Forza Horizon 5 review – a much-needed road-trip fantasy

Xbox Series S/X; Playground Games/Microsoft
Take a supercar for a beach challenge or drive into the Mexican jungle in this racing game that’s exactly as fun as its last version

As we limp towards the end of 2021, I don’t think I’ve ever needed a holiday so much, and Forza Horizon 5 is here to provide one. It is a scenic, colourful escape to a sterile and faultlessly beautiful version of Mexico, with astonishing vistas and shiny cars to drive in a seemingly endless series of races, from cross-country desert circuits to street scrambles and stunt challenges. Like any great holiday, there is nothing to think about here except which fun thing to do next.

Despite the change of setting from idealised Britain to idealised Mexico, it feels almost identical to 2018’s Forza Horizon 4, and has the same overwhelming maximalist tendencies – the map is a forest of icons, an abundance of potential excitement, and you are constantly showered with rewards, perks and bonuses that quickly feel meaningless. But it also captures some of the same magic: the escapist fantasy of the open road, the freedom of driving, that gut-level satisfaction of revving a perfectly modelled supercar and feeling the controller shake in your hands. These vehicles, hundreds of them, all respond instantly to the slightest touch of the analogue stick or feathering of the brake. There is no more fun way to drive virtual cars than this.

Well – I say that, but actually Forza Horizon 4 was exactly as gratifying, three years ago. It is mildly disappointing not to see developer Playground Games pare the experience back a little, as it’s hard to focus when there are always so many challenges, multiplayer events and seasonal races vying for your attention. What I actually wanted to do was get lost in the scenery, happening upon beautiful places and things to do or zoning out on long drives, and that’s difficult when you’re constantly being pulled in so many different directions.

Horizon 5 organises its showpiece moments – think driving away from erupting volcanoes, racing against planes, supercar competitions along the coast, that kinda thing – into a storyline of sorts that follows your superstar driver through the world’s greatest driving event, but even that is spread across many different festival sites. Over a few hours’ play, unredeemed rewards and unspent currencies and trading cards and slot-machine-style wheelspins stack up in the menus like unread emails. The one thing I never felt I had enough of was cars. Almost every one is a joy to drive, and I only say almost because I find the supercars obnoxious. Give me a filthy rally car and a jungle trail, and I’m much happier.

Forza Horizon 5 Xbox screenshot
Into the woods … Forza Horizon 5 Xbox. Photograph: Playground Games/Microsoft

You can tune and customise every imaginable aspect of these machines if you know what you’re doing, but I was happy just driving them around, buying houses, ignoring all the other players online, accumulating more fame and kudos to soothe my ego, and shuffling through the least annoying radio stations. This soundtrack is definitely not cool, but it’s great to drive around to – though I found it puzzling that there wasn’t any music from the region in which the game is set. The voice cast is different, a mix of inoffensive British, American and Latin American characters who anchor each different aspect of Horizon’s personality, from street racing to hunting down abandoned classic cars.

You could spend months in Forza Horizon 5 on a coast-to-coast trip, or dip in for a few days to see the sights and admire the sunsets. The vast array of joy on offer means that whatever you do, wherever you end up, you’ll have a very good time.

  • Forza Horizon 5 is out 9 November, £54.99.


Keza MacDonald

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Battlefield 2042 review – war in the eye of the storm
In a series known for its scale and spectacle, climate change and technical issues are the new enemies

Phil Iwaniuk

24, Nov, 2021 @1:28 PM

Article image
Tux and Fanny review – a surreal lo-fi treasure of a game
This endearing adventure feels like a fever-dream Flash game you discovered in the 00s and could never find again

Sarah Maria Griffin

05, Jan, 2022 @2:04 PM

Article image
Trials Rising review – a global adrenaline rush
Pure two-wheeled thrills drive this motorbike racing game, as you hurtle over spectacularly wild tracks around the world. Just avoid the acorns

Keza MacDonald

28, Feb, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
Forza Horizon – review
The Forza formula might have been messed with, but Horizon still plays to the franchise's strengths, writes Felix Atkin

Felix Atkin

20, Oct, 2012 @11:11 PM

Article image
Forza Horizon - review

Steve Boxer: Going open world has helped Forza to shed its sterility and gain some credibility

Steve Boxer

16, Oct, 2012 @1:56 PM

Article image
Lonely Mountains: Downhill review – adrenaline-pumping adventures in nature
Hurling yourself down a mountain on a bike has rarely been as much fun as in this sports game, which pairs serene scenery with thrilling challenge

Keza MacDonald

14, May, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
Museum of Mechanics: Lockpicking – an interesting experiment for video game history buffs
PC; Dim Bulb Games
Though the intended audience is game developers, this is an enjoyable insight into the mechanics of an under-appreciated facet of game design

Keza MacDonald

13, Jan, 2022 @12:30 PM

Article image
Forza Horizon 4 review – the best racing experience, in an ideal Britain
This full-throttle trip on iconic British roads is a tourist board’s dream, with perfect weather and no nimbys to spoil the fun. Take time to enjoy the views

Keza MacDonald

03, Oct, 2018 @11:21 AM

Article image
How Forza Horizon 4 raced to the heart of Britain
The latest title in the acclaimed open-world racing series takes players from Devon to the Scottish Highlands. But how did the developer get the feel of the country right?

Keith Stuart

25, Sep, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Forza Horizon 4; Marvel’s Spider-Man – review
The latest instalment of the open-world racing game captures Britain in all its glory, while Spider-Man swings his way through New York

Simon Parkin

06, Oct, 2018 @3:00 PM