Gaming for Grown Ups
12th October 2011 15:46:00
Posted by Andrew Phillips

Forza Motorsport 4

Microsoft Xbox 360 Review

Turn 10 are back once more aiming to push forward the 360’s flagship racing simulator series that little bit further. Judging their success or failure will not necessarily come in the form of sales as it is always likely to do extremely well but actually whether the series has moved forward and progressed from being an excellent racing simulation series into an untouchable one, across all platforms.

Simulation games have always run the risk of seriously alienating the more casual gamer through lack of accessibility and that easy to pick up arcade factor. Arguably the most difficult task for any simulation is to pull in the big crowds all the while sticking to their roots and the principles that got them where they are. Fusing accessibility and masses of content has in the past proven somewhat difficult for the Forza series as it has frequently been labelled as ‘clinical’ or ‘sterile’. Of course it has always had the tracks, the cars and so on but some would say “lacked the fun of its competitors”. Turn 10 have addressed such concerns and then some.

The follow up to the successful Forza 3 is an undeniable step in the right direction and the team at Turn 10 have proven they are now at the top of their game. If you have played any of the previous outings in the series you will be very much at home from the first loading screen, it’s almost like seeing an old friend who has had some work done. Newcomers are also catered for very nicely and will find the new career mode to be an extremely accessible route into the mass of content to be found within Forza 4.

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The career mode starts with a bang and does a fantastic job of easing the player into the world of Forza 4. You are not inundated with cars, statistics, tuning setups, decals, paint jobs and so on...but they are all there should you wish to delve deeper. Jumping from track to track in a suitably under powered two wheel drive Citroen (multiple cars are available) there are many elements of the game that briefly show their face but you are never forced to get involved with them. By all means enter the tuning setup area or maybe apply a new paint job but that is one of the strengths of Forza 4, it’s extraordinarily deep but only as much as you want it to be.

The introduction to the career mode sets the tone in a very warm and fuzzy way. Jeremy Clarkson greets you and proceeds to talk over a delightfully over the top sequence that looks as if it’s been lifted straight out of a Top Gear feature entitled ‘We really love everything about cars’. It sets the scene perfectly and as a result, fan of the show or not, you will be chomping at the bit to get behind the wheel for the first time.

Seasoned Forza players will want to ramp up the career mode difficulty from the off as on the lower settings, with the majority of driving aids ‘on’, it is an extremely easy game. Again though this allows new players access to this rich car loving world without smashing a controller in to the TV after a few races. This all feeds back to accessibility and the notion that Forza 4 is rammed with content but you can play it a little more like an arcade racer than a stats based simulation one should you be so inclined.

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As you play through you accumulate XP for every race, along with credits which can be spent on new cars or upgrades to the existing cars within your garage. Accumulated XP goes towards your driver level (achievements a plenty here) and there is also the introduction of manufacturer affinity points. These accumulate every time you use any of a certain manufacturer's cars, allowing for cheaper (eventually free) parts and random new cars as your affinity level grows. It’s a fairly paper thin method of player engagement but it works and you will continue to strive to level up that little bit more, or improve your manufacturer affinity so you can get that new exhaust that tiny bit cheaper for the next race. It is also a nice touch that whatever mode you play in you accumulate both sets of XP, therefore you are not restricted to having to play the campaign, thus giving all types of players the flexibility to rank up even if they prefer different modes.

To add to the arcade feel there is a system in place that rewards perfect cornering, or overtaking, very much in the Project Gotham Racing mould. A delightful little ping appears when you do something the game considers to be ‘the right thing to do’ and there are even some achievements attached to make you feel better about yourself as you fly around a track. Such rewards are easily achievable due to the improved handling in Forza 4, seeing vastly superior feedback from Forza 3. Cornering at high speed and braking in tight corners is a much more realistic and satisfying experience this time around.

If there is one main criticism of the career mode it is that after a few seasons it does become a bit of a grind. Sure new cars are consistently awarded and achievements keep a poppin’ but it’s never a thrill ride and some will probably label it as being a tad dull after a few hours. The only other really minor gripe is the competitor AI. Rubber banding is frequent and the AI can be a tad overly aggressive at times, particularly in the ‘traffic’ races where you are forced to race one opponent through...you guessed it, traffic. Rather than swerve to avoid you, the seemingly passive traffic actually makes a beeline for you and are often seen blocking your progress while the opposition speeds off into the distance. Neither of these are massive issues and both are problems inherent with a lot of racing games, it’s just a bit of shame as they can cause some frustration through what is otherwise the perfect racing game.

