Forza Horizon 5 Review: "Let Down By A Lack Of Innovation"
How do you move forward when you’ve perfected a formula? It’s an age-old question tackled by many franchise entries, but it is especially prevalent for Forza Horizon 5. Returning from the truly excellent Forza Horizon 4, this open-world racing game switched out its UK setting for a vibrant and sunny Mexico. However, it’s hard to say whether ancient Mexican ruins are worth the road trip over a drizzly Lake District.
Welcome Back Old Friend
Fans of the Forza Horizon series will have no issues reacquainting themselves with Forza Horizon 5, as they are treated to a very similar feel: even the UI is designed in the exact same way. It is quite the surprise to see how little this game has moved on from its predecessor - at least from a design standpoint.
For newcomers to the series however, this isn’t exactly a bad thing. The overall design of Forza Horizon 5 remains simple, approachable, and clean, meaning there will be no confusion among first-timers to the Horizon Festival. That may waver somewhat with the absolutely stacked map, which is littered with so many racing, collectible, and challenge icons that it would make Ubisoft blush.
No matter whether you’ve played the series before or not, everyone will be impressed when first introduced to Forza Horizon 5’s new setting. Rather than the rolling hills of England, the dense Mexican landscapes are far more diverse. You’ll be drifting round tight city streets one race, and splashing through the jungle the next. At first glance, all of this feels impeccably realised and the graphical fidelity at points can be utterly jaw-dropping. The skyboxes in particular make it incredibly irritating that the camera controls don’t allow you to look up and gawk at your surroundings. Cruising through the Mexican countryside at 200 miles per hour looks a treat as well, although it is disappointing to see there isn’t a 4K 60fps option on Xbox Series X at the time of writing.
Despite the visual variety however, as you familiarise yourself with these tropical locales, you begin to realise that they really aren’t all that different. Those street and jungle races may look fantastic, but they are near carbon copies of what came before in previous entries. Call me biased as a British person, but I genuinely did not think I’d see the day where I preferred a British setting over Mexico. However, once that similar connection was made, Mexico lost almost all of its appeal.
That’s not to say others will feel the same. There are more eye-grabbing locations here, whether you are bombing it down the side of an active volcano, or surfing your way across a wide open beach. Whatever you are doing is likely a great set up for the game’s accessible - if a little shallow - photo mode, with far more opportunities for its use here than in rainy Britain.
Seasons Be Gone
With the topic of weather cropping up, it highlights the biggest absence in Forza Horizon 5: seasons. Forza Horizon 4 diversified its winding country roads with four distinct seasons, which would mix-up how you tackle each track. You may have been a master at a certain track in the summer, but winter was a different ballgame.
Sadly, this feature has been largely removed from Forza Horizon 5. Instead, players will be treated to various weather effects in set tracks, whether they be rain, sandstorm or the differing road conditions. Additionally, Forza Horizon 5 features spring and summer events that are described as "hot season" and "wet season", which are really a step back.
Depending on what side of the Forza fence you land in, that might be a plus, as it does rid the game of its weekly conditions, which would see the entire map snowed-up one week, and sunny the next. This change allows players to choose what kind of conditions they want to race in, rather than being forced into it. However, it also rids Horizon 5 of its communal feel, as the live-service nature of Forza Horizon feels as though it has taken a step back.
For those worried about the lack of replayability considering the absence of seasons, you need not worry. Forza Horizon 5 is bursting with all types of races, for all sorts of playstyles. Speeding your way through Mexico, you will complete races to earn accolades, which then in turn unlock more race types, whether they be dirt racing, road racing, cross country, street racing, or even PR stunts. On top of these race types, you can fill out your time searching for over 200 bonus boards, over 500 roads, several barns, dozens of locations, hundreds of cars to collect, and a bunch of homes to scoop up in the housing market. That’s not to mention the breadth of online content, ranging from the return of Forza Horizon’s battle royale to the straightforward PvP. You can even work your way through all of the above with a squad in co-op. It is immensely vast.
With such an enormous collective of content, 15 hours in you’ll feel as though you’ve barely scratched the surface. Yet despite plenty to work through, it doesn’t negate the fact that a lot of Forza Horizon 5 feels same-y. Of course, drifting through river dirt roads doesn’t have the exact same feel as a break-neck road race, but as the hours blend, the differences fade. Changing over to manual mode and upping the difficulty definitely goes some way to ease these issues, but when we’re getting unique and innovative experiences like Riders Republic, Forza Horizon 5 feels comparatively tame.
A lot of that issue stems from the lack of progression made between titles. If this was your first ever Horizon game, then Forza Horizon 5 features some truly spectacular racing mechanics, where each car has a genuine unique feel. And to those looking for more of that signature Forza experience, then Forza Horizon 5 will be right up your street, as it does very little to sway from the formula that worked so well for its previous entries.
A Free (Game) Pass
Forza Horizon 5 is just the latest in a long line of game franchises that have run into the “more of the same” conundrum. Luckily for Horizon 5, it has a special trick up its sleeve. Thanks to its launch on Xbox Game Pass, most of its regressive issues are bypassed. Players that are already Game Pass subscribers can pick it up without the fear of a full-priced fee. Similarly, those without it can just as easily purchase Game Pass for as little as £10.99, and play the game - along with others - for a full month.
In that case, it is harder to be as critical of Forza Horizon 5, as Game Pass recontextualises a lot of its issues. If you are without Game Pass and are planning on picking up Horizon 5 at full price, you’d have just as great a time with Forza Horizon 4 at a fraction of the cost . However, with Game Pass, there really is no harm in trying it out, as it gives new and returning players huge bang for relatively little buck.
New Horizons, Same Old Game
At the end of the day, the Game Pass mentality is what will separate those who love Forza Horizon 5 and those that are let down by it. It is a solid driving game that features some of the most approachable and polished driving mechanics on the market. Its new setting might not be revolutionary, but it is incredibly well realised thanks to stunning graphics and a solid performance. For those looking to race to their hearts’ content, Forza Horizon 5 gives them ample opportunity to do so, and will presumably continue to do so, if its predecessor’s post-launch content is anything to go by.
Forza Horizon 5 checks all of the boxes that it should, but it is let down by a lack of innovation. You are racing the same types of races, with the same types of cars, across a map that looks different but doesn’t feel different. Developer Playground Games has leaned on what it does best, and that makes for a fast and fun experience, however, wherever the series takes car-lovers off to next, it will have to look much further into the horizon for inspiration.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X. Code provided by the publisher.