Forza Horizon 5 Review: Every Gearhead’s Dream (XB1)

The Horizon festival arrives at the land of taco, tequila and amazing car culture. Horizon Mexico brings the most dramatic experience to date and you take control of it. Among the diverse set of cars, you pick your favourites and get yourself ready for a Horizon journey like never before.

Forza Horizon 5 Review: Every Gearhead’s Dream (XB1)

The Horizon series has been a best-seller for Xbox for about nine years, and this year, we’re getting our hands on Playground Games’ fifth instalment. An arcade racer that truly shows what the studio is capable of and how hard work can bring such a masterpiece to the market. With more or less 10 years of experience, Playground Games knows exactly how to satisfy customers, and this year brings everything fans have requested. This is every gearhead’s dream!

Forza Horizon 5 is available for Xbox One/Series, Steam and Windows 10 users for $60 as standard pricing. Those who are keen to get their hands on the post-launch content might want to check out deluxe or premium edition for higher pricing. 

Forza Horizon 5 - Official Launch Trailer

Story – Thrilling as usual

Forza isn’t only about grinding credits, purchasing vehicles and repeating the same process over and over again. It’s about enjoying the moment and creating memories. Everyone who has played the previous titles should know that the Horizon franchise does not have a proper story, but this title isn’t as plain as usual. However, the concept of Horizon remains the same – freedom!

The game guides you through various events, to begin with, and you start building brief relationships with in-game characters. Though the progression doesn’t revolve around characters and some dramatic plot. You choose when and how you want to progress. Meanwhile, you’ll come across a ton of exciting occasions such as exploring new festivals and seeking these legendary barn finds. In other words, do not expect something in-depth. You’re the one creating the plot through your exploration in Mexico. Whether you prefer circuit racing, playing online games or drift, you have the freedom to choose. It’s similar to the two past titles. 

The Hoonigans drifting through Guadalajara

The Hoonigans drifting through Guadalajara

What differs from the previous title is that there’s more action and drama in the races, and, in fact, outside the races, too. Not only do you compete against other cars, but also planes and trains and everything in-between. The whole world and how the terrain is structured contributes a lot to this drama, unlike Forza Horizon 3 that was very flat and undramatic. Horizon Mexico features extreme elevation changes, extreme weather and tough terrain. The story of Forza Horizon 5 isn’t more sophisticated than this, but I can ensure you’ll have a blast while playing!

Gameplay – The hot desert brings nostalgia

For every Horizon title that gets released on the Xbox market, we seem to stray further from the concept of the music festival with fast cars. What once used to be intense racing between members of the music festival is now simply a sandbox for fast cars. To clarify this, it doesn’t seem to have the same focus on being a great music festival where you start from the bottom and become more popular the more you progress and, ultimately, become a champion.

That does not kill the fun because, clearly, the driving experience is the main focus. As soon as you hop on the game, there’s always some excitement to driving in your favourite cars. And the driving experience combined with this beautiful map of Mexico, we have a perfect racing game, even a little nostalgic.

Horizon 5 perfectly implements the Mexican culture

Horizon 5 perfectly implements the Mexican culture

Forza Horizon 5 is fairly easy to play. Even the newcomers with absolutely no experience of racing games can master it. The physics and ability to manoeuvre vehicles haven’t received any significant updates or, at least, not what I can tell, which is actually great because the current physics model is designed for any player regardless of experience.

The assist system might as well come in handy for beginners. So, it’s the same as previously, just more detailed as the vehicles themselves are more customisable. You are able to produce more and thicker tyre smoke and, not to mention, the improved audio, but we’ll come to that later. All in all, I get a strong feeling that more resources have been put on prioritising quality over quantity, hence the smaller car roster.

Map

The map itself is very diverse with many unique biomes to explore. It doesn’t take longer than 5 minutes to enter a different biome. You can go from tropical to desert, from desert to snow and so on. It’s a game of freedom, so you choose whatever place you want to spend your time in Horizon Mexico! These biomes are representing the vast land of Mexico, but at the same time, feels somewhat familiar. It does feel like a mash-up of different games’ maps. All the beauty in one place.

