Reviews

Forza 4 – Review

Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Turn 10
Publisher: Microsoft
Singleplayer: Yes
Splitscreen: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes
PEGI: 3+

Forza 4 supports Kinect for racing and Autovista mode. The Kinect Features will not be reviewed here.

Thanks to Microsoft for supplying a copy of Forza 4 for review.

I’m a petrol-head, a lover of cars, of speed, of beautifully engineered machines, and yet I’m part of a dying breed, claims Jeremy Clarkson in the best intro a driving game has ever seen. Sadly, he’s right; there’s not much room left for us motor-heads in this world where miles per gallon matter more than horsepower, where the ecological effect of a car means more than how well it handles. It’s a sad truth, but thankfully we do have a salvation, and it’s called Forza 4.

At first glance those who aren’t absolutely fanatic about the Forza series are going to declare that there’s little difference to between this new release and the previous iteration in the series, and you’d be right; the menu designs are practically the same, there’s just a few new tracks and everything has that slightly familiar feeling to it. And yet the changes that Turn 10 have made may not have been huge, but they’ve been for the best and have created the best game the series has seen.

The new World Tour mode is where you’ll spend the majority of your time when not tinkering with the games painting system or drooling at cars in the showroom. The core concepts are exactly what you’d think; take part in a series of events in bloody fast cars, all the while attempting to ensure that you cross the line first, thereby claiming virtual pride that has zero use in real life. But certain crucial changes have ensured that this is a far slicker experience that what we saw in Forza 3. A narrator gently informs you of your next destination on the racing calendar as the camera zooms backwards to reveal the worlds continents before zooming back down to your destination. There’s no control over your destination; one minute you’re in the Bernese Alps sliding an Aston Martin DB9 around a corner and the next you’re in the UK racing on the legendary Silverstone circuit, but once you’ve gotten to your destination the game offers up three different events to partake in, each offering different rewards. The events will be based on what class of car you’re driving at that moment in time, but will also, quite cleverly, present you with other races that need different kinds of cars, gently encouraging you to try something different. A simple tap of a button brings up your garage and from there you can choose something to match one of the events displayed or, should you fancy driving something else, you can pick anything that takes your fancy from your collection and the event list will change to match your chosen ride, although this face isn’t exactly advertised by the game which is a little strange. It’s a smooth, slick and well thought out mode and with a total of ten seasons to play through, each getting longer and encouraging you to play with bigger, faster cars, so there’s quite a chunk of content. And once you’ve done that you can even head to the Event List which displays an utterly absurd amount of events that you missed out on during your ten season run. Despite this far slicker experience the game does begin to grind somewhat by the time you’re reaching your tenth season. But the biggest flaw, arguably, is that it simply feels a little hollow.

A few new modes have also be thrown in for good measure to try to spice things up a little, such as the new multi-class racing which can have an entire grid crappy little hatchbacks and terrifyingly fast exotics on the track at the same time, challenging you with finishing first in your respective class while avoiding the other. Another new mode has you dodging traffic (that’s very slow AI drivers in rubbish cars, to you) while attempting to beat your opponent to the line. These events feel a little odd in the world of Forza, but they at least provide an amusing distraction.

Forza 4 also loves to reward you with lots and lots of shiny things, helping to ensure that you don’t get bored and decide to give that “real life” bollox a go, which is probably for the best because it’s terrifying out there and the graphics are so last-gen. As you progress through your career as a person screaming loudly while hurtling down a straight at over 200mph you’ll gain lovely experience points which all go into your Driver Level. Every single time you go up a Driver Level the game will happily present with a choice of several different rides to choose from, meaning it’s actually possible to go through the entire game without ever purchasing a car as later levels will give you a choice of some pretty stunning rides.

The car levelling system of Forza 3 has been replaced with a new Brand Affinity meter that every manufacturer in the game has. So, race an Aston Martin and your affinity for them will go up and as it does so you’ll be sent extra cash and get huge price reductions on upgrades for that manufacturer. By just level four, which you can get in a few races, you won’t actually have to pay anything for parts to upgrade your car, allowing you to turn your crappy ride into a 650HP fire-breathing bastard hellbent on plowing you into a wall. It’s a great new addition and a quick view of a players Brand Affinity levels shows exactly what make of car they like to race the most.  But it does come with a fatal flaw; the fact that it chucks money at you and makes upgrades free within just a few levels, coupled with the fact that World Tour and other features also offer plenty bit of cash, means that making money in Forza 4 is almost ludicrously easy which can often take away from the satisfaction of saving up to purchase a new car or buy that new shiny new upgrade for your favorite ride.

