Is it really that time again already? It feels like not that long ago where I was tearing up the roads of the UK inside of Forza Horizon 4. I had high expectations of that game, coming from FH3 which was a great title made even better with the Hot Wheels DLC (I will die on this hill, that expansion was great), and FH4 met them all. Naturally, I have high expectations for Forza Horizon 5, especially with it being set in Mexico, meaning that we might finally get to see some Latinx culture/landscapes through a less distorted lens (i.e. the ‘Mexico filter’ turned off). While this game does largely offer the same experience as its predecessors, it has built on some areas that I never quite expected, culminating in a really great experience and arguably the best looking game that any first-party Microsoft studio has come out with.
If you have played any of the Forza Horizon games (especially FH4), you know what to expect. This game sees the Horizon Festival move from its previous European location to the beautiful landscapes of Mexico. Whether it be the gorgeous coast, or the densely wooded jungle, this new setting has something for pretty much everyone and it is through this variety that FH5 shines. Unlike the previous game, which made a number of changes to the formula to streamline/simplify the experience, FH5 makes substantially less changes. The experience is largely the same as FH4, but minor changes and improvements just make the whole package even easier to swallow.
For starters, there is the progression system which affords a bit more freedom to the player than previously. In FH4, you were more or less obligated to do a bit of everything in order to progress, and while variety is the spice of life, this sometimes meant doing activities that you perhaps didn’t enjoy. This problem became much more prevalent in the Treasure Island expansion for the game, as it had you even going as far as doing Drift Zones and stuff to progress (I personally don’t enjoy these, fight me). I never found these activities bad per se, it’s just that being shoehorned into doing content you don’t enjoy is never a fun time. FH5 does a much better job at this, and while there are very occasionally moments where you might do content you don’t particularly love, these moments are so few and far between that it’s pretty negligible.
The whole premise of FH5’s progression is the same as previous games, expanding the Horizon Festival to encompass the entire map. The way it goes about it is different, however. Because this game more or less serves as a direct sequel to FH4 (rather than just a numbered entry that has no bearing of the previous game’s events), it means that a few things could be done to change the way the progression works. Rather than filling up meters in each event type (Road Racing, Dirt Racing and the like), you have a singular progression meter called Accolade Points, and doing virtually anything will earn you these points. Each time you fill the meter completely, you earn the ability to add one expansion. There are a total of 21 festival expansions including the one you do at the beginning of the game, and due to the ease of progression, expanding the festival comes quite naturally. The only time you are forced to do any events in these expansion (like in the Dirt Racing expansion) areas are the expeditions, which are a very unique way to convey the expansion of the festival. Rather than just some arbitrary race that doesn’t feel too much different to the rest of the game, the player drives to a specified location and then explores the area. These slower moments are where FH5 arguably feels its best as you can take your time and learn about the areas you are in. The other characters take the time to teach you the history of certain places and/or landmarks. A good example is when you visit Ek’ Balam, and you learn about the historical significance of the site. Stuff like this is where you can really become absorbed in the world. You are separated from the high-octane moment-to-moment gameplay and are just left to explore these beautiful environments.
What I was not expecting FH5 to improve on was its writing. Now, I am not here to say that this game has stellar writing, but the games have always just used writing and its characters as more of set dressing for in-game events rather than anything truly meaningful. FH5 does this a little better by pseudo-continuation of its stories. There are many connections to the previous game, as well as some references to FH3, which makes the whole setting feel a little more connected. One storyline is a direct continuation, one is created because of Horizon UK existing and the other storylines just flow a lot better. Another benefit to the focus of being a more direct sequel is that the game has a more definitive end. It frames this in a way where your character is the same character that you played as in the previous game, and tales of their exploits are so popular that they are referred to as the ‘Superstar’. It very quickly becomes clear that your aim is to finish the expansion of Horizon Mexico and enter the Hall of Fame. Completing that counts as the end of the game and from there you are left to your own devices.
