Review: Forza Motorsport 4

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Forza 3, released in 2009, was Microsoft’s second shot on the Xbox 360 at the major car simulation market dominated by Sony’s juggernaut Gran Turismo franchise. It was an extraordinary attempt from Take 10 Studios and was received well. Sales still didn’t match the, in my opinion, inferior Gran Turismo 5, but it was a brilliant game which was unfortunately up against a bigger brand.

Now, in 2011, a new Forza is in my hands and, with a new Gran Turismo unannounced, has little competition.  Forza 3 innovated on the tired car simulation genre and now the series is back for more. But does the latest outing deserve to dominate? And does it change enough to warrant a purchase? Read on for a full review.

  • Score:

    9.0 / 10

  • The Good:

    Visually stunning.

    500 detailed, licensed cars.

    Hardcore racing fans and regular gamers are welcome.

    The Top Gear licence is finally being put to good use in a game.

  • The Bad:

    No non-visual car damage.

    Changes aren’t too deep.

    Music is boring.

    Top Gear elements may annoy people who don’t like/watch the show.

  • Bottom Line:

    If you are hungry for a serious car simulation game that’s also heaps of fun, then Forza 4 is for you. It’s packed with amazing detail, a buffet of settings and fine-tuning options, it looks beautiful and can be enjoyed by anyone.

Gameplay

Forza 4 is one of those rare gems when it comes to gameplay. The racing can be fun and challenging and it has a great amount realism when it comes to turning and handling. The cars each have a different, real weight, which doesn’t always come across in other racing games. But the game doesn’t force you to be great at racing games. There are heaps of difficulty settings and that means it can be fun for anyone who can game. It’s still a simulation, but that doesn’t get in the way of the fun and, while serious, it doesn’t feel as full-on difficulty-wise as Gran Turismo can. It’s more accessable, with plenty of helpful assists turned on by default. But if you’re a car nut you have an option to turn whichever ones off that you feel you don’t need. Traction control, stability control, anti-lock brakes and automatic brake assists are included and make it easier for beginners, but with them turned off the game can become quite complex. But the easy difficulties don’t mean it becomes an arcade game though, sticking to its simulation roots. As said before, it’s serious, like Gran Turismo, but also fun, like DiRT.

improved graphics give every car a new look and they all have amazing amounts of detail
This game is a lot more refined when compared to Forza 3 but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a deep amount of improvements to the game. Forza 4 features 500 cars from a world-first number of 80 manufacturers which all feature in-car and out of car camera views. While a lot of models are from Forza 3, the improved graphics give every car a new look and they all have amazing amounts of detail, such as in-car views. It’s an incredible amount of vehicle variety. And before races you can fine-tune your car or, if you’re like me and not too automotive-saavy, can quick upgrade for everything you need for a reasonably cheap amount of in-game credits which are collected from races.

Forza 4 has plenty of new environments and Season mode, which is now called World Tour Mode, is now a collection of racing locations from around the world. It feels a lot more like a real driving season, unlike the previous game which felt like a bunch of races glued together on a calendar. It’s fairly linear, but you still have options for which races you will do inbetween the big final races. The locations are now plotted on a map, which again makes it feel less like a collection and more like a real season of racing. And outside World Tour Mode you can look at every possible race in the game, just like in Forza 3.

Forza 4 also mixes leveling up with racing in a very smooth and rewarding way that is more fun than competing games. As you level up you get rewards and also Xbox Live achievements, which makes it feel less grinding than other leveling systems. The longer the race, the bigger the XP. And while racing games have had this RPG-style leveling system, Forza just feels like it does it better. You don’t start with a terrible car either. While you have to wait a while before amazing sports-cars, you aren’t left with the traditional garbage car that other games have. And as you collect driver and car XP you’ll find the game much more satisfying.

The lower the difficulty becomes, the more obvious the infamous racing game slingshot effect becomes. The slingshot effect, where the player will be coming last and then suddenly the game will make it easier, is really obvious. And this isn’t a difficulty problem. It’s the way it happens. If you play on Easy, cars will suddenly swerve off the road and sit until you drive past. It’s so obvious that it makes winning less rewarding for casual players. And it is rather embarrasing for whoever made the AI in this game. It’s better than Gran Turismo, but not perfected.

The game also includes the rewind feature from Forza 3. This really does help you in those situations where you’ve been in a race for 10 minutes and crash on the last lap. Instead of needing to restart the entire race you can simply rewind a couple of seconds. Some may say this is cheating, but I think it’s a great way to stop people losing interest and rage-quits. If you want to show off your skills you can simply not use it. It’s optional but a great feature for people who don’t like to be frustrated to the point of anger at the game.

Also in the game is a great integration of Top Gear, the popular BBC television series. If this integration is familar to you then it’s probably because Gran Turismo 5 also had Top Gear gameplay. But unlike Gran Turismo 5, Forza 4 does a really good job of adding the show to the game. Instead of searching menus for Top Gear races outside of the main game, they’re included in the World Tour Mode. The Top Gear Test Track is in the game too and there are some fun and silly challenges to complete. But, a warning. Some of these may frustrate non-fans of the show. The game also has some narration from Jeremy Clarkson and Forza really feels like a good choice for Top Gear. I had fun with it but, as I said, non-fans of the show may be frustrated by the inclusion of the, at times, controversial show.

