Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC

It’s possible that developer Playground Games didn’t intend for Forza Horizon 5 to be one of the most relaxing games of the year – after all, roaring around racetracks in some of the world’s most powerful motor vehicles is meant to be thrilling.

It frequently is, in fact – enter any one of the actual race events of the latest Horizon Festival, and you’ll be burning rubber around some spectacularly well-designed tracks and testing your skills against either competent AI opponents or your friends, seamlessly integrated into the game’s open world. With engines growling and tyres screeching around every bend, this can easily deliver pulse-pounding excitement.

Forza Horizon 5

It’s the moments in between those races that Forza Horizon 5 proves to be surprisingly chill though, giving racers freedom to tear around its stunning new Mexican setting and just take in the sumptuous surroundings. From smouldering caldera volcanoes to white sand beaches, colourful cities to lush jungles, this brushes alarmingly close to photorealism. With the radio blasting – and several stations to choose from – simply driving around and exploring is about as close as many people will get to an actual holiday this year.

This is more of a refinement of what worked best before.

However, despite being around 50% larger than the map on the UK-set Forza Horizon 4, this fictionalised take on Mexico is still almost comedically small, smushing some of the country’s most striking landmarks into a short drive’s distance. It’s one of the few immersion-breaking aspects.

In terms of gameplay, Forza Horizon 5 isn’t a huge evolution on its predecessors, but that’s no bad thing. Playground has mastered the form of open world racers, so this is more of a refinement of what worked best before. The variety of race types can’t be faulted, with street races, arena circuits, off-road challenges, and more each putting the game’s fleet of 550+ cars through their paces. Meanwhile, side goals scattered around the map – speed camera challenges, massive jumps, abandoned cars to find and add to your garage, and plenty more – strike a nice balance between activities to keep you interested as you explore, and incentives to lure you out to more distant parts of the map.

The biggest addition is Horizon Arcade, a selection of mini-games that will spawn at random around the world. Something of an evolution on the previous game’s Forzathon Live mechanic, the new system lives up to its name with a host of challenges that are more like party games than serious driving tasks – Forza taking a page from Rocket League’s book, almost. The system is flawed though, as the random nature of them means you’re more likely to stumble on them than actively set out to take part. The difficulty doesn’t seem to scale whether you’re playing solo or with a convoy of online friends either, which makes completing some of the challenges more a struggle than a fun diversion. Hopefully the implementation of Arcade improves post-launch, as there’s real promise here – the piñata minigame in particular is great fun.

While Forza Horizon 5 still packs in plenty of tuning and customisation options for the real petrolheads, it continues the series’ tradition of being far more accessible than its more simulation-oriented sibling Forza Motorsport. It’s an approach that fits perfectly with the festival theme, making for a racing game that’s got all the challenge and nuance that fans of the genre expect, but laid back enough to be enjoyable for players who just want to hold down the accelerator and go. If the issues with Horizon Arcade are ironed out, this could be the pinnacle for open world racing games.

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