events, a new Forza Link quick menu to make it easier to play with strangers you encounter, and the inclusion of the Eliminator battle royale mode (a Horizon 4 post-launch addition) right out of the gate. Plus, the new EventLab toolset, which lets players build their own custom events, even with specific rule sets, should also add some longevity—though as with any user-generated content it won’t be until a few weeks after launch that we really see everything it has to offer.
Still, in spite of all those bullet points, I have to assume that for the way most people will play it, Forza Horizon 5 will pretty much feel like Forza Horizon 4 in a new setting.
There’s nothing wrong with that! Horizon 4 was an excellent open-world racer, despite my qualms with its this-game-is-a-service-now-so-you-really-should-keep-playing-it-forever design philosophy (one that’s still pretty much intact in the sequel). The core strengths that made the last game great make this one just as much fun to dip into, with hundreds of cars to collect and a wealth of varied races to tackle at any given moment. By now, Playground Games has just about stretched the number of gameplay objectives you can give someone in a car to the absolute limit, so there’s always a change of pace on offer if you get bored.
And you know, racing games aren’t sports games, where incremental improvements make sequels feel like cash grabs. A new setting, complete with all the new routes it brings, can do a lot to keep the experience fresh.
Even beyond that, Forza Horizon 5’s Mexico is a noticeable upgrade over the last game’s Britain. Though you’re still not going to do much virtual sightseeing—there are really only a handful of real-world locations here—the greater biome diversity does a lot for differentiating regions of the map and making it feel like you’re heading somewhere new when you set out on a long drive. Expansive deserts, a towering volcano, a jungle hiding Mesoamerican ruins, and a tropical beach are just a tiny bit more striking than the subtle differences between English and Scottish geography.
One area where Mexico may not be able to compete quite as well is in the game’s rotating seasons. I was only able to try out summer (also labelled in game as the wet season) during the review period, but it’s probably a safe bet that there won’t be quite as much difference in road conditions as there was in Forza Horizon 4. The big, flashy weather events like dust storms and tropical storms are neat enough (at least when I got a chance to experience them within missions—they never cropped up in the open world).
The only real gripe I have with the setting is that it largely feels like a missed opportunity to do more. As an outsider, I find the culture of Mexico to be sprawling, entertaining, and frequently surprising. Forza Horizon 5’s approach to it is pretty bland. Just to be clear: Unless unnecessary Spanglish is a pet peeve of yours, there’s nothing remotely offensive about the portrayal. Playground Games worked with local artists on some neat murals. The studio made sure there are a few prominent Mexican characters helping to organize the game’s titular racing and music festival, and plenty more cropping up in most of the Horizon Story missions. One of the DJs is even a Mexican American from Los Angeles getting in touch with her heritage.
So no one’s running around in a sombrero screaming andalé or anything, but you’re not going to get any deep insights, either. Mostly it feels like you’re playing a very long, very expensive commercial from the Mexican tourism board. Look, at one point a character actually says, “Oh, wow, Mexico has so much to offer.” That’s the vibe. You’re going to see a lot of stuff that looks like Mexico. Just don’t expect to learn a lot about the actual country.
Given the similarities between Forza Horizon 5 and its predecessor, it’s probably not a surprise that many of the same frustrations I had with Forza Horizon 4 have also returned. The optional three-star times for the Horizon Story side missions still feel unevenly balanced, with some being hugely generous while others are ludicrously demanding. I also hate that if I finish one of the PR stunts scattered around the map, the game won’t let you reactivate the start gate to try again until the seconds-long animation telling you how you ranked goes away. And Forza Horizon 5 feels about as buggy—in small, insignificant, but noticeable ways—as the last game did at launch. I’m sure most of that’ll be polished out soon enough. Ultimately, though, nothing I encountered on that front threw up any long-term roadblocks to my fun, just minor detours.
So often when I review a game, I feel like I need to expend a ton of effort and words making sure I’ve adequately conveyed my experience, so you can not only understand my opinion but grasp how it might overlap with your own gaming tastes. Not today. This is easy, so let’s not waste your time. If you want to drive a bunch of ridiculous cars you’ll never be able to afford in real life faster than the law will ever allow you around picturesque roads for a few dozen hours, you’re going to be satisfied.
To put it another way: If you want Forza Horizon 4 in a new setting, boy, have I got a game for you.
Forza Horizon 5 delivers everything that made the last game enjoyable on a map that’s more fun to drive with a lot more visual diversity. While the changes and additions are largely incremental—especially when it comes to the core game experience—what’s here is good enough to warrant a recommendation for fans of the series or racing enthusiasts who’ve been meaning to try it out.
Xbox Game Studios
E - Everyone
|Forza Horizon 5 is available on Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC. Primary version played was for Xbox Series X. Product was provided by Xbox Game Studios for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.