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Forza Horizon 5 Xbox Series X review: A refined open-world racing experience

It's been a few years since we've received another entry in the Forza Horizon or Forza Motorsport franchises. The last game, Forza Horizon 4, came out in 2018 and allowed players to explore the United Kingdom. The title featured a number of improvements like changing seasons and more environmental variety, and all of those features make their way into 2021's Forza Horizon 5.

The latest game builds upon the successful foundation of its predecessors, while giving us a deeper look into Mexican culture, the varying biomes the country has to offer, as well as substantial graphical enhancements. However, does Forza Horizon 5 differentiate itself enough from past games? Read on to find out.


If you've ever owned an Xbox 360, Xbox One, or Xbox Series X|S — or played one of the games on PC — you're probably familiar with the Forza Horizon formula. However, if you aren't, what you need to know is that Forza Horizon 5 is an open-world racing game that takes place in Mexico. You can drive anywhere — from active volcanoes to dense jungles — as you participate in various races and other events in different biomes.

While you can take any car on your cross-country road trip, another major feature of the game is to build a car collection. There are over 500 vehicles to collect, but you should have a couple of go-to machines. For example, using an Aston Martin DB11 in a muddy riverbed probably isn't a good idea. You should use a Ford Bronco or another all-wheel-drive vehicle for that. Choosing the right car for the right environment, or race, plays an important role in Forza Horizon 5. Driving in the rain is quite a slippery affair compared to a sunny day. You should be prepared to factor in weather conditions.

The game gives you a number of ways to earn cars including buying them with Credits, unlocking them through Wheel Spins — essentially like Wheel of Fortune, but you either win vehicles or Credits, or find them in Barns.

As you drive around Mexico — and level up — you gain access to new races, objective-based missions, and Showcase events. The races vary from drives across the map to laps around a circuit. They're pretty standard. The objective-based missions feel a little unrealistic, but they offer a somewhat compelling reason to, let's say, explore an active volcano because you're measuring seismic activity or retrieve one of the organizer's belongings in an abandoned airfield. It seems to me that a trained professional should be setting up devices near a volcano. Additionally, why are the organizer's belongings scattered across an abandoned airfield with a downed plane? Is this some Fast & Furious-like situation?

Lastly, Showcase events are by far the most spectacular because they're essentially Top Gear-like set pieces. You race against planes to the finish line and do so much more. Showcase events are rare because they're essentially bombastic races, that are given as rewards, for taking part in a substantial number of events in a particular biome.


This is a screenshot of Forza Horizon 5 on Xbox Series X

There are a number of other mechanics in Forza Horizon 5 like buying Houses that serve as start points, constructing Outposts that increase the scope of the Horizon Festival — the fictional car event at the heart of every Forza Horizon game — or finding collectibles that can unlock Fast Travel points or grant XP. However, my favorite has to be the Barn Finds.

Barn Finds in Forza Horizon 5 tell personal stories that highlight Mexican culture. For example, early on in the game, you're tasked with retrieving a Volkswagen Bettle that belonged to one of the organizer's grandfathers. During the short road trip where you're exploring the highlighted area, you're introduced to a number of interesting aspects about family life in the country. This personal touch is what sets the game apart from its predecessors in my opinion. Hopefully, Playground Games will expand upon this in subsequent entries in the franchise.

Forza Horizon 5's map is 1.5 times larger than Forza Horizon 4, but that's not the major difference in my opinion. The striking contrast across various regions is what separates this game from even Forza Horizon 3 which featured a number of different areas of Australia. Of course, there are cities and deserts, but we also get to explore ancient Mayan ruins and gorgeous beaches. The diversity showcased across this snapshot of Mexico is truly breathtaking because each section feels very distinctive.

How Forza Horizon 5 opens up is also up to you. At this point, you're a Horizon Festival professional and you decide where you want to go next. This game gives you the choice to customize your experience. For example, let's say you want to go see ruins instead of an active volcano. You can do that. If you want, you can even unlock more events in the region you're currently exploring. Forza Horizon 5 lets you play the way you want and this adds to that sense of freedom. Not only can you drive anywhere — if you have the right vehicle — you can mold the game to your liking.

Graphics and performance

This is a screenshot of Forza Horizon 5 on Xbox Series X

Forza Horizon 5 looks absolutely stunning on Xbox Series X, especially when it's raining and your car gets progressively dirtier. The game features two modes — Performance and Quality — but surprisingly, both of them target 4K resolution on Microsoft's latest console. Loading times only last a second or two. During my analysis, I saw that Quality mode locked the frame rate to 30 frames per second (FPS), but provided better lighting and draw distances than the Performance option.

