When I began my Forza Horizon 5 preview, I was aware the experience would come with several completely understandable limitations. Most notably, this meant restricted access to Forza Horizon 5 and its campaign content, along with the inability to save any progress at all — meaning the game was reset every session, or when reaching the end of the allotted story.
Despite these limitations, my ambition to somehow acquire one of my favorite cars of all time and take it on an extended road trip across Mexico wasn't tarnished. After several hours of work — while meticulously avoiding the end of the preview — and several lucky Wheelspins, I was able to purchase a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T, and still had enough left over to upgrade it for the adventure I had in mind.
With the keys to my shiny new car in hand, I embarked on a journey across a relatively small segment of Forza Horizon 5's map, an experience that nonetheless consumed well over an hour of my time. More importantly, it further deepened my excitement for Playground Games' upcoming open-world racer, and highlighted once again how Forza Horizon 5 is not just another racing game. This is the Forza Horizon 5 road trip that made me fall in love with Mexico.
A road trip for the ages
My adventure through Mexico actually started at Horizon Festival Mexico, the main Festival Site that acts as the hub for everything that goes on in Forza Horizon 5. It wasn't long, however, before I was racing off towards "La Gran Caldera," the imposing volcano that totally dominates the landscape in FH5, no matter where you are on the map. This being the highest elevation ever in a Forza Horizon title, I wanted to put my powerful Challenger, one of hundreds in the FH5 car list, to the test against the volcano's steep surfaces and snowy inclines.
Immediately I was struck by how detailed even the "bland" desert-like areas of Forza Horizon 5 are, with "Quality" mode on Xbox Series X (appropriate for my scenic cruise) delivering exceptional textures and graphics. As beautiful as all the pictures taken during my road trip are, the sights were even more impressive when rendered in 4K at 30 FPS, with HDR enabled.
After what seemed like an eternity of climbing the winding switchback roads draped alongside the side of the volcano, I reached a precipice upon which waited a stunning vista. Before me lay an intimidating stretch of land that reached all the way to the coast. Beyond being captivated by FH5's impossibly realistic and dynamic Mexican skies, I was also struck by a simple fact: If I desired, I could descend from the mountain and drive all the way down to the coast, a journey that by itself would take quite a while.
Of course, I couldn't end my road trip after the first bout of delectable eye candy, so I continued my ascent to the volcano's peak.
Unfortunately, despite its upgraded tires and powerful engine, my Challenger simply couldn't scale the near-vertical inclines caked with snow and ice. On a future road trip, I'll definitely need to equip my vehicle with the brand-new off-road tires or more specialized snow tires before attempting to reach the top. Even denied my opportunity to sit at the top of the world, I wasn't deterred. I began to travel around the volcano to reach the other side, where another switchback road, this time decked out in dilapidated asphalt, awaited my arrival.
Winding down the mountain and drifting around corners, I was greeted by flashes of picturesque forests, valleys, and hills in the distance. I could even spot Guanajuato, a sprawling city I fully intended to visit later in my journey. It's worth mentioning that, even with all the images I took during my FH5 road trip, there were many more incredible sights I could have captured but elected not to. While I can claim to be protective of this article's length, I also want everyone who plays Forza Horizon 5 to take a similar journey of their own, without every one of FH5's thousands of picture-worthy moments being spoiled beforehand.
Once I safely descended the intimidating heights of La Gran Caldera, I decided to take a small detour before heading straight to the enticing city of Guanajuato. I had head much of the deceptively large stadium that Playground designed primarily to be used with FH5's new EventLab creative tools, but I wanted to see it for myself.
The stadium was far bigger than I ever imagined it would be, with intricate details such as obvious advertisements, expansive parking lots, plenty of winding staircases and pathways, and more. What really captured my attention, however, was how easy it was to get inside the stadium.
It's clear the moment you enter the stadium that Playground fully intends for players to fill this space with all manner of creations, thanks to the power of EventLab. In the base game, it's more or less a simple empty green field, but there is a fun soccer ball in the center that you can punt around with your car. I'm not ashamed to admit that I did exactly that for a little bit as night fell.
After the floodlights turned on and bathed the field with pools of light, I decided to depart the stadium and begin heading towards Guanajuato. Before I properly headed off, I was briefly distracted by an expanse of asphalt that begged for me to do doughnuts, and I'm not one to pass up a stint of child-like fun. Here, FH5's improved effects and particle physics made themselves proudly known, as the air around my car became filled with thick white smoke.
With the remnants of my aggressive doughnuts now etched into the pavement, I finally began driving towards the Mexican city of Guanajuato. It was a calming journey to the city as night continued, with a gorgeous sky peppered with countless stars keeping me company. When I reached Guanajuato, I was shocked by the sheer size and density of the city. Guanajuato in FH5 is filled with verticality, undulating roads and tunnels, twisting paths and alleys, and far more landmarks and visually distinct buildings than I counted on.
