The most Forza Horizon game to ever Forza Horizon.
There are serious car games, like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. Games that take themselves so seriously it can be difficult to find the fun in their perfectly tuned cars on their realistic racetracks. They acknowledge that supercars are hard to drive at high speed, but also make it clear that if you can’t pull it off, that’s a “you problem”. After each, hard fought, brief race, the enjoyment is over until you move to the next one.
Then there’s Forza Horizon, which is effectively the Cool Aunt™ of the racing game world: it has pretty similar DNA to the stern and serious racing games you were raised by, but it only wants you to have a good time; laws of physics be damned.
Forza Horizon 5 doubles down on that tradition. The bulk of the single-player experience is extremely similar to the games that have gone before it, particularly Horizon 4. There’s all the same race types, PR stunts, skill scores, and other little things that make a Horizon game a Horizon game. It’s almost impossible to think of anything else they should have added that isn’t there.
What makes Horizon 5 special compared to the previous games is the newly revamped story. Much like in Horizon 3, you’ve come to a new Horizon Festival, this time in Mexico, as a superstar driver, and the organisers are leaning heavily on you to decide how the festival expands. But this story makes both you and the setting more of a character than ever before.
Your character now talks, there are more names to choose from (including Alice, which is rare), pronouns (he/she/they), prosthetic limbs, and other nice touches that include more people. It’s now not just a series of quest-giving characters talking to themselves, but a conversation which allows these characters to sound more human and warmer. As you unlock each new section of the festival and each new story, you’re sent on a journey of discovery around Mexico. Some of it’s ridiculous, like driving a parade float as far as you can off a cliff. But some of it, like exploring the ruins of an ancient Temple to find hidden objects, are beautiful.
The way this year’s story works is you perform tasks to earn Accolade points (similar to the brick challenges in the Horizon 4 Speed Champions expansion). At certain Accolade point thresholds you unlock another chapter of the Horizon Festival, and you can choose the order in which you unlock certain areas. Each new thing you unlock brings more races to that theme (dirt, road, etc) and/or a new challenge like a story, treasure hunt, or ridiculous Showcase. Having the accolade list provides more structure to the single-player game later on if you get sick of just travelling from race to race and like having a to do list.
This structure also makes it possible to finish the main campaign relatively quickly. You can unlock a new chapter every hour, though I preferred to finish the tasks in one chapter before moving to the next, as I found the sheer amount of content each chapter unlocked a little overwhelming.
Throughout all of this Mexico is the star of the show. I hate to admit it, but my knowledge of Mexico largely came from American teen dramas, so it was pretty low down on my places to visit. However, after driving around this virtual version, and hearing the way Rami (your main guide in the game) talks about his homeland, I’ve actually been looking up flights and reading more about this incredible country. Rather than feeling like a caricature of a country, this feels like a real place with history, culture and a deep love of both those things.
Where the gameplay is changed up a bit is in multiplayer. The addition of the new Horizon Arcade gets players to do a variety of small challenges to build towards a group total in exchange for a reward. It’s similar to Forzathon Live in Horizon 4, but as well as including the old (slightly boring) challenges of having to do the same Speed Zone twenty times or doing the same drift zone repeatedly, there are also lots of fun mini challenges that don’t have time to get stale. For example, you’ll be asked to do a series of little things like honking your horn five times, or doing a certain number of big jumps. This is on top of the return of The Eliminator and Super 7. Unfortunately, due to the constraints of playing a pre-release game that doesn’t have the servers turned on yet, I didn’t get to try all the game modes, but the ones I could sample seemed solid.
Another new multiplayer feature is Forza Link, which allows you to link up with nearby players to do things like look for a Barn Find, or compete in a race. There’s been plenty of work that’s gone into making sure online interactions aren’t toxic. I usually avoid multiplayer with strangers due to so many bad experiences in the past, but it’s hard to see how people can be jerks about this. I‘m sure someone will find a way, but for now it appears to be a utopia where people can frolic or play together while only being able to send passive aggressive pre-fab messages, and I think that’s beautiful.
The only area Horizon 5 slightly disappoints me in is that the radio stations still don’t have enough music. Each one only has a couple of hours worth, and by the time I reached level 50 I’d heard everything Pulse, XS, Eterna and Block Party had to offer. I wish there was a way to play my own music, but still have the radio hosts play skill songs and tell me what’s going on in the festival. That said, the music is excellent. There’s a huge mix of UK, US, Mexican and other music on there. I cheered when Industry Baby by Lil Nas X came on, and have already added some of the music to my personal library. There’s great variety, and I love almost all of the presenters this year, particularly the new XS and Eterna hosts.
The other disappointing thing is that the sign language translation that was promised in the preview hasn’t come to the finished product. Hopefully that’s coming later, but it would have been incredible.
Overall, this is a Forza Horizon game in every sense of the word, and shows off the best of what Horizon can be. It’s fun, only structured if you want it to be, and seems to exist purely to make sure you have a good time. What more could you want?
Forza Horizon 5 was reviewed using a promotional code on Xbox Series X, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.
9 November 2021
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