Best Open World 2021: Forza Horizon 5

Game of the Year 2021
(Image credit: Future)

Our favourite open world game of the year was Forza Horizon 5. For more PC Gamer awards, head to the GOTY 2021 hub.

Phil Savage, UK Editor-in-Chief Once again, Playground Games has stitched together a massive patchwork representation of a place, and filled it full of theme park delights. There's  the Baja Desert, where you can smash into cacti to build up a massive skill combo. There's La Gran Caldera, an active volcano with twisting dirt roads and a mountainside that's just begging to be used for offroad stunts. There's jungle and farmland and a big airstrip for drag races.

In short, Forza Horizon 5's Mexico makes for a varied car playground. In terms of construction, it's much the same as Australia and the UK before it: different biomes that prioritise fun over realism, with enough races, challenges and collectibles to keep you exploring for hundreds of hours.

Yes, we could have given Forza Horizon 5 a "Best Racing" award and been done with it, but to do so would have been to miss the point. Racing is a part of the Forza Horizon series, sure, but it's more than that—it's an enthusiastic celebration of videogame driving. Cars are handed out like RPG loot, and you use them for more than just a vast series of checkpoint races. There are "PR stunts" that each celebrate a different discipline, such as drifting or inadvisably massive jumps. Sidestories set specific goals as you're transformed into, for instance, the stunt driver of some ridiculous action blockbuster. There's even a surprisingly decent battle royale mode.

In most games, a giant open world full of icons would exhaust me. But in Forza Horizon 5, each is a guarantee of something fun to do in a car. If you love racing games, this series remains the pinnacle of the form.

Jacob Ridley, Senior Hardware Editor: Ahead of Forza Horizon 5's release, I was still playing Forza Horizon 4. I never really put it down. That Forza Horizon 5 feels very much like a shinier version of that same game, well, that's all I could've asked for. 

There's a ton of beauty in the Mexican map and a whole lot to do, even though I spent my first few hours on a joyride for no other reason than the thrill of the drive and the beauty of the landscape.

Evan Lahti, Global Editor-in-Chief: My biggest complaint is how wonky the convoy system was for weeks after launch, and the fact that you couldn't use a steering wheel with it initially. Such is the nature of modern games, I guess, especially under covid.

Those inconveniences aside, Forza is the most utterly uncynical game I played all year, an uninterrupted stream of cheerfulness. From minute one you're being praised and awarded stuff: free cars, mastery points, abandoned antique cars (barn-finders, keepers), clothes and emotes, the constant, almost creepy attention of radio DJs and a constant drip of XP for even the most innocuous actions, like obliterating a Mexican cactus. For an open world game, Forza is obsessed with dropping a railroad track line of prizes in front of you. From a story perspective it's sort of bizarre (I'm a racing celebrity who literally drops from the heavens and, in the course of a few hours, is buying or just being given multiple houses), but you can't deny the appeal of a frictionless, upbeat racer in our current, dreary world state.

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Fraser Brown, Online Editor: After Forza Horizon 4 let me drive around my former home of Edinburgh, I thought I'd found my favourite racing romp. It turns out that the novelty of exploring a familiar place in a videogame can be outdone by exploring a place that's just more exciting to drive through. Forza Horizon 5's Mexico absolutely shits on green and grey Blighty, and it nearly makes up for how I've not left this country in nearly two years. I might be stuck in my flat, the weather might be atrocious, but in-game I'm doing donuts around ancient pyramids and racing my mates through jungles and pristine beaches. 

Nat Clayton, Features Producer: Like Fraser, I wasn't sure I'd vibe with a Forza that doesn't let me literally drive up my back garden (even if Horizon 4's Edinburgh cuts off just before my flat). But by not being stuck in the samey fields of Great Britain, FH5's Mexico is bursting with the kind of variety a game like this craves. Vast dune seas flow into volcanic mountains, and back down into gnarled jungles. The game knows this is its strength, and the best races are the 20 minute epics that take you around the entire map.

That said, I've spent most of my time in Horizon 5 nestled in the garage, slapping together slick car liveries based on my gaming fixations of the last few years. If you ever need a Datsun dolled up in Umurangi Generation colours or an Unbeatable Ford Mustang, hit me up.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.