While the Xbox Series X has been available for almost a year now, there are very few exclusives that have truly pushed the system's graphic abilities. Drifting in just before the console's one-year anniversary is Forza Horizon 5, the newest entry in the series from Playground Games. This time around, the developer decided to bring the Horizon Festival to Mexico, since the country has a number of diverse regions with vastly different weather patterns and terrain. It proved to be a wise decision, as it helped Playground deliver the best-looking Xbox Series X game yet.
Graphics certainly aren't everything, but when gamers purchase a new piece of hardware, they want to see what it can do. Forza Horizon 5 works as an excellent showpiece for the Xbox Series X console, offering so many things that made my jaw drop. From the way the city of Guanajuato is lit up at night, to the glow of magma at the top of the volcano, the graphics really make this world come to life. The game's cities, deserts, and beaches all look stunning. It doesn't seem like a stretch to imagine that some players are going to want to visit Mexico for themselves after playing this game.
Speaking of Mexico, Forza Horizon 5's map is huge (50% bigger than its predecessor, according to Xbox). There are so many things to see and do, but it never feels intimidating. In fact, it's extremely easy to plot a course where you want to go and follow that path from one end of the map to the other. Of course, it's easy to get distracted. Often, I'd find myself driving a huge distance to check out a race, only to help explore a dust storm along the way, or check out that aforementioned volcano. The variety is great, and it makes it much easier to spend several hours with Forza Horizon 5 without feeling bored.
While the game looks great, it also plays great. Admittedly, I'm a newcomer to the Forza series, and it took a little bit for me to find my bearings. Learning how to perfect the game's turns without spinning off course gave me a good amount of trouble; I saw "7/12" on my screen so many times, I assumed the developers knew my birthday. However, even when I was placing low after each race, the game was still rewarding me with experience, and that gave me the incentive to keep finding ways to improve. Occasionally, the game would ask me if I wanted to lower the difficulty, but I opted to stick with where I started. One little nicety is the rewind feature, which allows players to quickly undo a mistake (or a few) with a push of the "Y" button. I tried not to lean on it myself, but it was nice to see how Playground Games found all these different ways to make Forza Horizon 5 accessible to those less familiar with the series.
Longtime fans and newcomers alike should also be happy with the number of customization options on hand. There are a lot of ways that players can tune the experience to their liking, from the game's controls, down to the player character. The game even offers players the ability to give their avatar prosthetic limbs, which seems like an awesome way to make the experience more inclusive.
Forza Horizon 5's music is also quite strong. There are a handful of radio stations to select from, and they've been tailored to replicate the Sirius XM listening experience. There are a lot of great tracks that perfectly fit the racing theme, and players will have many stuck in their heads long after the game has been turned off. On a personal level, I was delighted to hear the Arkells while driving, and it's surreal to see them go from a group I couldn't find on iTunes a decade ago, to one appearing in a AAA video game.
It's hard to find much negative to say about Forza Horizon 5. The gameplay is fun and varied, the music is solid, there are tons of cars to unlock, and it's absolutely gorgeous to look at. The whole package is really breathtaking. Playground Games found so many ways to make Mexico come to life, taking great advantage of the region's diversity, while also pushing the Xbox Series X hardware to its limits. If you own the console, you owe it to yourself to check out Forza Horizon 5, whether that means purchasing a copy of the game, or playing it through Xbox Game Pass. It just might be one of the best showpieces for the next-gen era thus far.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5