After spending most of the last week playing Forza Horizon 5, I find myself intensely curious about the making of this game. I would watch not just a documentary film, but rather an entire series about how the wizards behind Forza Horizon 5 put it all together. This is a game of dizzying scope, polished to a Hope-diamond sheen, with a highly destructible environment and interactive radio stations that respond to recent events. It’s…a lot. I can’t imagine trying to manage a project of this scope, and when I see something of this magnitude and complexity (the moon landing, the building of the pyramids, etc.), I want to know how they did it.
Hyperbole? Maybe. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't very, very impressed with how this game flows. For example, Forza Horizon 5 hides a bunch of legendary cars around the map in old barns. Periodically, the game pings the player and highlights an area they can go check out in hopes of finding one of these lost classics. The player heads over, drives around, finds the husk of an old car. An in-game character then assumes responsibility for the classic, fixing it up and eventually turning it back over to the player to use in-game. A seemingly simple system, and one that I really enjoyed during my time with Forza Horizon 5.
But how does the game know when to ping me to go look for a car? Is it based on my in-game play time? My progression? If I never find any of the barn-cars, will the game just keep adding more? What happens if I stumble on a barn before the game reveals there’s a car in it? And then there’s the cars themselves. How did the developers model each one of these classic cars? Are those legitimate engine noises? Did they tune the transmission in each car to match its real-world performance? I bet they did. Who did that? How long did it take for each car? Who designed all of these paint jobs? Forza Horizon V players want to know. (Or maybe it’s just me.)
I’m utterly fascinated with this game and how all of its disparate parts fit together into one cohesive whole. My experience with Forza Horizon games is somewhat limited. When I first signed up for PC Game Pass a few months back, I downloaded Forza Horizon 4 to see what all the fuss was about. I was duly impressed, but also overwhelmed by the scope of the game. After about eight hours, I bounced, not because I was uninterested, but because I didn’t have time to fully engage with the game the way I wanted to.
I was very intrigued to jump into Forza Horizon 5, as the trailer for the game was one of the primary reasons I signed up for Game Pass to begin with. Could Forza Horizon 5 really spit out the same photo-realistic graphics that were shown in the trailer in real-time? Could the game deliver over 500 cars, all of which felt unique to drive? Would the Mexico setting be varied and interesting enough to hold my interest? And the answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. The legend is real. The game really is that good.
I normally don’t discuss graphics all that much when reviewing games, because that’s not where my primary interest in a game lies. But Forza Horizon 5 is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played – and I would be hard pressed to find another that comes close. Yes, there are a ton of other games that deliver beautiful experiences, from Ubisoft’s open-world epics to Red Dead’s rambling and gorgeous Old West, and I appreciate them all. But Forza Horizon 5 delivers imagery that – not always, but at times – is indistinguishable from real life. This is the first game I’ve played that made me think “a photo from this game could possibly fool someone.”
It’s not just still images from the game, either, but the little touches in how the world reacts to a lunatic driver blazing through it in an overpowered sports car. Each little scrubby bush on the ground breaks and goes tumbling off. Fences collapse. Guard rails crumple. Cactuses freakin' explode. Houses and larger structures stop you cold. And donkeys run away, no matter how hard you try to pulverize them with a McLaren. It all adds up to a visual feast that never stops – a deep and detailed smorgasbord of graphical delights that only expands the deeper you get into the game.
Forza Horizon’s storied open-world gameplay is present and accounted for here, in all of its go-anywhere and do-anything glory. And everything you do – and I mean everything – advances your status in some way. Whether you are earning money or fame from completing events, or building points towards seasonal prizes, or earning points toward each car’s skill tree by bouncing across endless sand dunes, Horizon 5 finds ways to reward you for the time you spend. Play smaller events to unlock bigger ones. But you don't really need to pay that much attention to the flow of the game. It just sort of happens around you while you are pursuing whatever interests you.
Cars are delivered at a clip so steady that you will likely never have time to try them all out. And it’s not all about the Corvettes and muscle cars. Due to the variances in performance and specialty, you might find yourself favoring some unlikely candidates for various race types. I ran through the entire “Baha” cross-country career with a mid-tier Mitsubishi sedan, and was perfectly happy doing so. My Mitsubishi crushes.
The driving interface is so slick, so intuitive, that it becomes second nature in a matter of seconds. You already know where the gas and the brakes are. The A-button is your e-brake. Is the blue line in front of you some color other than blue? Slow down a little or drift around the corner. There you go. You’ve got it now. Each car is an individual, so you need to learn the sweet spot so you don’t end up accelerating yourself in circles, but experiment a bit and you’ll get it. No problem. And if you mess up, tap the Y-button and rewind back to where you screwed up and fix the situation.
This is a game that says “yes” to everything. Want to customize your cars? Visually, or performance-wise? Want to run around and drive off cliffs? Want to focus on street racing? Cross-country? Want to design your own courses? Want to buy properties all over the map? Want to adjust the tire pressure? Or add a roll bar? Want to sell stuff in the auction house? Want to spend a half hour chasing a donkey with a McLaren?
Forza Horizon 5 shows off Mexico in the best possible light, rearranging my perceptions of my country’s southern neighbor to the point where it seems like the most glorious place on the planet. Sun-dappled valleys, dark, dense forests, gorgeous beaches, exciting volcanoes, quaint little towns painted in a variety of pastel colors, ruins hidden deep within jungles – Mexico as portrayed in Forza Horizon 5 simply seems awesome. Is this version of Mexico idealized? Sure. But does it make for a slam-bang incredible and beautiful setting for a video game? Sure does.
The map is quickly dotted with hundreds of activities, with a density so thick that the player must often zoom in a bit to distinguish between them. Everything you might expect from Forza, from my admittedly limited experience, is represented here, from speed traps and track races to loopy events that have you rocketing parade floats off of cliffs.
But taking part in the numerous events is only half the fun in Forza. There’s a ton of joy to be found simply zipping around the map, kangarooing over hills and drifting through corn fields. I spent several hours just hunting down experience and fast travel boards, which reward you slightly for bashing through them. Weird activity to spend time on, as I will never fast travel anywhere in this game (unless you count chasing around that donkey with the McLaren). People say this all the time, but for the first time ever, this is a true statement for me: I enjoyed just driving around and looking at stuff.
Look, the fact that I’m giving Forza Horizon 5 a score at all is only a technicality, part of the song and dance we journalists and game publishers go through when a game we all know is awesome is released into the wild. Forza Horizon 5 is on Xbox Game Pass, and if you have that subscription, you would be a fool not to download this game. It’s a no-brainer, a shoe-in, a sure thing.
There aren’t many games that I could recommend to every single gamer, regardless of their personal tastes, but this is one of them. It doesn’t matter whether or not you enjoy racing games. Forza Horizon 5 is for people that like fun. If you like fun, I can't think of one reason for you not to play this game. And if you happen to put together a documentary on how they put this beast together, be sure to shoot it my way.
Forza Horizon 5 is built to deliver hour after hour of glossy, beautiful fun. Hit the race mechanics as deeply as you like. Zip around the amazingly beautiful map in a Corvette for no reason at all. Find secrets. Build out your car collection. Get rich. Have a good time the way you want. Go anywhere, do anything, just don’t skip this stellar game.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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