As expected, Performance mode increases the frame rate to 60 FPS, but there's a noticeable drop in image quality because lighting, draw distances, and even some textures receive a downgrade. However, input lag is greatly reduced at 60 FPS so Forza Horizon 5 feels much smoother. If you're a competitive player, you should probably stick to this mode because split-second decisions are key to winning multiplayer races against others.

During my 38 hours with the title, I didn't encounter any noticeable FPS drops or bugs in Quality mode, but detected some minor slowdowns during Performance mode at the start of contained multiplayer races. Keep in mind that you'll have to restart Forza Horizon 5 in order to switch between Quality and Performance. Below, you'll find a table of how the game runs across various devices.

This is a table of how Forza Horizon 5 runs on various platforms

Forza Horizon 5 is an arcade racing game and I played it on the Quality setting most of the time. Even at 30 FPS, it's a very responsive title that stands out on a 4K display. I'm a stickler for the highest resolution and graphical settings so that's how I chose to experience Forza Horizon 5. However, it's up to you to decide what you want to prioritize.

Unfortunately, ray tracing isn't utilized when rendering the vast open world of Forza Horizon 5. Nevertheless, you get a taste of it in Forzavista. Forzavista is essentially where you can examine each vehicle and look at it in greater detail. Think of it as a garage and photo studio in one. Needless to say, the lighting and reflections are incredible, and I wish ray tracing had made its way into the actual game in some capacity.

It's unclear why ray tracing is completely absent during actual racing. Adding limited ray tracing to some areas, similar to Resident Evil Village, or low-resolution ray tracing to the entire open world like Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PlayStation 5 would've been a truly next-generation leap for the visuals.

Forza Horizon 5 is a compelling and engaging experience — and makes major strides in terms of graphics and capturing the essence of a location — but so was Forza Horizon 4. In my opinion, the game needs to do more when it comes to highlighting a country's culture. Even though it's not a next-generation leap in the strictest sense, it's the direction the franchise should adopt going forward.


This is a screenshot of Forza Horizon 5 on Xbox Series X

Forza Horizon 5 features a number of robust multiplayer modes that are part of the base game. You race against other players or participate in cooperative challenges. Horizon Arcade allows you to take part in various mini-games such as smashing objects or jumping over cars, while Horizon Open lets you band together for a low-stakes competitive experience such as seeing who can drift the longest.

On the other hand, Horizon Tour allows you to team up with other players to race against Drivatars, computer-controlled cars that learn the behavior of other players. My favorite mode is probably in Horizon Open and is called The Eliminator because it's a battle royale experience. Returning from Forza Horizon 4, once again you continuously race against another player in an ever-shrinking arena until one champion remains.

Forza Horizon 5 also features a new EventLab level creator, allowing players to build their own races and change fundamental rules for each creation. For example, you can make a circuit race with various objects that's cooperative instead of competitive. One team member's win is a win for the whole team. This encourages working together, strategizing, and talking to one another instead of simply going at it alone.

While the multiplayer modes are fun, I prefer playing in single-player — called Horizon Solo in Forza Horizon 5 — because it's all about going at your own pace. You don't have to wait for a Party Leader to initiate an event and there's no added pressure if you don't do well in a multiplayer race. I'm the type of player who loves to go through a forest, earning an Ultimate Wreckage accolade for destroying objects, instead of sticking to the road. Luckily, the game allows for both playstyles.


This is a screenshot of Forza Horizon 5 on Xbox Series X

Selecting EventLab is quite simple. Just go to any existing event in Forza Horizon 5, and press the X button. Then, if you press the Left Bumper, you'll be taken to the EventLabs menu where you can browse existing creations from the community or make your own. There are a lot of incredibly complex levels out there already, and if you play them your car's going to be bouncing around jump pads and going down narrow roads. It reminded me a lot of the difficulty in Super Mario Maker 2.

If you chose to make your own race or obstacle course, you'll first select the type of cars you want to use and the type of track. You can go with anything, from muscle cars to vintage vehicles. Next comes naming the creation, adding a description, choosing weather conditions, and much more. There are a lot of options to play with because you can even modify the music in the game. Luckily, there are helpful tutorials that go through each configuration in great detail.

Once that's done, go to the Modify Track option and start building whatever you want. There are dozens of items to choose from, from ramps to roller coaster-like windy tracks. It's exactly like Halo's Forge mode where you control the camera and place objects wherever in the vast open world. I'd recommend using Precision Mode for perfect alignment between panels. I spent a few hours making a tall tower that featured a bowling alley at the end. I can't wait for my friends to experience it once the game launches.

EventLab is one of the most significant additions to Forza Horizon 5 in my opinion, and for those who love experimenting with Halo Forge or Minecraft's Creative mode, you'll have an absolute blast. You can create anything you want, from drivable spiral tracks to jumping puzzles. Right now, there are only a few user-created levels in EventLab so discoverability isn't an issue. Hopefully, as the collection grows, Playground Games will introduce new ways to find EventLab levels. This should also dramatically enhance the longevity of the title.


