Forza Horizon 5: Hot Wheels Expansion Review

Over the years, the folks behind the Forza Horizon series — which I consider to be the best collection of racing games ever made, and by a long shot — have always strived to one-up themselves, especially when it comes to downloadable content. Whereas the earlier games had more nature themed expansions, Forza Horizon 3 partnered with the iconic toy car brand, Hot Wheels, and then Forza Horizon 4 upped the ante by delivering a LEGO-based expansion. Needless to say, you never know what you’re in store for. At least, that was the case before Playground Games went back to the well and served up another Hot Wheels expansion for Forza Horizon 5.

To be blunt, I was somewhat disappointed when I first heard that they’d be going back to Hot Wheels for this game’s first true expansion. One of the reasons why is that I don’t have a ton of nostalgia for the brand, despite owning a handful of them as a kid and occasionally playing with them at my cousins’. Cars were never really my thing, but now arcade racing games are one of my favourite things in the world. It’s funny how that happens.

I was also slightly disappointed because I didn’t wholeheartedly love Forza Horizon 3‘s Hot Wheels add-on. It was good, and honestly even well above average, but I felt that the plastic and orange coloured tracks became repetitive a bit too quickly. The idea behind the new content was a good one, but the execution didn’t deliver the most varied or exciting racing action, and didn’t provide something better than racing through the beautiful Australian countryside. Outside of its poor progression system, I honestly found the next title’s LEGO add-on to be more fun and exciting.

Now that I’ve spent some time with Forza Horizon 5 and its Mexican Hot Wheels action, I still wish they’d gone for something new and jaw dropping, but must admit that I definitely enjoyed myself. Then again, I’ll never complain about more of the greatest racing ever to grace a console or PC.

This time around, there’s an added emphasis on the history of Hot Wheels, which has resulted in a five act long series of story ‘missions.’ These are similar to the themed stories you’ll find in the main game, but they highlight, discuss and educate folks on the history of the iconic toy brand. There’s talk about how it got started, when certain people joined the team and what their goals were at every step of the process. It’s admittedly quite interesting, even for someone who never cared all that much for toy cars as a kid. That’s all aided, of course, by the addition of great racing in unique cars. The gold medal goals can get pretty challenging, though, so be warned.

The super talented wizards at Playground Games also listened to complaints about the last add-on, and decided to really up the ante and fun factor by adding varied track types into the mix. This was done by creating biomes within the Hot Wheels playground, meaning that you’ll get to drive around (and compete within) areas themed after jungles, volcanoes and icy mountaintops. The addition of these biomes means special track types, including those which are covered in ice. This adds a new wrinkle into the mix. The same is true of sections that resemble a theme park’s water slides turned up to eleven.

As you drive around this new, separate, festival you’ll also notice different things attached to the tracks themselves. Things like boost pads that send you flying with insane bursts of speed, magnetic strips that suck you into the track and allow for some epic upside down driving and fans that propel you to new heights. This keeps the action fresh and interesting, and addresses the main issue I had with the first kick at this can.

One other thing I appreciated was the fact that the action wasn’t limited to just plastic tracks and loops. Even close to the start of this new campaign, I found myself venturing off the factory molded and made roads and onto snow, rock and dirt-based roads, in exhilarating off-road races.

Of course, there are numerous unique vehicles to unlock, including a number of special Hot Wheels from the brand’s iconic history. However, progressing through Forza Horizon 5‘s Hot Wheels expansion isn’t as simple, accessible or enjoyable as that of the main game’s Mexican festivals. Instead, you’re forced to complete objectives in order to earn enough medal points to move on. It’s essentially a tiered ranking system, wherein you must complete the rookie stage to become a professional, then complete it before becoming a superstar. This makes sense, but the way it’s all implemented makes it feel like a bit of a chore, or like checking things off a honey-do list. You’re not free to complete events as you see fit, and have to look up and plan around objectives so often that it takes you out of the experience. At least that’s what happened to me.

When a new ranking tier is achieved, a scattering of race and sprint events appears on the map. To move forward, you’ll want to complete all of those and come in first place. That’s to be expected, right? Well, once those are completed you’ll still need a relatively large amount of additional medal points, meaning you’ll have to pull up the rank’s objective list and see which additional challenges you can compete. Some of the more exciting ones task you with driving from one point of the Hot Wheels festival to another in record time. Those will certainly have your pulse pounding, while others may incite some frustration, which is the antithesis of Forza Horizon. These ask you to win races on hard or expert, get three stars on all of the available stunt challenges (like speed traps and danger zones), smash upwards of 15 ‘tank balloons’ and more. Although I’m pretty good at these games, I won’t confess to being the best there ever is, so this progression system admittedly made me worry I wouldn’t be able to complete everything. It also came across as too heavy, limiting and chore-like.

Fans of the Forza Horizon series have a lot to be excited about when it comes to Forza Horizon 5‘s Hot Wheels expansion. It’s a definite upgrade over what came before it, and is a lot of fun to both cruise around and complete. It’s just held back by a couple of questionable design decisions.

This review is based on a copy of the game and DLC that we were provided with. It was reviewed using an Xbox Series S review unit.

Forza Horizon 5's Hot Wheels expansion is a fun, creative and very replayable add-on for an already great game. We'll never complain about more Forza Horizon gameplay, but do wish that its progression system wasn't so rigid and chore-like.
Reader Rating0 Votes
The Good Stuff
More incredible Forza Horizon racing
The developers fixed most of the shortcomings of Forza Horizon 3's Hot Wheels add-on
Can be played for fun, or with the goal of completion. Tons of replay value regardless.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
A very rigid progression system, which feels like a chore at times
Not a new idea, but it's still a lot of fun