Review by BloodGod65

Reviewed: 08/01/12

What's Old is New Again

The instant you fire Forza 4 up for the first time, you’ll know things are different.

As the introductory video begins to roll, the voice of Jeremy Clarkson - of Top Gear fame – launches into a passionate, and surprisingly serious, monologue about cars and the people who love them. He’s talking directly to you and me - the speed freak, the gear head, connoisseurs of the almighty horsepower, we who dream about performance mods and obsess over the perfect line through a corner. Clarkson delivers a chillingly accurate statement that succinctly sums up the future for us, the faithful at the temple of speed. "We are an endangered species, you and I," Clarkson says.

In a world increasingly under the sway of eco-nuts, efficiency police, and the likes of Toyota, Hyundai, and Kia – manufacturers who view the automobile as nothing more than an appliance, a mere means of transportation – those of us who cherish speed, power, and excitement, the enthusiast in a word, are being pressed to the fringes. Our days, it would seem, are numbered.

This is a surprisingly somber tone for a racing game to take, but it ends up setting the backdrop for the game. Forza 4 is not about driving. It’s not about inane mathematics and physics. This is an ode to speed, a love song to performance. This is about the race and all the passion and excitement that go with it. In an age where the V8 engine is considered wasteful and the likes of the mighty V-12 is seen as outright vulgar, Forza 4 provides a temple where the faithful can revel in the glory of speed. Even if it is merely in digital form, Forza 4 provides us with a playground where we can indulge all our horsepower fantasies and do those things that the politically correct set deems quite inappropriate.

If you’ve been paying any attention to the pre-release previews, it’s entirely likely that you’ve gotten the impression that Forza 4 doesn’t do much to evolve the formula that has been established over the course of the past three entries. After all, any time the game appeared in a magazine or online, nothing was said about the racing, the car line up, or the career mode. It all seemed to revolve around the new Autovista mode (which I’ll discuss later) and Kinect implementation (which I won’t, because frankly, nobody gives a damn). Forza 4, however, is not a simple rehash of what has come before it. It has been evolved in small, but very meaningful ways. The result is a Forza that is undeniably better than its predecessors, a racing game that is able to draw you in and establish an emotional connection between you and the car.

Part of this is a result of a heavily revised career mode. Forza 3 had a World Tour mode that gave you a handful of tournaments to choose from and then forced you to race through the entire series of events before doing anything else. It was, understandably, a love it or hate it design decision. Personally, I loathed it. Judging by the extensive make over the career mode has undergone in Forza 4, so did many other people.

At its core, the new World Tour is similar to its forebear. You’ll play through a career comprised of consecutive seasons and at any given moment, there are a handful of events from which to choose. However, as you progress through each season, you are shuttled to a different track around the world. The events available at any given time are restricted to those that take place on that specific track. So rather than being forced to race through an entire tournament in one go, you only do a single event at a time.

This has several positive effects on the game as a whole. First, it keeps things fresh. The new World Tour ensures there is a constant rotation of tracks, and given the breadth of locations in the game, it’s usually a long time before you return to any given area. This also allows for greater freedom in choosing what events to do next. Since the events are based on the actual track and appear based on what’s best given your current selected car, you can always switch vehicles and see if a new event appears.

There is at least one strange quirk about World Tour mode. Many times when I was in the perfect car for an event, it didn’t show up in the event selection screen. For instance, while in a vintage Mustang an event for that exact car failed to appear. I backed out of the screen, got into a Mercedes, and it was only then that the event for the Mustang showed up.

But fans will be happy to hear that there is greater variety in event types now. While the sprint races from the original game have yet to return and time trials are still absent, the game does mix up the standard circuit racing formula. One new event type is a multi-class race, which has groups of vehicles of wildly different performance levels racing on the same track. Another pits you against a single other driver, but populates the track with much slower vehicles to act as obstacles. There’s also an occasional goof-off challenge that has you sliding your car into pins to rack up points on the Top Gear Test track. Despite the removal of the endurance races, Forza 4 has a greater variety of events than any other game in the series.

One of the best results of the updated career mode is how it fosters bonds between the player and their cars. If you find a car you really like, chances are that you can use it for a large portion of the game. For me, it was my very own Honda S2000, which I bought early in the game. When I had beaten most of the entry-level events, I began to upgrade and tune it so I could compete at higher levels. For whatever reason, this was never the case in previous Forzas. When a car outlived its usefulness, I switched it out for something better. Forza 4 manages to make the player love their cars – a subtle touch that most other racing games are unable to accomplish.

