“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”
Any game that allows me to start a review with a quote from a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning is already off to a good start. After the triumph of Forza Horizon 4, the difficult follow up is here in the form of Forza Horizon 5. Now, in the world of game development, I imagine it’s pretty hard to follow a game as successful as the previous Horizon games. I mean, if your previous game was rubbish, then making a better one should be fairly straightforward, right? Well, imagine working at Playground Games and having to follow the brilliance of Forza Horizon 4. That is, however, exactly what they’ve done with Forza Horizon 5.
Forza Horizon 5 is set in Mexico, and from the opening sequence where various cars are parachuted into the world, across different biomes, the real star of the game apart from the cars, is the beautiful countryside. There is seemingly no end to the terrains that FH5 brings to life: small Mexican towns go past in a blur as you scream down a coastline hugging highway, before taking to the jungle and swamp land, which gives way to a desert and an active volcano. There is no other racing game that has ever allowed the player to have so much fun ‘just looking around’.
It helps that it looks sensational on Xbox Series X|S, with everything moving at such a speed. But then when you do slow down to enjoy the view, the draw distances are breathtaking, and leaping from the top of a mountain, it almost seems that you have time to ring your insurance company before you hit the ground below.
The soundtrack of a game is often an overlooked part of what makes things tick, and it’s the same here. You’ll hear the howling engine and screeching wheels of various types of cars, but you’ll also want to take a moment to listen to the DJs on the multiple radio stations, as they quite often have something to say about what you’ve been doing; the authentic accents help to immerse you in the game a little more. Personally, Radio XS and the rock it plays is the finest option available, but I’d go as far to say that they are all worth a listen to be honest.
But this is Forza and in Horizon 5 the cars are, once again, the big draw. You’ll soon be able to tell the difference between some of the cars purely by the way they sound – whether it’s the bass rumble of an American V8, or the high pitched wail of a Ferrari at full chat, the work done on the engine sounds is top notch. And of course, once you’ve selected the car, that’s where the work begins, not ends. Do you want to spec it up for road racing, for drifting, for off-roading? Do you want to take the tune from mild to wild, and upgrade from D class to S2? Well, you can! How about an outrageous paint job, or a selection of carefully crafted vinyl layers to make the car yours? Again, the sky’s the limit, and sharing your designs and tunes online can lead to kudos being received. What does kudos make? Cosmetic items, that’s right!
Add in reasonable voice work from the various characters you meet (we’re not talking Oscar quality, but you know, racing game and all) and presentation wise, Forza Horizon 5 is up there with the best I’ve experienced.
So, how does the game play out, I hear you ask? Well, again (and you may detect a pattern here) it’s pretty much as good as it can be. As you advance through the single player mode, you can unlock expansions to the original Horizon Mexico site, and in an interesting move, you can choose how you want to expand the festival. Do you love cross country racing? You’ll want to spend your upgrade tokens at Horizon Baja, while if you like road racing, Horizon Apex is the destination for you. But you don’t have to focus down on specifics and unlocking each sees multiple outposts bring with it a host of events; your world map will soon look like an Assassins Creed collectible guide. However, with a little light filtering, it’s possible to concentrate on what you want to do, be that Showcase Events or just pootling around finding the bonus boards.
That said, the Showcases are less prevalent this time around, and while they are still spectacular, the game as a whole brings such a level of excitement that their impact is a little bit diminished. Having said that, racing three folk on jet-skis is great fun.
And because we’re in Mexico, the world around you changes to suit. The different landscapes are so different, so dynamic, that getting it across in words is pretty tricky. It’s not just the scenery that can take your breath away; the weather, the way the dust rises from back roads, the flocks of flamingos that take off when you rudely crash into their lake – all these things and more make the game what it is. The first time a sandstorm hits and you’re reduced to about 10 feet of visibility will excite, as will the first time you come across an ancient temple while exploring the jungle, the first win, the five hundredth win. Forza Horizon 5 never stops delivering on its early promise.
What there is in Horizon 5 is no shortage of things to do: Playground Games returns, there is a new mini co-op section called Horizon Arcade where you and other people in the area are challenged to do a variety of things, There is a new mode called Horizon Tour, which lets you get a group of up to five players together to battle against drivatars, and this is a lot of fun.
Everything has been given an overhaul too, and because of how the online component now works, you’ll never have to play alone, unless you choose to. And if you do find people you like, you can even gift a car to a random player should you wish; what a nice way of welcoming newcomers to the game.
I fear that if I was to mention all the cool features of FH5, I’d still be typing in a week or two’s time, but I must mention the new Accolades system as well. This rewards you for racing in a certain way, or in a certain discipline, and with the Accolades split up into sections which you can inspect at any time, it’s a cinch to see if you are working towards any in particular. It’s nice too that you can even pin the ones that you are close to so you can track them. This gives another encouragement to keep playing, as if one was needed. With over 500 cars to collect, wheelspins to earn and houses to buy, this really is Horizon turned up to 11.
In conclusion, play Forza Horizon 5. There has never been a better looking game, and it plays like an absolute dream. It’s full of cars, full of challenge, full of glorious visuals and played out across a world like no other. I really wish I could give it more than 5/5, but as I can’t, a perfect score will have to do.
Forza Horizon 5 is available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store