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Visually Forza 4 is a beautiful game, so much so that even the cars which you would never dream of buying jump out at you and you find yourself contemplating a trip to say...a Citroen garage. Realistically if you ever did this you’d end up being disappointed but you get the point. The inclusion of the new ‘Autovista’ is an excellent one and provides some visually stunning car models, probably the highest level of car detail to ever grace a racing game in fact. It really hits home just how much of a love letter to motorsport this game is when Jeremy Clarkson is talking you through a 2008 Lamborghini Reventon, seeing every single solitary feature the car has to offer in glorious HD. It is also nice to see that the regions around the world are all given their opportunity to shine and the game contains LOTS of cars from all around the world, rather than nine hundred types of Mitsubishi.

Again a minor criticism amongst all these superlatives is the lack of real life weather or environmental effects. It may be purely a coincidence but every career race seems to take place in perfect sunny conditions! It’s a minor niggle but it would have been nice to have seen the new physics engine be pushed that little bit further with some random weather in there.

On the subject of the new physics engine, weather aside, it does add further realism to the series and in turn the visual superiority. Cars react in ways which are realistic based on their stock settings and this even changes as you tweak & fiddle using the wealth of tuning and upgrade features available.

To sit alongside these graphical and physics improvements is the car engine audio which is stunningly close to perfection. Every car sounds disturbingly accurate; from the sound our old friend the Citroen C3 makes when being screwed in second gear to the balls out insane sound of a Ford GT in full flow, not only does Forza 4 look the part but it sounds sublime. The actual musical soundtrack is also adequate, mixing in the stock amount of beats throughout and the various voice overs are both authoritative and instructional.

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Online you have the ability to compete in full 16 player private or public match-ups as well as the new Need for Speed Autolog inspired Rivals Mode. A nice touch here is that not only can you compete against all your friends, but if you don’t have any (awww bless) then you will be auto matched against players of a similar standing, therefore you always have someone to try to best. There are also all of the much loved community aspects such as the auction house enabling players to ‘sell’ their decals and cars to fellow game owners.

There is almost too much content in this game to cover off in a single review...here is a quick summary of some of the other new features:

  • Rivals mode - This gives you the ability to challenge your friends in a diverse group of events - these can even be entered while offline.
  • Car Clubs - These are designed to give players the ability to form what are effectively clans and band together to take on the world. Members of each club can share ALL the cars possessed between themselves and work together to get to the top of the car club leaderboards.
  • Kinect Integration - The much requested head tracking makes an appearance in Forza 4 allowing for greater driving realism as does the ability to control the menus with your voice.
  • Top Gear - As mentioned in the main review Top Gear is now throughout Forza 4, you even have the ability to take the reasonably priced car around the Top Gear track or play 16 player car football online. The career mode also has a handful of ten pin bowling and car football events also help mix things up a little.

The tracks within Forza 4 don’t expand a great deal upon the tracks present within Forza 3 and it’s a bit of shame to find yourself racing around similar circuits to the ones you did two years ago. There are a handful of additions and they definitely do add something, its just not a huge leap forward for the series and a tad disappointing. Volume wise there is still a great deal to choose from and anyone new to the series will be in awe of the number available.

Moving from tracks to cars, the sheer volume within Forza 4 is staggering. Marry this with the ability to tinker with just about every single thing you can think of on a car and this fast becomes a car lover’s dream. Hours and hours will most certainly be poured into creating the ultimate dream machine with a view to racing it in the hottest on and offline events. Sure the game lacks a Porsche or two (well all of them actually) but it really doesn’t matter and in no way lessens the experience.

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Forza 4 is the ultimate racing game and dare it be said, the best racing simulator on any platform. It is comprehensive, accessible, brimming with lovingly crafted content and in terms of value for money has no equal.

If you love cars or are a fan of racing games you have to pick up Forza 4, it would be scandalous to miss this one.

(No Citroen's were harmed during the writing of this review)
Details and Specifications
Review Platform: Microsoft Xbox 360

Publisher: Microsoft

Developer: Turn 10

UK Release Date: 2011-10-14
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