Forza Horizon 5 does not mess too much with the series formula, which probably makes sense, as Forza Horizon 4 is considered one of the best racing games ever by some. However, its stronger, sunnier and more exuberant world sees it explore some of the more out-there opportunities for open racing. And it’s not bad in a series where the actual experience of racing is only part of the draw.
Forza Horizon is the fun and friendly side of Microsoft Studios Xbox Series X / S racing games. If you want to nerd about racetracks and the right split second to shift gears, you want the next Forza Motorsport, which is due god-knows-when. Do you prefer to ride out in a beautiful sunset in something high and shiny? You need Forza Horizon 5.
It promises to take this side of the series’ appeal even further than Forza Horizon 4. And the game’s lovely rainy areas of Edinburgh and other parts of the UK have been swapped for sunny Mexico. Get ready for sparkling surfing, magnificent mountain views, cactus-strewn plains and picturesque little villages you could imagine American tourists potting through, cameras slung from their throats.
We’ve had a chance to play the first part of the game that spans the dozens of events you might complete on your first night with Forza Horizon 5. They’ve given us a good taste of what to expect when the game is finally released on November 5, 2021.
You do not have to play through the first few hours to get the idea of its intent.
Forza Horizon 5s cinematic opener
In the first few seconds of play, long before the first flick of a character creation screen, you fall from the back of an airplane onto an extremely active but also snow-covered volcano.
Each of your three starter cars, a Ford Bronco 2021, Chevrolet C8 Corvette Stingray and Toyota GR Supra are introduced at slightly larger intervals than life is. Within the first few minutes, you have chased a giant cargo plane, raced a race that tore through the sky in a wing suit, and performed a fistful of power slides through a jungle in a Porsche 911.
The sun-drenched Mexican outlook leads you to believe that Forza Horizon 5 is just an armed bandit group entering the scene that is away from becoming Just Cause 3.
And maybe it’s deliberate. These early hours of Forza Horizon 5 seem to embrace the over-the-top stupidity of open-world arcade racing, perhaps more than the series has done to date.
Its alluring mountain peaks, more dramatic than anything seen in Forza Horizon 4, invite you to clear the eventful map and go full Skyrim, just rummaging around to see what you can find. And while the racing festival hub that serves as a contextual excuse to be in these countries in Horizon games is the beating neon heart of Forza Horizon 4, it’s pretty much preoccupied with the surroundings of Forza Horizon 5.
Like traveling to Mexico for a friend’s wedding, you’re sure you want to go there, but getting out and seeing the country is really what justifies the trip.
Mexico: Spectator Paradise
Forza Horizon 5 leans hard on this side of the experience. The world is made of different ‘biomes’. One minute you might drive through lush fields, then find yourself in rolling desert-like dunes the next. It lets the game fit a continent worth of environments in a relatively compact map.
While you may think that a bigger map is always better, it seems that Forza Horizon 5’s proportions are made to make sure you do not give up on an event that pops up just because it’s too far gone. Its world is bigger than Forza Horizon 4, but this is not Test Drive Unlimited.
Constant entertainment is the goal here, and you’ll definitely get it in Forza Horizon 5’s first hours. Even without participating in any of the races, you can quickly get up to level by taping a pair of rabbit hops together over hills and cactus collisions with light power slides. You can apply these lock skill points to cars, and occasionally you will see a raffle-style lock screen that can give you a lot of money, a new car, or a lot of experience points.
Forza Horizon 5 is so eager to please in these early stages that sometimes you may not even know why all these gifts are being thrown your way. These also have a function.
An open world driving game like this does not have NPCs living in a random shed up a mountain you might decide to climb into the Mazda MX-5 you just bought to laugh. No villager will ask you to gather herbs from the hillside to cure his depressed chickens. But these thick and fast unlocks in the early stages of Forza Horizon 5 make you feel like you’re making progress, even if you just play around and categorically avoid all the actual events of the game.
This is amazing, as Forza Horizon 5 shines, when it’s the most silly. Turn on the classic radio station, barrel down a mountain in a $ 400,000 sports car as the Mexico Festival Orchestra blows up something exciting and you can not help but smile.
We’ve come this far without talking about racing, and that should tell you a lot about how the Forza Horizon 5 feels to play in its early stages.
Forza Horizon 5: Back to track
The actual events will seem pretty familiar to fans of the series. There are straight-up races across a bunch of different disciplines and terrains, and speed trap sections where you just try to throw over the asphalt as fast as you can. They are fast, staccato stuff.
Typical of the series, the physique of the Forza Horizon 5 is also extremely forgiving. Compared to the Assetto Corsa or even Forza Motorsport 7, the relationship between the road and your tires is less of a close partnership than one of the peers. Cars feel good to steer with the cushion, but even with all the game’s driving aids turned off, they’s pretty much easy to handle. Most environmental furniture, like trees, is there to increase the feeling of speed. Your car will dig them up at a speed that would make David Attenborough cry.
The race line, which shows when you might be going too fast to turn, is at most a polite suggestion. You are here more to experience than to learn. Forza Horizon 5 takes no daring steps towards a ‘simcade’ handling model. It would be completely at odds with the environment and the general sense of light fun that the game is still trying to generate.
The story feature is what we’re most interested in seeing unfold when Forza Horizon 5 is finally released. Playground Games promises an expanded storytelling-like experience this time around, and this game world should be a great home for it.
Here’s what we’ve seen so far. Forza Horizon 5 preview let’s try two of these story missions. You are seen walking up a hill to uncover a broken old VW Beetle owned by your friend’s “father”. While this is probably here to introduce the Barn Finds concept, as seen in Forza Horizon 4, this mission also sees you driving the trek back to the city, giving it something of a low GTA V flavor.
In the second story mission, you go out in a dust storm to take some dramatic photos of your Ford Bronco. This shows one of Forza Horizon 5’s new features: dynamic weather events. The dust storm does not blow your car out of the way. There may be a little Just Cause flavor here, but not so much. However, the dust storm dramatically affects your visibility. We will have to see how such features are used later in history and race events.
These history chapters are unlocked once you have completed a certain number of race events spread across the map. It’s like having to eat your vegetables before dessert, except that these events go down more like cake pops.
Forza Horizon 5 will definitely get tougher and more involved as we get through our careers. But the first few hours are worth experiencing on your own, especially if you already have access to the game via Xbox Game Pass. But we also have two small warnings.
First, the Forza Horizon 5 is as large an installation as its predecessor, our preview builds up to well over 100 GB. And this game will definitely make you want to go on vacation, especially if it is heading towards winter where you live. The sheer beauty of some of these sunny scenes can seem borderline cruel when you sit in front of your TV wrapped in a blanket.