An hour or so into my time with a preview build of Forza Horizon 5, I found myself kangaroo-hopping through cactus-dotted hills in a yellow Ford Bronco. I wasn’t heading to a race or a PR stunt location. I had no particular goal in mind. It was just me, the lush desert, a burly SUV, and a chill song on the in-game radio I can’t name due to embargo restrictions. I’d barely started playing, and already I’d reached a point of Forza Horizon zen.
As exciting as it was to drive the Mercedes-AMG Project One upwards of 200 miles-per-hour through Baja while racing a plane to the Forza Horizon 5 festival site in the game’s thrilling opening sequence, spectacular set-pieces aren’t what keep me coming back to Playground Games’ open-world racing adventure series. Dropping four vehicles out of a cargo plane to race down volcanoes, through dense jungles, and through desert dust storms is a great way to start the game, but for me it’s just priming my engine for the main event.
The main draw of Forza Horizon is freedom. Go where you want. Drive what you want. Do what you want. Sure, the map is dotted with special events, races, and story missions, but those are serving suggestions. Forza Horizon, for me, is all about the moment you stop listening to the in-game navigation’s suggestions of streets, and turn your expensive vehicle’s steering wheel toward the open countryside. “Turn around when it is safe to do so,” says Forza Horizon 5’s GPS. “Hahahahaha no,” says me, running headlong into a rocky outcropping and then using the rewind feature to pretend that never happened.
Following Forza Horizon 5’s plane-dropping opening, you’re prompted to create a character, an in-game avatar who talks and appears in cutscenes. My pink-haired racer from Horizon 4 was one of the premade selections, making it easy to continue my legendary driver’s saga in the new Mexican setting.
One new feature of the character creator is the ability to select prosthetics for your character. There are prosthetic options for either arm, either leg, or both arms and both legs. Though my own disability (paralyzation) isn’t the same as missing a limb or limbs, it made me smile thinking of my prosthetic-wearing friends having this sort of representation in the game.
Forza Horizon 5 also does a good job of representing the country of Mexico, not just in terms of scenery but culture as well. During one story mission my character joins a young woman’s search for a classic car rumored to be hidden in the hills near her hometown. It is a Vocho, Mexican slang for the Volkswagen Beetle, one of the country’s most beloved vehicles. We find the rusted husk of a peculiar Beetle in a garage hidden by dense foliage. It’s sort of like a barn find from older Horizon games, only this time we get to drive it back to the garage ourselves on a flatbed.
I spent the entire sequence bouncing in my seat, chanting “I get to drive the barn find, I get to drive the barn find!” At one point, in order to avoid some roadwork, I had to jump the flatbed over a ramp. The gleeful noise this grown-ass man made as the heavy hauler briefly caught air was downright embarrassing.
The preview gave me access to the full Forza Horizon 5 map and a limited number of events, but I didn’t spend too much time exploring. I want to save that for when the game releases next month. Then I will spend hours leveling up each vehicle, finding all the Vochos, completing races, doing stunts, and breaking speed limits. I might even do some multiplayer, as this solo-only preview left me a little lonely.
There’s magic in the Mexican countryside, and I plan on exploring every inch of it once Forza Horizon 5 releases for Xboxes and PC on November 9.