It’s time to don the sombreros and ponchos whilst roving down fields of cacti as the FORZA Horizon franchise touches down in Mexico for the fifth entry in this perennial racing game franchise. Playground Games has thrown everything and the kitchen sink into Horizon’s debut on the Xbox Series X, implementing a slew of enticing single and multiplayer features to enlarge Horizon’s already Richter Scale bursting amount of joyous content. Is more the merrier in Horizon 5 or is it time for this festival to close its doors?
As is tradition in the Horizon series, Horizon 5 drops you into the comfy leather seats of some very fast speed demons as you charge down winding roads until you greet the Horizon festival site. From here you will be introduced to Horizon Adventures-a new progression format where you choose from a quintet of racing disciplines to which you will compete in a host of events dotted across Mexico’s seismic expanse. Once enough races have been bested, you are invited to one of these adventures and then you can tour Mexico with aplomb.
Go discover ancient landmarks and get up and scarily close with nature via Horizon Expeditions. Here you will pair up with your chaperone and venture into Mexico’s gigantic map and settle at hidden wonders like Mayan ruins and up towards a volcano. You will be offered a choice to complete small objectives if you so desire but it’s your choice, but unearthing these wildernesses is incredible-it’s like discovering dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
Participating in Horizon’s titular Showcase Events is a blast that’s a bit too brief. Squaring off against a tenacious parade of competition from acrobatic Jet Ski riders, a supercharging train and a couple of beastly monster trucks makes for ample thrills and will put your driving skills through the ringer. Unfortunately Showcases can generally be too few and far between and the nail-biting climactic close-knit endings to them are unnecessary and can be frustrating.
If you still have an inch of breath left in your lungs, feel free to go all-out breathless as you contend with gigantic marathon-sized endurance races that can take upwards of twenty-minutes to complete. It’s lovely that Horizon 5 embraces the longer endurance races, though they could’ve done with some sprucing up considering the prominence of dangerous weather, but a nice long drive makes you relax and reinforces that there is no rush as you are there to take it all in and breath every racing moment.
Horizon 5 hits the ground running with its itinerary-like Horizon Adventures, offering you plenty of opportunities to bask in its automotive glory, a true evolution of the foundations its predecessors wrought, disposing of the previous wristband progression system in an upgrade that makes Horizon 5 a vibrant vacation of sights, sounds and tourist delights you will revel and sink yourself into snugly. No racing game contains as much glorious excess as Horizon 5 does and how this is presented to players in a way which empowers them with a bountiful and luxurious amount of freedom is truly splendiferous. The ways in which Horizon Adventures shakes up and refreshes the formula does a lot to keep you invested and rewards your efforts handsomely.
Outside of Horizon Adventures you might not be too impressed with what’s on offer as it’s business as usual in terms of the grind of racing in a myriad of events darted across the map in order to level up which can be modified via the returning Horizon blueprints, accrue credits and win new cars, avatar clothing, sound horns and cash prizes courtesy of the frequent wheelspins. On top of this, the usual assortment of collectibles and challenges return without anything particularly new in this regard. These include the regular credit and fast travel boards for you to ram over until they’re left in a crumpled heap, with most being easy to bash down and a few requiring more daredevil antics, insane leaps and otherwise cerebral strategies to successfully claim them. PR stunts return unchanged too including a bevvy of drift, speed camera, stunt jumps and trailblazers to keep you busy, but the stench of familiarity exposes Horizon 5‘s unwillingness to take risks which can at times make you want to pine for something extraordinary and unexpected.
Thankfully Horizon Stories returns and brings some welcome structure and an array of challenges to the fray, somewhat alleviating the sense of sameness Horizon as a series has been cloaking itself unceremoniously with. Here you will get to know a gaggle of Horizon 5’s personalities and undertake a list of challenges gets you behind the wheel of a specific car as you race against the clock to race one of the characters and reach a checkpoint. Sounds boring but the dynamics at play in Horizon Stories as well as the way they are dressed up in all their Mexican-inspired Pinata painted glory makes them a welcome reprieve to the standard open-world activities.
Multiplayer is where Horizon 5 truly shines and showcases the best way to play is with other players. Super 7 is a brand-new multiplayer feature which has you concocting 7 events for others to conquer, where you can utilise the entire map and create unique scenarios and publish them to be tried, tested and bested. Super 7 is a way to get stuck in to new and unpredictable challenges so you’ll never know what’s in store for you and they will never know what’s in store for them.
