Michael Leparc On October 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Forza Motorsport 4 ScreenshotAnother two year cycle, another Forza Motorsport. What makes things different this time around is Polyphony Digital finally, though extremely belatedly, played its hand with Gran Turismo 5. Fortunately however, Turn 10 Studios didn’t fret much over it and stuck to what they do best, making Forza gorgeous, cutting edge, and accessible to all comers. What they added was some fun touches from a collaboration with Top Gear, a couple hit or miss Kinect features, some minor tweaks to career mode, and a bevy of multiplayer modes that encourage both greater community participation and competition. The fact that they improved the graphics and the physics even further is just icing on the cake.

Let’s begin with the career mode. Right off the bat you are served notice by Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson that this game is an unapologetic love letter to cars and actually having fun with them, rather than slowly collecting them like museum pieces and worrying over the environmental consequences of turning the key. If you’re a veteran to the series, Forza 4 will detect your save from the previous game and throw you a whole set of rides to get you started. However, even if you’re new to things, Turn 10 realizes you don’t want to suffer with low tier cars for long. Levels and credits are earned more rapidly as you’re whisked around through the World Tour, and each time you level up you’re rewarded with a new car for free, so your garage will fill up in no time. Available events will change to fit what you decide to drive so again there are no impediments to your enjoyment of the game. Three new real world tracks are now available: Hockenheimring, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Infineon Raceway, as well as a fantasy track referred to as Bernese Alps. On top of that there are new events for variety like bowling (knock over the pins as you make your way through the Top Gear track) and autocross (navigating gates through the course to beat a time limit). The season typically ends with a two heat championship event. Upgrades are mostly the same as before and you can take a car from class E to A or S without much issue. Opponent AI is more intelligent and actually adjusts to your ability to create a fair challenge without rubberbanding and still being beatable with good driving. But what if you get bored of going solo? No problem. Multiplayer will give you the same XP and credit rewards so Forza no longer has to be a chore.

Not much has changed in the multiplayer lobbies for Forza 4, except that user hosted public lobbies are thankfully back, and the game itself now supports 16 drivers per race. If you just want to get the green light right away you can hit up the Quick Match lobby, or you can go searching for partners based on class, circuit, etc. Besides racing however there are also other options like car soccer and tag modes. Unfortunately these don’t seem to be as popular as the main modes so they were hard to test. Also new to multiplayer is the concept of clubs, where friends and others can join together to share cars through the club garage as well as compare lap times and compete with other clubs for collective props. Sadly, Turn 10 limits you to one club to the exclusion of others you might want to join, so you may find yourself deciding between friends. Maybe this will get rectified in the future, but until then you’ll have to let someone down. Where multiplayer really shines in my opinion is in the new Rivals mode, where the competition is pure and can’t be ruined by drivers wrecking, driving dirty, and blocking you on purpose. It functions much like Need for Speed Hot Pursuit’s autolog, notifying you when friends have bested your times, but it’s also expanded to include the world at large, and instead of just beating the times it will download ghosts for you to race. Beating a ghost leads to a bounty reward that increases as you climb up the percentiles, making it a great alternative to grinding through the World Tour if you’re good enough.

When you’re ready to take a break from burning rubber, be sure to check out Autovista, where you can investigate the game’s cars in depth and hear Top Gear’s take on them (as well as unlock Halo’s warthog vehicle for kicks, though unfortunately you can’t drive it). The graphics engine and the detailed models take center stage here as Turn 10 clearly put a lot of love into this mode. The same can’t be said for the Kinect integration here, however, as walking around the car and opening doors and hoods becomes ridiculously finicky with such small targets for your hand to point at. Still, Autovista almost beats going to the local auto convention, especially if you don’t have a big one close by with plenty of Ferraris to check out.

Another miss as far as Kinect goes is the imaginary wheel driving mode. It seems that even Turn 10 realizes this is purely a gimmick as you are limited to one lap around the track per run. The actual steering works better than expected but not having any input into the speed of the car makes the racing experience disappointing and you’ll probably end up with gorilla arm syndrome from holding your arms up so long. Actually the worst part of this mode is the menu design. Swiping through manufacturers, car models, and tracks is an absolute pain as it is easy to miss the swipe or go straight past the one you wanted. The user would have been better served with a large grid of options to point at instead of swiping one by one through them.

What they really nailed however was the head tracking. This is the feature that allows you to look left and right naturally instead of playing with the right thumbstick and feels completely natural once you set it up correctly. It works best when seated a lot closer to your TV or monitor than usual so that turning your head still keeps you focused on the screen. I found it to be the most immersive experience I’ve had racing at home as I could look into the turn or check to see if a car was passing me on the inside without thinking about it. Normally I play racers in 3rd person as I only have a controller, but this feature had me thoroughly embracing the cockpit view to even better results.
Speaking of which, the cockpits are a bit more detailed in Forza 4, just one of the many improved graphical touches in the game. Lighting is far more realistic and tracks can be experienced at different times of day, looking more authentic overall. Damage is a tad more realistic with scratches, more serious dents, and traded paint, but it still lags woefully behind the destruction you can put rally cars through in the DiRT series. At least cars actually flip over now, if not put entirely out of commission all that easily. While it is hard to do much better than its predecessor, the differences overall are more than just a bit noticeable.

Sound wise the game is as excellent as ever with accurately roaring engines and effects, though you may not appreciate the soundtrack. Some of the songs may be familiar to those who played DiRT 3, which was a bit of a disappointment, but you probably will be turning it off after a while anyway. What matters is the cars sound great and the Top Gear commentary in Autovista is as insightful and humorous as usual.
All of this adds up to making Forza Motorsport 4 a definite buy if you’re a fan of the series, or a fan of the genre in general. It’s a lot more fun than Gran Turismo 5 in my opinion, because while it may not offer as an eclectic mix of race genres, it gets what it does absolutely right and does a much better job of encouraging both community and competition, as well as adopting new technology like Kinect headtracking. It’s not the most realistic simulation ever, but it strikes the best balance between indulging the hardcore and reaching out to everyone that wants to put the pedal to the metal.


Doesn’t mess with the formula that makes it work for everyone. Plenty customizable. Very adaptable AI. Solid physics improved by better tire simulation. Plenty of options and easy to advance through.


Best of class for sure, at least among consoles. Autovista and replays are astonishing to behold.


Everything is in order here. Who plays sim racers for the music though?


Yet another worthy successor to the franchise. The luster hasn’t been diminished one bit by its competition.

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