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.

Contributor

Keza MacDonald

The GuardianTramp

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