Ford Bronco R in the very dramatic environment of Horizon 5

Ford Bronco R in the very dramatic environment of Horizon 5

While the Rocky coast feels much like Horizon 3, I could also see similarities between Red Dead and the Canyon regions. It’s not a straight copy, but it’s the same structure. Meanwhile, the small percentage who played the very first Horizon might even feel a Red Rock callback. Like I stated earlier, it might be an exaggerated version of Mexico, or a dramatic version because Playground Games have squeezed in a whopping 11 biomes within this map. Thus it’s safe to say that it’s representing the greatest of Mexico, rather than a realistic representation.

Missing content

As per usual, not all content is being transferred from the previous titles. Whether it’s licensing issues or insufficient resources or time, it’s usually something that gets resolved sooner or later. Sadly, there seems to be significant content that is conspicuous by their absence, mainly manufacturers owned by FIAT and some customisation as well. Fortunately, not in great quantities, but we’re missing classics.  

While RB kits are removed, other manufacturers got added

While RB kits are removed, other manufacturers got added

While many new body kits have been introduced, some others have left and this time we’re not seeing Rocket bunny kits return for an unknown reason. Despite the loss, it’s luckily the only body kit manufacturer that’s missing. Though, that should not be our biggest concern because even car manufacturers haven’t quite made their way to the game. This time, I’m talking about the sub-brands of Fiat – Alfa Romeo and Lancia. Two manufacturers that would’ve been perfect additions to the game. I mean, who wouldn’t want to go cross-country in the twin-charged Lancia Delta?

Audio – Completely reworked and satisfying

While the visual beauty of Forza Horizon 5, alone, puts life into the game, it would never be complete without the audio. Compared to the previous years, we’ve seen great improvements in environmental sound effects such as singing birds and river flows. Basically, the tiny details that are barely noticeable. It’s contributing to making the game more alive and realistic. Forza Horizon 5‘s developers seem to have put more time into reworking sound files, both for nature and vehicles. And, as always, we’ll have new awesome music to listen to while cruising around the lands of Mexico!

Extreme off-roaders roaring through the jungle

Extreme off-roaders roaring through the jungle

Exhaust sound

This topic, specifically, has been somewhat controversial lately. Complaints have been directed towards the developers of the franchise, simply for not creating accurate sounds. Although the Horizon franchise isn’t a full racing simulator, the sound team have taken the responsibility to please the fans, and the result of 3 years of hard work paid off. Blasting your twin-rotor at 9,000 RPM through the desert of Mexico has never felt more satisfying. Especially now that race transmission upgrades provide this whining sound, that normally would come from straight cut gears.

I can truly say that the new sounds characterise the cars. Every vehicle now has more value while driving them, thanks to the sounds being more unique. That satisfies the driving experience and makes Horizon 5 even more appealing. 

Upgrades applied to your car do change the engine sound

Upgrades applied to your car do change the engine sound

Overall, the sounds have gotten a more raspy tone that suits most cars. It was also known that some cars tend to share audio files, which now isn’t as frequent. This “raspy” sound is very common among cars with a V8 engine. For instance, the AMG’s and Camaro’s (most Hondas too) have this raspy-like sound, somewhat muffled when reaching higher RPM. Although V8 engines generally are quite huge, it isn’t entirely accurate because, in reality, high RPMs should sound smoother, yet still aggressive.

The fact that many cars received a raspy sound maybe wasn’t entirely suitable. Perhaps this is meant to create more depth and aggressiveness. Playground Games are trying hard to replicate the sound of respective cars in reality. Despite not being entirely accurate, it still sounds good and much better than the previous title. And the ability to change engine sound when upgrading parts was a step in the right direction. So to conclude this, the sound team have put together amazing sounds for this game, but it’s only small details from being ten out of ten!

