I’ll level with you from the start: Forza Horizon 5 is a game that I don’t really know how to critique. The latest entry in the immensely popular spin-off series to Forza Motorsport, Forza Horizon 5 whisks us away to Mexico for another adventure filled with road races, offroading, and even some stunt work. All of that is great, but it all feels so familiar. We’ve attended this festival before, and though it is still fun to attend, it’s no longer novel. So the question is: how much does that novelty matter? Does a game really have to tread new, uncharted ground in order to be good? Or can it still be good by sticking to what it does well and simply offering more of it?
That’s a tricky question, and the answer is probably as subjective as anything can be. There will be those out there who wanted more from Forza Horizon 5 and are ultimately let down by the realization that it plays things a little too safe, while others won’t care because they’re still having fun. Both perspectives are valid, and neither is the incorrect one to have, though I feel I’ve fallen more on the “I’m still having fun” side of the fence.
I’ve never been much of a fan of simulation racers, though I can see the appeal. I’ve always been much more drawn to arcade racers like Mario Kart, Team Sonic Racing, Burnout, and the long-forgotten classic Blur (rest in peace, Bizarre Creations). So, a game like Forza Horizon 5 is right up my alley because it allows players to dive into the simulation aspect or move past it entirely and get rubber on the road. Add to that an open world, and we’ve got the recipe for a racing game that one can sink a ton of hours into.
Playground Games has perfected the open-world arcade racer with the Forza Horizon series, of that there is no doubt. Though my experience with the franchise only goes back to Forza Horizon 3, I’ve loved playing this series in recent years. In many ways, I love Forza Horizon 5, but I worry that Playground and Microsoft might be playing it a little too safe, and that risks players losing interest and leaving the series behind.
Mexico is the star of this show
While the cars are cool and the races can often be intense, the true star of this show is undoubtedly the new setting. As I said in my first impressions post about Forza Horizon 5, Playground’s take on Mexico is fantastic. My admiration for the setting hasn’t waned at all as I’ve played more, either.
Between the jungles, the beaches, the mountains, and the cities, Forza Horizon 5‘s map feels like it has so much character. I’m not saying that Great Britain and Australia were terrible choices for settings in previous games – they weren’t at all – but there’s just something about Mexico that makes it the best Forza Horizon setting I’ve ever explored.
Visually, Forza Horizon 5 is a very impressive game, and the scenery is a big reason for that. Forza Horizon 5 might be the best-looking game I’ve ever played, though I’m sure that as the generation progresses, there will be plenty of challengers for that crown. Nevertheless, I think that Forza Horizon 5 will wind up being one of the most memorable games in the series, precisely because of the setting. Mexico is so varied and beautiful that I can see people who may otherwise be burned out on Forza Horizon games getting drawn in anyway.
New roads, familiar races
After all, it’s possible that Forza Horizon veterans are starting to feel a little burned out, and I’m not sure if Forza Horizon 5 will help with that. The premise is the same as Forza Horizon 3 and 4, in that you’ve been sent to this new location – Mexico – to set up and expand the Forza Horizon festival by completing various races and events.
The Forza Horizon structure has undergone some changes in Forza Horizon 5, as the game splits different event types into their own “Adventure Chapters” and allows you to progress each one separately. Even with that in mind, I’m hesitant to say that this new structure shakes up the formula in any significant way.
While those Adventure Chapters do offer some more story and some pretty cool exploration segments and showcase events, at its core, Forza Horizon 5 is still very similar to past entries in the series. You’re still driving around an open-world map, competing in road racing, dirt racing, and off-road racing events. You’re still scouring areas for hidden barns and restoring the neglected cars lurking within. You’re still going for three-star ratings in speed zones, drift zones, and danger signs.
Forza Horizon 5 is a game that can one minute feel very different from past entries thanks to its new setting, and then the next minute feels indistinguishable from them because so much of the gameplay loop is the same. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing because Forza Horizon 3 and 4 were very good games. As the adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and very little of the Forza Horizon structure needed fixing, in my opinion.
It’s interesting, because the more I play Forza Horizon 5, the more it hooks me. When I first realized that Forza Horizon 5 is very similar to its predecessors, that took some of the wind out of my sails and diminished my excitement for the new entry a little bit. In continuing to play it for this review, I’ve however found that I’m enjoying the game more and more. Almost paradoxically, that initial weariness of the Forza Horizon formula has worn off as I’ve played the game more.
That’s partly because Mexico has been such a blast to explore and because Forza Horizon‘s core gameplay is still fun. Forzathon and the Festival Playlist give you new challenges to complete each week, and online play is something that I’ve always found to be both challenging and rewarding, which ultimately keeps me coming back.
