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Forza Horizon 5 review

Forza Horizon 5 is a deep and rewarding racing game

Forza horizon 5 screen shot
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Playground Games)

Our Verdict

Forza Horizon 5 may not reinvent the wheel, but it sure does make balding tires as compelling and satisfying as ever.

For

  • Fantastic visuals on PC and next-gen consoles
  • Loads of content
  • Handling improvements
  • Mexico is a great setting

Against

  • Xbox One version shows its age
  • Challenges get repetitive
  • Familiar car collection

Tom's Guide Verdict

Forza Horizon 5 may not reinvent the wheel, but it sure does make balding tires as compelling and satisfying as ever.

Pros

  • + Fantastic visuals on PC and next-gen consoles
  • + Loads of content
  • + Handling improvements
  • + Mexico is a great setting

Cons

  • - Xbox One version shows its age
  • - Challenges get repetitive
  • - Familiar car collection
Forza Horizon 5: Specs

Platform: Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, PC
Price: $60
Release Date: November 5 (Premium Edition), November 9 (all other versions)
Genre: Racing

Forza Horizon 5 takes the series to Mexico to wow us with the series' biggest map yet. Expect to see migrating butterflies, an active volcano, donkeys and 526 cars at launch.

Creating something more compelling than Forza Horizon 4 was not an easy task. For its flaws, Forza Horizon 4 was a game that you could sink entire years of your life into, especially as developer Playground Games kept throwing new DLC packs, cars and challenges our way.

Even so, Forza Horizon 5 arguably surpasses its predecessor. That's impressive, when you consider that the game also had to factor in next-gen console compatibility and a global pandemic. Read on for our full Forza Horizon 5 review.

Forza Horizon 5 review: Gameplay

Forza Horizon 5 is an open-world racing game, in which you explore the Mexican landscape, completing races and other challenges as you go.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Before launch, the game's developers talked about shaping Forza Horizon 5 as you see fit. The main Horizon Adventure mode gives you points, which you can use to unlock the following areas: Mainstage, road racing, dirt racing, cross-country, PR stunts and street scene.

One of these modes, for example, casts you as a stunt driver for a movie; another is all about Baja rally-esque racing.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

While most races follow the same "go here within this time limit" or "score this many points" formulas, others also involve exploration. Take, for instance, the Mayan temple of Ek Balam, which challenges you to photograph statues and reach the top of the central ruin.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that these main events are tons of fun. You may wish there were more of them. But for every epic challenge, there's another one that ends too soon. You can do many of them in under two minutes, thanks to shortcuts.

That marvelous Mexico map really does make you want to learn more about the country's culture and history, but the really cool missions are few and far between. Yes, it is cool to race through a film set as a stunt driver, or go up against other street racers dressed as Mexican wrestlers. But these challenges can also feel like just a few extra props chucked on top of an ordinary race. The moments when Forza Horizon 5 really utilizes the landscape and location in unique ways are more limited than I would have liked.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Accolades are a new feature in Forza Horizon 5. These are basically mini-tasks that reward you with experience points, customization items and cars. Basically, any task you can think of probably has a reward associated with it.

Want to photograph cars? You'll get accolades. Will you enter into the Hall of Fame? You get accolades for that, too. Do you have legendary tuning or liveries? Forza Horizon 5 has you covered. In fact, with 1,876 accolades available, it's almost harder to not earn rewards.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

There are also the Forzathon challenges, which involve jumping certain distances, completing tournaments against "unbeatable" AI drivers (the toughest difficulty level) and more. Each one rewards you with Forzathon points that you can spend in the Forzathon shop. Just finishing these tasks in exchange for rare vehicles can take up a lot of time. Earning the highest ratings on all drift zones, speed cameras, danger zone jumps, road races, cross-country races, rallies, drag strips and more will keep you busy.

Forza Horizon 5 review: Multiplayer

A large part of the Forza Horizon 5 experience involves other players. You can, for instance, join a convoy to increase the amount of experience points you earn, or join a club to compare your skills with other players. Forza Horizon Open, meanwhile, lets you compete in various races against players around the world, and Rivals challenges you to beat particular players.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Gifting is another new Forza Horizon 5 feature. You can hide cars inside barns for other players to discover. Depending on your preferences, you can let anyone discover your barn find gift, or select certain categories, such as new players, returning players or community contributors.

If someone finds your car, you get a kudos point — which appears to do nothing, except tell other players that you are generous. You can also send a predetermined message to the recipient and receive one back, which is neat. Sadly, you cannot leave a voice or written message.

As for the creative side of Forza Horizon 5, you can take and share photos, car liveries (paintjobs and decals) and car tunes. The My Creative Hub area shows you how well you are doing, just like in Forza Horizon 4.

Also back is Super7, which lets you take on seven unusual challenges. One involved a desert race where any damage to the buggy resulted in a failed mission. This was difficult in a level surrounded by huge sand dunes. But my favorite Super7 mission involved doing a barrel roll in 30 seconds.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Complete all seven challenges, and the game will reward you handsomely. (I got a Dodge Viper ACR.) You can also create your own Super7 challenges, which can involve anything from speed cameras, to skill score totals, to danger sign jump distances, to skill mastery, to damage control.

