It begins with an intro narrated by Jeremy Clarkson. It continues through tuning, car clubs, photography, rivalries and the car-porn of ‘Autovista’. It’s Forza Motorsport 4. It’s a car lover’s dream.
There’s plenty for the average racing game fan here, too. Let’s not fool ourselves though, this is a game primarily aimed at the kind of people that know what a Koenigsegg CCRX is, appreciate the Lancia Delta and dream of owning a 1969 Dodge Charger.
Everything in Forza 4 has been setup and designed for you to indulge in the world automobiles. It’s lucky then, that I like automobiles.
Nowhere is this rubber, exhaust fumes and six litre engine indulgence more obvious than in the revamped career mode. Finally, here’s a racing sim that allows us to do what we’ve always yearned for – to use any car we want, any time we want. Instead of the usual formula of forcing you through a rigid string of events, Forza 4 presents you with three events to choose from based on the car you want to drive.
Your event options are generated based on your car’s class, manufacturer, model and drive-type/engine placement. This means that when you hop into your coveted Nissan Sylvia Spec-R you can expect to find Nissan-specific events, B-class events (if you’ve tuned it to such a specification) and events for rear wheel drive cars.
It’s a much improved system that gives you the freedom to play however you like. Personally, I prefer to race production cars no more powerful than a Ferrari 458i or Mercedes SLS (as if that’s small…). It’s great to be able to indulge in my favourite kinds of cars without having to race the hulking beasts of Le Mans or drag races races.
Career mode has taken another turn for the better with the level of variety on offer. Regular races are made more interesting thanks to line-ups featuring different numbers of cars (usually either eight or 12) and multi-heat events. Different times of day further impact races; affecting light levels, shadows and windscreen glare.
Then there are multiclass races featuring two sets of cars, each with vastly different performance levels. During these events you’re only racing the cars in your class; others must be avoided, making the game feel more alive as a result of the separate-but-associated race going on around you. There are also one versus one races that take place amid slow moving traffic, and Top Gear ‘bowling’ events tasking you with knocking down pins laid out on the TV show’s test track.
Top Gear bowling aside, these events take place across tracks both new and old. Returning classics such as Laguna Seca, Silverstone and Maple Valley join newcomers like the Bernese Alps with its wide, sweeping corners, the technically challenging Hockenheim and the pedal-to-the-metal Indianapolis Speedway.
These events and tracks are the more enjoyable thanks to opponent AI design that might just be the best we’ve ever seen from a game of this ilk. Long gone are the days when racing in Forza were characterised by follow-the-leader racing against drivers lacking any kind of personality.
Here, however, the AI is much more convincing; they constantly attempt to overtake one another, they will miss the braking zone and end up in the sand trap and they can be pressured into making mistakes. The frequency and manner of their overtaking attempts (as well as their resilience to intimidation) is dependent on their individual personalities. This makes each race different, forcing you to identify a driver’s probable reaction before making an estimate about what you can get away with.
The way that you handle your own vehicle has been tweaked also, providing increased range and diversity. Even with traction control turned on, different drive-types (rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, four-wheel drive) feel unique in a way they sometimes failed to in Forza 3. Part upgrades, a car’s weight and tyres drastically alter performance and give you the opportunity to create setups that suit your driving style.
This variation results in an enforced learning period whenever you ever get behind the wheel of a new vehicle – again, increasing the sense of realism.
It’s possible for you (and/or the AI) to flip your car. Depending on which assists you’re playing with, coming to rest on your roof can lead to early retirement. Unfortunately, damage modelling doesn’t look fantastic – especially when it comes to paint work that has been scratched or rubbed off which results in obvious and dramatic pixelation.
Damage can be turned off in the ‘difficult’ menu, which is probably how you should play if you’re lacking experience in the genre or simply want to take things easy. Other assists can be turned on or off. These include traction control, assisted braking, ABS, a racing/braking line and the now common ‘rewind’ feature (allowing you to undo a crash by going back in time).
As in previous Forza titles, an RPG-style levelling up system is used to define your ‘Driver’ and ‘Affinity’ levels. With each new driver level acquired you’re given a choice of cars to choose from. Your choice consists of vehicles that are loosely linked in some way – American muscle cars, hatchbacks, off-road 4×4’s etc.
Your affinity level is tied to each manufacturer and builds whenever you race one of their cars. The more you use Mitsubishi’s, for example, the higher your Mitsubishi affinity level. Higher levels provide you discounts for that manufacturer’s vehicles and parts. Obviously, the bond of sorts is formed with manufacturer’s because they offer cheap deals which provide access to more cars.
If you end up with a car you don’t want you can flog it to someone that else in the Auction Hose. Given that the game has yet to hit shelves, the Auction House is sparsely populated at present. If Forza 3 is anything to go by, however, hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of cars will be listed within a few days of release.
Again, like Forza 3, complete liveries, paint jobs and tuning setups can be sold online from your personal ‘Storefront’; there’s also a photo section to show off your skill with a lens. New to the online feature set are ‘Rivals Mode’ and ‘Car Clubs’. Acting much like EA’s ‘Autolog’ system, Rivals Mode provides constant updates regarding the successes of your friends and players that you’ve singled out as a ‘rival’. Like Autolog, Rivals is simple but effective, it enhances your desire to be the best simply because the timings are right there in your face – taunting you.
Car Clubs are going to be a haven for serious racers everywhere. Designed as a way of sharing your garage, photos, tuning setups and race liveries between likeminded individuals, Car Clubs act as the social network branch of Forza 4. Sharing a car with your club makes it available to every member without restricting your own use of it, thereby greatly expanding the pool of cars at your disposal and removing the need to horde vast amounts of in-game currency.
Already Car Clubs have been founded that aim to cater for different interests; some seek photographer’s, some want tuners, some want to create a racing team and others are simply made up of those wanting to admire each other’s cars. There should be room for various types of player in most clubs… racing teams will likely want a race photographer and livery designer, for example.
There are plenty of other neat features in Forza 4 that I haven’t even mentioned yet. Kinect head-tracking causes you driver’s eyes to look in whatever direction your own head is pointing (handy for seeing around corners). Autovista mode is a wet-dream for those with an eye for design, allowing to you to inspect ridiculously detailed cars while listening to Top Gears’ Jeremy Clarkson commentate about how great it is.
Then there’s the improved visuals (especially when playing in the cockpit), the increased number of multiplayer race types, the simplified presentation and sound design that feels like you’re being punched in the back of the head.
On the other side of the coin pre-race qualifying remains absent, there are no weather variations and a 2.8GB install is required to gain access to all cars and tracks. When it comes down to it though, such issues are but a tiny blip on the radar. (Yet, a blip they remain.)
Despite that, Forza 4 is the finest racing simulator of this generation. And, yes, I have played Gran Turismo.