After 3 years of tearing around an idealised virtual Britain, Playground Games has relocated the Horizon Festival to a stunningly recreated Mexico, with a massive graphical overhaul, a bigger more varied map, and more to do than ever before.
2018’s Forza Horizon 4 was the first game in the series to introduce rotating seasons – summer, spring autumn and winter all lasted for 10 days in the real world, essentially giving players 4 versions of the map with vastly different road conditions and challenges. While the seasons are still present in Horizon 5 they are less exaggerated this time around. Instead we get a number of distinct biomes – whether it’s humid swamps, rocky deserts, vast sand dunes or green farmer’s fields – each with unique lighting and weather. It’s a nice change after Horizon 4’s broadly uniform-looking Britain. Not only is the map bigger than ever, it’s also the tallest yet with a huge volcano that’s visible from most of the map. A larger, more mountainous play area also means we get a huge draw-distance that you can really appreciate from the higher points on the map.
The extra horsepower of the Xbox Series X has been put to good use with 4K resolution, ray-traced reflections and drastically better smoke and dust effects. Driving games have always given developers a perfect platform to show off the power of a new console, and Forza Horizon 5 is no exception. It really is a beautiful game.
The improved visuals are only half of the story though. Everything from the previous game has been improved and refined. The handling of the cars has had a serious overhaul with more realistic braking & suspension, snappier steering and a more authentic feeling when you take you car off-road – which you can do a lot of on Mexico’s rugged mountains and back-roads. The game’s audio is also massively improved. Each car now sounds distinctly different, plus upgrading parts alters the sound of your engine in real-time.
The main career mode has had a re-think, allowing players more freedom to tackle challenges in whatever order they see fit. Despite the expanded size & scope of the game, we never felt overwhelmed, nor did we feel locked-in to doing anything we didn’t want to. The strength of the Horizon series has always been the feeling of freedom – you can tackle challenges, join multiplayer races, or take on the new Expeditions – a series of curated races that mirror the choreographed ‘opening drives’ that these games are famous for. Failing that you can simply kill time exploring the expansive map.
The numerous minor improvements add-up to an extremely polished and enjoyable open-world driving game. There are far too many to list here, but they include a more intuitive car menu, multiplayer races that don’t punish you when other players drop out, and a new spin on the ‘barn find’ system where YOU get to hide cars for other players to discover. You can even switch between metric and imperial measurements if you really prefer kilowatts instead of horsepower.
Forza Horizon 5 is an incredibly deep & nuanced driving experience that somehow manages to cater to serious petrolheads and casual players alike. It can be an extremely detailed driving simulation for car geeks or a silly arcade experience for those lacking expert automotive knowledge. It looks and sounds truly phenomenal and is a testament to a development team truly at the peak of their powers. Above all else it is simply one of the best open-world racing games you can play.
Image: Playground Games