October 05, 2011
For Turn 10, the Forza franchise has become more than just a simulation racing game. It’s almost their aim to create a hub for car enthusiasts from every walk of life to get together under one umbrella and celebrate the phenomenon of car porn – no, that doesn’t mean you’ll find an Audi S4 sticking its gearstick inside the exhaust of a BMW M3. Filthy! Whether that’s what Turn 10’s goal is, is one thing, but the fact remains that Forza Motorsport 4 for all intents and purposes is a racing game and thanks to a few subtle tweaks, it’s quite clearly the best simulation racing game that doesn’t just exist on the Xbox 360, but on consoles themselves.
Where you start when you boot up Forza 4 for the first time is completely up to you, but Forza 3 players who import their saves from the last offering will get a nice credit boost and bonus car or two for their loyalty to the franchise. Like any budding car enthusiast though, our first port of call was to wade knee deep into Forza 4's newly refined and tweaked career system – a mode as deep and as varied as it is long.
If you had to level any criticism against Forza 3, it would have been the lack of variety in its career mode; Forza 4 however, suffers no such hang-ups. Taking place across 10 seasons that get progressively longer and tougher, players will take off around the world in a bid to work their way up the ranks and be crowned the ‘King of Forza’ – this is obviously a fictitious name we made up – ultimately from racing class F cars to class R1 cars. While Forza 3 used circuit races to make up the bulk of its content, Forza 4 breaks that up rather neatly by slotting in multi-class races, Top Gear bowling, target races – where you and a rival will weave in and out of traffic whilst racing each other to the finish of a point-to-point course – as well as track days – where you’ll have to overtake a certain amount of slower cars – and obstacle courses. Just when you’re starting to have your fill of the circuit races, Turn 10 mixes it up and all is right in the world once again.
Like Forza 3, it’s just as much about choice here, so players will be able to stick with their favourite cars for the most part and upgrade the heck out of them! Sometimes you’ll be required to switch vehicles for more specialist races as you get further in, but there’s always a selection of three to pick from so you never feel backed into a corner. It’s a hell of a lot bigger than Forza 3 as well with an obscene amount of events to choose from in the event menu should you soldier through to the end of the career. With so many tracks, different routes on said tracks, its incredibly large garage of cars spanning two discs, and a plethora of events, you’ll never be short of something to do in the game’s career mode. Even with the overwhelming amount of content though, it still succeeds in provoking that ‘just one more race’ mentality, which is a powerful thing in this day and age.
The fact that there’s so much choice though is the reason I find Forza 4’s ‘Affinity’ progression system a tad contradictory. The ‘Affinity’ system is a lot like the driver level in the career – which gifts gamers a choice of a new car every time they level up – but instead is essentially rewarding players with credits and discounts on parts for sticking with one manufacturer when getting behind the wheel of a motor. Sure, you can have affinity ratings for every manufacturer in the game, but for the long-term rewards, you essentially have to stick with one manufacturer throughout – thus subconsciously removing that element of choice, as you’ll want to show your loyalty with whichever manufacturer you choose to get the big rewards. For a developer so clued into the psychological aspects of game design, this seems like an odd fit.
Forza 4 is as deep or as shallow as you want it to be, offering players just looking for some fun with the tools to make the simulation aspects almost non-intrusive – rewinds, assists, racing lines and so on – but also offering the die-hard gearheads enough to switch everything off and play it as Forza was meant to be played. That mentality extends across into every aspect of the community play as well, with there being quick upgrade options available, as well as the option to choose which aspect you want upgrading individually. The Auction House and the Storefront are an essential part of this accessibility aspect too, allowing people to create tuning setups, decals and paint jobs, and videos and photos to sell to others. Or if you’re like me, they’re there to reward people for their hard work as I pass over my hard-earned credits. Yes, Forza is just as much for painters, tuners – with the usual benchmark testing arenas available too – photographers and so on, as it is for the actual racers.
New to the franchise this year are ‘Car Clubs’ and ‘Rivals’ mode. Car Clubs are essentially automotive clans, allowing players to join up with friends, share cars, challenge others or even just lark about and challenge one another. On the other hand, Rivals mode is a more competitive game-type, allowing players to beat other people’s times on various tracks, netting a nice reward in the process… and even a fierce rival too. You can even setup your own custom racer profile, assigning yourself a custom badge and a custom title, unlocking new ones as you reach new milestones.