My original intention in Guanajuato was to find the building that has made several appearances in Forza Horizon 5's trailers and marketing images, but I was unable to find it until the night had broken and the morning had begun to drag on. Once I found it, I sped past the beautifully detailed facade in a bloom of burnout-created smoke on my way out of Guanajuato, satisfied at the moment with my time in this lively and colorful locale.
Leaving Guanajuato's sprawling mass behind me, I headed north to seek out the infamous canyons about which I've heard so much. It wasn't long before I came upon the railway that indicated I was going in the right direction, and the elevation of the surrounding landscape gradually increased until I was seemingly surrounded on all sides. The already impressive rumble of my Challenger's upgraded V8 bounced off the walls of the canyons and reverberated through my living room, showcasing the technically impressive ray-traced audio being introduced in Forza Horizon 5.
I had a ridiculous amount of fun exploring the canyons, with long and gently curving roads allowing me to build up a significant amount of speed in my powerful muscle car. The entire area was breathtakingly beautiful, as well, with tunnels carved into the rock faces and a flowing river battling for domination in the center of the canyons with the road. Of course, seeing a train pass me by on the far side of the canyon completely derailed (pun intended) my smooth and effortless driving, as I was immediately compelled to give chase.
I'm not going to lie, I managed to find my way onto the railway, where cars should never be. I also attempted to play tag with the train. I'm happy to say I was faster than the train, but by no means did I win our game of tag. After being solidly rejected by my ex-best friend, the train, and knocked back down to the road below, I took a break to soak in all the sights. Forza Horizon 5 is absolutely one of the best-looking games I've ever played, so I'll admit these stops were relatively frequent.
When I left the canyons, I knew the end of my road trip was quickly approaching (hunger was getting the best of me, I fear). Still, I committed to exploring at least one other part of Forza Horizon 5's world, and decided I wanted to visit the tropical coast. Partially ignoring the roads at this point, I plowed ahead until I reached the postcard-esque sandy beaches of Mexico. Here, the water was vibrant and turquoise, tempting me to attempt a swim despite sitting inside a 2-ton metal box.
I raced along the shoreline with all the considerable power I could muster, eventually coming to a stop to, once again, simply enjoy the world that Playground somehow managed to piece together. I was still hanging on to the excitement of my road trip, however, so I elected to depart the sandy beach and travel back down the coast to a nearby town: Playa Azul.
I was speeding through Playa Azul at such a pace that I nearly missed the meticulously recreated mural plastered onto one of the more prominent building in the immediate vicinity. After hurriedly turning around (and certainly not crashing into multiple light posts and fences in the process), I returned to discover a mural I recognized from Mexican artist Farid Rueda, one of seven authentic Mexican artists who have collaborated with Playground to depict their work in-game.
I decided to end my journey beside Rueda's mural in Playa Azul, a fateful decision that was cemented when my progress — along with my beautiful car — was reset when next I opened Forza Horizon 5. Even with this unfortunate (and expected) loss, I wasn't disheartened or bitter. I had so much fun simply driving across the wildly varied and impossibly gorgeous version of Mexico that Playground crafted for FH5, that the development hardly phased me.
If anything, I itch for the next time I can go on a road trip through Mexico in Forza Horizon 5.
I can't wait to start again
The above map is a rough estimation of my road trip through Forza Horizon 5's rendition of Mexico, and doesn't count for times I may have sneaked through some wilderness or a nearby farm, or when I simply forgot the exact path I took. Despite the ridiculous number of opportunities I had, I also elected not to show off every aspect of my journey through images because I want to encourage players to go on their own road trip in FH5 eventually.
I saw a tiny amount of Forza Horizon 5's world, completely skipping half the dedicated biomes in the game. Even the areas I did see, I only saw under the light of one season, one weather pattern, and one time of day. The variety on offer in Forza Horizon 5 is completely peerless in the video game industry, and the world will only continue to evolve and change over time. There are countless paths I could've taken through Forza Horizon 5, and I didn't even touch any of the races, events, story content, or anything else along the way.
I'm far from content with the time I've spent in FH5. In fact, I'm now more excited than ever for what's to come with the most ambitious Forza Horizon title ever. I can't wait to embark on that exact same, yet inevitably different, road trip when Forza Horizon 5 releases on Nov. 9, 2021.
Forza Horizon 5 is showing every sign of being one of the best Xbox racing games you can play. For those interested in gaining early access, or being one of the first to play, Forza Horizon 5 is now available to preorder.
Instant road trips
An epic adventure
Forza Horizon 5 is the latest project from Playground Games and continues the epic Forza Horizon adventure with a new roster of amazing cars and a brand-new location to explore: Mexico. Forza Horizon 5 launches on Xbox and PC later this year, and it's already available to preorder.
All your gaming needs, in one subscription
Is the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate the best value in all of gaming? It's possible. Ultimate bundles your Xbox Live Gold subscription, an Xbox Game Pass subscription for both Xbox consoles and Windows PCs, and Xbox Cloud Gaming for on-the-go. Forza Horizon 5 will be available through Xbox Game Pass day one, including on consoles, PC, and the cloud.
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Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.