Review

Forza Motorsport 4 Review (Xbox360)

I have a confession to make. This wasn't the easiest review I've ever written. There are two reasons for that: I feel like I've already reviewed Forza Motorsport 4 back when it was called 'Forza 3'. Secondly after a week of intense play, my hands have become unwieldy claws suited only to gripping a controller, which has made typing more difficult than usual.

Out of the box, you might feel like you've picked up your old copy of Forza 3 by accident. In fact, looking at the back of the box doesn't help much either. The first real indication of change comes from Jeremy Clarkson's voice-over during the introductory video, which I would normally treat as a deafening, politically incorrect alarm bell. Thankfully this is the most Jezza has to say, remaining mute until you invoke his presence in the new Autovista feature.

When will Stig find out someone has sprayed graffiti on his Yaris?

Unlike Top Gear, Forza doesn't pander to the intellectually jejune. Unlike rival Gran Turismo, it won't make you take a driving test before you're allowed out of the car park and onto the road. It just wants you to have fun as quickly as possible, yet it doesn't even assume you know how to brake as it tosses you the keys to a Ferrari for a race through the Bernese Alps. It's a thrilling introduction to the game and highlights one of Forza 4's improvements: sheer visual splendour.

I don't like writing about how good a game's graphics are. It's boring. Ten years from now when we're all playing Forza 12 on the Xbox 720, people will look back at this review and laugh at the cardboard boxes racing around the lifeless environments. For those of you reading this in 2011, Forza 4 isn't photo-realistic, because it looks better than real life. Your car will never be this clean and shiny, the roads never this free from squashed woodland animals. In Autovista, the cars are so detailed and pristine I wouldn't be surprised if they morphed into robots and went off in search of adventure.

Autovista is, like much of Forza, an attempt to extend motor racing enthusiasm beyond a hardcore fan base. Choosing from a selection of sports cars you'll never be able to afford, you can explore their interiors and hear little titbits of information about their engineering and performance. It is a nice addition, but a gimmicky one. It's an attempt to shoehorn the Kinect sensor into previously uncharted territory, but its other implementations are much more appealing.

All are welcome in Forza 4. You can steer with Kinect or a controller, or use a hybrid method and move your head to look around the track while your thumbs handle the driving. As your skill improves, you can gradually turn off assists like automatic brakes and traction control. If you're a seasoned road warrior with a saved game from Forza 3, it gives you bonus cars and an achievement just for putting in the disc. A Bugatti Veyron before you've even got to the main menu: dessert before you've ordered the starter.

I don't mean to name-drop vehicles and sound elitist, but it teaches you things about cars: what the various parts do through detailed explanations in the Upgrade Shop; why it's better to decelerate using the foot brake than the fenders of other cars; how having twelve supercars race through the Swiss mountainside is like rolling Faberge eggs down a hill on Easter Monday. It's taught me that if I could have any car, it would probably be a Ferrari 599 GTO. It's like riding an angry dragon: push it too hard and you'll feel the rear end buckle as it threatens to throw you off, roaring furiously the whole time.

It’s the green machine! My Honda Integra with the worst paint job ever

This is truly thrilling stuff. The audio design is quite literally mind-blowing (if turned up loud enough) and deserves surround sound treatment, although you'll want to mute that awful drum and bass soundtrack as soon as possible. The car handling and physics have been drastically overhauled; making Forza 3 feel tame by comparison. Do yourself a favour and configure the handling to the new 'Simulation' setting, changing the experience from a mere racing game to a battle of nerves between man and machine. Forza’s use of haptic feedback remains peerless: you can feel every gear change or tyre rumbling over the apex. The synergy between controller and car is so satisfying, it makes you wonder why you would ever give it up for Kinect.

It's the little tweaks and additions that really elevate Forza 4 above its predecessors and competitors. World Tour mode replaces the bland Season Play, with a much wider range of races on offer. At one moment, cars with twice the horsepower are lapping you in a multi-class event, the next you're darting between traffic on the slopes of Fujimi Kaido more akin to Burnout than a serious racing simulation. Your rivals provide stiff competition, now upgrading and tuning their own cars in line with yours. The artificial intelligence is more aggressive: you'll find opponents invading your personal space, where previously they would have been a microscopic dot in the rear view mirror.

The increased variety breathes new life into old circuits, while qualifying rounds in the World Championship series break what were previously intolerable feats of endurance into manageable morsels of racing fun. The only regrettable inclusions are the Top Gear inspired challenge stages, which bring to mind the most frustrating elements of Crazy Taxi and Project Gotham Racing. Ten-pin bowling isn't any fun to begin with, and it's even less fun when you're using a car instead of a ball. Likewise, there are only so many cone gates one can weave through before it gets tiresome. These are, however, momentary troubles in an otherwise great mix of events.

As you progress through the World Tour, new cars are added to the garage - you have a choice of prize this time around - and it's here that you take a detour into the automotive equivalent of Pokémon. Just like Pokémon, only the most obsessive will try and grab 'em all, but everyone will have their favourites: choose your personalised weapon for every racing battle, 'level up' and give it new parts to keep it competitive, change the colour scheme and fiddle with the suspension for hours because you’re forming a friendship with an inanimate object. There are even legendary cars in the form of 'Unicorns', which live up to their name, since I never saw one in the online auctions.

Please don’t drink and drive. If you do drink and drive, don’t drive one of these

Many drivers won't even be interested in the World Tour, such is the strength of Forza’s online community. From racers with three synchronised screens and a racing seat whittled from balsa wood (probably) to drifting enthusiasts and artists, Xbox Live functionality has been a key selling point for the franchise. Friends can now form Car Clubs and share their pimped rides with each other or compete on personalised leaderboards. As well as the usual diversity of online racing lobbies to cater to all tastes, 'Rivals' mode lets you compete against an ever-changing field of opponents ghost cars for enticing cash prizes. Assuming that the Forza 3 community migrates, which seems a pretty safe bet, there's a lot here to satisfy both learner drivers and world champions alike. In a market filled with online passes and downloadable add-ons, it's great to have a game bursting with content. You won't have to fill in the gaps using your credit card in the near future.

To those unfamiliar with the series, Forza 4 may seem like a perfunctory update. But like all good mechanical overhauls, a lot of work has gone in under the hood without ruining the important things. It's faster and more intense than ever before, with tangible improvements to every facet. The word forza is used to cheer competitors at sporting events: it's about enthusiasm and passion. Forza 4 succeeds because it distils automotive passion into a form that anyone- not just petrolheads- will find enthralling.

Favourite Gaming Moment: Tearing up Fujimi Kaido in a Toyota Supra, a blistering all-Ferrari race in the Alps, a duel escalating into a three-way battle at Hockenheimring, watching a pressured rival skid off into the gravel as you cruise to victory…

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Comments

By 4471na (I just got here) on Oct 06, 2011
4471na
yeap
By AGBear (SI Newbie) on Oct 06, 2011
AGBear
Two super-exciting addenda:

1) I took the screenshots used by the review myself.
2) My Car Club is called "Suckin Diesel" (one for the Northern Irish readers out there) and you're all welcome to join when the game launches!
By ColinMc (SI Veteran Member) on Oct 14, 2011
ColinMc
Mjam!! It's fun!!!!
And maby exiten!!!