Forza Horizon 5 Review

Not drastically different but steps in a good direction.

by C.J. Keller

Last year Microsoft did something relatively unthinkable in releasing the Xbox Series X without any new games to showcase the hardware.  Blame it on a global pandemic if you want, but anyone who plunked down their cash to purchase an Xbox Series X didn’t have much new to play on the console.  That drought of content has lasted an entire year.  No Halo, No Forza, No Gears, none of the big AAA games that you would expect from Microsoft to push the hardware.  The fact is, they didn’t need to make games to put the console in demand.  A global chip shortage and scalpers created a demand for Microsoft hardware that they haven’t seen since the launch of the Xbox 360.  If you’ve been waiting all that time for something to show off what that black box is capable of, Forza Horizon 5 is that game.

The Series X feels like a huge leap when playing Forza Horizon 5

The most impressive thing about it is its jaw-dropping wow factor in terms of the visual fidelity and how the console chews it up at the highest framerates and resolution that we’ve ever seen for a racing game on consoles.  On the flip side of that coin, Horizon 5 is a bit more of the same.  While it does feel like a better game than FH4 as it expands on the live elements, offers a lot of customization, focuses on a single player campaign and streamlines some of the muddy progression aspects from previous offerings —  it is largely the same as previous iterations and very closely resembles FH4 in terms of how the game is structured.


This time around players are going to Mexico.  While we didn’t pull out a measuring stick, it feels like the biggest and most diverse world to date.  Forza Horizon 5’s open world has just about every biome you could want and it’s all so very scenic.  The premise is very much the same, you are a driver that has come to the festival for fame and fortune, you’ll meet interesting locals through a variety of story missions that give a bit of a backstory to the area’s residents and the Horizon fest.  Despite it being hard to imagine that there are many that are looking for more story in the Forza Horizon series Playground Games covers a lot of ground in the few missions where they do incorporate the people that are driving the cars.  You could definitely say that the campaign is a little more thought out this time around but don’t expect anything too crazy.

The real goal is here is car collection. There are over 500 cars that fit into a very diverse group which range from Supercars designed for high speed street racing to rally cars and trucks built for the other side of the racing spectrum (The woods, sand, mountains, water, etc).  Forza Horizon 5 casts a large net on video game racing fans.  It offers a lot of different types of gameplay, from street racing to off-road, whether you like doing that against AI opponents or human ones.

Forza Horizon 5 is a racing game that’s focused on fun and playing with others

Most of this isn’t big news for people that have played these games before.  Forza Horizon 5 has been slowly evolving into what it is now, but the changes we’ve seen from game to game have been small.  It’s still very much a racing game that’s focused on fun, connecting with other players and having a shared open world racing experience.  The Horizon series is still the best of its genre, even if that competition is basically The Crew from Ubisoft and any of the recent Need For Speed abominations from EA.  So what’s new this time around?  Once you look past the shiny coat of paint a lot of the shared world stuff has been carried over from FH4.  With Forza Horizon 5 the real star of the show is going to be the customization that players can dig into.  Not everyone is going to explore these tools, but the Event Lab Creator Toolset allows for a seemingly unlimited number of potential events in the game.  Not having fun playing the standard stuff that the professionals created?  Well, anyone can put together a course for you to try instead.  And you can race these in place of the preset options.  While Playground’s personal touch make for some really scenic experiences, it’ll be interesting to see what the community can come up with in Event Labs.


If you’ve played Forza Horizon games in the past you’ll be familiar with the obscene amount of challenges, races, and collectibles that they place into their world.  Forza Horizon 5 isn’t much different.  This game can certainly get away from you when it comes to trying to do it all.  It is nicely organized this time around though allowing you to focus on what matters to you.  If that’s unlocking all the race types, you can do that out of the gate.  Or you can focus on completing the various challenges which range from daily to seasonal.  There’s constantly something to do at the Horizon Festival.  When playing by yourself and looking to open the different types of events, there is a nice aforementioned story element that has you digging into some of the backstory of the characters you’re meeting at the event.  As we said don’t expect anything too crazy.  It’s still very much focused on the cars so the narratives revolve around transporting a car, finding car, fixing a car, etc.  But this aspect of the game does offer more background to the people you’re meeting and places you’re driving around.  It adds a level of personality to the game as you meet new characters from different regions with different backgrounds and racing disciplines.

