Game: Forza Motorsport 4
Developer: Turn 10 Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Available on: Xbox 360 Only
Forza Motorsport first released on the Xbox back in 2005. It was a compelling effort, with realistic racing, damage and a vast library of vehicles only previously seen in Sony’s Gran Turismo franchise. There’s no doubting that Forza Motorsport was one of the best games available on the original Xbox, and when Turn 10 made the transition to Xbox 360 with its 2007 effort, Forza Motorsport 2, it was again a great title which pushed forward the customisation and depth the previous games had, along with better graphics.
Many thought that Forza Motorsport 3 (released in 2009) was the pinnacle of the racing game genre. It surpassed the previous iterations in almost every way — it really had it all. What could Turn 10 possibly add to the series to cement its place as not only the best game in its class, but the flagship of a genre on the current generation of consoles? Would Forza Motorsport 4 just be a 3.5? Something to keep the fans happy while Turn 10 placed its efforts on the next generation of Xbox perhaps?
GRAPHICS: You would think that with a console as mature as the Xbox 360, making significant graphical improvements would be like getting blood out of a stone, right? Not quite — well not for the geniuses at Turn 10, anyway. The new Image-Based Lighting (IBL) on display in Forza 4 has brought not just tracks, but whole environments to life. Each racetrack is shown in immense detail. Rally Di Positano in the coastal town of Amalfi, Italy, is awash with amazing detail, be it the cobbled streets with the gorgeous buildings, to the sea and the horizon. Fujimi Kaido in Japan has a mix of forests, the snowy Mount Fuji and a river which runs alongside parts of the 10.2 mile full circuit. As you drive down the mountain roads, the textures and environment change from one glorious surrounding to another. All of this happens of course, with the sun beating down on the track, either in the early morning or evening sun, sometimes causing you to lose your vision momentarily. The lighting here feels so good, I almost put my hand on my brow to block out the sun on more than one occasion. There is a lack of weather and nighttime races that will leave a small hole for some, but once the awe-inspiring tracks and cars are taken in by the player at 60 frames per second, this small gripe will soon be forgotten.
The cars have also been given a makeover for Forza 4. From the game’s poster child – the Ferrari 458 – right down to the Volkswagen Fox, they have been cared for during their development so much, you would think that this game was being bankrolled by a conglomerate of every vehicle manufacturer present. This is never more evident than in Autovista, a new interactive mode for Forza 4. Autovista can feel like a tech demo at times, a concept of what is to come in the future. It is however, a full feature of Forza 4 and if nothing else, it is a truly beautiful thing. Players can examine a select amount of vehicles in exquisite detail, learning along the way.
Forza 4′s graphics grab the player and thrust them right into the midst of the race. There isn’t much on the Xbox 360, or PlayStation 3 for that matter, which looks as good as Forza 4. This is displayed throughout the whole game, where every track has been given that extra polish, and players will find themselves using photo mode more than ever before, just to capture the serenity — or madness, depending on your driving style — of the tracks and races. It is a great achievement by Turn 10, and if this is what the studio can do with ageing hardware, we are in for a real treat in the next three or four years.
SOUND: Early on in Forza 4, when players are driving their way to their dream cars, the rumble of the engines is beefed up a tad, and a Ford Ka can sound a little faster than it actually is. As you move up, you will find the detail in engine noise become greater. The Subaru Impreza has its distinct rumble that has been with the car since its earlier 1990s models. Much of the same applies to most of the more desirable vehicles in the game, though if players decide to turbo-charge their engines in a hot hatch, the engine does does reflect this.
Sound comes into the gameplay very well in Forza 4. Go over a hump in the road and the revs will kiss the limiter as the suspension decompresses, letting the player know what is happening on-track. Get on the gas too early coming out of a bend and you can hear the rear wheels spinning up, and the same goes for hitting the brakes too hard going into a corner. The sounds of the vehicles in Forza 4 are extremely impressive on this front, and many underestimate the amount of feedback that can actually be given from listening to the car’s reactions. There is a few tunes on offer, mostly dance music which matches the intensity and pace of the race, though I prefer to turn it right down in the menus so I can concentrate on the race and listening to the cars themselves.
Autovista sounds as nice as it looks. Players can switch their engines on and listen briefly to the engine ticking over, and listen as doors and hoods are opened and closed. Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson offers up his unique and playful views on each vehicle in Autovista, which is a really nice touch by Turn 10.
GAMEPLAY: Options are something that the player has in abundance in Forza 4. Whether it’s the car picked as a reward for levelling up in career mode, or the type of race players choose, based on which vehicle they are currently in. There are 500 or so cars within Forza 4, but the idea is not to collect them all — it is to allow players to find their own path through the career mode, or World Tour as it is called.