The Eliminator returns from Horizon 4, putting a racing spin on the hectic Battle Royale concept with up to 72 players duking it out until one sole survivor remains in a free for all for the ages. The stages as the map zone continually closes in around you makes the tension and excitement palpable throughout, but be weary of head-to-head challenges and competing players will force you to race to a specific location and if you lose you are eliminated. You can’t afford to rove in the corner and avoid the action otherwise you will become susceptible to elimination, you really need quick wits and great manoeuvrability to get by unscathed. Horizon Arcade is another huge new multiplayer-centred mode, giving you over a hundred minigames to play with friends or randoms online. The main draw here is collaboration as you and your buddies work together to overcome challenges such as knocking down a set number of piñatas or Mini Missions where you work together in a rapid drill-like Simon Says fashion to accomplish a series of objectives such as jumping over cars, beeping your horn several times over before bashing into a bench. The Horizon Arcade is a wonder new addition that adds to the already stacked multiplayer offerings here.
Event Labs opens up the creative envelope as well, where you can make your own little games and set the rules to make participants play your way. After owning one of the smatterings of Mexico’s pricey properties you can enter an Event Lab and conjure up custom tracks, PR stunts and arcade events. Once again, Horizon 5 empowers and liberates players with fantastic multiplayer editions that give them control and authority whilst expressing the freeform fun Horizon as an offshoot of the FORZA Motorsport series-is all about.
The action on track sports most of the positives and negatives as previous games. While the track action is exciting, the circuits are varied with both circuit-based and wide-open multi-terrain affairs and carving through the vast Mexican desert is a pleasure, the continued onslaught of the series’ penchant for checkpoint-to checkpoint races is starting to become inexcusable. Despite all the variations including Street, Dirt and Drag racing, your primary function is to race your vehicle into checkpoints and if you miss them, you can hit the Y button to rewind time to ensure you undo any mistakes you make. It’s well-weathered design by this point and the Horizon series could do with adjusting guided races so they feel more freeform and untamed. Likewise the sense of danger is quelled, especially when turbulent weather comes into the mix. Dust and rainstorms look fantastic but you won’t be weaving out of the way of fallen obstacles or debris, making treacherous weather appear relegated to showing off the horsepower of the Series X rather than thrilling you in new ways during gameplay.
There’s nothing wrong with inconsequential and accessible racing and Horizon 5 does the latter better than any other racing game, but besides some of the difficult stunts and tricky XP/Fast Travel boards, everything else feels too pushover easy unless you up the difficulty which grants you a credit boost per completion of events. Still, Horizon 5 does a fantastic job of making its Mexican hosting stand apart as a thorough playground full of possibilities to experiment and provide hours of entertainment you can share effortlessly with others.
Once again Forza Horizon sets an unprecedented visual high bar, utilising the flourishing horsepower of the Xbox Series X to bring us the most breath-taking sights and amazing unpredictable weather, from crackling thunder to sparkling sunlight. Dust storms arguably receive the most attention as they obscure the view ahead and fill the landscape in a dense sandy smog. Ruins and natural landscapes look stunning and sometimes you might want to park your car and drink in the sights or take some jaw-dropping photographs of some of the spectacular sights.
The audio is understated but manages to be almost as excellent as the game’s dashing looks. You may not want to start the game up and just gaze at the start menu because the majestic theme music accompanied by a series of idyllic panoramic shots of the natural beauty of Mexico will stun you into a trance. Radio stations live up to the festivities as well spanning the genres from pop to rock to drum and base and everything in between. Horizon Pulse, Horizon XS and the peculiarly named Hospital Records are some of the returning stations from previous outings and Radio Eterna brings classical music with a blend of traditional Mexican spice.
The sound design has received some tender love and care too with over 300 new sound samples added to Horizon 5 using ray-tracing techniques, making vehicles sound as authentic as possible for a truly next-gen audio experience. The same can be said when you interact with the booming Mexican jungle as crashing into trees feels simultaneously mighty and like you’ve stubbed your toe, splashing into rivers and hear the crash of the water on the bodywork is so rejoiceful and so is the landing from a huge leap off a cliffside.
In many ways FORZA Horizon 5 defines everything that is great about the series. From the delightfully meticulous and luxurious setting to the many ways the multiplayer entices you to indulge in four-wheeled frolics, Horizon 5 is exemplary at granting players an enormous world steeped in motorsport excess and is one hell of a Mecca for car enthusiasts. Yet this stunning leopard can’t change its spots, getting larger and larger with each entry but still feeling largely unchanged at its core. Horizon 5 is accessible and constantly rewards the player but doesn’t blaze new trails or do anything unexpected. Perhaps it’s too harsh to say this entry plays its safe, but with a new generation comes heightened expectations and although Horizon 5 passes most of them with flying colours because it surely looks and plays fabulously and keeps you putting the pedal to the metal for hours and hours on end, it’s in need of a grander evolution. All told Horizon 5 is a true showpiece and the best open-world racing game there is, but it could have done with being more audacious.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.