The game can throw a lot at you at times but it’s also constantly rewarding you

Horizon 5 is structured well to keep you busy, but it does give you options as well.  There are so many things to do in this game that it can be hard to focus in on one thing.  The Horizon Adventure allows you to open up the different aspects to the Horizon Festival, taking you to what are essentially five other mini-festivals which encompass different driving types:  Road Racing, Dirt Racing, Cross Country, Stunts, and Street Racing.  This all ties into a progression system in which you earn points to continually unlock more events within each discipline which then leads to what is essentially a boss fight with a longer, bigger version of one of the races.  For example, one “bossfight” would be a 35 mile trip around Mexico which is a large race known as “The Goliath.”  At the same time you’re constantly unlocking cars, progressing those cars with skill points, earning cash and repeating this process over and over.  Once you’ve got a bunch of cars the challenges in the Festival Playlist get more interesting as many of them require specific cars to complete.  If anything Forza Horizon 5 really keeps rewarding the player and bombarding them rewards at every turn.


On the road it’s more Forza.  There are numerous difficulty settings you can select to make things skew towards a simulator, but this feels like a more arcade-like experience out of the box that is grounded solidly in reality.  Cars give you a good general idea of what it’s like to be behind the wheel, with an especially good sense of speed in the game’s top end cars.  As you would expect you need the right car for the job.  Staying on roads calls for a sportscar, while dirt tracks or cross country affairs might call for an SUV, truck, or rally car.  The driving feels good, and there’s a natural difficulty curve which will start you pretty easy and then progressively ask you if you want things to get harder as you go.  Setting the difficulty higher will net you more credits in the long run and you’ll want them.  Credits make the world go round in Forza Horizon 5 and with them you can purchase any vehicle  you want.

At the end of the day though this is a game that is designed to play with others.  The Horizon series has always been something focused on the shared experience and this hasn’t changed with FH5.  There are so many different ways to interact with others online, whether that’s playing in the Live Forza Events, team-based racing series, competitive game modes, or haggling with others in the online auction house this is a game that is built around the online experience.  With Game Pass growing a bigger and bigger subscriber base, there should be a huge built-in player base for this game in 2021.  Speaking of Game Pass, a title like Forza Horizon 5 is most certainly worth the download if you’re a subscriber to the service — whether you like racing games or not.  Like we said, this is one of the first games on the Series X that will really make you appreciate the horsepower behind the console.

The Verdict

Forza Horizon 5 is ultimately once again a something for everyone racer.  Those looking for a more specific type of game that caters strictly to sim or strictly to arcade aren’t quite going to get that here regardless of how many settings you tinker with.  This non-committal approach makes Forza Horizon 5 approachable by a lot of different types of people.  It’s a beauty to look at on the new console and there’s plenty to do regardless of whether you’re online or off.  While we still think the online player gets the most fun and value out of a game like this, Game Pass subscribers will get this as part of their subscription and it makes trying the game out non-committal.  At this point, if you were thinking about buying Forza Horizon 5 just because you’re already a fan of the series, you’ll likely get just as much value out of subscribing to the service instead.  Forza Horizon 5 is ultimately a game in the franchise that continues to evolve in a more and more enjoyable direction, even if there is a core to the game that feels very familiar.


Forza Horizon 5

  • Score: 4.5 / 5
  • Available On: Xbox, PC
  • Published By: Microsoft Studios
  • Developed By: Playground Games
  • Genre: Racing
  • US Release Date: November 5th, 2021
  • Reviewed On: Xbox Series X
  • Quote: "Forza Horizon 5 is ultimately a game in the franchise that continues to evolve in a more and more enjoyable direction, even if there is a core to the game that feels very familiar."
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