Another new feature of Forza 4 is Kinect integration. I was unable to try it, due to lack of a Kinect, but I doubt it can compete with a controller. Still, I’m sure if you want to use it, you could finish the whole game with it. But you might want to look at some videos of it if you intend to use Kinect with this. Microsoft doesn’t have a good track-record of hardcore Kinect games. There are features like Head Tracking, where the camera view pans as you move your head and also full game control but I still don’t like this new technology. Maybe it’s because I’ve gamed with controllers all my life, or maybe it’s because it’s inferior. I’m going with the latter. And the Achievement that requires Kinect is cheap.

Kinect also features in Autovista mode, where you can walk around and go into a car in a virtual showroom. I wasn’t at all interested except for getting the achievement, but car fans will surely be with all of the cars working with Autovista mode.

The game features plenty of multiplayer modes and other social elements. There is the regular multiplayer modes where you can race against friends, even when they’re offline, and get in-game rewards from winning. There is also matchmaking, which I don’t like (but, I don’t like it in any game). It’s going to be great fun with friends but I’m not a big fan of playing with randoms in any online game. Split screen is in and, I must say, I should’ve bumped up the score for that. I love split-screen and games that have online but not offline multiplayer are quite stupid, unless it’s technologically impossible (GTA IV).

You can also join or create a “Car Club” on Forza 4’s online service where you can make a group of drivers and customisations, such as paint-jobs or car tuneups. The Club can then be shared with friends and it can compete with others. It’s an interesting idea and while I haven’t spent much time with it, due to a small amount of people playing online, it works well and I did create a Club with ease.

The marketplace is also included, as in Forza 2 and 3, and there is still just as much customisation options as before and plenty of fun to be had. You can sell vinyls, car designs and tuning setups in the marketplace and buy other people work with in-game credit. There is, as before, also video and photo modes and you can share these online.

Presentation

The game menus have been reskinned, with the clean white menus being replaced with clunky, dark and not as soft menus. It doesn’t hurt too much, but I liked the more minimalistic menus from Forza 3. Apart from how they look, the menus are better for finding what you want. Multiplayer, for example, is easier to find, but there are still confusing items and it’s hard to find the settings page because it’s hidden.

Visuals

Forza 4’s car models are phenomenal. If you compared in-game vehicle models to real life vehicles I doubt you’d be able to tell too much of a difference. It’s just incredible work. And even with these photo-realistic graphics the entire game can still run at a buttery-smooth 60 frames per-second. Gran Turismo also featured amazing models, but they didn’t look as good in-game in my opinion. Forza’s look amazing in motion and the screenshots look great too.

If you compared in-game vehicle models to real life vehicles I doubt you’d be able to tell too much of a difference.
The graphics are some of the biggest changes in Forza 4, as the game features a new lighting engine as well as plenty of new camera effects to give an even more immursive experience. Some environments can appear a bit too shiny, such as the road being very reflective of light, but this doesn’t hurt the game in a big way. And, unlike Gran Turismo 5’s environments, they all appear to be as beautiful as the cars, with no 2D models in sight. As usual the crowd doesn’t look great, but the focus of the game is on the cars and environments and the detail of both of these is very high. Also at high speeds you won’t be spending time looking at the grandstand audience.

There are also reuses of race locations from Forza 3. It’s frustrating that they can just copy and paste old environments into a new game, but there are still plenty of new tracks. Don’t be surprised if a track is instantly familiar from Forza 3 though.

One of the few problems I had with Forza 4 was the new, cleaner HUD. During races, especially with the shine of roads I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to see the all-white with small shadowed HUD. It’s clean but regularly hard to see behind white clouds or other objects.

The games damage system still relies mostly on changing the look of a car instead of performance and 3D physical car destruction. For example, to actually cause anything more than visual damage you will have to hit another car or object extreemly fast. Don’t expect DIRT or Burnout style vehicle distruction but still expect some visual and occasional physical damage, so your car doesn’t completely feel like a dodge-em car.

Overall the game models and lighting looks fantastic, but a few problems are still apparent, as with almost any game.

Sound

The car sounds are fantastic in Forza 4, with ultra-realistic audio. If you blast it up full-board on surround sound your neighbours will probably call the police. It’s so good.

There is narration from a smooth british man, as well as some by Jeremy Clarkson. It’s alright, but I don’t like the delay between when he’s talking and when I can skip the narration.

The soundtrack isn’t as good as the other sound though. There is a lot of Gran Turismo style house music mixed with contemporary music. And while this house sound is fine in menus, leave it out of the gameplay. You’ll occasionally get a good song in-game, but the other music is overused. Still, overall the sound effects are great, but the music lets the overall package down in my opinion. But music is a subjective topic.

Final Thoughts

If you are hungry for a serious car simulation game, then Forza 4 is for you. It’s packed with amazing detail, a buffet of settings and fine-tuning options, it looks beautiful and can be enjoyed by anyone. Hardcore and casual gamers can easily have fun playing it as well as a challenge.

Remember, though, that this game is more of a simulation than an arcade racer. It’s not NFS: Hot Pursuit and it definitely isn’t Mario Kart. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of fun.

And while there aren’t extreme changes from Forza 3, this new game is still filled with enough new content to be worth the money.

I loved Forza 3 and played the crap out of it. The same feeling comes across to me while playing Forza 4. Now excuse me while I have a drive around the Top Gear Test Track.

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