Review: Forza Horizon 5 | FOS Future Lab

25th November 2021
Ethan Jupp

This is the longest we’ve waited for a new entry into the Forza Horizon franchise since it was introduced all the way back in 2012. It’s also the first time Horizon releases haven’t been bisected by a Motorsport entry. It’s widely known that the brilliant bods behind these games have been taking a moment to reflect and see what can be done better, following the mixed reception to 2017’s Forza Motorsport 7. Now, more than three years on from the UK-based Forza Horizon 4 and with the rebooted Motorsport presumably now a year from release, we have Forza Horizon 5. Have Playground Games learned from Turn 10’s erroneous rinse, repeat and remix tactics? 


Bienvenido a Mexico

From the UK in Horizon 4 we’re damned near on the other side of the world. Gone are the glistening Lochs and highland vistas of Scotland and the Lake District, replaced with luscious rainforests, rutted mountain ranges and arid Baja sands. First thing’s first, this map is a lot larger and more diverse than that offered in any Horizon title before. The best attempt by far to break out of sandbox territory and into the realms of the MMO. 

That the environment is graphically beautiful – 60 frames per second is a beautiful thing – goes without saying in a Forza game but Horizon 5 seems to do a lot more with its square mileage, topography and road network than Horizon 4. That game condensed one of the greatest areas for driving in the world into a token village, token city, token lake, token motorway and singular token driving road, which quite unlike most of what you’ll actually find in the heart of the Lake District, was itself as wide as a stout A road. 

On Horizon 5, there’s a crown jewel of a mountain road yes but with plenty more to be enjoyed across the map, though again, they’re probably wider than they should be. Likewise, there seems to be an actual structure and a semblance of infrastructure to the road network. Not of a quality that enormous pioneering games like Test Drive Unlimited and The Crew achieved, but much improved all the same. Mexico feels more broadly represented and it makes all the difference. It’ll give this game longevity and replayability beyond the first six months.

Obviously, the coolness of the seasons, biomes and weather events is a given, though the novelty of being gobbled up by a dust storm mid-blat will likely wear off quickly. The week-long periods of snow on Horizon 4 certainly did.


Physics and driving

Along with sublime graphics, the Forza franchise has always traded heavily on its digestible take on simulation physics. That carries over here with the edges rounded off even more, possibly not for the better. This is a very tail-happy game that somewhat struggles to give some cars an identity beyond tearing up tyres. Worth mentioning, but by no means a deal-breaker – certainly not for the Forza-faithful – and it doesn’t really detract from the fun. A racing wheel and seat do certainly pair well with this game’s physics.

A new feature for drivers to enjoy is an in-built launch control, which sits the car at a restricted redline ready for a launch when the accelerator is applied with braking from a standstill. Fun, albeit a little out of place on a Ferrari 250 GT California… 


Forza Horizon 5 cars

Forza is equal parts leader and slacker when it comes to the cars it offers. On the one hand, this graphically stunning AAA title is the game to play if you want to drive everything from the latest greatest cars to priceless rarely-seen racers and historics. On the other – something few notice but it needs to be mentioned – we’d put folding money on some of the car models in the game being assets borrowed from 14-year old titles. Quite why this hasn’t burned Forza like it did Gran Turismo in the transition from GT4 to GT5 and GT6 is beyond us.

We can’t think of a single example of a model that’s been updated for a newer entry, be that the warped Vauxhall Monaro from 2007’s Motorsport 2 – yes the second-ever Forza – or the concept Ford GT from 2015’s Motorsport 6. These models are wonky, unrealistic, out of proportion, out of date and sometimes just downright ugly. 

The writing is on the wall for future entries too. Aston Martin will likely want to see the Valhalla they actually sell in future titles but if future habits hold, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Something of a rant and honestly, most players won’t care, but for a franchise that sweats the details, it smacks of laziness and lessons that are yet to be learned.

On the plus side, most of the other cars that joined the franchise later on are as beautiful as they ever were, shown off better than ever in this environment and in Forza Vista. Customisability is better than ever, though the livery system feels less intuitive than it once was. Speaking of customization, new for Horizon 5 too is variable car sounds, which change based on induction and exhaust parts being swapped out. A cool feature and just as well, given some of the sounds are still not quite up to snuff. We’re now a few years out from when Forza’s genius sound guy defected to Polyphony and Gran Turismo, taking his top-tier files with him but they’ve still not fully recovered. 

Also new is the ability to put your roof down while out driving, though very few cars in the game can actually do it. The McLaren 720S Spider and Ferrari Portofino are worth a look if you fancy that experience and we surely expect to see more added as the game grows. 

Story and gameplay

The familiar narrative of the Horizon Festival carries over here but somehow, it feels richer. The expanded map yields an expanded variety of content, with off-roading, rallying and various other races and missions. You feel more integral to the growth of the festival, rather than simply being a character dropped into it, as you open outposts and competitions across the map. Carrying over too, happily, will be the continually updated weekly online playlists and competitions, which should keep people busy once they’ve completed the core game. 

The barn finds make a welcome return too. It was amusing hearing NPCs speak so nonchalantly about finding and claiming $40 million worth of Ferrari 250 GTO, and the concept of a Jaguar XJR-15 being abandoned in a barn is laughable in itself… Money and cars are as easy to come by as ever, with the fun Wheelspin reward system making a comeback. Just as well that Horizon 5 offers a better environment in which to enjoy your easily-won spoils…

Unfortunately Horizon 5 has suffered in its first few weeks with serious connectivity issues. Day one players who invested strong money into getting their hands on the game as early as possible weren’t able to reliably meet up with their friends and as of my writing this, still aren’t. A number of major patches have been rolled out to fix it but the issues remain. Not what we expected of such a leading title in the racing space.



I won’t pretend that I’m not one of the highly critical minority when it comes to the Forza Horizon franchise. To date, for most, it’s the perfect racing game. An hour or so at a time of light-hearted fluff and larking around. I personally loved the first one but 2, 3 and 4 all disappointed in terms of their maps, road networks and longevity. Beyond my craving for immersion and escapism that this series likely never intended to deliver, they felt like expansions, not new games in their own right with two years or more of replayability, deserving of a full retail price. 

All that said, dodgy models and improvable sounds notwithstanding, Horizon 5 is Playground’s strongest go yet at besting the 2012 original and you know what, it’s all down to that map. More room to play, better roads to play on and far less chance of ending up in the same place every ten minutes. There’s room to get better still and there are niggles elsewhere but by and large, Horizon 5 takes the franchise’s long-standing talents and shines them in the best light yet. 

If you’re one of the few that’s been out of the Horizon franchise for a little while, this is a good point to jump back in. Likewise, if Horizon 6 carries this momentum, based on the to-be rejuvenated Forza Motorsport platform, the best could be yet to come.

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