Forza Motorsport 4 (Forza 4) is, as the name might suggest, the 4th title in Turn 10 Studios’ Xbox exclusive racing series that was established back in ye olde original Xbox days. The franchise is placed to be Microsoft’s direct competitor to Sony’s even older Gran Turismo franchise and over its iterations has surpassed them in quality, if not in quantity sold.
It’s been 2 years since Forza Motorsport 3 and developer, Turn 10 Studios, has promised improvements in every department, from graphics to online utilisation. The big question is: Should you keep a hold of your reliable used model or is it time to trade it in for the shiny new version with all the mods.
Hand Polished Quality - One of my biggest gripes with the Forza series has been that while everything looked good it remained slightly soulless. All the cars were accurate depictions and the tracks could be identified easily but it was a clinical experience that would become almost boring with repeated play. Forza 4 has addressed this problem wonderfully. A little digging around uncovered the fact that Turn 10 are using a system called Image Based Lighting. In all honesty, I have no idea what this actually means but what it produces are cars that feel much more tangible as light and shadow bounces off the bonnet and tracks that are far more vibrant that anything they have produced before. The frame rate runs smoothly (reportedly 60fps) and there are plenty of visual clues trackside to assist with braking distances.
Like Batman Chewing Gravel - The sound in Forza 4 is absolutely outstanding. Every car has its own unique engine note, from the sandpaper rasp of an Apollo Gumpert to the understated growl of an Aston Martin DB9. Each car appears to have had a lavish amount of time spent on getting its individual tone just right. While playing Forza 4 and chatting to a friend in a party he could hear the noise coming from my television. As he described what he was hearing and coming to decisions like valve count and aspiration he finally said ‘You’re driving a Ford Focus RS’ and he was spot on. Turn 10 have got the audio perfectly replicated. Oh, and some of my friends like cars a little too much.
Wagging My Tail - Another feature that was often described as sterile was the handling of the cars. Turn 10 made the right choice by loosening things up. Now most cars feel much more on the point of over-steer. This makes the experience incredibly exciting and leaves the player right on the ragged edge of control on the higher difficulties. It also helps to make the less prestigious cars a bit more interesting to spend time with.
XXX Car Porn - Autovista is a new mode for the series which takes around 25 of the 500+ cars included in the game and reproduces them to a photo realistic level both outside and in. The player is able to move around the car and receive in-depth audio detail about specific parts of the car from engine size to tricked out gear boxes. Every car has a commentary from the marmite like voice of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson, which gives an overview of the car’s history and also how the Top Gear team feels about it. In order to unlock a car the player is challenged with beating a particular challenge in that car. Although this mode is short it is stunning to see and provides a bit more depth of understanding around the cars.
A Challenge to Rival Anything - Rival mode has also been introduced and it works in much the same way as Need for Speed's fabulous Autolog system. Players are given a series of objectives to complete from a simple race to a timed lap in Top Gear’s “reasonably priced car.” This is a mode that can be played on your own but provides a lot more fun and variation from what has become a rather stale main campaign and with leaderboard integration this could be a game type that holds interest, too.
It’s the Little Things - There are a few little tricks in the game that really freshen things up. First off is the car affinity level which rewards the player for spending time with a particular manufacturer. Win a race in a Lancia Delta Integralle and Lancia will send you a cash bonus and discount on any upgrades. Win a few more races in it and once your affinity level reaches 5 all upgrades are free. This has the knock on effect of making it worth your while to leave the car in its original spec, at least for a few races, and lets you drive the car and feel its nuances as the developer intended it. Also while racing you are awarded points for good lines, overtaking and drifting although the latter two are merely a nice little diversion. The visual representation of how you are taking corners is an excellent tool to improving your lap times. Take the corner perfectly and you’ll be given 4 marks which, of course, will drop the worse the corner is taken. No more getting smoked by the opposition and scratching your head as to where you are losing the time. A returning feature is the fully adjustable difficulty, giving the player the option to adjust traction control, driving lines or disable replays. Everyone should be able to find a reasonable level to run at, from the race trimmed Lewis Hamilton wannabes to the most ham-fisted Mr. Magoo impersonators.
Everything is Better With Friends - I love driving cars round the tracks; I’m not too bad at it either. I, unfortunately, also know nothing about camber and slipped differential. If you put me in the paint mode it would take me three hours just to spell my own name. Turn 10 circumvents this problem by introducing Car Clubs to Forza 4. The car club is essentially a collection of players who can share cars, setups and paint jobs. Now, if you know all about tuning a car but don’t have the necessary reflexes to negotiate the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, your car’s potential can be realised by someone in the club and you can both look good by doing it in the paint job designed by your resident artist.
If It Ain't Broke - Public lobbies make a welcome return to Forza 4 after the largely unsuccessful matchmaking from Forza 3. This enables the host to choose certain parameters to control the race and crucially allows the kicking of ‘that guy’ who seems more intent than ruining the experience than in competing fairly. The numbers have also been increased to 12 which means that even if you are unable to keep up with the fastest guys you will inevitably be competing with someone for the lower placed finishes. You will really struggle to find a better Multiplayer racing experience. The auction house and store fronts both return for the budding entrepreneur to make some money by selling off some of the brilliantly crafted designs that the paint shop allows the more talented player to create.
Do It Again... and Again... and Again... - The biggest issue with Forza 4 is the “meat and potatoes,” that is, the single player offering. If you’ve played any Forza or Gran Turismo you’ll know only too well, what you are getting into. The single player consists of a series of races that have to be completed in a certain category of car which will become increasingly tougher until you get to the end some 30 hours later. It really becomes the definition of grinding. Forza 4 does try to combat this by offering high level cars early in the game and using a rolling calendar to offer races but it’s a formula that has been around since the original Gran Turismo in 1998 and has barely evolved since.
You Keep Bouncing Back to Me - Rubber banding is a major complaint in most racing games but, in a title that claims to be a simulation, it is completely unacceptable. You can build a convincing lead on a longer race only for the AI to start pumping in laps that are seconds faster than are possible. The argument is always that it makes the race more exciting but for me the thrill of a racing game is the challenge of the track and if I’ve done the hard work in building a lead the challenge should be to maintain that with fast laps and not be forced to defend 1st place against overly aggressive AI for the rest of the race. This is not meant to be Mario Kart!
Not Hard to Track the Changes - For a title that boasts 500 different cars and over 100 track layouts it is very disappointing to see that only 4 new venues have been added since Forza 3. Even more disappointing are anomalies like Silverstone not being updated to reflect the massive changes that were made 3 years ago in real life. The vehicle list is as impressive as ever but I would appreciate the developers placing a bit more emphasis on where we are driving them.
Forza 4 is return to form after (for me, at least) a disappointing release that was Forza 3. There are a tonne of little tweaks and additions that make the purchase essential for any car or racing enthusiast. The graphics and handling make barrelling round the track of your choice much more lively. The rivals mode and car club offer something different from the usual fare and Autovista is truly gorgeous. The wealth of features makes this update a must have, even if the track selection is a little underwhelming.
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