Even though Forza Horizon 5 is very beautiful and definitely fun, it’s still worth considering that the formula will be familiar to Forza Horizon veterans. Forza Horizon 5 doesn’t take any huge risks, so those looking for a major shake-up won’t find that here. There is, however, one new addition worth talking about in the Forza Horizon 5 Event Lab.
Event Lab is a new addition to Forza Horizon 5 that allows users to build their own events. To me, it almost seems like Super 7 but taken multiple steps further. The Event Lab editor lets you get pretty specific with your object placement and rules, so much so that players can create entire minigames with objectives that aren’t found in the vanilla Forza Horizon 5 experience. For lack of a better description, Event Lab is almost like Forza Horizon’s take on Super Mario Maker.
While I’m not really the type to create my own events, creative people with an eye for design will probably love this mode. Assuming you’re connected to the Internet, you can play through published Event Lab content through the “Online” tab of the pause menu, ensuring an endless trickle of content to play through. Of course, whether or not that content is actually good will vary from creator to creator, but it’s nice to see these customization options in Forza Horizon 5.
Bugs and issues in the PC version
I’ve been playing exclusively on PC through Steam, on a rig with a Ryzen 7 5800X, an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 6GB, and 32GB of RAM in 1440p@144Hz. Performance has been pretty good so far, but I have run into a few issues as I’ve played.
The most annoying thing is probably the various crashes to the desktop I’ve encountered. This has happened a handful of times, and it seems primarily random when it happens – I can go an entire multi-hour session with no crashes, and then the game will crash several times in a short period. The one time I’ve been able to reproduce a crash is after attempting to claim a car I’ve won through Forza Horizon‘s auction house. The few times I’ve done that, the game has crashed to the desktop without fail.
I’m running the game on the Ultra preset, and Forza Horizon 5‘s benchmarking tool shows that I get in the mid-90s in terms of average framerate. I play with a framerate counter at all times when reviewing a game, and the benchmark results are in line with my experience while playing normally – some dips and spikes depending on what’s being displayed, but for the most part, my framerate comes in between 90 and 100 fps. Keep in mind, too, that I’m running the game at 1440p, so someone with a similar build running at 1080p should see a notable FPS increase over what I have.
As I noted in my first impressions post, I still see some bugs with far-off texture rendering and pop-in sometimes, but they do seem to be getting better as time goes on, which suggests that Playground Games is actively working on fixing those issues.
It also seems to me that the game’s difficulty is broken in some regards, but it’s hard for me to tell conclusively. Usually, I race against “highly-skilled” Drivatars when I race solo, but sometimes it really seems like I’m up against AI drivers who belong in higher difficulties. I know Playground has mentioned that AI drivers on some higher difficulties can be even more difficult than intended (listed in Forza Horizon 5‘s known issues at the time of this review), but I can’t help but wonder if that problem exists on a broader scale than Playground is aware of at the moment.
Finally, Horizon Arcade seems to be broken. I have attempted to join multiple Horizon Arcade events and only once has the event filled with the intended number of players. Trying to complete the Arcade challenges with fewer than the intended number of players is very difficult, but even when I managed to join a full group, the objectives were still too difficult to complete in time. Not only is joining events broken, but it seems the difficulty of these events needs to be balanced as well.
Forza Horizon 5 verdict
As I said near the start of this review, Forza Horizon 5 is a tricky game to judge. It has a fantastic setting and is absolutely beautiful from a visual standpoint, but it is also very similar to the Forza Horizon games that came before it.
Unless you’re a creatively-minded player itching to dive into the new Event Hub, there isn’t much that’s completely new outside of Forza Horizon 5‘s setting. I wholly understand if that’s an issue for some, because as a fan of another very popular series that has tread water for years now, it can be frustrating to see a franchise you love stick to what’s safe instead of taking risks and trying new ideas.
Still, at the end of the day, I can only really judge a game by whether or not it’s fun to play, and I’ve been having a ton of fun with Forza Horizon 5. The formula has not worn out its welcome for me quite yet, and while that could very well change in the future, Forza Horizon 5 has been a delightful experience for me on the whole, blemishes and all.
If you can feel that you’re starting to get sick of the Forza Horizon formula after 3 and 4, perhaps wait until you can pick up Forza Horizon 5 on sale before diving in, or sign up for Xbox Game Pass for a month and take the game for a spin before buying. If you’re new to the Forza Horizon series, 5 is a fantastic entry point to the franchise for you. If you loved Forza Horizon 3 and 4 and are okay with the idea of more of the same but in a striking new setting, then Forza Horizon 5 is an easy recommendation.