Forza Horizon 5 gameplay from E3 2021 is one of the most impressive Xbox Series X showcases so far

Forza Horizon 5
(Image credit: Playground Games)

Forza Horizon 5 is a truly beautiful game. Revealed during the Xbox E3 2021 showcase, the next installment in Playground Games racing series is really revving things up in more ways than one, from impressive, photo-realistic graphics, an incredibly detailed recreation of Mexico, and a big sprawling map to explore. With a host of new features and an all-new setting, the studio is clearly making the most of the Xbox Series X hardware. Forza Horizon 4 was a stunner – even without the update that arrived alongside the new consoles last November – as it offered up a realistic take on the English countryside, but our upcoming drive through Mexico really is going up an extra gear in what creative director Mike Brown calls "the largest and most diverse open-world ever in a Forza Horizon game." 

With beautiful vistas that show off the impressive god rays created by Playground's new volumetric lighting system in Forza Horizon 5, the Xbox Series consoles have also allowed the team to capture every last detail, right down to the needles on a cactus. "The Horizon series is known for its uplifting beauty, and using our unique HDR camera rig, we captured 24-hour shoots of real Mexican skies at 12K resolution," Brown said during the gameplay showcase. "And thanks to the Xbox Series consoles, these photo-realistic skies result in life-like lighting that dynamically changes every frame, making you feel like you're really there." 

Scenic views  

With cities, seaside towns, and jungles to drift past in your car of choice, one of the most impressive locations is the Gran Caldera, an active Mexican volcano where you can see quite the view. The team implemented the detailed geology of the landscape by using photogrammetry data captured on location. "The entire world has been recreated at this level of detail," says Brown. "The volcano is the highest point ever in an Horizon game. And thanks to the power of the Xbox Series consoles, from up here we can see for miles in every direction." 

As you probably saw in the Forza Horizon 5 gameplay reveal, the detailed landscapes seem to stretch on and on, although the studio wants this world to be more than surface deep. Playground is aiming to be as authentic as possible in bringing the roads and locations of Mexico to life. "This is a recreation of Mexico that is honest, authentic, and filled with love," Brown explains as the cars veer through the small side roads of the town, before coming to a colorful mural. "This is a mural by Mexican artist Farid Rueda, just one of the many beautiful, faithful pieces of Mexico you'll find all over Forza Horizon 5." 

Of course, the cars themselves will also enjoy the benefits of the latest Xbox hardware. With ray tracing in Forza Vista, it'll no doubt be all too easy to spend too much time admiring the design and decal details of your favorite set of wheels. Not only that, but throughout the gameplay, we can see how the light reflects off of the finish on the car hoods and the way the light rays bounce off the car windows, just as they would in reality. 

Driving together  

Forza Horizon 5

(Image credit: Playground Games)

"It will truly be an astounding showcase for the Xbox Series consoles."

Mike Brown, creative director

For all of its beautiful graphics and details, Forza Horizon 5 is also set to deliver some exciting new features to go with the upgraded look. Playground highlights the importance of the multiplayer experience in the world of Forza with the introduction of the next-generation of Horizon live service. Brown gave an overview of the Forza Link, which features a new AI system. The AI can track the status of you and the other people you meet with online, to help you easily link up with other drivers and play together. 

Using this feature, you'll be able to jump into some of the long-standing modes we've seen in previous Horizon games, such as the Battle Royale experience known as the Eliminator that was first introduced in Forza Horizon 4. There will also be some new additions, such as the Piñata Pop mode that was shown during the gameplay demo – drivers have to hit a series of piñatas dotted around the race track and try to get as many as they can. As well as plenty of races and modes, there's also a new "adventurous story campaign", where you can explore and unlock new areas to grow the Horizon festival. With a creator community in Forza Horizon, the introduction of the new EventLab feature also looks set to feed your creativity. The new toolset lets you create your own races, game modes, and gameplay experiences, and customize every aspect, including the "fundamentals rules" of the experiences you create. 

From a big, sprawling open-world brought to life in impressive detail, and all manner of exciting new features with more customization options, Forza Horizon 5 looks set to deliver a true next-gen racing experience from Playground that will prove just what the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S are capable of. "Forza Horizon 5 is the largest, most fun, and most beautiful open-world we've ever built," Brown says, "and it will truly be an astounding showcase for the Xbox Series consoles when it comes to Xbox Game Pass this November 9." 

Forza Horizon 5 gameplay breakdown: 7 most exciting changes coming to the racing adventure.

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.