Forza Horizon 5 Review: Viva la festival!

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It hasn’t been easy to write you this review. Not because I don’t have a lot to say about Forza Horizon 5, actually I could write a book already. But because there’s always something more to get done, another accolade just around the corner, just time for one more quick victory.

Let’s take a look at the fifth instalment of the open-world racer.

Table of Contents

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What is Forza Horizon?

Forza Horizon is the arcade, open-world spin-off from its big brother Forza Motorsport series. Each game sees a vast cars and music festival take over a location and provide the player with a sort of choose-your-own-adventure racing game. Over time, experienced players find themselves specialising in aspects as diverse as drifting, tuning, photography, and collecting.

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The festival site in Forza Horizon 5

This time, the festival is in a fictionalised Mexico. It’s the biggest and most spectacular Forza Horizon yet.

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Mexico and the world of Forza Horizon 5

The Playground Games team took the task of locating the festival very seriously. This isn’t the Mexico of a Robert Rodriguez film or some simple one-dimensional caricature. This is Mexico in all its glory, with stunning and diverse scenery and rich in history.

Mexican music fits effortlessly into the playlist. Landmarks from the country sit naturally within the huge map. They are used in a sympathetic way to enhance gameplay throughout.

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But the first thing you notice with Forza Horizon 5 is that the slightly muted tones of the previous game are completely wiped away. Forza Horizon 5 is louder, brighter, brasher than its predecessor in every way. At moments it feels like I'm jumping from Dirt Rally 2.0 to DIRT 5. There’s nothing restrained here.

This is a depiction of Mexico you won’t really find anywhere else. It’s vivid and vibrant and to me feels authentic and genuine.

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Driving and racing in Forza Horizon 5

Those who have played previous Horizon games will immediately feel that the grip physics has been tweaked significantly. Supercars slide about much more if you take them off the tarmac. Water splashes (and there are a lot of these) punish low-riding vehicles far heavier than before.

There’s a bigger choice of tyres (and of many other car parts) and they make a bigger difference. This is good news for those who like tweaking their vehicles. It’s a sign that one of the sillier racing games is growing a tad more serious. The much-maligned Ferrari 599XX E glitch has been vanquished.

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This crazy wing is a new customisation option for some vehicles

That said, there are still problems with the racing. Wall riding around routes sometimes feels quicker than taking corners properly. This will be particularly frustrating in multiplayer events such as the Trial. Street Scene, the series of events on open public roads, has hardly any traffic, so is barely different from the regular road racing.

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Actual racing doesn't really feel like the primary function of this Forza Horizon game. It's probably the aspect of the game that has seen the fewest updates from Forza Horizon 4. If you've raced in its predecessor, this new edition offers new the new location and some new weather options for custom races.

Overall, it’s a marginally improved driving experience from previous Horizon games, but not without its flaws, particularly when you actually race.

The cars

As yet there aren’t many new cars to the franchise in this game. There are some treats with those that are included for the first time though. The Porsche Taycan Turbo appears to have four-wheel steering, which I believe is a first for the Forza games. The Mercedes-AMG ONE can switch between road and track modes, opening vents and lowering the suspension. It's not just cosmetic. I did a series of drag strip runs in the ONE in each mode and found the low-drag low-downforce road setting to be consistently 10mph quicker through the speed trap. Impressive stuff.

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Drivers of the Mercedes-AMG ONE can switch between road and track modes

Apparently, some convertibles can switch between the roof open and closed, but I have 140 of the 526 cars in the game so far and this doesn’t work with any of mine yet. I guess my character will just have to get wet in the storms.

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We’d expect plenty more vehicles to arrive as rewards through the lifetime of Forza Horizon 5. Some enthusiast brands aren't in the game at all at launch though. If you're a fan of Alfa Romeo or Lancia, sorry to say you won't find those cars in Forza Horizon 5 at this point. There is a glimmer of hope though, as Mitsubishi and Toyota weren't initially in Forza Horizon 4 but later those vehicles were added to the game.

You don't have to buy every car yourself though, as the 14 barn finds once again provide you with some awesome rides.

Expeditions, stories, and showcases

The single-player campaign provides much of the early game fun. You, superstar driver of Horizon festivals previous, arrive for the launch of the latest instalment, initially delivering a range of cars to the main site. You take part in a range of expeditions to expand the festival, which unlocks further events of specific types (i.e. offroad, street racing, stunt driving), and participate in showcase events to publicise the festival. Showcase events see you take on a range of other vehicles in races that look epic but ultimately feel like the stakes are low.

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Feel like a Top Gear presenter as you race against jetskis

The stories feel like the part of the single-player campaign that the Playground Games team took the most care over. They genuinely have something to say about Mexican culture, whether it's gently poking fun at Lucha Libre wrestling or stressing the importance of family ties as you work to restore a car. There are even references to class divides when some rich kid racers want to join the underground scene.

This is where Forza Horizon 5 is most successful. It's a serious upgrade over Forza Horizon 4 where the stories sometimes felt like an afterthought. Some chapters have choices and you'll want to go back and try the other option in time.

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Comparison with previous Forza Horizon games

If you've been an avid Forza Horizon player previously, there are certain things you expect from the new game. I've got to say that as a Horizon game, this one delivers and is undoubtedly the best yet.

Almost every criticism of the previous edition has been taken on board and reworked. Little details like the animation when the player shifts gears, or the tyre smoke when you lose traction have been improved. Playground Games and Turn 10 have left almost no stone unturned looking to improve the Horizon experience.

The best elements of the FH4 expansions have made it into the base game. The trailblazer stunts and the huge drift zone from Fortune Island are present. The accolades system seems to be in part based on the Lego brick collection from the Lego Valley. The multi-site festival concept has been taken from Forza Horizon 3. There are elements from the original game too, with the radio station chatter about what you've been up to in the game and the atmosphere more generally. Also, the closest comparison for Guanajuato, the main city in the new game, is definitely the Nice of Forza Horizon 2.

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The treasure chests of Fortune Island are now a part of the seasonal playlist

Some were worried that we were going to see Forza Horizon 4.5. There was fear that we'd see the same game but with a new map. Instead, what we've got is a Forza Horizon greatest hits package. There's little that's genuinely new, but if you're into this series of games, this is a must-buy.

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Should you buy Forza Horizon 5?

If you like what Forza Horizon does, this is the series at its best. It's a game that keeps you continuously entertained for however long you have to spend on it. It won't satisfy the urges of simulation specialists, but it's not trying to. Forza Horizon 5 is the racing game for everyone else.

This isn't a competitor for Assetto Corsa but for Grand Theft Auto. It's a game you can dip into time and time again and always feel like you've achieved something. Personally, I'm completely and utterly hooked and I imagine I'll still be playing this game regularly when the next Forza Motorsport eventually emerges.

There's no question about it, this is a magnificent game and I do highly recommend playing it. While there's no demo, you can get a trial of Microsoft's Game Pass and play for a month for £1 to decide for yourself. But we are RacingGames.GG and if there's one aspect in which Forza Horizon 5 falls down, it's the racing.

Let's be completely clear, this is a game for mucking about in cars. It feels like the racing is increasingly sidelined in favour of map exploration, stories, and tasks. It's a Top Gear special in video game form. If that's what you're looking for, Forza Horizon 5 is the best there is. If you want to feel like you're emulating your racing heroes, look elsewhere.

RacingGames Rating: 7.5/10

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