Motorheads and professional drivers around the globe have gathered in Mexico for the fifth Horizon Festival. Radio station infomercials excitedly reference the pop-up races and zany challenges sprinkled across the far reaches of the land. Empty streets – save for the occasional family van or commercial truck – are indicative of nationwide fervor. So where are the locals and tourists? Well, the general public is gathered en masse at various points of interest, waiting for you, the enigmatic “superstar,” to arrive and officially kick things off.
Forza Horizon is all about player agency. The fifth installment keeps this design philosophy alive with another impressively large car catalog, innumerable activities, and extensive customization options for your avatar and vehicle(s). The opening cinematic is just as spectacular to play as it was to watch during the Gamescom showcase with roaring engines and gorgeous visuals enhanced by the game’s solid performance/quality modes. Ultimately, I spent around 90 minutes with a preview build of Horizon 5. While I only got the chance to enjoy a small serving of its many features, I was left stunned by the sheer immensity of the sandbox, the high-caliber graphics that the franchise is known for, and the overall playability/accessibility of the controls. Forza has never looked or felt this good.
After getting airdropped into Baja California, I selected my nickname, created my character (the prosthetics were an excellent addition, although I would’ve liked to see more options for disabled gamers), and hopped into my Stingray Coupe. Driving feels as responsive and fluid as you’d expect. Vibration patterns and varying degrees of “car feel” instill each roadster with personality. The Jeep Gladiator and Ford Bronco are heavy-weight machines, but various features, like traction control, are notably different; your cars genuinely feel alive. This level of detail isn’t new to the Forza series, but it’s far more commendable in the latest Horizon entry as the roster of selectable vehicles grows ever-larger.
By the end of the preview, I’d only garnered a small collection to choose from, but each set of wheels was perfect for different situations. My Toyota GR Supra blasted me to first place in paved circuit races while my Ford Escort was suited for messier, off-road exhibitions. The AI opponents, however, don’t settle for losses. You’ll have to learn your vehicle’s tendencies – how early you should brake on sharp turns to avoid catastrophic crashes or when you’re better off just flooring it to create distance – to remain consistent in competitions. You might even decide to swing by the shop to tune your favorite cars for that extra edge. Manually upgrade various parts – what’s more important: your engine or handling? – or have the festival team select the tweaks for you based on a specified build.
Racing isn’t the only activity Mexico has to offer. To earn accolades (or challenges) and unlock Horizon Adventure Chapters, I sped around the open world, completing a bevy of minigames. PR stunts like “Speed Zone,” “Speed Trap,” “Trailblazer,” and “Danger Sign” required me to maintain incredible speeds or soar high into the sky after barrelling towards manufactured ramps. Your proficiency is labeled with stars, three being the highest and earning you a bevy of XP and SP (Skill Points) that you use to purchase perks for each vehicle. Perks tend to be experience modifiers, and, as far as I could tell from my time with the preview build, the best thing about leveling up is activating the “Horizon Spinwheel” to win prizes like currency and rare cars.
Traveling to each race or side activity was a blast because Mexico’s beauty is unparalleled. Dynamic weather effects like raging sandstorms added a newfound level of intensity to exploration, and each visually diverse location was unique with a modicum of secrets to find. Narrative beats, otherwise known as Horizon Stories, take you to exciting points of interest while characterizing the game’s cast. For instance, while escorting Alejandra to an abandoned garage atop a dusty overlook, she chronicled her family’s relationship with the “Vocho” or Volkswagen Beetle and the Mexican cultural shift that the iconic compact car catalyzed in the 50s. All the while, I took note of the cactus-spotted deserts we left in our wake and the quaint, multi-colored communes we drove through.
Even with the small amount of content I experienced, Forza Horizon 5 is massive. Much of the map was empty in this preview version, but I still braved the far-off jungles and mountain ranges, imagining the number of PR Stunts, Horizon Stories, and races that I’ll partake in on launch day. Additional modes like the Festival Playlist and Auction House weren’t available yet, but just knowing that the full game will have a bevy of content, including in-game seasons and campaign progression, make the trip to Mexico even more enticing.
Forza Horizon 5 releases on November 9 on Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC.