Forza Horizon 5 review

Speeding your way through stunning Mexico

Ford 2021 Badlands Bronco in Forza Horizon 5
(Image: © Microsoft)

TechRadar Verdict

Racing-game fanatics will love Forza Horizon 5’s gorgeous open world, and the unlimited gameplay opportunities provided by the customization options. However, it’s lacking investment in characters and storytelling, and as a result it does little to entice newcomers to the genre.

Pros

  • +

    Amazing range of customization

  • +

    Well-integrated user-generated content

  • +

    Gorgeous and varied open world

Cons

  • -

    Bland storytelling

  • -

    Limited music tracks

  • -

    Excessive purchasable add-ons

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Review information

Time played: 15 hours
Platform: Xbox Series S

An aircraft flies low over a sun-drenched Mexican airstrip, dropping supercars hooked to parachutes onto the runway. You take the wheel of the game's first beautifully-rendered vehicle, soaking in the varied landscape. Magically teleporting between machines, you drive off cliffs and traverse the swamp-like jungle before arriving at the Horizon festival, to be greeted by a spectacular fireworks display. If all of this sounds deliciously excessive, then Forza Horizon 5 is probably the game for you.

The open world plays out over 100 square kilometers of gorgeously varied scenery, with over 500 drivable cars, and hundreds of races and story missions separated into six different driving styles, made infinite through varied weather, challenges and user creation. Accessibility options for difficulty and needs, as well as the ability to finely tune each vehicle, ensure a truly unique experience for all. However you want to experience the expansive world of Forza Horizon 5, somewhere here there’s a way to do so.

In a game so vast there have to be some compromises. While the scenarios will fulfill any and all high-velocity dreams, the characters and dialog remain extremely middle of the road. The radio announcer constantly reminding you what a superstar you are, even when you’re only just getting to grips with the controls, feels disingenuous, and as repetitive as the soundtrack which fails to match the length of time you spend behind the wheel. Another consistent issue is the barrage of in-game advertisements urging you to unlock more, quicker, which can get annoying. 

Forza Horizon 5 price and release date

  • What is it? The fifth installment in the Forza Horizon racing franchise
  • Release date? November 9, 2021
  • What can I play it on? Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
  • Price? $59.99/£54.99/ AU$99.95 (also available on Xbox Game Pass)

A vast yet open world to explore

A car looks out on the desert in Forza Horizon 5

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The first thing you’ll notice when launched into the world of Forza Horizon 5 is just how vast the map is. Yet, every inch of it feels complete. Despite taking place all in one region, the game blends together 11 different habitats; from ancient cities to modern citadels, sleepy beaches to active volcanoes, each road you drive down provides something new to see. Gameplay is broken up into six different styles of racing, including dirt tracks, street racing and PR stunts, so you can select missions depending on your preferred style of ride. 

On Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, the framerate is capped at 30fps at the highest graphical fidelity, but whether you choose graphics or performance mode (which lets you play at 60fps) the experience is equally spectacular. The cars are showcased here. Whether you’re driving, photographing, or customizing them, they look pure perfection from every angle. Each vehicle reacts differently and realistically to the environment, and they also provide a contrasting driving experience dependent on the weather. The controller rumbles dynamically to match the different styles of track, immersing you in the experience of being on the road.

Sadly the same attention to detail can’t be said about the radio, which provides just six stations. It means that even if you spend a modest time in Forza Horizon 5 you’re sure to hear some repetition. 

Unlike the music, as you compete in more races you have the opportunity to unlock more racing outposts and story missions, allowing the world to unfurl before you. These missions cover a range of themes, from story-based missions in which you become a stunt racer in a movie to the ultra-long tracks at the culmination of each adventure. No matter how you play Forza Horizon 5 one thing is certain: you’ll never want for variety.

The paradox of choice

Forza Horizon 5 a car blasts through a sandy biome

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Fans of options will revel in the Forza Horizon 5 menus. Highlights here include the accessibility menu, offering subtitling and colorblind-friendly gameplay, and a wide range of difficulty options that allow you to adjust everything to your preference. There are even extensive tuning options for every vehicle, so you can get them to drive just the way you want them to. Outside of the menus, you’re spoilt for choice – to open up cross-country tracks, or road-racing, to finish story missions or excel on one type of track; it’s all down to you.

It can all be too overwhelming at times, particularly at the outset. However, Forza Horizon 5 teaches you to jump in and just try. The way the map slowly unfolds serves as a way of tutoring you, while also enticing you into trying something new. Between accolades, spinning wheels, car-skill trees and prompts to purchase prizes, pop-ups appear constantly. It’s all very easy to ignore, yet you can’t help but feel that you’ve missed out on a new car, or in-game credits, just by trying to simplify your play.

With great choice comes great responsibility. Firstly, there is the choice between the standard edition of the game and the premium one, which offers a plethora of early game unlocks and promised expansion packs, but costs almost twice the price. Whether you’re struggling to find the rare cars hidden in various barns across the map, or you want the latest kooky sounding horn or wacky emote, Forza Horizon 5 has the in-game shop for you. Many can be unlocked via gameplay and chance, but you’re certainly encouraged to pay upfront to unlock your favorite in-game items.

The writing is on the wall 

Forza Horizon 5

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios/Playground Games)

When it comes to world-building the game is pure perfection. Given the constraints of the medium, it’s hard to imagine a more immersive environment. The inclusion of culture is at the forefront here, with varied aspects of Mexican life featured along with the flowering story. Some scenarios are outrageously hyperbolic – as, for example, you contemplate the likelihood of our car enthusiast protagonist driving million-dollar supercars up the near-vertical slopes of an active volcano, but that’s also the pleasure of the escapist medium.

Forza Horizon 5 needed to just go a little further with this to engage us, however. NPCs will tell you how fantastic you are despite failure, and everyone, including your character, is the most blandly likable person possible. The dialog remains pleasant, throughout, but you’ll struggle to forge a meaningful connection with any of the game’s cast. Had it gone just that little bit further to provide us with memorable characters and dialog, then it would be a game we would recommend to everyone. As it stands, if you’re not into racing games, you probably won’t be into Forza Horizon 5.

Verdict

Forza Horizon 5 silver car

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Fans of racing games will get everything they want and more from Forza Horizon 5’s stunningly realistic open world. Players are treated to unlimited gameplay opportunities thanks to the intricately detailed user customization and accessibility options. While scenarios such as racing a freight train through the jungle or driving a parade float off a cliff are well written, however, the characters and dialog tend towards the safe and bland; and this, coupled with a dizzying array of purchasable add-ons and a soundtrack dwarfed by the hours you spend in game, will likely scare away newcomers. Despite this, Forza Horizon 5 has pushed the capabilities of the new Xbox consoles to its limits, offering the most stunning and varied racing experience yet.

Georgina Young is a part-time freelance writer and full-time PlayStation Vita enthusiast who used to live in Japan. You can find her on Twitter or on her blog Vita Paradisa.