When you're asked if you've ever seen an active volcano up close in Forza Horizon 5, you just know you're in for a driving experience unlike any other. Following directions to cut across the Mexican countryside to reach the peak of the mountain, the controller vibrates and rumbles from volcanic tremors that shake the ground. A helicopter flies overhead as you speed along a winding dirt road to reach the crater of the volcano, where you'll be met with a river of molten lava.
Release Date: November 5 (early access) / November 9
Platform(s): Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Playground Games
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
After smashing steam vents, driving through water, and completing other optional objectives as part of an expedition at the top of the La Gran Caldera, you'll be careening right back down the mountainside in an off-road buggy. The expansive landscapes of Mexico unfold in impressive detail as you soar off the edge of a steep incline and land directly into a race at a new festival outpost. The entire drive is an exhilarating spectacle from start to finish, and it's just one example of the many thrilling high-speed adventures you'll be going on in Playground Games' most exciting and beautifully crafted Forza Horizon entry yet.
Hall of famer
Forza Horizon 5 already has a tough act to follow with its polished predecessor set in Great Britain, but there's so much on offer in Playground Games' take on Mexico. As the biggest and most expansive map in the series so far, you really are spoilt for choice when it comes to what you want to spend your time doing. There are also some fantastic new additions that really bring renewed life to the experience and strengthen what already makes the series so great. With the arrival of the Horizon festival in this new Mexican setting, your core Horizon adventure revolves around setting up various outposts throughout the different regions, and unlocking events by earning accolade points. Not unlike the way you gain influence in Forza Horizon 4, points can be earned by completing set accolade objectives that are tied to the various stories, races, playlists, seasonal challenges, multiplayer games, and activities you can take part in.
Each outpost you establish will unlock a specific racing style or activity, with all of the familiar series staples such as Road Racing, Cross-Country, Dirt Racing, and Street Racing, and PR Stunts like Danger Signs, Speed Traps, Drifts Zones, and Trailblazer courses. The end goal objective of the adventure is to get yourself into Mexico's Hall of Fame by accumulating enough accolade points and completing all of the major events. While I'm already initially driven by my desire to unlock everything the world has to offer and become a hall of famer, the accolade system delivers a satisfying sense of progression and accomplishment. The many objectives and challenges to achieve also gives you additional incentive to keep taking to the roads after you've opened all of the outposts and major events.
In order to establish an outpost in the first place, though, you need to complete one of the new expeditions in Forza Horizon 5. Just like the volcanic adventure that took me to a lava-filled crater at the mountain's peak, each and every expedition takes you on a different memorable miniature adventure that showcases the regions of Mexico. Taking place in areas where some of the major landmarks and visually impressive landscapes can be found, you'll be met with some unique optional objectives - like setting up an earthquake thermometer or finding a flight suit by smashing into a treasure chest - to complete before you finish off the adventure with a final drive. Some of the expeditions were so downright fun, I couldn't resist hitting restart just to experience them all over again.
Not unlike Forza Horizon 4, the latest adventure also features a wealth of different Stories, which consist of multiple chapters. There's plenty of excitement and variety to be found, with stories that bring you closer to certain aspects of Mexican culture and the game's regions. Vocho, for example, follows the story of Alejandra who needs your help finding an old car that's beloved in Mexico. The stories are a great break away from the standard races that take you through some engaging and colorful challenges.
Stepping it up a gear
One of the aspects I've always loved about the Forza series is the ability to customize your driver character, but in previous iterations, it has been somewhat limiting. While you still select from preset characters this time around, there are far more presets to choose from, and you now have the option to change up their hairstyle and hair color. Along with some fantastic inclusive options like the choice of pronouns and prosthetic limbs, you can also once again change up your style with a collection of new outfits. It's always great to see more customization options, and Forza Horizon 5 has it across the board with fantastic new additions that allow you to really personalize your experience.
Throughout all of the stories, races, expeditions, and every else in between, I'm consistently impressed with just how smooth and responsive all of the controls are. With a wealth of settings and accessibility options to fine-tune your experience and make it suit your requirements or preferred style of play, Playground Games really puts you in the driver's seat in more ways than one. I also can't overstate how good it feels to drive. With a huge library of cars to collect and earn - through wheelspins, accolades, races, and more - you can feel the difference between each set of wheels you get behind and it's just such a joy to drive around Mexico to the tunes of your favorite radio station as you head to different events. To top it all off, a slight update to livery customization makes it even easier to add decals and, and with the return of tuning, you can once again make the car of your dreams.
It really is incredible to see first-hand just how stunning the graphics are in Forza Horizon 5, too. I can't stop marveling at the way light bounces off the bonnet of a car I'm driving, or how I can see the world reflected in the back window as I speed down the colorful streets of Mexico. Every time I get to a high point in the world, I also have to stop and appreciate the gorgeous vistas. From the way the sand glitters in the desertland to the shimmering waters of the ocean beaches and the hyper-realistic look of the cars in Forza Vista, you can really see how the latest entry in the series is making the most of the Xbox's hardware.
The gift of giving
With these beautifully realized graphics, you can really appreciate the colorful creativity of the custom experiences you and other players can make using the new EventLabs toolset. With a blueprint library full of different props, ramps, platforms, flags, and festival decorations, you can let your creativity run free and make your own unique races, challenges, and unique modes with a ruleset tool to publish and share. One EventLab blueprint event I try out by another player sees me go through a track that brilliantly pays homage to Jurassic Park, where you need to hit a series of boxes behind the wheel of a Jeep. The tools are very easy to use, and it'll be exciting to see just what else the community can come up with in the future.
New social features introduced in Forza Horizon 5 also encourage such a lovely community spirit and a friendly atmosphere from the get-go. Gift drops, for example, is a feature that allows you to send cars to other players, with options on who you want to send it to and whether you want to send it anonymously or show your Gamertag or name. At the first opportunity, I send a rare vehicle to welcome in a new player with the preset message: "Welcome to Horizon! I hope you enjoy your adventures!".
The next time I jump in, I get a reply thanking me for the gift, and it's not long before I receive a new car of my own from another generous player. Your kindness is rewarded in Kudos, which is a way of recognizing when you've done something that another player appreciated. Kudos is shown in your My Horizon menu, so you can always be reminded of your good deeds. Other online features that also encourage a sense of community include the Forza Link which allows you to ask nearby players if they know the location of a barn you're trying to hunt down. Gift drops are such a great way to brighten someone's day with a shiny new car, and I can already see how Forza Link will bring players together and encourage teamwork.
The expansive new setting of Mexico really does have so much to offer, and longtime players and newcomers alike are sure to have a blast discovering everything you can get stuck into. I've lost count of the number of races I sped my way through that I immediately wanted to experience all over again. As another fantastic entry in what is already a very strong series, Playground Games delivers impeccably detailed graphics, stellar audio design, and smooth controls that all work together to make Forza Horizon 5 an utter joy to play. I'm already itching to get right back into the driver's seat.
Forza Horizon 5 was reviewed on Xbox Series S with a code provided by the publisher.