Perhaps not one of the biggest, but one of the most pleasant surprises of E3 2021 was the unveiling of Forza Horizon 5 in a relatively substantial gameplay demo during the Xbox showcase - with a November 2021 release date to boot. It was a given that this enormously polished and entertaining open-word driving series by Playground Games would return, but we didn't know when; for its first four entries it had been on a strict biennial schedule, but the UK-set Forza Horizon 4 has now been entertaining people for almost three years with little sign of flagging, thanks to a well-judged and assiduously maintained weekly and monthly update schedule, as well as easy accessibility on Game Pass on both Xbox and PC.
It was to be expected that Horizon 4 might break the rhythm. While still emphasising beautiful and optimistic open-world driving fun and esoteric car collection, 4 brought a cautious but deliberate shift in emphasis towards 'live' gaming, with its constant updates and its living map populated by default with other players. It was more successful in some areas than others; the game is constantly rewarding to dip into, but (as with many previous Forza Horizons) it has struggled to make its rather chaotic online multiplayer offering as sticky as its solo challenges.
This is where Forza Horizon 5 enters the scene. Moving the action from the cosy pastoral scenes of Britain to the wide, wild landscapes of Mexico, Horizon 5 looks set to be another technically refined and thoughtfully put-together diversion from the master craftsmen at Playground. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to talk to principal game designer Mike Brown - who presented the E3 demo - about the game, and Playground's hopes for it.