One of the Kinect features might actually be the most worthwhile addition in Forza 4 though. No, I’m not talking about the head tracking, which is patchy at best, or the free play using the device, which is a complete waste of space. If you thought I was going to say the new car showcase mode, Autovista, though, you’d be wrong, and although it’s a great mode that shows the fidelity of the visuals on an unprecedented level and the game’s attention to detail, the truth is, it's much easier to navigate with a controller. It is great to hear Top Gear presenter, Jeremy Clarkson witter on about a variety of motors that are in the mode, but there’s only about 20 or so motors to get an in-depth look at, so it’s more of a distraction than a major feature. Like I said though, it does showcase the visuals in an impressive light, all of which are using the in-game engine too. It is a shame though that they can still make so many leaps and bounds with the visuals, but not do anything about that god awful European house and drum n’ bass music soundtrack. Anyway, I digress…
What I’m actually talking about is the voice controlled menu navigation through Kinect, which makes travelling through Forza 4’s heavy, multi-levelled menu system a complete joy. This right here is the future of Kinect and proof that the device has a place in every core gamer’s home.
If all that wasn’t enough, then Forza 4 still has its usual online offering to keep you occupied, but now with more players of course. It’s a fairly robust offering too with the usual array of leaderboards and game modes to keep you coming back for more. Whether you want the more traditional circuit, drift, point-to-point, timed, drag or multi-class races, or the more zany cat & mouse, soccer, 3 types of tag, elimination modes, Turn 10 should have you covered when it comes to your multiplayer. If not, the whole host of custom options that allow you to tailor the events to how you want them, from restricting classes to organising the grid. If you’re still not convinced, grab a couple of pads and play split-screen with a friend – there’s just no pleasing some people!
Despite all that though, at its core, Forza 4 actually feels like the same racer from a few years back. That’s not to say it’s not great, in fact, it’s as great as ever and the cars all have a different feel – and sound. Any sort of tweaks to the handling though are probably only recognisable to those die-hard fanatics, which means that Turn 10 really should have made advancements elsewhere. When more and more racers are introducing night racing, weather effects and realistic damage deformation, you have to ask yourself, “Why aren’t Turn 10?” Yes, Turn 10 has improved the damage model after Forza 3, but that relates more to scrapes than anything, but that’s about it. Forza 4 could probably have done with a few more event types as well if we’re being completely honest, with more point-to-points and the like than circuit races.
As for the achievements, I hate to use an old Midlands saying, but it’s certainly a case of “Same shit, different day”… or in this case, “Same shit, different game!” Yes, the list is almost – emphasis on almost – as mundane and boring as last year and will pretty much require you to sit there and win every single event – of which there are a colossal amount! There are a few flashes of creativity, but not much. Warning: Forza 4’s achievements run the risk of boring you to tears as you go through the motions of sticking with one manufacturer to level 50 and winning every single event in the game. The rest will come while you work on those two… emphasis on work as this is going to be a chore of a list!
While Forza Motorsport 4 might not be making the leaps that we’d hope for the franchise from a gameplay perspective, from a package perspective, it’s not holding back. The Kinect menu navigation, the Car Clubs, Rivals mode, the sublime visuals, Autovista and the varied career mode though all make for a much deeper Forza and all combine with the already stellar gameplay to create the best Forza yet.
Jeremy Clarkson is great, as are the realistic sounding cars, but that drum n’ bass/house music soundtrack needs to make way for something less painful on the ears!
The best looking Xbox 360 game, ever. Scratch that, the best looking console game ever. Bold words I know, but I can see my face in the bonnet of my Ferrari… well, I could if Turn 10 had put me in the game!
In terms of advancements from Forza 3 to Forza 4, it’s truly hard to pick out any worthwhile new improvements, but considering its predecessor was a finely tuned machine, you can’t expect anything less here. The Kinect aspect is a little finicky in Autovista as is the head tracking, but the voice controlled menu navigation is a complete joy to behold.
A much more robust and varied career with some neat new features like Rivals mode, Autovista, the Kinect menu navigation and the Car Clubs round off an impressive package. The best yet. We can’t help but think though that Turn 10 could have spent its time more wisely, creating some of the stuff that racing rivals already have under the hood.
A little bit better than the last Forza’s, but seeing as this is the second boring list they’ve done in a row, we’re less inclined to be as forgiving as we were last time.
Forza Motorsport 4 is undoubtedly Turn 10’s greatest Forza title yet and the Xbox 360’s most impressive simulation racer. Boasting unrivalled visuals, an engaging career mode, fluid, responsive gameplay, and plenty of features to boot, the only real criticism we have is that they possibly haven’t advanced the series as much as we’d have liked them to have done for the fourth iteration.