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Game review: Forza 4

07 Oct 2011

The motorsport genre is a notoriously exclusive sector of gaming, generally requiring an enthusiast’s level investment from players. Turn 10’s clearly taken some serious notes on the racing genre since Forza 3, but the studio also appears to have studied up on the art of inclusion. Building on the franchise’s solid core, Forza 4 incorporates virtually all of the genre’s best innovations, while also leveraging the community aspect and cramming in an unprecedented level of content.

But it takes more than the promise of hundreds of licensed cars to keep players engaged in the mid- to long-term. Thankfully, Forza 4 also provides a comprehensive array of features that will ensure that players keep coming back for more. And it’s not just the motorsport hardcore that will make return visits; rather cleverly, Forza 4 tailors the experience to suit the level of investment from full-blown petrol heads and novice racers alike.

But first, the refinements. Forza 4 is an undeniably gorgeous racer, with graphics that are more than just a notch above its predecessors. The track environments and lighting effects are phenomenal, although unfortunately there are no night-time racing or wet-weather scenarios. The 30 or so tracks on offer, though, do provide a variety of striking environments from the snowy mountain passes of the Bernese Alps through to a faithful recreation of the iconic Nurburgring. Each of the 500+ cars on offer has been modelled in painstaking detail, with the vehicles of Forza 4 enjoying a significant boost to their polygon counts. It’s more difficult to absorb mid-race, but the combination of the aforementioned elements in the replays that follow is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

But nowhere is the painstaking detail of the vehicles more apparent than in Auto Vista mode. This is a feature where players can examine cars up close and in detail from any angle, using either the standard controller or Kinect. Inspecting certain components triggers a short clip and an audio description from Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson, who divulges all manner of related factoids and interesting tidbits about the vehicle in question. The cars look particularly stunning up close in Auto Vista, but unfortunately not every one of Forza 4’s 500-odd cars is available for inspection. Auto Vista is a truly impressive feature nonetheless, and is sure to appeal to the obsessive car buffs among Forza’s fan base. Clarkson also provides the game’s narration, introducing your next destination in between races; it’s part of a wider Top Gear endorsement, which also sees the show’s famous test track feature among the game’s playable locations.

One of the true crowning achievements of Forza 4 is that, while it achieves one of the deepest levels of simulation among current racers, it’s still accessible to any and all comers. From its range of assists that provide an arcade-style experience through to the fact that it can be played with Kinect, Forza 4 excludes or alienates no one. With Kinect, one simply needs to hold their hands in front of them and steer as if holding an invisible wheel. Sure, the Kinect player doesn’t have to worry about acceleration or even braking for that matter, but it’s the perfect feature to ensure that even young kids can find enjoyment in Forza 4. Speaking of Kinect, it can also be used in tandem with a physical controller or wheel in order to provide ‘head tracking’. After a short calibration upon booting the game up, players can peer to the side of their windscreens as they drive forwards. This effectively enables them to ‘look into’ an upcoming corner, giving you a better vantage point as you make the turn. Personally, it’s a feature I could take or leave, but it’s undoubtedly something that the Forza hardcore will lap up.

The career mode takes you through several classes of motor vehicle, rewarding you with your choice from a handful of cars each time you level up. You’ll also increase an affinity level with a manufacturer the more you race with one of its vehicles, resulting in credit bonuses and extensive discounts on parts upgrades. Furthermore, there is a raft of different race types to be encountered; most are straightforward races against multiple opponents, but the odd curveball is thrown in there to mix things up and keep it interesting: there’s one event where you’re tasked with reaching a certain points threshold by knocking down bowling pins littered around the course; and another where you must beat a rival to the finish line while weaving through traffic.

In the game’s early stages, if you find yourself marvelling at your uncanny knack for winning each and every race you participate in, you might want to check your assists. By default, Forza 4 activates these steering and braking aids. They essentially serve as an additional safety net to prevent novice players from quitting in frustration after spinning off the track a few too many times. The player can lessen or disable certain assists as their skills improve, resulting in not only a more rewarding experience, but the reward of more experience (and also potentially faster lap times). It’s a clever way of providing an incentive for the player to improve their skills, which will surely be mandatory if you’re serious about the online competition.

On that note, while I was unable to join any online adversarial races in the pre-release period, I was able to check out some of Forza 4’s online social aspects, of which there are many. In fact, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with the Rivals Mode, which is along the lines of the Autolog feature from recent entries in the Need For Speed series. It’s an addictive, competitive mode that allows you to challenge your friends (or complete strangers, for that matter) in a bid to beat their best times on certain tracks. Upon initiating a Rivals challenge, you’ll race against the downloaded ‘ghost’ of your friends’ best attempts at the same circuit.

Players can form ‘clubs’ in Forza 4, which is almost like an in-game clan support. Within your club you can share cars and compare stats, and you can also see where your club’s combined stats stand against those of rival clubs on a range of leaderboards. Then there’s the ability to snap pictures and film clips of a player’s hottest cars and best moments, all of which can be shared online. And then, of course, there’s Forza’s famous livery editor, which allows players to customise their cars’ paint jobs with an unprecedented comprehensiveness. The community aspect of Forza 4 is destined to go through the roof.

With last year’s Gran Turismo 5 considered to be something of a disappointment, now’s the perfect time for Forza to modestly knock the Real Driving Simulator from its perch. And it’s an opportunity that Turn 10 appears to have grasped firmly with both hands. Forza 4 doesn’t over-promise, and it doesn’t introduce any particularly revolutionary ideas at the same time. What it does, however, is pay close attention to the racing buff’s wishlist, combining the best elements of this generation’s greatest racers into one detailed and comprehensive package. And then it opens that package up to everyone. For a motorsport game, it’s got serious legs.

Score: 9.2

Note: if you were watching the Warriors last weekend you may have seen the cool Forza 4 trailer. We've posted the extended version below.

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