Forza Horizon 5 review: a potent formula perfected, and one of the best games of the year

Forza Horizon 5 is a racing game. But its heart isn’t really about just racing at all. For my money, this spin-off series has built its reputation and quality around different foundations. It’s a series about culture. It’s about the mood, the tone, the feel.

Part of all that is how each vehicle literally feels as it cruises around its open world map, but a bigger part of it is that nebulous, difficult-to-describe thing the game activates within you. Many things activate this bit of the brain, like over-the-top set-pieces and silly motoring stunts – but an enormous chunk of it is about one thing: the game’s world.

This is actually probably the thing I’ve come to love most of all about Forza Horizon as a sub-series. The world itself is arguably the most prominent character of each game. This didn’t really sink in for me until I played Horizon 4, a game set in my home country that therefore spoke to me; every subtle detail and winking reference was understood. That in turn changed my perception of the fifth Horizon, which I think does an even better job of representing and channeling the culture of its setting, Mexico. I imagine it’s brilliant for those who live there just as Horizon 4 was for me, but it’s also magical for those who have never even been there.

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