As far as the actual racing goes, nothing has really changed. That’s no criticism, either, since Forza 3 nailed the vehicle handling and physics. As always, the cars feel fast and not too stiff, but remain solid. It’s the perfect blend of realism and speed that gives the game its genuinely realistic feel.

One minor but appreciated addition is the constant evaluation of your driving skills. Much like the system in Need for Speed: Shift, Forza 4 constantly evaluates your driving abilities and judges everything from cornering and speed, to drifting, drafting, and passing. Whenever you do one of these things, a small ranking icon appears to judge how well the action was performed. While you won’t get any special benefits for doing well, it does provide instantaneous feedback on your performance, which allows you to push yourself to do better.

The plethora of driver assists return as well. All the standard options, such as ABS, traction and stability control, and the driving line are here, as well as steering and braking assistance, and the rewind feature. Given the number of options, players of any experience level can jump in and customize the game to suit their abilities and still have fun. As you turn off assists, you earn a percentage increase on the purse at each win, up to 160% extra. Not a shabby gain, and this encourages players to hone their skills to earn more money.

Unlike Forza 3, the game’s catering to players of all skill levels does not neuter the difficulty level. Now opponent racers actually put up a decent challenge and become quite formidable on higher difficulty levels. For the most part, Forza 4 has better difficulty balancing than its predecessor and it only takes a few laps to figure out why. The computer AI has realized how to properly use the accelerator! In Forza 3, the AI played like Michael Schumacher around corners but turned into a little old lady during the straights, suddenly slowing down and not driving as fast as possible, thereby allowing the player to overtake them with ease. But now, straight line overtaking has become significantly harder as other racers get hard on the gas as soon as they come out of a corner. You’ll have to learn how to pass through corners and get the better of your opponents. However, this newfound bravery is offset by the fact that the other racers make mistakes more often. They’ll overshoot apexes and slide off into the sand pit, or chicken out and back off before entering a corner. With that said, your stiffest competition usually comes from the two competitors who were highest in the starting grid. They keep to the racing lines and generally put up a fight while everyone else in the field is just an obstacle to be passed. While I appreciate the fact that there is at least some semblance of challenge, it’s still odd that you’re really only competing against one or two other cars. In a real race, everyone is gunning for the top spot, not just hanging out and enjoying the scenery.

Win or lose, you’ll always be accumulating experience in Forza 4. As in previous games, you’ll gain general driver experience and be rewarded with new cars. In a new twist, the player is presented a group of themed cars – such as "vintage muscle" or "touring cars" – and is allowed to pick one. Not only is it great to get a say in the matter, but it also helps to avoid accumulating an entire garage of cars you don’t really want and can’t sell. And most of the time, you’re getting genuinely cool or useful cars. Level five presents you with the choice of a 1960 Corvette and a 1957 Ford Thunderbird. It only gets better from there.

Previous games have also included an experience level for each car, but this has now been replaced by a manufacturer level. As you drive vehicles of a certain make, the level increases. When you level up, you get a discount on all parts for vehicles of that make. At level four, all performance parts are free. Beyond level four, you’ll also get massive credit bonuses.

Just like Forza 3’s rewind feature, this is a cool idea with poor implementation. It really doesn’t take too long to get to level four, and once you do, you can basically build a super-car free of charge. It would have been better if Turn 10 had made it so the free stuff came at a higher level. Of course, this is just in keeping with their vision to let car enthusiasts have fun.

And trust me, it’s hard not to have fun in Forza 4. The game basically throws cool cars and credits at you and it isn’t long until you’ll have an entire garage of cars obtained for free and a huge account of credits to blow on upgrades. As has become the norm, most cars can be visually modified with aerodynamic body pieces, wings, and wheels. And of course, you can always repaint your car and add a tasteful (or garish) livery using the decal editor.

But if you’re looking for a new car, you can always take a stroll over to the car lot. Boasting 79 manufacturers that encompass all the biggest names and plenty you’ve probably never heard of, the car list totals just over 500. Pretty impressive. Sure, you can claim Gran Turismo 5 had more than double that number but consider this; in that game there were over 40 Nissan Skyline variants, 22 Mazda Miata variants, and over forty variants of the Mitsubishi Evolution and Subaru Impreza combined, meaning that four basic car models account for over one hundred of the game’s claimed 1000 cars. And that’s only scratching the surface.

