It doesn’t take long for Forza Horizon 5, Playground Games’ fifth entry into the beloved racing series, to feel eerily familiar to it’s immediate predecessors. In many ways, with the exception of a few new bells and whistles here and there, it is eerily similar: though it’s a cheap simplification, you wouldn’t be out of line to suggest this is simply a new map snapped onto an existing engine, a fancy new coat of paint on a (slowly) aging supercar. Ultimately, who cares – those minor quibbles immediately collapse under the sheer tonnage of joy, exhilaration and beauty as you burl through the Mexican countryside at 100 miles an hour. Who cares if it feels familiar: it still feels bloody excellent.
Whether you’re brand new to the series or an old hand, the setup is extremely simple to grasp: a monolithic EDM/ racing hybrid festival has found its way to Mexico, and as the returning Horizon Superstar it’s up to you to race, explore and mildly terrorize the extreme beauties and temperates of Mexico, with crowds of adoring fans happily hand-waving the wonton terror and destruction you bring to their lands. Make no mistake, there will be no cobblestone fences left by the time you’ve worked your way through to being a Hall of Famer.
The tone and tenor of the festival has ever so slightly tilted towards out of the realm of reality, and it feels as though you encounter the artifice of the festival a bit more than in the past. The Horizon series started with its wheels (loosely) planted in the real world and tried to present the festival as though it were legit, but that’s well out the window by now. We’re not exactly in flying cars territory yet, but if the DLC offerings of the past are anything to go by, that’s not a stretch to imagine. Instead, it feels as though Playground at every opportunity took the fun option, not the logical one.
The aim of the game is the same as always: Hundreds of racing events, collectible signs, giant ramps and gorgeous locales are yours to discover and encounter at your own pace, as you criss-cross the simply gorgeous Mexican landscapes. There’s been real care and attention put into the world design: each biome feels distinct and spectacular, creating this cohesive mesh of brilliant exteriors to slam your $450,000 Mercedes through. At the heart of the game lies a simply gigantic list of Accolades for you to accomplish by working through the litany of races and events. Complete enough and you’ll unlock the next chapter in the Horizon Festival.
These should feel familiar as well, as they’re the same style showcase events as in previous iterations – in some cases, they’re just the same event. Typically it’s a race between you and some kind of non-car vehicle, rubber-banded and scripted to make it look like it comes down to inches at the finish line. They’re like eating candy: instant, sugar-rushed punches of joy that disappear from your mind almost as soon as they’re finished.
The truly remarkable chapter breaks come when you set out to expand the Horizon Festival into new biomes. One of the first I played took place in a terrifically powerful tropical storm, and as I rounded a bend and a gigantic mesoamerican pyramid emerged from the landscape I had a full-body goosebumps moment: the hairs on my arms and neck were standing straight up from the majesty of the tableau and the sheer joy I felt. These expansions tip over from simple fun into something deeper, something greater. They are without doubt one of the great triumphs of Forza Horizon 5, and should be experienced as soon as you can.
There’s no getting away from it: strip all the new bells and whistles away, and Forza Horizon 5 is extremely similar to the masterful Horizon 4. And ultimately, that’s all you really need to know: it’s every bit as brilliant as what’s come before. It might not be as unique and special as it’s older sibling, but playing second fiddle to the greatest racing game of all time is no small feat. It’s a no-brainer: get yourself a copy of Game Pass and play this immediately. It’s the best new game on this generation of consoles by a long, long margin, and you can effectively play it for free right now. Run, don’t walk.