Best Open World 2021: Forza Horizon 5
Our favorite open world game of the year was Forza Horizon 5. For more PC Gamer rewards, visit the GOTY Pole 2021.
Phil Savage, British Editor-in-Chief Once again, Playground Games has assembled a huge patchwork representation of a place and filled it with theme park delicacies. There’s the Baja Desert, where you can crush cacti to create a huge skill combo. There’s La Gran Caldera, an active volcano with winding dirt roads and a mountainside begging to be used for off-road stunts. There is jungle and farmland and a large airstrip for drag racing.
In short, Forza Horizon 5’s Mexico is a varied automotive playground. In terms of building, it’s pretty much the same as Australia and the UK before it: different biomes that prioritize fun over realism, with enough races, challenges, and collectibles for you. allow you to continue exploring for hundreds of hours.
Yes, we could have given Forza Horizon 5 the “Best Race” award and finished it off, but to do so would have missed the point. Racing is part of the Forza Horizon series, of course, but it’s more than that: it’s an enthusiastic celebration of driving video games. The cars are handed out like RPG loot, and you use them for more than just a series of checkpoint races. There are “public relations shots” that each celebrate a different discipline, such as drifting or massively discouraged jumps. Side stories set specific goals when you’re transformed into, say, the stuntman in a ridiculous action blockbuster. There’s even a surprisingly decent battle royale mode.
In most games, a giant open world filled with icons would tire me out. But in Forza Horizon 5, each is guaranteed to have something fun to do in a car. If you like racing games, this series remains the ultimate in form.
Jacob Ridley, Senior Material Editor: Before the release of Forza Horizon 5, I was still playing Forza Horizon 4. I never really let it go. That Forza Horizon 5 looks a lot like a shinier version of that same game, well, that’s all I could have asked for.
There is a ton of beauty in the Mexican map and plenty to do, although I spent my first few hours riding for no other reason than the thrill of the drive and the beauty of the scenery.
Evan Lahti, Global Editor: My biggest complaint is how wobbly the convoy system was for weeks after launch, and the fact that you couldn’t use a steering wheel with it initially. This is the nature of modern games, I guess, especially under covid.
Those drawbacks aside, Forza is the most cynical game I’ve played all year, an endless stream of merriment. From the first minute you are congratulated and rewarded: free cars, mastery points, abandoned vintage cars (barn finders, guards), clothes and emotes, the constant and almost spooky attention of radio DJs and a constant drop of XP for even the most trivial actions, like wiping out a Mexican cactus. For an open world game, Forza is obsessed with dropping a prize rail line in front of you. Story-wise it’s a little weird (I’m a running celebrity who literally falls from the sky and over the course of a few hours just buys or receives multiple homes), but you can’t deny the allure of a frictionless, upbeat runner in our current, bleak world state.
Fraser Brown, online editor: After Forza Horizon 4 let me drive to my old Edinburgh home, I thought I had found my favorite racing game. Turns out the novelty of exploring a familiar location in a video game can be surpassed by exploring a location that’s just more exciting to walk through. Forza Horizon 5’s Mexico absolutely shits on blighty green and gray, and that almost makes up for the fact that I haven’t left this country for almost two years. I might be stuck in my apartment, the weather can be excruciating, but in the game I make donuts around ancient pyramids and run my friends through jungles and pristine beaches.
Nat Clayton, Feature Film Producer: Like Fraser, I wasn’t sure whether I would thrill with a Forza that wouldn’t literally let me drive into my back yard (even though Edinburgh from Horizon 4 cuts off right before my apartment). But by not being stuck in the same areas as Great Britain, FH5’s Mexico is packed with the kind of variety a game like this needs. Vast seas of dunes flow into the volcanic mountains and descend into the gnarled jungles. The game knows that’s its strength, and the best races are the 20-minute epics that take you all over the map.
That said, I spent most of my time in Horizon 5 tucked away in the garage, putting together stylish car liveries based on my in-game bindings from the past few years. If you ever need a Datsun in the colors of the Umurangi generation or an unbeatable Ford Mustang, contact me.