Music

We all share unique tastes in music. Some prefer rock and others something with a slower beat. Horizon 5 brings diverse types of music genres, everything from Beastie Boys to Deadmau5. Props to the developers for including the latest tracks from the music industry and setting the right type of music into this Mexican aura. It clearly shows that Playground Games have carefully chosen tracks that would suit a Mexican territory. In fact, the beat of many songs reminds of the ones in the earlier Horizon games. However, there’s a little flaw in the choice of music.

Radio Eterna replaces FM Timeless

Radio Eterna replaces FM Timeless

As mentioned, the game includes records that most people can tell is pretty new. But that excludes the players who prefer listening to music they grew up with, let’s say, 1980s pop-hits for example. And this phenomenon hasn’t changed ever since the very first instalment of the franchise. Perhaps the developers might want to take a different approach and apply the music that normally would be played at a festival in today’s era. Those who absolutely love the ’80s and ’90s may not be entirely satisfied with the choice of songs. Instead, you may enjoy the lovely engine sounds!

Secondly, but also the last critique regarding the music, the game contains a diverse set of music, but reckon a small percentage of the players would be able to say that the songs sound familiar. That, of course, could bring attention to new music producers you’ve never heard of before, allowing you to explore the world of music. Although the game has diverse genres, it simply has insufficient songs from past eras that could’ve suited this game just perfectly. Especially the ones that a greater number of players would recognise. Compared to Grand Theft Auto V, which has music from all eras and genres, there was definitely something for everyone. 

Graphics – Playground Games Never Fail

If you thought Forza Horizon 4’s graphics were astonishing and superior, Forza Horizon 5’s are on a totally different level… by a wide margin. Playground Games’ are nowadays known for being very detailed when creating maps. A great part of the development seems to be put on graphics and making it appealing. 

Probably the most beautiful sunset ever seen in a Horizon title

Probably the most beautiful sunset ever seen in a Horizon title

The team has brought realism to the game; however, there are major graphical differences between the consoles. Obviously, the newest generation of consoles are able to handle higher resolutions and cut the loading times. Something that bugged me was that my own expectations were exceeding reality. Before getting my hands on the game, I truly did expect improved graphics, similar to what I’ve seen from developer gameplay. That, unfortunately, was a wild assumption, especially considering I’m playing on the previous-generation console.

There’s a massive difference between Xbox One and the Xbox Series X|S, not only graphics-wise. If you look at the top of the mountain, trees have been removed as well. It does make sense because Xbox One consoles are very limited. Thankfully, we’re not facing the same crazy cut as Forza Horizon 2 received for its Xbox 360 version.

From an Xbox One player’s perspective, the graphics are acceptable as long as you don’t enter photo mode and start focusing on the details. You certainly will notice the differences from all the gameplay you’ve seen on YouTube in the past 3 months. Every object is more blurry and the draw distance, overall, doesn’t quite impress. So, for those who play on Xbox One, do expect graphics similar to Forza Horizon 4, although it’s actually just a tiny bit better. In the end, the console is, as stated, limited to this point and simply doesn’t get any better.

That, however, does not tell anything about the game’s details, because the amount of content cut from the Xbox One version is barely noticeable unless you focus on it. Of course, it affects the experience and how you feel about this game, but the fun is still there. There are random bushes and trees completely removed from the Xbox One version, and, as far as I can tell, I am not disappointed with the graphics and totally not bothered. 

Forza Horizon 5 was reviewed on Xbox One.

Summary
This outstanding masterpiece from Playground Games keeps its charm after hours of playing. A well-thought-out title with endless driving fun. Whether you're a car fanatic or not, playing this with your friends will be a well-spent time and there aren't many skills required to understand this game. Fairly easy racer, yet very entertaining. The studio has undoubtedly succeeded this year again, with frequent post-launch updates and free content likely to come regularly, you will always find a reason to come back and play this game.
Good
  • The atmosphere feels more busy and not empty
  • Overall improved engine sounds
  • Diverse map and vehicles
  • Long lasting and competitive
  • Very dramatic environment
  • AI keeps a great consistency during races
Bad
  • Some engine sounds are too raspy
  • Lacks music from past eras
9.2
Amazing

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