(XO/PC) ***** Age: 7+
IF ever you felt in need of a cure for the winter blues, then surely Forza Horizon 5 would be it. The latest round of the arcade racer acts like a non-stop injection of feel-good dopamine, showering the player with love, trinkets and bloody fast cars.
You need to overlook the fact that this fifth episode of petrolhead passion stands on the shoulders of FH4 in particular, refining but not redefining its mission statement of high-speed hijinks. FH5 innovates in some useful ways, particularly around how it unfurls its open world more quickly, letting the player choose their favourite activities across a vastly enlarged map.
Fundamentally, though, this is Forza Horizon as it’s always been, offering you an expansive (550+) garage of ludicrously quick motors and the playground of an exotic location to explore. The jungles, deserts and scree-strewn mountains of Mexico take centre-stage in FH5, providing contrasting biomes that test your driving skills in appreciably different ways.
This slice of Mexico represents more than twice the area covered by FH4’s recreation of the UK, addressing a complaint by many fans about the scope of the previous game. To give you an indication of the scale of FH5, you’re encouraged to tackle the Goliath, an insane race that circumnavigates the whole map. It takes more than 15 minutes at a pace north of 250kmh for much of its twisty route.
Of course, the clever rubber-banding of the AI means your opponents are rarely more than a fraction of a second behind at the finish of any race. And that is FH5’s other sleight of hand that enhances your mood: it’s quite difficult to lose unless you’re total rubbish as a driver. If you’re too good, the game offers to ramp up the difficulty level.
It all feeds into a constant stream of adrenaline, from the breathless racing to the endless torrent of awards, vehicles, XP and cosmetics. As in FH4, you don’t even need to bother following the prescribed routes to your destinations. Barrelling through walls, forests and meadows is just as viable as sticking to the roads. FH5 doesn’t want to put anything in the way of your fun and keeping the speedometer maxed out.
On the next-gen Xbox Series X, FH5 benefits from slashing loading times that stretch into minutes on older machines, while the crisp reflection-loaded reality of the visuals look staggeringly good, even at 300kmh.
If you were seeking nits to pick, you can easily tire of the relentlessly chirpy DJs, who burble inanely and constantly, while the soundtracks don’t grab me at all, though that’s always going to come down to personal preferences.
It also feels utterly bizarre that for all its realism – flexible tuning, gorgeous paint jobs, meticulous engine sounds and scrupulous handling models – that the physics engine lets you slam into a tree at 400kmh … and nothing happens. Solid objects simply bring you a sudden stop instead of smashing the car (and you) into a million pieces. It’s jarring to say the least.
FH5 has binned some of the weather seasonality that made FH4's smaller map more interesting but you’d hardly miss it given there's so much stuff – multiplayer, events, playlists, mini-games – to do.
Nonetheless, this carping is probably missing the point of Forza Horizon 5, which succeeds in bringing a smile to the face with its audacity and beauty every few hundred metres. You’re dead inside if you don’t laugh your head off as you floor the pedal in a supercar just as you fly off the top of a volcano.