Within the first 5 minutes of booting up ‘Forza Horizon 5’ players are treated to a volcano, Mayan ruins, flamingos, a dust storm, and a sleepy Mexican town.
If you want subtlety and nuance, you’ve come to the wrong game.
If you’re in the market for hair-raising, punch-the-air pure adrenaline, there is no better game on the market today.
The racing game is a tricky needle to thread; lean too much into the realism, and you become ‘Project Cars’, go the other way into arcade thrills and spills, you get ‘Need For Speed’.
‘Forza Horizon 5’ is a beautiful amalgamation of both styles, and there’s something for every kind of racer fan.
Hell, there's something there for someone who has never picked up a racing game in their life.
What the developers have achieved here is a form of transcendence; it appeals to petrolheads who wasted oh so many hours playing 'Gran Turismo 2' on the Playstation 1 while also appealing to the 'pick up and play' demographic.
The option is there to make the driving settings as realistic as a real car, and conversely if you want to put the game on what is essentially auto-pilot and just enjoy the scenery whizzing by at 250km/h, you can do that too.
Players will find a control scheme that suits them best and the game doesn’t force players into adapting any single one, the player is the one in the hot seat in this instance.
Previous maps in the series can be relied upon to be sweeping and epic, but the map in ‘Forza Horizon 5’ is a true behemoth.
The map is twice the size of the map from ‘Forza Horizon 4’, itself a large map.
‘Forza Horizon 5’ is a recreation of the Baja region of Southern California and parts of Northern Mexico, and while not a 1:1 recreation (we’re pretty sure there would be a lot more tourists to a region where a volcano is a 10-minute drive from a rain forest and desert) the map is varied enough to make sure you never see the same stretch of road twice.
Previous games in the series took in the UK, Australia and the southern coast of France, and the map in this game is the series' most adventurous yet.
Driving through the snowy mountain regions makes you feel like 'James Bond', while barreling through the desert turns the game into 'Lawrence Of Arabia' as directed by Michael Bay.
It is also possible to slow down and take in the scenery around you, and there is a simplicity and beauty to just drinking in the vistas the game has on offer.
For the graphics enthusiasts out there, you can switch between 30FPS and 60FPS at will, and again, depending on your own personal preference, you will find the setting that suits you.
At 60FPS, the rush of facing into a sandstorm head-on makes you feel like you’re playing an adaptation of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’.
Of course, a racing game is only as good as its cars, and once again, ‘Forza Horizon 5’ delivers in spades.
There are well over 500 cars available, all fully licensed – this is Microsoft we’re talking about, money is no object.
You can take a Lamborghini racing across the desert or send a 1930's Bentley with a 4 ½ litre up a snowy mountain range; the scope for sandbox fun is near-limitless.
A quirk of licensing cars for video games is that car makers don’t like to see their valuable machines smashed up and turned into crisp packets, so damage is fairly limited in the game which may be a slight turn-off for racing fans of the ‘Burnout’ ilk, but frankly, when the game lets you do practically everything else with a car it’s an easy gripe to overcome.
Story modes are always mere set dressing when it comes to racing games – don’t expect ‘Disco Elysium’ with this one, folks – but the story mode here does a nice job of offering players a bit more structure to their sandbox playground, and is the best way of unlocking the army of cars the game has on offer.
The game design on show here is industry-best; every solitary thing the player does is in direct relation to advancing their progress and unlocking more items.
Similar to other games in the series, the game has a 'chain' system whereupon achieving feats when driving contributes to your XP score, which is a posh way of saying "it is entirely possible to smash through a carefully organised market set-up while driving 250km/h an hour and you're still rewarded for it".
It's a subtle mechanic, but adding an arcade-like feature adds so much to the game - it is always encouraging you to experiment and play more.
The in-game radio is a neat way of making the player feel involved, with in-game hosts alluding to your exploits on the road.
The soundtrack is varied, with everyone from Dua Lipa, Foo Fighters, Deadmau5 and Beastie Boys on the soundtrack, which leads to the kind of magic that is only possible with open-world games.
Having 'Intergalactic' by Beastie Boys play on the in-game radio just as you start bombing down the motorway behind the wheel of a million-Euro sports car rivals the likes of 'Grand Theft Auto' when it comes to sheer gaming satisfaction and your favourite song coming on the radio.
'Forza Horizon 5' is a vast game, and in the playtime for this review the online servers were fairly well-populated, but there is a sense that this is a game that will evolve with the player.
Every so often, an area of the map will become a designated area where the community must achieve a common goal together; in one instance, players were asked to gather at a stadium in the middle of the map and were tasked with travelling over a certain speed limit to earn points.
The more points the community earned, the quicker the goal was reached.
'Forza Horizon 5' is a game that never stays still, and it is a testament to the game itself that you want to keep playing.
The game uses a carrot-stick approach, always teasing the more desirable cars with each level up, and also deploys a lottery system.
Players are given tokens for a spinning wheel every so often for completing tasks, and much like 'Winning Streak' you can win anything from a new hoodie for your driver to a space-age Koenigsegg car.
Reviewing a car game is different to reviewing a first-person shooter like 'Call Of Duty' or a JRPG like 'Persona 5', and you adjust your score accordingly. A racing game and a JRPG could both score 5 stars for very different reasons.
However with 'Forza Horizon 5', there is a difference; it's not just a brilliant racing game, it's a brilliant game full stop.
'Forza Horizon 5' is out now for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC.