Go! No “3,2,1”, no “On your marks, get set”, Forza Horizon 5 (and the series in general) wastes no time in getting you right into the action. In fact your first act in the game is to leap out of a plane in a series of cars and dive straight onto the beautiful open roads of Mexico.
One area which has a tremendous level of depth is the cars themselves. Adjusting tyre pressure and swapping out parts to tune your cars for whatever event you're about to take on is encouraged, and is something you can rely on the collective knowledge of die-hard fans if you’re unsure, thanks to a search option which lets you check out setups which have been shared.
If you’re feeling like online is a recurring theme, you’re not wrong. The narrative conceit for the game in the first place is a festival (or fiesta) in celebration of cars which wouldn’t be too out of place in an early Fast and Furious film. Horizon Festival is all about bringing people together, and the team has made sure they carry this spirit into every aspect of how the game is put together.
Not only will you see other players mooching around the map as you explore, but you’ll be pitted against other players’ Drivatars, digital echoes of their racing style, in races and events. While not a new idea, in fact the series has brought them in from the main Forza Motorsport series since its second outing, the compiling of player driving data makes for far more unpredictable and interesting AI opponents.
Hooking up with players in real-time is where things get even more fun though, as there are four main modes – Open Racing, Open Drifting, Playground Games, and The Eliminator – with tons of different types of events between them.
Open Racing is as straightforward as things get, challenging you to road, dirt, cross country and street races. Open drifting, as the name would suggest, is all about the drift, so you’ll be sticking to roads and trying to nail those corners, while Playground games include flag rush, king and survival. The Eliminator returns from FH4 as the Forza Horizon take on Battle Royale, pitting up to 72 players against each other into head-to-head races within a gradually shrinking area of the map.
The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is some of the most beautiful escapism you can experience.
On top of that there’s Horizon Arcade, which is more of a collection of minigames which you take on together as a group. Perhaps you’ll need to maintain a certain speed within an area of the map to score, or drift for as long as possible around a certain bend. These challenges, admittedly, do tend to be “drive around a specific area”, but to dismiss them as only that is reductive, as you can easily find some fun and memorable moments as a group.
Individually, your in-game persona will be the one interacting with the NPCs as you drive around. You can customise your character with different looks and physical appearance to an extent, including a wide variety of prosthetic limbs, but the general build and vibe of the different characters still feels a little flat. The game does call you by your real name, if you have it shared in your Xbox or PSN profile, as it has in previous games.
As you drive around, discover roads, smash billboards and complete other challenges, you’ll unlock accolades which let you progress through the game and unlock more events. You’ll also be given wheelspins, a free lootbox mechanic earned by completing in-game challenges, to unlock more cars, clothing for your in-game avatar and all sorts of other goodies.
While races are all well and good, you might find the expeditions a welcome change of pace. These involve exploring a specific area, which might, for example, have a tropical storm going on, and take pictures or find jumps to establish it as a new area for the Horizon Festival and unlock new events in that part of the map.
Since we were playing ahead of release, there were a few bugs here and there, but far less than we’ve seen in other pre-release titles. One technical issue we hope is sorted out is how the game handles the Series S’s Quick Resume feature. With online games this can often be very hit-and-miss in general, so perhaps it’s to be expected, but we didn’t manage to jump back into the game easily, whether we played on or offline.
The driving in Forza Horizon 5 is some of the most beautiful escapism you can experience. The cars themselves are as realistic as any buttoned up racing sim you could mention and the vast vistas and rolling hills are a joy to tear along, sending cacti, road signs and other debris flying.
Handling varies considerably between vehicles, meaning it can take a while to find a vehicle, or handful, depending on the road surface, which works for you. Once you’ve found the groove though, it’s totally up to you how you explore the expansive, marker-filled map. The towns, landscapes and even historical ruins you’ll find are all recreated with the care and attention of a team that has taken the time to make a game that feels like exactly what they wanted to make, with no compromise.
Game Pass, and a very comprehensive set of accessibility options, lowers the barrier of entry for this Forza Horizon more than ever, so, whether you’re new to the series, or just eager for another adventure, Playground Games has given you a sandbox with everything you need.