There are 22 well known track locations in Forza 4, broken down further into many more individual circuits, which offer up simple and extremely difficult challenges, depending on which circuit players take. Fujimi Kaido’s 10.2 miles of mountainous twists and turns will challenge even the most skilled drivers. Indianapolis’ Speedway circuit is great fun, while the Gran Prix circuit offers up a more diverse race for the player.
Driving on these tracks is nothing short of a revelation. The driving experience is unmatched in any racing game, period. Forza 4 delivers all of the driving mechanics from the previous iterations and then some. Every vehicle handles in its own unique way, be it the horrible understeer on a heavier Ford Mustang, to the grippy, yet somewhat unstable Pagani Zonda. Forza 4 captures the essence of, and makes players fall in love (or indeed back in love with) cars of the past and present. I took great pleasure from taking my stock MK II Volkswagen Golf GTI and turning it into a 580 BHP monster to take on the likes of an Audi R8, all whilst building up my affinity points for my chosen manufacturer, which means up to 100% discount on upgrades, and free upgrades taste sweet, very sweet indeed. Players can customise and tune their vehicles as much as they like at the top end of the scale, but a Golf GTI can only be modified to a certain degree, retaining some of the characteristics of the car when players first took to the wheel.
World Tour brings with it a vast array of races, Top Gear challenges and sheer joy to be had, for anyone who wants to play it thanks to the adjustable difficulty settings that we have come to know and love with Forza Motorsport. Literally anyone can play Forza 4, thanks to the varying degrees of assists. You can either have the game take you through it, or completely let go of all assists, leaving just player and controller. The World Tour, coupled with the fantastic graphics, sound and accessibility, make for a rather compelling package all on its own, but Forza 4 is a bottomless pit of races and challenges, which do not take place just offline.
Players earn credits (or CR) as they play. This can be spent on upgrades, livery and new cars to take the racing up a gear. As players build up money, they can take it out of World Tour and into Forza 4′s multiplayer.
MULTIPLAYER: Turn 10 has really dug deep with the multiplayer this time around, and Forza 4 comes alive in much greater detail online than ever before. 16 player multiplayer is in for Forza 4 for the first time, and if there isn’t 16 people to play with or the lobby isn’t full, players can include AI cars to make up the numbers, and eagle-eyed players will note the names of some Turn 10 employees as the opposing drivers. Again, this is all playable at any desired skill level, meaning it’s open to anyone.
There are plenty of game types to get to grips with online, ranging from standard circuit races to Top Gear soccer matches, for those that have the DLC. Again, Turn 10 has made it all about having options. The most competitive racer will have more than enough races to compete happily, while those that want a bit of fun can enjoy drag races and a game of Cat and Mouse. All multiplayer modes will gain players credits just as they do in World Tour, meaning that players are levelling up all the time, gaining cars as rewards, badges and titles for their player cards and affinity for their chosen vehicles. Meeting online friends and starting a Car Club is great, as players can share cars between members, making for some interesting races.
Playing alone online isn’t as lonely as one might think. Rivals mode is broken down into seven different categories of events, with Autocross, Drift, Top Gear, Track Days and more. In these modes, players compete with a ghost car of their chosen rival to beat their time or score, and it is the most addictive mode in the game for me. I lost hours just trying to make my way up the Drift leader boards, eventually choosing harder rivals as I gained confidence. The multiplayer package alone makes Forza 4 value for money, and I feel like I have only scratched the surface. Once the servers are fully populated, there will be endless amounts of fun to be had.
Players can buy and sell cars, setups and decals online via the Auction House, letting loose their entrepreneurial sprit by choosing their own prices, including an eBay style “Buy It Now” option. I could spend hours using the Auction House to buy, renovate and sell cars in order to save up for my dream ride.
LONGEVITY: The sheer amount of content in Forza 4 makes it a title that players will spend untold amounts of hours playing. Whether it’s exploring Autovista, applying livery to vehicles or even just buying and selling cars, players will never run out of things to do. World Tour can take up to hundreds of hours on its own, as can just racing online with friends, or taking part in the Monthly Rivals Challenges. Forza 4 really is a complete package, which will provide unlimited amounts of entertainment and competition.
VERDICT: Forza 4 is without a doubt the best racing game ever made. It is a glorious driving experience matched by stunning graphics, a fantastic array of vehicles, tracks and challenges which will please anyone from a six year old kid, to the most hardcore race fan. Turn 10 has pulled out all the stops to make the online experience the best around, adding the fantastic Autovista feature and bringing in the fun, thanks to the rich vein of Top Gear content running through the game. Forza 4 has defied the age of the Xbox 360, and is a glimpse of how things will look in the next few years on the next generation of Xbox — only we get to see and play it right now.
Forza 4 is a love letter to internal combustion, which will ignite a passion for cars to those who may have only looked at a Ferrari with passing admiration, prior to powering their way around the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in one. Turn 10, we salute you.