This is a screenshot of Forza Horizon 5 on Xbox Series X

No racing game is complete without deep customization and Forza Horizon 5 lets you modify everything from your car, car horn, clothing, and character. When you first boot up the title, you're allowed to make your own driver. There are more options here than Forza Horizon 4, but obviously it's not on the level of a role-playing game. The character creator lets you choose one from a number of different backgrounds, equip prostheses, and select pronouns, even though they're a little limited.

The best part is that when you enter your name, the game contains a preexisting list of recordings so it's said a number of times during Forza Horizon 5's events. For example, since my name is Asher, the game recognized this and automatically selected it. However, you can change it to whatever you want because there are dozens of available options.

On the other hand, car customization and upgrades focus on changing the overall look of a vehicle, swapping out the engine or suspension for a different driving experience, or making a custom livery that showcases your style. I'm a fan of flashy rims so I spent a lot of time tweaking those. However, seasoned players will probably tinker with engines and handling to construct the machine of their dreams. I didn't toy with this much in Forza Horizon 5 because I almost always ended up with unwieldy creations.

Each car in Forza Horizon 5 also feels distinctive. For example, driving a Toyota Supra is easier than a Ferrari Portofino. Usually when it comes to open-world racing games with countless vehicles, like Burnout Paradise Remastered or The Crew, they tend to feel quite similar if you've tried enough. That's not the case here. While I've yet to collect many more cars, the hundred or so that are in my garage each have their own quirks. Learning when to accelerate, when to brake, and what terrain each vehicle works best on is a worthy pursuit. As you use each vehicle more and more, you level it up and this accelerates the rate at which you earn XP from participating in various activities like drifting or races.

Unlike the Forza Motorsport games, Forza Horizon 5 forgoes strict realism because its main focus is on exploration and free traversal. Controlling vehicles is very easy, and incredibly precise in Performance mode due to 60 FPS rendering, but there are also a number of assists — like automatic braking — you can employ to make your experience manageable during races.

If Forza Horizon 5 proves too unwieldy, or you're losing a lot of races during Horizon Solo, you can always adjust a number of parameters like Drivatar difficulty to suit your playstyle. Accessibility is a hallmark of the experience, just like its predecessors. The handy Y-button-rewind functionality also makes a return in single player so you can undo serious mistakes.


This is a screenshot of Forza Horizon 5 on Xbox Series X

As expected, Forza Horizon 5 features incredible music. All of this is controlled through the use of an in-game radio. There are a number of stations to choose from that play a wide variety of tunes. Let's say you want to listen to pop instead of classical. You can do that whenever the mood arises. My favorite station has to be Radio Eterna, though Block Party is also a lot of fun.

The game's soundtrack features dozens of songs, but some of my favorites are listed below. Be sure to check them out when you're driving through Mexico.

  • El Punto Final by Centavrvs
  • Cool Up by De Lux
  • Levitating by Dua Lipa
  • The Valley Of The Pagans by Gorillaz
  • Full Heart Fancy by Lucky Chops
  • New Heartbreak by Sad Alex
  • Preach by Saint Motel
  • Fiebre by Sotomayor

You'll recognize some very famous artists, like Dua Lipa, in there. Just remember to turn on Streamer Mode in settings to avoid any copyright issues when posting videos or streaming the game. You can also turn off the music altogether if you only want to hear the powerful exhaust notes many vehicles make.


This is a screenshot of Forza Horizon 5 on Xbox Series X

At the end of the day, Forza Horizon 5 is about enjoying the open road and having the freedom to go wherever you want. Playgrounds Games is a master of the genre at this point and the latest entry in the acclaimed franchise is one of the best racing games out there. It just feels more iterative than revolutionary.

Nevertheless, Forza Horizon 5 is a blast to experience due to its many objective-based missions, spectacular wet weather, diverse environments, and ability to present Mexican culture in a personal manner. Even though it's similar to Forza Horizon 4, the game is a must-play because it represents the absolute pinnacle of the open-world racing genre.

You can purchase Forza Horizon 5 from the Microsoft Store for $59.99. The game will launch on November 9, 2021 for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Those who pre-order the Premium Edition can play it on November 5. Forza Horizon 5 will be available on Xbox Game Pass at launch and supports Xbox Cloud Gaming and Xbox Play Anywhere.

Microsoft provided a review code for Forza Horizon 5. The game was tested on an Xbox Series X console.

Forza Horizon 5
• Massive car roster • Breathtaking visuals • Inclusivity • Dives into Mexican culture • EventLab
• More of the same • Ray tracing only in Forzavista
November 9, 2021


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