Still, it’s one hell of a selection of cars and parts you’ve got to choose from. With over 500-cars for you to drool over, gawp at and have orgasms over this is car-porn heaven, offering a selection of such beauty that it brings a tear to the eye. Ok, so a good number of them are every-day cars that nobody is really interested in, but there’s still plenty of shining exotics and utterly intoxicating classics to throw around the circuit, and each and everyone one of them can be upgraded with new parts, tuned to perfection using a wealth of options and then decked out in your own custom paint and decal design thanks to the return of the painting suite that got such a hardcore following in Forza 3.  In fact, just like Forza 3, the raft of tuning and painting options available are almost an entire game in themselves, allowing you to tweak every aspect of a cars set-up and then create a beautiful paint job to show off on the track. All this means that a brilliant tuner or painter can make a fortune in this game thanks to the online marketplace which lets you buy and sell tuning set-ups, paint jobs and cars. It’s like a virtual marketplace and it works just as well as last time, always ensuring that there’s a beating heart in the middle of the Forza 4 community.

However, it should be known that there’s not a Porsche to be found in the whole of Forza 4 thanks to EA owning the license to use them in their games. Boo!

Drooling over cars in a shiny showroom is all very well, but it’s on-track where it really counts and here Forza doesn’t fail to deliver. A new tyre system has been implemented into the game and it works wonder sfor those who have a slightly more aggressive driving style; cars now have a more natural, progressive slide allowing you to execute beautiful four-wheel drive drifts with careful use of the throttle. Most importantly the cars now feel more lively to drive, often kicking out the rear end in corners, with the higher class cars truly feeling like they want to rip you in half and spit down your neck. It’s fantastic and really gives the game a bit more personality on track! And yet somehow Forza 4 also feels more forgiving than it’s predecessor; cars can be thrown around far more than before, giving it a very slight arcade feeling, but while this may anger the hardcore simulation fans, I feel that it makes it a far more enjoyable game all round. Every car you drive feels unique, each offering a distinct handling style that makes it easy to find your favorite and simply fall head-over-heels in love with it. Of course it can also be a little heartbreaking to finally drive your dream car and discover that it actually isn’t much fun to drive.

Yet Forza 4 hasn’t managed to combat the complaint that I levelled at the previous games; it doesn’t manage to capture the chaotic nature of wheel-to-wheel racing, especially compared to the Shift series which uses its dynamic camera, exhilarating sense of speed and bone-crunching smashes to convey the mayhem of a race. In comparison Forza 4 still doesn’t have much feeling of speed. Sure, it does feel faster than Forza 3, but travelling at 180MPH in a Ford GT still isn’t very convincing. Likewise the camera remains static in the cockpit view and hitting another car has barely any feeling of impact to it, and has also highlights the fact that Forza’s damage model is still pretty poor.

The AI have also seen some tweaking since they last took to the track, but they’re still not the grippiest tires on the market, if you know what I mean. They’re now a much more aggressive bunch, but it’s actually hard to say whether this is deliberate or because they often seem unaware of your existence on the track. AI cars will often attempt to get through gaps that simply don’t exist, and will, even more frequently, turn into you mid-corner, thereby spinning you off the road. At other times they simply brake for no reason in the middle of a bend that requires no brakes or just ram into the back of you in a hair-pin turn, presumably because they think your Ford KA sucks, which it does.. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that Forza 4, just like Forza 3, punishes you for getting hit or putting a wheel an inch outside of the track (referred to as “dirtying” your lap) by nullifying your lap-time so that it won’t get its rightful place on the leaderboards. Sadly it counts insane AI drivers slamming into you as “dirtying” your lap.

Racing aside you can now enjoy drooling over exotics in the brand new Autovista mode which saw quite in the build up to the game’s launch. This new feature allows you to walk around the car, open up the doors, hood boot and generally have a good poke around. There’s an astounding level of detail here, whether you’re examining the delicate stitching on the leather seat covers or staring wide-eyed at the beauty of the Bugatti Veyron’s engine. At certain points around the car you can click on the prompt to have a narrator briefly describe what you’re looking at. And if you’re a car noob then you’ll at least be able to come out of Autovista mode with a bit more knowledge than you went it. But the biggest draw here is that Top Gear have had their dirty mitts on the mode, meaning you can click on the appropriate prompt for each car and be given a short but highly entertaining review of the vehicle by Jeremy Clarkson, who, I’m pleased to say, hasn’t been held back at all from expressing what he thinks about them. Still, it is disappointing to note that you only get just over twenty cars that can actually be viewed in Autovista mode, so there’s a chance that your dream car that you always wanted to check out won’t be in there.

Let’s get away from the cars themselves for a minute, though, so we can cover what is quite arguably the best new feature for Forza 4; Rivals mode. Simply wonder innocently into this mode and you’ll be greeted by an array of challenges on various tracks and various cars, along with a clear message displaying one of your friends and the time they set during the challenge. Your goal is simple; beat them! Once you run out of friends their names will get replaced by people from the leaderboards to ensure that you never run out challenges, unless you happen to be number one in the world for all of them, anyway. It’s genius in the same way that Hot Pursuit’s Autolog was genius; it always encourages you to come back, try again and go event fast, always encouraging you to become a better driver. But unlike the Autolog, Rivals mode doesn’t just reward you with  pride for beating your friends, instead it offers you plenty of money and the pride of beating your friends. Alongside the name and lap time of your rival is a Bounty telling you how much credits you’ll get for humiliating your friend or leaderboard rival, and the further up the leaderboards you travel the bigger the bounty gets. In short, then, this is a game mode that throws rewards at you for destroying your friends. How bloody awesome is that!? The sad news is that if you’re not Live connected then Rival’s mode is completely locked off. Sorry guys!