While the servers pre-release were very quiet, I was still able to see how the online functionality worked, and to put it bluntly, it works identically to how FH4 did. You have your Forzathon events which are named Horizon Arcade, and participating accrues points that go into a lobby-wide pool. Once a certain number of points are met, all participating players move to the next activity, and the higher the round everyone gets to, the more Forzathon points you get at the end of the activity which allows you to purchase cars that come in and out of rotation. On top of this, there are challenges that roll in and out of rotation too which can earn you some points to purchase these vehicles.
One fact that I will briefly mention is how hard the soundtrack slaps. I’ve always appreciated the Forza Horizon games as they have always been a good way to expose myself to different artists and different styles of music, this is no different. While I don’t find myself a fan of every song in the soundtrack, I would say that a solid 90% of the soundtrack are bangers. I was honestly surprised to hear Bring Me The Horizon playing when I switched over to Horizon XS. It was also quite refreshing to hear that the soundtrack was not packed with stereotypical music that is associated with the region. There were definitely more Latin American tracks than normal, which was much appreciated, but nothing that felt like it was on the nose or disrespectful.
Unsurprisingly, the game looks absolutely stunning. I’m not sure how they did it but they made the game look remarkably better than previous entries. Among other tweaks, the lighting is substantially better and the texture quality is improved. I honestly thought that there was not a whole lot of room for improvement on the visual front when I played FH4, but this has just proven me dead wrong. For the best visual treat, driving around after the rain is drop-dead gorgeous. The way that light so beautifully reflects off of the small puddles and streaks of water, and the surprising accuracy with which water just beads off the cars as you drive through bodies of water or when it rains, it’s honestly insane. What is most impressive about this is the fact that the game runs phenomenally too. Naturally, it takes a little more horsepower to run everything cranked, but having everything at max possible settings barely makes a difference compared to going one step down, however the performance gains from going down are incredibly noticeable. My old PC that runs a 2700X and a 1080Ti was still able to keep up with the game at max settings, running at around 60fps which was impressive, but it was struggling. Dropping everything down a notch got me around 40% more frames and I was amazed at how little a difference it made to the actual graphics. I’m not going to be doing any specific benchmark because I’m running Windows 11 which has had some issues with AMD processors, so the data wouldn’t be the most accurate, but the game was quite stable. Only in areas that were full of intense lighting and reflections did the frames dip, but it was usually around 70fps at its worst, so all in all the game runs incredibly well. On a side note, this impressive technical wizardry has me quite optimistic for Playground’s Fable game that is in the works.
To say that the game is perfect is an overstatement though, to be perfectly honest. If you’re someone that is looking for some significant changes to the formula rather than just more of the same but on a different map, this game might not be the right one for you. I know that the FH fanbase is devoted, with many people spending countless hours tuning cars and doing various activities, but there are a lot of people who would want *more* from a new game. In terms of actual issues, if you are someone who uses the driving lines (because some people do and that’s perfectly fine), it’s very easy for the light shining on the road to completely obscure the driving lines. It’s a bit strange that something like this made it into such a polished game, but it’s the only real issue I personally had with it. I also encountered a weird bug where the tents at a couple of the plantations were floating in the air a little bit, and the game would bring my car to a dead stop if I got disconnected from the servers (which were a bit shaky early on in the review period but have stabilised somewhat since writing).
Forza Horizon 5 doesn’t do much to break the mould or reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t really have to. It iterates on an already solid foundation that was laid out in FH4, making some minor improvements to help with the flow of the game. Its visuals, soundtrack, performance and overall experience are easily the best that a Microsoft exclusive has been able to offer in a while. Playground Games has also done a great job at bringing some of Mexico’s wonderful landscape to a wider market, paying respects and educating various people in such a rich history and culture. As a proud member of the Latinx community, playing through this game has been incredibly refreshing. Thank you, Playground.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- CPU: Ryzen 7 2700X @ 4.2GHz
- GPU: Gigabyte AORUS GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
- Driver Version: 496.49
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Strix X570 Gaming-F
- Memory: G.Skill Trident Z RGB DDR4 3000MHz 16GB(2x8GB)
- Cooling: NZXT Kraken x72
- Storage: Kingston A400 128GB SSD (OS), Crucial MX500 M.2 2280 250GB (game install drive)
- OS: Windows 11
- Playground Games
- Xbox Game Studios
- Xbox One / Xbox Series X&S / PC
- November 9, 2021