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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Forza Horizon 5 review: a joyful driving holiday

It has been fascinating watching Playground Games’ absurdly consistent Forza Horizon series become an Xbox flagship, overtaking its more serious source Forza Motorsport with joyously raucous open-world driving holidays. This latest edition now finds itself as flagbearer for Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription service, sitting happily alongside the imminent Halo Infinite as a forceful, if familiar, double-whammy of cars and guns that should keep Xbox players happy this Christmas.

Regardless of its positioning, there is no sense of the Leamington developer taking its foot off the pedal with Forza Horizon 5. Ever since the first Horizon brought a street-racing festival to the mountains of Colorado in 2012, the question has been, well: how do you top that? And, impressively, Playground has always had the answer. 

Although now it feels less about bettering the previous game and more about keeping each new entry fresh enough to complement what has gone before. This comes almost entirely down to location, Forza Horizon trotting across the globe from the US, to Europe, to Australia, to the UK; each with a significantly different feel in terms of road layout, weather and vistas. Jumping between each game has merit in itself, even if the festival setup –with its ludicrous amount of events, enormous car catalogue and queasily cool radio stations– remains constant.

This time we are in Mexico, which has allowed the developer to build its most diverse vehicular playground. Sprawling dunes pocked with cacti, luscious humid jungles with fabulous swamps to splash through, tight colourful towns, Mayan ruins, even the shimmering peak of an active volcano. It is a treat to look at and –as in all of the Forza games– the map is densely packed and quick to trade terrain and climate, allowing you to whizz through each in one whistlestop joyride. The game will cycle between Spring and Summer, the former kicking up spectacular dust storms and the latter thundering tropical rain in between the otherwise gorgeous blue sky. Its drive-by representation of Mexican culture is tourist board approved, too, with exactly the positive stereotyping you might expect from a package holiday.

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