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Forza Horizon 5 review

A year since the release of the Xbox Series X and Series S, we finally have a showcase of not only what the consoles are capable of, but also what they can offer in sheer quality. Forza Horizon 5 is the best game you can get on Series X right now, and it’s not even close. That may well change with the release of Halo Infinite in December, but the release of Forza Horizon 5 kickstarts what may be the Series X’s main campaign, after what’s been a solid year-long prologue.

The full package is here: an intimidatingly large collection of modern, classic and super cars; A revamped campaign mode that alone is worth the price of admission; A powerful creation suite — called EventLab — that nails a perfect blend of complexity and accessibility; And online multiplayer depth that, while at the time of writing this review still needs to be fully fleshed out, appears to set the foundation for years of content and growth.

forza horizon 5 review

There’s been a lot of chatter about Mexico, Forza Horizon 5‘s picturesque setting. It trumps Forza Horizon 3‘s Australian setting purely on the scale of variety and depth, and is more memorable than Horizon 4‘s breathtaking British background.

Forza Horizon 5 is the best game you can get on Series X right now, and it’s not even close.

The standout here — the colossal monument that helps propel Horizon 5‘s environmental superiority — is the Gran Caldera volcano, an absolute beast of a mountain in scale, and home to some of the game’s best cross-country races and challenges. It’s just as awe inspiring as the trailers might have you believe.

forza horizon 5 review

What’s quite the feat here is just how big in scale Horizon 5 is. In past Horizon games you would quickly transition from rugged desert to grassy countryside, but it’s a slow transition in Horizon 5, a genuine adventure from one side of Mexico to another.

I’ve never felt as inclined to simply drive around as I have done in Horizon 5, and taking advantage of fast travel options seems like a shocking waste of what the game world has to offer. I like that fast travel isn’t shoved in your face: this is a world you’re supposed to see and enjoy, and the temptation is barely there to prompt that immediate transport. Find the right car, set your waypoint, and go cross-country: that’s the best way to see Mexico in Forza Horizon 5.

forza horizon 5 review

Expeditions, a new addition subtlety integrated into the natural progression of the campaign, celebrate the world game with such passionate and expertise that it’s hard not to fall in love with the world. Your in-game guide actually talks and engages like a tour guide you’d meet in real life: this creates a weird obligatory sense of awareness that not only makes these Expeditions more fun to play, but create almost a sense of responsibility, like as if you’re letting the world down if you don’t complete them. This is a welcome breakaway from the at-times jarring and what I found to be personally quite annoying personalities often present in past series entries.

Perhaps that’s an unintentional consequence of the design philosophy, but I can honestly see a recognition of how people passion can have genuinely positive impacts on how the world is interpreted during the experience. That’s probably as good as I’m ever going to be able to explain it: it’s something you just have to experience for yourself.

forza horizon 5 review

The beauty and scale of the Mexico landscape is only trumped by the game’s sheer obsession with speed, racing, and, in true Horizon fashion, the typical PR stunt. Think speed traps, drag races, big-air jumps. You know, the stuff Forza Horizon always tricks you into thinking are easy, before bringing you crashing back down to earth, barely scraping through with a two-star rating.

There’s something different about Horizon 5, however: there’s a grander philosophical influence present, namely from Forza Motorsport‘s more obsessive simulation fundamentals. The AI is, at least in my experience, just generally tougher. Horizon 5 sometimes feels quintessentially Horizon” in nature: super arcadey and just fun to pick up and play. But for the most part I felt like I was playing a Horizon-Motorsport hybrid, which may actually be a sign of things to come for the franchise. It’s super fun to simply “play” Horizon 5, but I often found myself cracking my neck and really bunkering down my focus, more so than I ever have in past Forza Horizon entries.

forza horizon 5 review

There are some quirky Midnight Club: LA vibes here, too. That’s a racing game that is quite close to my heart, and the margin for error in Horizon 5 is similarly brutal in that the AI doesn’t just venture into “unbeatable” territory on the actual unbeatable setting: they straight up punish and annihilate you unless you’re optimising and tuning your care to ultra realistic settings. Take one bad corner, brake too hard, or venture even slightly off road and the game is going to punish the absolute living daylights out of you.

[There’s] a grander philosophical influence from Forza Motorsport’s more obsessive simulation fundamentals, and the AI is, at least in my experience, just generally tougher.

There are ways to counter this — thankfully — but it gets expensive: choosing a recommended car before a race against “unbeatable” drivatars will ultimately ensure the race lineup is the same, but if you tune your car and bump it up a class while in the lineup — namely with user-made and uploaded tuning kits — you’ll end up with the most powerful car in the race. This is an expensive tactic and can’t be used all the time, but I found that a fast enough car that can get a fast enough lead has more flexibility and capacity to make mistakes.

forza horizon 5 review
Forza Horizon 5 review
9.5/10

The Final Verdict

The really important thing that I feel people have to consider with Horizon 5 is that it’s not just more of the same: there’s 500 cars and the foundations are undoubtedly “Forza”, but it doesn’t feel like Horizon 4 or Horizon 3 in the same way, say, FIFA 21 feels like FIFA 20, or even like how most Need For Speed games feel like past Need For Speed games. That fundamental philosophical drivers that fuel the Forza Horizon experience are here and likely always will be, but there a layers of depth, complexity, accessibility and even warmth that make this perhaps the best racing game of the past decade. If you want more Forza Horizon, you’re going to get it, but it won’t just be “more of the same”. It’s going to be everything you love, and even more.

Forza Horizon 5 was reviewed on Xbox Series X using a review code provided by Xbox Australia. You can find me on Xbox Live under the GT BalladOfGaetano

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