'Forza Horizon 5' turned me into a racing game fan

You don't need to be into cars to love it.

Playground Games/Microsoft

I’m not much of a car guy, but I do enjoy a good drive on an open road and have at least a passing appreciation for a fine automobile. Of course, my beyond-humble Toyota Prius only offers so much in the way of driving thrills. A realistic racing game always sounded like a great way to scratch that driving itch, but they’re almost always just too involved and difficult for me.

But my colleague Jess Conditt described the Forza Horizon series as “the chill, microdosing cousin of Forza Motorsport, with festival vibes, ridiculous race tracks set in lush environments, and, of course, a virtual garage full of gorgeous vehicles” in her glowing preview of the game. I was sold, and so far Forza Horizon 5 has entirely lived up to the hype and praise it has received.

A big part of the reason why is that it’s the most approachable driving game I’ve ever tried. Take the ingenious “rewind button.” At first, I would push the accelerator to the floor and rarely let up, which made actually taking a turn without wiping out damn near impossible. But the rewind button let me try these difficult turns again without completely blowing the race I’m in or having to start the entire thing over again. I think that it helped me get better at the game significantly faster than I would have if I had to re-do a course every time I blew a turn. Without it, I’m pretty sure I would have given up on Forza Horizon 5 pretty quickly.

What I wanted out of Forza Horizon 5 was the ability to drive vintage and modern cars I’d never get a chance to own around a beautifully-rendered Mexican countryside, and the auto car-tuning feature was another thing that made this dream easy to achieve. For people who really want to dive into it, the game’s cars are extremely customizable — but I couldn’t be bothered to figure out exactly what anti-roll bars, tires, suspension systems and so on I needed to buy so my 2003 Volkswagen GTI R32 would keep up with the competition. (Note to Jess: GTI. Every. Time.)

Fortunately, there’s an auto-upgrade feature that can level up your car to the top of various tiers (C isn’t as great as A, which isn’t as great as S1, for example). Of course, you’ll need to pay for the parts, but it’s worth the cost to max out your vehicles of choice without spending all day figuring out exactly what parts to buy.

Forza Horizon 5

In the frankly shocking amount of time I’ve poured into Forza Horizon 5 already, I’ve been delighted to find a game with the perfect blend of serious driving challenge and realism coupled with tools and design that make it extremely appealing to someone like me, who doesn’t have the time or desire to endlessly tweak their car for every race. It’s a lot more realistic than most arcade-style racers, but it’s definitely not so unforgiving as to be inaccessible to people who aren’t racing nerds.

Whether you’re a novice like me or someone more experienced with racing games, you’ll find a ton to keep you busy. Ultimately, Forza Horizon 5 isn’t wildly different from open-world adventure games — there’s a “story” you can follow and unlock different chapters as you go, and there’s also a huge variety of different challenges spread all over the map. I gravitated towards road racing events, but there’s a huge variety of different courses. Others might prefer going off-road, trying drag racing or competing in events to rack up trick points.

Forza Horizon 5
Playground Games/Microsoft

Regardless of how you like to play, it’s also a beautiful game; I was stunned by the variety of scenery across this little corner of Mexico I got to explore. Coupling that with events taking place at all different types of day and in different weather conditions and there’s always something new to see. I’ve only played it on the Xbox Series S on a 1080p TV — I’m hoping I can give it a go on a Series X or well-tuned gaming PC soon and see just how good it can look with the right hardware. But even on my more modest setup, I’m enjoying this game in a way I never expected.