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Forza Horizon 5 preview: Prettier and more realistic than ever

A screenshot from Forza Horizon 5 showing a Ford Mustang on a hill above Mayan ruins in Mexico
(Image credit: Playground Games)

Forza Horizon 5 might be one of the biggest games on the planet, especially where Xbox is concerned, and it's certainly one of the most eagerly anticipated.

The latest installment in the long-running series arrives next month, and there's plenty of reason to be excited about it. For starters, this will be the largest Forza ever in terms of world size, and it'll also offer up a dizzying array of cars, both old and new, to throw across the varied Mexican landscape. 

I was fortunate enough to play around 60 to 90 minutes of content ahead of its launch, although I enjoyed it so much that I ended up spending 10 hours in it, earning a million credits and acquiring 12 cars as I did so. 

Here's what I thought of it, and what you should expect from the new game.

Forza Horizon 5: Road to glory?

A screenshot from Forza Horizon 5 showing a Mosler MT900S beneath a sign that says "Mexico"

(Image credit: Playground Games)

If there's one thing you should know about Forza Horizon 5, it's that the wheel has not been reinvented. As with previous entries in the series, it's all about driving the vehicles we love (or hate) in picturesque locations. 

You can go round the map completing events as you please, only this time, England's drizzle and rolling fields have been replaced by Mexico's beaches, jungles and mountains.

Yes, the disappointment klaxon was brought out by Forza fans pining for Japan. But they needn't have worried, because the game looks more detailed and alive than ever before.

Birds fly over the roof of your car as you drive along the sandy beaches, butterflies flutter around the dense jungle area in the south and 11 separate biomes provide diverse ecosystems of life and weather, even with the return of the four-season system.

That means it can be sunny by the beach, but still snowy atop the highest peaks, of which there are many in the new map, including the giant Gran Caldera volcano.

A screenshot from Forza Horizon 5 showing a Ford Bronco truck climbing a hill towards the camera

(Image credit: Playground Games)

While there was little seasonal shift for me to experience in the limited preview, it's clear just how different each area of the Mexico map is. Some, like the Ek' Balam Mayan ruins and the endless sandy beaches, make great driving spots.

With only 10 challenges available to play in the preview, I can't say how populated Mexico will be with stuff to do. I do know, however, that we'll definitely see the return of fun stuff like speed-camera challenges and danger signs for crazy jumps, as both were present in the version I played.

I can also confirm that there'll be a mix of road races, epic showcases and cross-country sprints to choose from. The ability to tune your car with a similar system to Forza Horizon 4, meanwhile, enables you to gain the racing edge — if you tweak wisely.

While the tuning menu has the same options as before, there are at least some new engine-swap possibilities for the cars I tested, including the brilliant and popular Mosler MT900S.

New horizons

A screenshot from Forza Horizon 5 showing a McLaren supercar in a sandstorm

(Image credit: Playground Games)

The demo also revealed a glimpse of some of the Horizon Story events. The first of these involved driving into a sandstorm (these can happen in two-thirds of the map) to take a photograph.

The second, arguably superior, challenge involved trekking across desolate Mexican terrain to find a barn. Inside was a Volkswagen Beetle that I then needed to drive back using a large truck that was, happily, prone to drifting round corners.

For some reason, the Forza Horizon 5 preview I played didn't let me use the interior view of said truck as I made my way back to where my new pile of metal would be restored, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. 

A screenshot from Forza Horizon 5 showing the map screen

(Image credit: Playground Games)

With that challenge done, I spent some time simply revving my way around the map. I raced against unbeatable AI and found it suitably crushing, while lower difficulties were less punishing and more enjoyable.

Due to the short length of the races, it was difficult for for me to check for rubber-banding, by which I mean AI that defies physics and can catch up no matter how well you're driving. But I did enjoy each race, whether at the wheel of a Mosler, Toyota Supra, Ford Bronco or Mazda MX-5.

A screenshot from Forza Horizon 5 showing a Corvette half-submerged in swampy water

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Visually, Forza Horizon 5 retains its position as the prettiest racing game and, thanks to photogrammetry, also one of the most realistic. Only Ride 4 in the rain with the infamous bike helmet view is as impressive, and that's saying something.

Depending on your platform, you can enjoy 4K visuals at 30 fps in the Quality mode or the smoother (and preferable, in my opinion) 60 fps Performance alternative. Both look fantastic on Xbox Series X and frame rates were steady throughout my time with the game.

Sure, I did see some pop-in with objects such as roadside foliage, but hopefully this is just limited to the preview. There was also a lack of ray tracing during races; instead, it's reserved for the non-playable moments.

A familiar friend

A screenshot from Forza Horizon 5 showing a Toyota on the road at night

(Image credit: Playground Games)

That vibe of refinement, not reinvention is hard to miss when playing Forza Horizon 5. Many of the 526 cars are from previous games and newer model years are missing. But then Forza Horizon 4 got many paid and free car packs a long time after the launch date, and I'd expect the same to happen here.

A bit more variety elsewhere would have been nice, but you do at least get some menu refinements plus an improved and more exhaustive character customisation menu. Oh, and I really enjoyed the epic showcases in which I was able to race against a cargo plane and a brave soul in a wing suit.

Admittedly, I did also experience a couple of glitches, including one in which my car was stuck in the sky and another in which the crowd noise repeated continuously. Hopefully these will be fixed by the time the game launches.

What about the handling?

A screenshot from Forza Horizon 5 showing a Mosler MT900S

(Image credit: Playground Games)

Forza Horizon 5's best change concerns the handling. Driving the Mosler MT900S in Forza Horizon 4 and then its successor, the former interpretation is unusually light and can change direction so fast you can see where the 'arcadey' description comes from.

Not that a hypercar is incapable of rapid direction changes, of course — far from it. But where Forza Horizon 4 had a floaty feel to its cars, Forza Horizon 5 goes for a big serving of realism. Understeer is more pronounced; cars are easier to drift and wheelspin.

Yet that realism actually makes life easier. Trying to drift between each corner in one long slide down a mountain route feels more natural, and watching the car judder realistically adds to the involvement, as does the lovely detailed interior camera view.

The fact you can still rewind time if you make a mistake (unless you switch it off for a higher reward boost) nicely complements the intuitive handling. Pushing a car to its limit is easier and more rewarding at the same time.

Further realism comes in the form of changes to the braking and suspension systems. Brake fade and cooling, for instance, are factored in more. Hopefully this depth extends to the tuning options in the full game.

Did the Forza Horizon 5 preview leave me wanting more? Absolutely. Despite not being quite as different to previous versions as I'd hoped, I had a blast driving around the beautiful Mexican scenery.

And I have no doubt that, despite the epic intro of cars falling out of planes down to a volcano or into dense jungle, much of the best and most exciting content has been hidden away to avoid surprises. 

We won't have to wait long to find out; Forza Horizon 5 will be released on November 9, and if you buy the fancy premium version you'll get it a few days earlier, on November 5. Either way, it will be available on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One and PC (Windows and now Steam).