Forza Horizon 5 hands-on: The fast and the familiar


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Microsoft

Forza Horizon 5, the latest entry in the Forza Horizon series of arcade racing games, arrives today on Xbox consoles and PC for players who’ve ponied up for the most expensive Premium Edition version. Standard, Deluxe and Xbox Game Pass players can expect to join the fun on November 9. 

FH5 moves the Horizon Festival of music and motor racing that serves as the hub of game’s activities from the UK to a condensed version of Mexico with a massive map spanning multiple diverse biomes.

Horizon Expeditions

Forza Horizon 5’s gameplay loop consists of earning accolades — points awarded for completing races, activities and challenges — to unlock new Horizon Expeditions There are six expeditions in all, each with a different take on the “drive here, do a thing, now drive there, QUICKLY!!” formula. In one, you race through a storm to rescue a pilot who crashed near an ancient temple. In another,you’re tasked with reaching the top of an active volcano to install scientific equipment. My favorite and shortest expedition puts you behind the wheel of the most ridiculous vehicle in Forza history along a festival parade route, where hilarity ensues.

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Horizon’s new Expeditions each unlock new events and different types of racing.


Screenshot by /ac

Completing an expedition unlocks a new Horizon Hub where you can buy and customize more cars and more Horizon Story chapters, showcases and activities to complete for even more accolades. All of those new unlocked activities and races — including road, offroad, cross country and street races — start to fill up the map quickly and which can become overwhelming, even for a seasoned Horizon racer like myself. Learn to use the filter feature early on to have any chance of cutting through the clutter.

Welcome to Mexico

Horizon 5’s Mexico isn’t just deserts and beaches, there are also jungles, wetlands and the massive volcano with paved and dirt roads twisting up either side. Horizon’s Mexico is also home to colorful cities, coastal villages, touristy resorts, farms, golf courses and, of course, a massive freeway running through the center for top speed runs.

Like previous Forza Horizon titles, there are four seasons that change the map each week. I’ve only seen the rainy summer season so far. As one of many players who often simply chose to skip the brutal winter weeks in FH4, I’m looking forward to seeing how fall and winter play out in Mexico. Weather is also now dynamic, so rain can start or stop as the in-game day progresses or dust storms can be localized to the desert. Sometimes, the weather will even change for an area during the course of a race or activity.

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Rain can start or stop during the course of a mission or based on your location on the map.


Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Many of the previous title’s various race and story mission types are back, from vanilla circuit and point-to-point races to showcases and story missions. Showcase events are basically point-to-point races against vehicles that aren’t just other cars. You’ll race trains, planes, motorcycles, jet ski riders and more. New players are sure to be wowed, but for longtime fans these feel like rehashes of previous games’ showcases. My favorite new showcase has you racing a buggy down a mountain with a pair of monster trucks in pursuit. There’s a great surprise at the end that makes this the only showcase I wanted to play multiple times.

Story missions will have you locating and photographing ancient statues, finding and restoring a family heirloom Vocho (a VW Beetle), challenging a group of rich kid street racers and participating in Lucha de Carreteras driving events inspired by lucha libre wrestling. Some storylines have rudimentary branching paths that allow the player to decide how to progress and often completing a storyline doesn’t require finishing every mission — though you may want to go back and complete the ones you skip for accolades.

Over 500 cars

Barn finds are back — 12 of them in total. These missions will have players searching for abandoned automotive legends and classic cars to add to their virtual garage. I noticed that the barns are more logically located in FH5, which makes them somewhat easier to find. Rather than just driving randomly around the search area, most barns are now located on unmarked paths that you can spot while driving along. Additionally, the raided barns themselves now serve a new purpose, allowing you to send and receive gift cars for random players or friends to discover, anonymously if you prefer. Finally, I have something to do with all of those dupes.

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I enjoyed getting up close and personal with the cars in the Forzavista and photo modes.


Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

There are a total of 526 cars, trucks, SUVs and ATVs to find, purchase, win and collect at launch including the additional Welcome Pack and DLC cars for Premium Edition players. (Don’t worry if you miss them; the Welcome Pack cars are just slightly modified versions of vehicles already included in the base game.) Horizon 5 has a new Car Collection screen to keep track of which vehicles have passed through your garage, rewarding players with manufacturer bonuses — free cars, credits or XP — for owning multiple cars of the same make, a feature borrowed from the Forza Motorsport side of the family.

When you’re not exploring or racing, you can get a close look at each car in the Forzavista vehicle viewing mode that lets you open the doors, pop the hood and trunk and get up close and personal with every rendered detail. New for Horizon 5 are ray traced graphics during Forzavista on Xbox Series X/S and PC, but not during races or open world driving.

Mercedes-AMG One cover car

The star of the new Forza Horizon 5 stable is the cover car Mercedes-AMG One with its unique drive mode toggle. Coming to a stop and pressing the convertible button (left stick on Xbox, G on PC) activates Race mode, lowering the ride height and deploying the massive wing. It’s not just a visual tweak, the performance is also different between the two modes. In normal mode, the One topped out at a squirrelly 251 mph. In its winged Race mode, top speed drops to around 205 mph but grip is significantly enhanced — the vehicle now sticks to the pavement at speed like a Formula 1 car.

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The Mercedes-AMG One can be switched between two driving modes.


Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

It will be interesting to see what other cars — if any — will feature this level of customization. I wasn’t able to find any other cars with switchable driving modes during my week of play and Forza’s Autoshow store doesn’t allow filtering by this feature. Ironically, I also noticed the convertible button doesn’t work on any actual convertibles that I’ve tested in-game so far, even those that can drop their top in Forzavista.

Inclusive character creation

After being airdropped into Mexico and blasting into the Horizon Festival, you’ll first need to customize your character. Character creation is pretty barebones, but you’ll find more options here than in the character picker that debuted in Forza Horizon 3 and expanded in FH4, including a larger and more diverse pool of drivers, customizable hair and hair color, prosthetics, clothing and accessories. You’re also able to pick a name and, for the first time in a Forza title, the pronouns other characters will use when referring to you (he/him, she/her or they/them). 

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Forza Horizon 5 offers more options for customizing your driver


Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Your driver will also speak during certain missions and cutscenes, another first for Forza, so you’ll also be able to choose between a male or female voice independently of the gender presented in your chosen body. Canonically, this driver is supposed to be the same racing superstar you played in FH4’s UK festival, so both available voices have English accents. I’d like more choices, but this is a game about driving, not talking, so it doesn’t bother me too much.

The fast and the familiar

Overall, Forza Horizon 5 brings many welcome improvements over its predecessor, but beyond the new expeditions and the new map, most of the time FH5 just feels like Forza Horizon 4 with a fresh coat of next-gen paint. That said, Forza Horizon 4 was already the best driving game on Xbox consoles, so a second helping with new challenges to explore is just fine by me.

Forza Horizon 5 hits Xbox consoles and PC on November 9 starting at $59.99 for the Standard Edition or $79.99 for the Deluxe Edition, which includes the Car Pass DLC vehicles. $99.99 gets you the Premium Edition with more DLC cars, two DLC expansions and early access to play starting on November 5. Xbox Game Pass members will also be able to play the base game as part of their existing subscription.



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