Forza Horizon 5 also introduces the Events Lab. These are player-made events, which range from traditional races to smashing pinatas. You can browse various categories, including developer favorites, trending today, best of the month and all-time greats.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

What makes Event Lab interesting is that you can use three overall command types: trigger, condition and action. You choose a trigger event, the condition under which it occurs and the action that happens as a result.

Players should be able to get creative. Sadly, with a limited pool of online players before the game came out, I was unable to see the feature in full swing. I will say that it takes some brainpower to fathom each trigger, condition and action, though.

Forza Horizon 5 review: Car selection

Some players have complained that the 526 cars in Forza Horizon 5's roster are not enough. The list is relatively small in terms of new machinery. Some models have vanished, such as Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Fiat, for example.

Many newer car models are noticeably absent, despite receiving upgrades within the game's development window. After playing Forza Horizon 4 for three years, many of us know the collection well.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Still, it is nice that you can at least engage a convertible roof in some cars and, in the case of the Mercedes-AMG One, use race mode and enjoy more downforce at the expense of straight-line speed. Talk about realism.

Before you complain, remember that Forza Horizon 4 received many cars after launch. There were updates well into the game's third year. Forza Horizon 5 already has two unknown DLCs in the main menu and there could be a whole lot more.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

It is nice to see variety in the Forza Horizon cars, such as the X5 M Forza Edition. And cruising around in a souped-up DeLorean, a much requested car, proved amusing.

Forza Horizon 5 review: Tuning, upgrades and handling

When it comes to tuning and upgrades, Forza Horizon 5 adds new features, such as rally differentials and semi-slick tires. All relevant upgrades have an effect on engine noise. Press the accelerator button, and you can test the noise mid-shop. But the game has also removed some bodykits.

Meanwhile the tuning menu – which features the same tires, gearing, alignment, antiroll bars, springs, damping, aero, brake and differential as in Forza Horizon 4 – remains largely similar.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Over time, we will see how much of a bearing these new upgrades have, and whether questions such as "roll cage or no roll cage" have the same answers as they did in Forza Horizon 4.

Meanwhile, AI racer opponents at the "unbeatable" difficulty are seemingly bestowed with extra grip in corners, and can avoid slowing down while jumping into water. But rubber-banding seems like less of an issue – although that could be due to course designs.

Handling is at the crux of the game. The aforementioned tweaks to the suspension, tires and other areas make for a more pleasing ride overall.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Compared to Forza Horizon 4, cars have a heavier, more natural feel to them, which gives each car more pronounced handling characteristics. This isn't to say that Forza Horizon 5 represents a dramatic change from its predecessor. The gameplay is arcade-racer first and simulator-racer second, which is how it should be. But a step towards the latter has improved the overall immersion.

Forza Horizon 5 review: Visuals and sound

On an Xbox Series X or a high-end PC, Forza Horizon 5 makes Mexico look stunning. The graphics look photorealistic in places, thanks to photogrammetry. Cruising along a sandy shoreline while the sun goes down is as pretty as gaming gets.

While I have a soft spot for Forza Horizon 4's UK map, Mexico is arguably more beautiful. Dense jungle, postcard-perfect beaches, enticingly blue seas, Mayan structures, flowery fields – you'll want to make liberal use of the Photo Mode.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

You can choose between Performance and Quality graphics settings, both of which are 4K. The former is limited to 30 frames per second, and looks a tad prettier. The 60 fps Performance mode is superior for most racing games, though, including this one.

Except for some slightly noticeable pop-in, the game feels smooth and consistent. Thanks to the SSD in the Xbox Series X, it loads quickly as well.

The Xbox One version of the game doesn't fare as well. My launch model Xbox One struggled to load some areas, resulting in my hyper-Vocho (VW Beetle) floating in the air while the map around me unloaded. As it turns out, blitzing down the side of a volcano has its drawbacks.

With lower resolutions and with less scenery on the Xbox One, Mexico looks much less enticing. The generational difference between 2013 hardware and the more recent Xbox Series X console or Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU is staggering. Going back to 30 fps is also tough once you have tried something faster.

Forza horizon 5 screen shot

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Car engines also sound better than in Forza Horizon 4. Ray-tracing audio (which is admittedly a silly name) adds detail, and makes it easier to hear if someone is creeping up behind you. The developers also re-recorded many engine noises, and they change sound in tunnels, which is nice.

Admittedly, some cars still sound a bit electronic, and some engines are attached to the wrong car. But overall, Forza Horizon 5 gets its sound design right.

Forza Horizon 5 review: Verdict

Forza Horizon 5 is absolutely worth buying. More variety in the challenges would have been great, but for those who enjoy driving from point A to point B, the game is a blast. The new map, handling adjustments and visual improvements go a long way in helping keep the Forza formula fresh.

Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, then, is the best way to describe Forza Horizon 5. But that is not a bad thing, because I adored Forza Horizon 4. The same addictive racing gameplay feels even more refined than ever, and with fewer drawbacks. Forza Horizon 5 is one of the best games for anyone who likes cars and driving.