Fresh from Mexico’s Horizon Festival, the open-world game that redefines racing realism is back and more popular than ever. Forza Horizon 5 (FH5 for short), developed by Playground Games and Turn 10 Studios, takes players off to the varying landscapes of Mexico. There we are immersed in a sprawling campaign that looks magnificent, in all its ray tracing splendour, and also plays like a four-wheeled dream.
Off to a Good Start
Latest stats released by Microsoft reveal that FH5 has hurtled off the start line at breakneck speeds. Already there are 4.5 million players, whipping around Playground Studios’ tracks, across PC and Xbox around the world. In short, the authentic racer has experienced the biggest launch of any Xbox Games Studios title to date, shattering expectations and tripling the running player peak enjoyed by the popular Forza Horizon 4.
Many players have accessed the game via Xbox Game Pass, where it was released alongside retail copies. Some experts have written the early success of the launch down to clear signs that Playground Games had left popular aspects of the game unchanged, while also expanding and fine-tuning that important triple-threat: performance, graphics and gameplay. The attention to detail alone is enough to make this a strong contender for Game of the Year. You can even customise your car horn to play gamer favourites, like the Doom soundtrack. While the game itself is absolutely massive – stretched across sun-baked Mexico, offering the largest setting in the series so far and the most impressive array of automotive challenges.
A Mexican Odyssey
Race the way you want and roam every immersive option of driving simulation on offer. Tear over hilltops and snatch views over illuminated cityscapes. Dodge tropical storms in the humid underbelly of dense jungles, snaking among Aztec ruins. Or, skid between Baja beaches and mangroves, tearing out into the open as you finesse your sand-spitting drift.
This game is exactly what next generation consoles were crying out for. It is heart-achingly beautiful and – while there are a few bugs still to be swatted (Microsoft are working on small fixes) – playing across its rich environmental canvas is a sheer delight. Newly introduced Expeditions offer opportunities to take sweeping drives to Mexican landmarks, where players can build outposts, seek out optional objectives, or simply enjoy the welcome open road and enhanced exploration. There’s also talk of more of these adventures in upcoming DLC and the change of pace and puzzle elements are a welcome addition to otherwise fast-paced action and competitive trials.
One of the only causes for agitation, for us, is the expected lack of narrative or characterisation. Racing games are famously deprived in this regard, but a considerable onslaught of drawn-out dialogue sequences did have us scrambling for a skip button that simply isn’t there. Digitally-rendered mannequins trade dispassionate stares as all this plays out and the English voice acting is borderline unbearable. Just prepare for drawling bookends as you roll into events and try not to let the chinwags put you off that meandering thrill of finally hitting the rutted tracks, or the open road.
Everything else is pretty much impeccable and a clear indication of Forza’s longevity. After all, this is simply the standard set for what’s to come and the future of the Horizon Festival is looking very bright indeed.
FH5 was released on November 9, 2021 (Premium Editions came out early for Premium Add-On Bundle buyers on November 5), and is available now on Xbox One, Xbox and PC.