With three games already gracing our consoles and a gap of around two years since the previous game, it’s easy to perhaps cast an overly critical eye over Forza Motorsport 4 (Forza 4) and what new content it offers. However, with much experience under their belts, developers Turn 10 simply have to fine tune and get it right; not only to attempt to best their previous efforts, but to show that they are continually pressing forwards rather than resting on their laurels. So, possibly the critical eye is justifiable in this case as we’ve seen evidence before in other sports games where yearly updates seemingly offer tweaks and minor changes to tried and trusted formulas and little else. Perhaps then it’s a natural reaction to inspect Forza 4 in the same light as deviating too far from driving around a race track doesn’t offer too much development scope. So with a four in the title and cynical but welcoming eyes testing the mettle, can Turn 10 pull it off once more or have things become a bit too familiar.
Rather than offer a deep overview of the game’s features which you’ll be well familiar with if you’ve played Forza 2 and 3, let’s focus on what is new or tweaked. The meat and two veg of the single player experience is the career mode which returns in full splendour and once again tailors itself to whatever vehicle you’re currently driving. You’ll earn XP for participating in racing, which in turn levels up your driver level netting you some handy goodies in the process. What’s more prominent here with the rewards is being given a choice of vehicles each time. This fits snugly with the new affinity bonus which is a revision of old themes from the series – but somewhat more noticeable. In simple terms, drive a car from manufacturer Ford for example, and after each race you’ll level up your relationship with them. Each level gains a reward such as parts discounts and cash bonuses – eventually you can get a 100% discount on parts which is handy with one of the other revised ease of play features. Credits still play a major role in measuring your success and time investment, but this time there’s a bit of leeway. For starters it’s quite possible to simply play through the career mode without ever really needing to spend any of your credits, unless there’s a particular vehicle you take a shine too. Interwoven with the Affinity Levels if you have the 100% parts discount, it makes upgrading your chosen vehicle up or down a few classes very easy. The game auto configures the best set up for you if you’re after a quick fix rather than having you wade though each part and fitting it manually. It’s good to occasionally tinker with the parts yourself to try and understand how your car is set up performance wise, but the quick option does mean you’re spending more time racing than managing the more intricate details – which is a good thing for some gamers. This is an area where the Forza series has excelled, in creating an experience that appeals to the more technical and caters to wider casual forces as well.
So, there are some minor tweaks made to the elements of the player character levelling up and relationships, but the racing itself is where there’s some adequate and notable changes. The AI has always had an aggressive streak, nudging you out the way, and generally getting revenge for all those times where you’ve used them as a barrier around sharp bends, or spun them off the track whilst jostling for position early on in a race. Well nothing has really changed, the AI can still be tough, but somehow feels more tame in terms of competitive edginess. It seems on the default setting at least, with some of the advanced options tweaked such as steering and brake assists off etc. the AI cars don’t drive such a hard bargain. You’ll find it much easier to gain those first place finishes as you work your way through the various events especially when occurrences such as the lead car overshooting a sharp turn, or smashing into a barrier flipping the vehicle and effectively disqualifying itself from the race. There’s a bit more general randomness to the AI behaviour which makes for a more empowering race experience knowing opponents can and will make errors if you’re lagging behind.
The Forza series is about tailored experience though, and therefore is worth noting that changing the many control and AI options and upping your game does offer a more challenging ride which experienced Forza drivers would do well to tweak from the offset.
What’s noticeable is how much easier it is to drive the cars as the handling has been tweaked, more so when using the rather engrossing internal views. It feels like you’re granted more control at higher speeds and less like you’re sliding on ice. This provides a real test of skill as you navigate turns rather than wrestle with a chaotic and temperamental vehicle. The traction simply is much more refined and fitting of the vehicles you’re driving, and sure spinning out is still unavoidable if you’re heavy on the accelerator but the general level of precision is still as tight as ever. Tweaking the options to suit how you play is paramount to your success in Forza 4 and the option to change things is always just a few button presses away reminding you not to ignore it if you’re having difficulties or finding things a bit too easy.
Turn 10 haven’t simply regurgitated the same old tracks from the previous games either, and the ones where they have done are given new leases of life with a little more variation in the times of day you’re able to race – dusk, day and dawn. Sadly this feature does not extend to all of the circuits, but at least it’s available for some, and for those of you after night racing, you’re still out of luck. A complaint which has been levelled at past games is still present here where the weather conditions are not factored as well as they could be. Turn 10 have adopted sunny and overcast conditions which have profound effects on the all new lighting, but things like dynamic and variable rain is still not featured which is a shame – something very much expected during race days in England’s Silverstone circuit.