Rest assured, the developers at Turn 10 aren’t interesting in stroking their egos by presenting a car list artificially inflated by countless repeats and meaningless trim changes. The duplicates are kept to a bare minimum here and of the few that appear, there are legitimate differences. For instance, the game allows you to buy the North American and JDM variants of the Acura/Honda NSX, as well as the NSX GT, and the NSX GT-R – all very different versions of one basic car. And as for the rest, well these are cars you want to drive, the best and most desirable in the car world. You aren’t going to find the likes of Daihatsu here; if driving 80 horsepower people carriers or your granny’s ancient diesel powered Volkswagen around a track is your idea of a great racing game, you’re better off playing Forza’s competition.

For once, I actually have no complaints about the car list. The game delivers just about every performance vehicle of note made since the seventies, and only people who desire the truly arcane and highest of high performance special editions will find anything to complain about. To top it off, the few issues I had with Forza 3 have been addressed, namely the suspicious absence of the then-new Nissan GTR and Mercedes SLS.

But there is one missing manufacturer that may have some people up in arms. Sadly, Porsche is no longer among the ranks of drivable cars. As it turns out EA has an exclusive licensing deal with Porsche and although they’ve allowed Turn 10 to use the license in the past, they’ve pulled one of their typical sleazy moves and kept the cars from appearing. You’ll be interested to know that Shift 2 and Forza 4 were slated to release around the same time. Coincidence? I think not. Regardless, I have never been as infatuated with Porsche as many other gear heads, so its absence doesn’t bother me. But at the time of this writing, a DLC pack containing around 30 Porsche models is slated to release via Xbox Live, and should be available for purchase by the time you read this. I guess withholding Porsche didn’t boost the sales of the massive train wreck that was Shift 2.

Though the game gives players a near constant revenue stream with which to buy new vehicles, many players may begin the game with several cars in their garage. If you still have a save file from Forza 3, you can have a few cars imported to your garage, depending on your level of progress in that game. While you don’t get to choose which ones you get, the handful I received spanned several performance classes so I wasn’t forced to start with a piece of F-class trash. This means you can jump right in to some higher level races rather than working your way up from the bottom.

While Forza 4 is focused on racing, this is a game that, at its core, is all about car worship. Autovista, a mode that allows the player to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most desirable automobiles, is merely an extension of this. You can select one of several cars and then enter a virtual showroom where you can walk around and interact with the car. You can open the hood and trunk, get inside, and start the engine. By activating icons scattered across the vehicle, you can hear special details about the car. Jeremy Clarkson even provides his own brutally honest commentary about the car as a whole (his wholesale trashing of some of the vehicles is hilarious, as always).

The reinvigoration of Forza’s gameplay came as a surprise, and it’s even more surprising that Turn 10 has managed to improve on the graphics. Forza 4 is absolutely stunning, a major and instantly recognizable improvement over its predecessor. That having been said, I found it difficult to pin down exactly what made the game so much better looking. In the end, I think much of it comes down to an improved lighting engine, which has light reflecting realistically off the curves and angles of the cars.

Improved visual quality is often accompanied by an increase in loading times, but this doesn’t seem to be the case here. If anything, the load times seem to have been reduced, albeit very slightly. But this might just be a matter of perception, as each loading screen shows your car, the track layout, and event details rather than the blank black screen of Forza 3.

Audio quality hasn’t changed much. For the most part, the sound effects are good although for a few of the cars I’m familiar with, the engine noises are just a tad off. For instance, the S2000 I used for much of the game just doesn’t have the same visceral scream at full throttle that its real life counterpart does. Several other vehicles seem to have more toned engine noises than they should, as well.

For those who would rather listen to the radio, the game now has a traditional soundtrack akin to other racing games, rather than the instrumental covers of rock songs and laid back electronica of past games. It’s a questionable improvement, as the songs may not be to everyone’s taste (they certainly weren’t to mine), and there’s no way to access a song list to turn off those songs you don’t like.

Since Forza originally came on the scene, it has been clear that there is a fundamental ideological schism between it and its main competitor, Gran Turismo. Whereas GT has always been about driving – the cold, clinical, and emotionless mathematics and physics of it – Forza has always been about racing; racing as an intense, gut-wrenching, adrenaline filled experience.

That still rings true and Forza is now, more than ever before, a monument to the racing experience. While Turn 10 still hasn’t made the be-all end-all simulation racer– and until they add weather effects or at least night racing, I won’t be satisfied – but this iteration reinvigorates a series that was showing signs of stagnation. A few subtle tweaks, however, and the series suddenly feels fresh and new again. This is the best racing game on the market. End of story.

Rating: 9

Product Release: Forza Motorsport 4 (US, 10/11/11)

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