Like a globe-trotting series of action movies, each Forza Horizon game takes place in a different part of the world. Past entries have seen the in-game Horizon Festival's proverbial and literal traveling tents set up in Colorado, southern Europe, Australia, and the UK. This time around, we're in Mexico.
Mexico, the setting for Forza Horizon 5, is both a quasi-return to the series’ origins, and the best execution of a racing open world to date. Forza Horizon was set in Colorado, and much of that state was created from what was once Mexico, after all. The arid canyons, above-the-treeline mountain roads, and rolling farmlands all feel like a reunion with what Playground Games did so brilliantly — and did with an Xbox 360 — nine years ago. Forza Horizon 5 is both the best game in the series, and a reminder of how good everything preceding it was. The key is knowing how to navigate the game’s expansive offerings, without drowning or getting distracted by the heft of them.
Horizon 5 organises its showpiece moments – think driving away from erupting volcanoes, racing against planes, supercar competitions along the coast, that kinda thing – into a storyline of sorts that follows your superstar driver through the world’s greatest driving event, but even that is spread across many different festival sites. Over a few hours’ play, unredeemed rewards and unspent currencies and trading cards and slot-machine-style wheelspins stack up in the menus like unread emails. The one thing I never felt I had enough of was cars. Almost every one is a joy to drive, and I only say almost because I find the supercars obnoxious.
New for Horizon 5 are what the game calls "Expeditions": special driving missions that unlock additional Horizon Festival outposts, safe areas where you can buy new cars, customize acquired ones, and just chill out and catch your breath. Each Expedition mission feels like it was designed to show off a specific topographical segment of the map and indeed provides some of FH5's most visually epic moments but, like Grand Theft Auto, the game is equally if not more enjoyable just fooling and driving around sans agenda.
Even now, though, I can feel myself tightening up in my shoulders and chest thinking about everything in Forza Horizon 5, and the difference between everything I have — with a V sound — and everything I have — F sound — to do. It’s the difference between opportunities and obligations. The only area in which Forza Horizon 5 stumbles is when it gives me so much of the former that they become the latter.