And we can’t forget the Top Gear licensing which has brought some much-needed character to the series. Clarksons ranting in Autovista is all very well, but the real deal comes in the form of the Top Gear test track being playable, along with the famous Cee’d being a drivable car. The result? The ultimate Reasonably Priced Car competition with your mates. The licensing also comes into play in a few new event types as well. But if Clarkson isn’t your think then you’ll be happy to know that the Top Gear branding never shoves itself into the forefront, instead remaining in the foreground to ensure that it never gets in the way. Outside of Autovista mode, though, the branding feels a little pointless; there’s a half-hearted attempt to capture the shows bonkers nature in an event that has you trying to knock over bowling pins, but it never feels as well used as it could be.

The presentation has also seen quite the upgrade over Forza 3. Cars now feature even more detail and look so close to realistic as to be scary, and a brand new lighting model really brings them to life on both the showroom and on the track. The interiors themselves are also beautifully rendered, even going so far as to show incredible detail on the stitching of the leather steering wheel cover. This is most apparent in the Auto-vista mode, though there’s little doubt that some serious extra work went into those cars, but a quick flick into photography mode mid-race will allow you to truly appreciate just how good these cars look. Trackside detail has also seen a big improvement, no longer looking as flat and un-lifelike as before, though foliage still looks strange.

The sound department have also been at hard work to bring some superb sound effects to the game. Every engine sounds spot-on, helping to immerse you into the world of engines and speed. Careful attention has been paid to creating convincing sounding tyre squealing as well by using an electric car and throwing it around the track so they could record the results. You might think that using just a single car for recording the sound of tyres being abused wouldn’t be adequate, but it really is. However, the music itself is still a rather disappointing collection of about the most generic techno and dance music heard in a game and so I quickly found myself turning it off completely.

And finally the online aspects of the game has seen some work as well. The online marketplace, which I’ve mentioned before, is still present in the game and remains largely unchanged, which is unsurprising as Turn 10 managed to create something last time around in Forza 3 that really gave the game a strong sense of community. It’s here that you can sell and buy cars with other games around the world by setting up an auction or allowing people to just outright buy it. You even get your very own storefront where you can sell paint jobs that you spend hours creating, or you can even sell car set-ups to help out those who can’t be bothered tweaking their car for the best performance.

But best of all you can now create Car Clubs (Read: clans) which your mates and other random people from Live can join. You can then share cars in your garage with the rest of the club, allowing a relative newbie to get his hands on some of the best rides available with which to tackle the game. There’s also Club leaderboards so that you can happily brag about how damn good your drivers are. Happy days.

The actual online racing is still as fun as ever and now features a total of sixteen players on-track instead of the previous eight players than the series has supported. This makes for much more exciting online races with people absolutely everywhere, and when you get an especially equal bunch of drivers it becomes something truly special. And just like before there’s a variety of settings so that you can create your perfect race and it’s as easy as ever to find and get in to a game where it’s an almost lag-free experience.

Forza 4 is evolution rather than evolution; there’s a sense of familiarity in almost every aspect of the game. And yet the changes that have been made have turned this into a sublime game that has a satisfying, fun and beautifully balanced handling model, a raft of cars to play with, a slick singleplayer experience, even better multiplayer options and the awesome new Rivals mode. But at times it still slips back into that slightly cold and clinical demeanor.

The Good:
+ Car porn!
+ Rivals Mode!
+ Brilliant handling model.

The Bad:
– Still doesn’t manage to capture the intensity of racing.
– Feels a bit familiar.
– Can begin to grind.

The Scores:

Graphics: 9.5
A new lighting system and improved detail make this a lovely looking game. And just look at those cars!

Sound: 8.5
The cars sound utterly amazing, from the roar of a classic muscle car to the higher-pitched whine of an exotic. The music, however, is a pretty bland affair.

Story: 0
See that car? Drive it.

Gameplay: 9.5
A slick career mode, fun multiplayer modes, plenty of cars and brilliant handling make this the best car simulator around, though not quite the best racing simulator.

Lifespan: 8.5
Ten seasons for singleplayer and plenty of multiplayer options give this game plenty of content, but it can begin to grind quite quickly for everyone but the dedicated. Having said that, the dedicated will probably be playing this until Forza 5.

Verdict: 9
Summary: Forza 4 is a case of evolution rather than revolution, but this refined titlestill includes some great new features and provides one of the best simulation experiences around.

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