Turn 10 have been quite vocal about the Kinect functionality of Forza 4 and so with it comes voice controlled menus to head turning in conjunction with a controller. There are even some exclusive Kinect based driving modes and of course the car viewer Autovista. These act as extras not detracting from the main controller based game, but additions to dip in and out of if there are other players viewing. The Kinect features are a good way to get bystanders to jump in and have a go. For lone players, aside from the subtle head tracking, there’s little reason or motivation to ditch the traditional controller other than for some variation. Playing controlled racing or hot laps is fun for a while but no where near as fleshed out as the main game.
Turn 10 have mastered making car models, and with such a wide range of cars on offer means that there’s enough diversity to keep the visuals constantly fresh. Cars range from the old to new, hatchbacks, 4x4s, sports and full on race and prototype vehicles. Without going into any real specifics the roster is full and means you’re always going to find a car or manufacturer that’s agreeable with your tastes. It’s impressive how much is on offer, to the point where disc 2 contains even more optional cars to add.
The game’s lighting has seen a huge overhaul and this is noticeable when driving at dusk or dawn. The sun will glare at times as it pokes through a layer of trees almost blinding, the tarmac beams at you and generally the reflective qualities of the vehicles just looks more realistic. The pre-race start up sequence has a film grain to it, which looks like camera footage, but this sharpens as players take control and is a neat effect which would have looked great if used as an alternative to the ultra slick look.
There’s some real attention to detail with the backgrounds and whilst some circuits like the American Leguna Seca are quite sandy and dull, the mountain passes in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland or Montserrat are a sight to behold. You’ve got a bit of everything as the circuits span the globe from the watchful gaze of Japan’s mount Fuji to the sun kissed shores of the Amalfi Coast.
How does an engine sound? Well this is one area where the Turn 10 sound engineers have captured the meaty roars of car engines and no doubt spent heaps of man hours getting the game to sound as authentic as possible. Via a 5.1 or decent sound system, you’ll really get a taste of how a Ferrari sounds versus a Dodge Viper as they growl with different nuances. In this case, turning off the dramatic drum and bass style soundtrack in favour of the raw engine and ambience provides enough aural excitement on its own. The music is largely forgettable and in some ways detracts from the whole pro racing experience. Sadly there’s no option to select which tunes to favourite, so you’re stuck with whatever the game decides, which is why the music OFF option is a good route to take. With less focus on music, you do notice a bit of lifeless ambience especially from the spectators as you’ll not hear any loud cheering which is a shame as it makes driving around the circuits seem like practice runs rather than full on racing events. That said, you’ll hear ever bump and the gushing of wind as you reach the height of top speeds which is simply an incredible rush.
One element where the audio is well done and a bit classy is during the Autovista mode which allows you (either with Kinect or a controller) to take a closer look at a number of high performance vehicles. Interact with the vehicles, even climb inside but most pertaining to audio is listen to some interesting and informative sound bites about the vehicles and their designs. We even get to hear Jeremy Clarkson of the BBC’s Top Gear TV show give his verdict which is a pleasant and meaningful touch.
Forza 4 continues the trend of providing an economy system for those gamers who like to buy well tuned or designed cars (painted designs), and for those who create them for sharing. Once again race replays, photos and movie clips can be shared with the wider community. The new addition of the rivals mode helps make particular events more challenging where it’s likely you’ll want to spend more time trying to beat friends and rivals scores than before simply due to the design of this area. It’s been made a much simpler and rewarding process and elongates specific rival based racing tasks for the better as you hunt for rewards beyond bragging rights.
There’s the usual strong and well thought out online component for those who like to race against human opponents, and with the social features returning such as car clubs, means you’ve got a wide variety of things to strive for in the on and offline playing fields. Offline racers will be staggered to see how many different events there are and that mere completion of the career mode only scratches the surface when looking at the events roster which can be dipped in and out of at any time to suit.
Turn 10 have upped the whole community aspect for Forza 4 to translate your experience from game to the wider field. With online specific race/club events and challenges to partake in, there’s always something to view or get involved with whether that be with a close nit group of friends or the greater online community.
The biggest question you have to ask yourself going into Forza 4 is, are there enough changes to warrant a purchase if you’re still indulged with Forza 3 or not long finished with it. Based on what’s new, what has been revised and what’s available there should really be no doubt in your mind because Forza 4 is well worth the price of admission. The racing feels more vibrant and engaging, the looks are improved further, and the sheer number of events old and new will keep the most ardent racing fan well occupied for a long time. The game reeks of the quality which has been justly upheld from game to game, and the four in the title simply means a better more rounded experience.
If you’ve been pinning after Sony’s Gran Tourismo game and felt Forza 3 didn’t quite make it, then Forza 4 should put any fears you have to rest as it provides a definitive racer for Xbox 360 and this generation as a whole. It’s a well crafted behemoth piece of software from the true masters, and one that will be incredibly difficult to improve upon in the future.