Forza Motorsport 3 was released in 2009 to much fanfare and critical acclaim, so it is not surprising in the least that the newest title in the series has followed in its footsteps, getting stunning reviews and media coverage in the buildup to (and beyond) its release. Turn 10 Studios’ goal with Forza Motorsport 4 was never going to be to “remake the game”, but rather to tweak it and add subtle features that would improve the gamer’s experience enough for them to not feel like they have just paid out $50 for the same game in a different case. Initially, I felt they had failed.
I had not picked up a Forza game for over a year so my memory of its predecessor was a little hazy. I remembered what most gamers would: great graphics, lots of cars and tracks, excellent sound effects and an impressive overall experience. Obviously Forza 4 had all of these boxes ticked and I didn’t really know what else I was looking for, but it all just felt too familiar. I have to say, however, that my initial impression was rash and I fell into the trap of judging the metaphorical book by its cover. There is plenty going on under the hood here that you don’t initially pick up on, for example; Autovista.
Autovista is a new feature that allows the gamer to “walk around” the cars, inspecting them in intense detail. You can focus on pretty much any point of the car and you will receive a detailed description of what the item is, what its made of and various specifications, such as size and performance, where applicable. It’s like one big digital encyclopedia for petrol heads. I love it! I loved it even more when I realized that I could use my Kinect to walk around the vehicles and point at the part of the car I’d like to inspect. An excellent feature I truly didn’t believe would add much value, but when you have been drooling over cars you’ll never have the chance to drive “in real life” for a couple of hours (is that sad?) you appreciate them a little more while you’re on the track.
If that gets your motor running then you’re probably a fan of the hit BBC show “Top Gear”, which has affiliated itself with the Forza series and loaned Turn 10′ the lumbering oaf that is Jeremy “Jezza” Clarkson for voice overs within the Autovista mode. One of the five new tracks is also the “Top Gear Test Track” which means that you can now pit yourself against The Stig, should you be so inclined! When you’re bored of that then jump in the more reasonably priced car and show Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz who’s boss, as you can also smash their lap times in the Kia Cee’d, if you can tolerate it.
When you load up the main menu for the first time you may wonder where “Season Play” has gone, as it was the main focus of offline play in Forza 3 – but fear not as it is still there, but simply re-branded as “World Tour Mode”. While I am sure there are many Lewis Hamilton’s and Sebastian Vettel’s reading this I am more of an Al Pease (the only F1 driver to ever be disqualified for being too slow), so I can appreciate a new feature within the mode that allows the AI to learn your driving style, how well you perform and ultimately how it should perform, and what cars it should use to keep things both competitive and interesting for you. This is essential as without it the mode can become rather tedious as you either jet off on your own or find yourself struggling to keep pace – something I remember all too well from the old Gran Turismo days. A well-executed and welcomed feature for both novice and veteran drivers alike, I am sure.
While I enjoyed using the Kinect with the Autovista mode I didn’t enjoy it quite so much within the career mode. At vital times I found it unresponsive which left me running off the track and occasionally costing me a race I would have easily won had I been using a game-pad. While the gesture system is simple, effective and creative enough to make you want to use it you will eventually find yourself so frustrated you’ll be ripping it out as quick as you plugged it in. If you’re truly looking for immersion and don’t want to limit yourself to the traditional input device you would be wise to get your hands on a quality steering wheel as there has never been a better application for one.
In addition to the revamped career mode there are also new race formats for you to compete in with Autocross, multi-heat races and drift events all being added to the roster. This adds some much needed diversity to the game for those that want a little more than your traditional circuit based racer.
If you prefer to spend your days competing against your friends both online and in your own living room, then the Rivals mode may well be your primary source of entertainment. In Rivals mode you can race against “ghosts”, compete in track days or just go for broke while trying to get yourself into a top position on the global leaderboards. Personally, I had more fun going head to head in 16 player races around the various tracks that are available, but did find it a little difficult to keep up! As mentioned earlier, I am under no illusions and realize that I am not the best driver around, but you will still need to unlock plenty of cars to compete online as everyone, quite rightly, brings out the best they have in their garage in the quest for online dominance.
While the game may initially look like a carbon copy of Forza 3 with improved graphics I would advise you to approach this game with an open mind. Once you get into the career mode and eventually jump online (if that’s your thing) you’ll start to uncover a bountiful selection of new features that don’t just improve on an already incredible franchise but (dare I say it) take it to the next level. While their competitors have been busy trying to keep up, Turn 10′ have turned a piece of art into a complete masterpiece. I doubt that a more realistic and detailed driving sim will be released on this generation of console, making Forza 4 not only a great purchase for instant gratification, but also an excellent source of long term entertainment.