STAFF REVIEW of Forza Motorsport 4 (Xbox 360)

Thursday, October 27, 2011.
by Adam Dileva

Forza Motorsport 4 Box art I?ve always loved the Forza series. They came into the racing genre but differentiated themselves among the stiff competition very quickly. I really enjoyed Forza 3 but I really didn?t play as much of it as I would have liked to. Looking back, I see why. Simply look up the list of blockbuster games that came out around the same time in 2009 and I now remember why I never got my driver level all that high. It came out the same season as other huge hits like Halo ODST, Borderlands, DLC for GTA IV, Dragon Age Origins, and Assassins Creed 2 just to name a few. While I did spend a decent amount of time with it, I just never gave it as much attention as it deserved and I made it a point to remedy that as soon as Forza 4 released. That day has now come and I?m enjoying every minute of it.

I?m not a car buff by any means, but the cars I do know, I love with a passion (A yellow Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII is my favorite car of all time, you know, for those that are wondering). If you played Forza 3 and have a save file on your hard drive, you?ll be given some goodies in the form of some money and cars based on your driver level from Forza 3. Your vinyl creations will also carry over and you?ll soon experience all the new tweaks and additions that make Forza 4 a worthy successor.

Forza is all about cars and they are the star of the show, so let?s start there shall we? There are more than five hundred cars available so I won?t obviously list them all, but here are a few that really stood out for me: 1997 Acura NSX, 2009 Bugatti Veyron 16.4, 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT, 2006 Dodge Ram SRT-10, 1978 Ford Mustang King Cobra, 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha, 2008 Lamborghini Reventon, 1993 McLaren F1, 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII MR (sadly not my beloved VII version), and even the infamous DMC Delorian that you know from Back to the Future. There?s obviously many more and everyone?s tastes will differ, but these were the ones that I got excited about (among others). You might have noticed that I didn?t list any Porsches; sadly that?s because Turn 10 wasn?t able to obtain the licensing, which you can thank EA for by the way. Luckily RUF offers somewhat of a substitution, but even with the obvious omission, there are plenty of cars here to get excited about.

Cars are designated into separate classes based on their performance (speed, handling, acceleration, etc) and are categorized into classes ranging from F (the lowest) to R classes (the insane speed machines) that you?ll never even hope to drive in your lifetime. If you love your little F-class car but want some stiffer competition, you?re able to upgrade your car to almost any other class quite easily. Upgrading can be as easy or in depth as you want it to be. The quick upgrade options will optimize your vehicle for a specific class of your choosing (if possible), or you can upgrade each part yourself individually. Paint and then tune your ride if you wish and you?re set with your upgraded dream car. Turn 10 understands that people love and become attached to their cars. Now with these upgrades I can finally race my Delorian competitively against a Ferrari (or at least try to).

As you complete races you?ll earn driver and affinity experience points. Driver xp goes towards your overall level and will give you a set choice of car every time you level up. Affinty levels work towards the specific manufacture of the car you just raced with and will earn you extra cash and discounts for their stock parts (you?ll have 100% discounts for manufacture parts in a few short races). The more damage you take the less money you?ll earn as that goes towards ?fixing? your car (No, you can?t completely bust your car and I?ve never lost money at the end of a race yet). The only issue I had with crashes and damage was that the paint scrapes way too easily and dents can look very rough and unrealistic for the amount of force that you were hit with. Sometimes your bumpers and parts will fall off with enough damage but you?ll never find your car in pieces or totally trashed when even slamming into a wall over 200 mph.

For those that loved many of the tracks in Forza 3, a good portion returns and looks better than ever. Old favorites return like Maple Valley Raceway (my personal favorite), you?ll also be racing on Laguna Seca, Nurburgring, Twin Ring Motegi, Suzuka Circuit, and Sebring International Raceway, just to name a few. There are some new courses as well that will take time to master such as Hockenheimring, Infineon Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Bernese Alps and even the Top Gear Test Track. I enjoy all the new tracks as they have their own styles that need to be driven and it?s stunning to see the Alps track redlining your speed machine. Point races in Japan are also very entertaining when competing in uphill climbs in F class vehicles like a Hummer H1 or a Delorian.

New to Forza 4 is the Autovista mode. This allows you to see and interact with an extremely detailed versions of a car where you can learn about the lights, engine, wheels, cockpit, and more while freely moving around (and getting inside) the car. What?s disappointing about Autovista mode is that there are only a handful of specific cars that you can interact with in this manner and it?s not going to have any standard cars for you to play around with. I have to admit though, the unlockable warthog from Halo kind of won me over (even though it?s not drivable in game). The one and only Jeremy Clarkson will voice and overview for these specific cars and it?s an interesting inclusion, but after viewing them once you?ll never go back to Autovista mode as there?s no reason.

Forza 3?s Season play has been replaced with a much improved World Tour Mode and will have you racing infamous tracks from all over the world. Complete a set amount of specific races and you finish that season and move onto the next. As you get further in the seasons, races and the number to complete the season becomes larger and more daunting. Once you get to around half way through the career, difficulty hits a spike almost suddenly and enemy AI will have no qualms using you to take a corner quicker. As you play your career, you?ll be presented multiple choices of events to compete in based on what car you?re currently driving (or possess). Upgrading your cars will also impact what events you are offered to race though you?re able to pick specific events in a checklist form if you wish. Normally career modes in racing games can be very boring and mundane as you need to race specific cars at specific times, but the way that Forza 4 has laid out its career mode means you can race that Delorian for the majority of your career should you choose to.

Forza has also been known for having a very accessible approach for any type of player. Being a racing simulator, it?s difficult to make a game so realistic but still have it approachable for the casual players as well. Turn 10 seems to have figured this out in a very natural way other than having an AI difficulty setting while keeping all types of players happy. No matter your skill level, you can choose what assists to have toggled on or off. My wife plays with every assist on (braking and steering are even available for those that lack driving prowess) and I drive with a nice balance of medium settings that?s still challenging. The more assists you turn off, the more experience and money you?ll earn at the end of the race. If you really run into trouble and incorrectly judge your speed into a turn, the rewind function from Forza 3 returns for those in need. Rewinding mistakes soon became my friend when I got a little too cocky taking a turn faster than I should have (and I earn less by using it, which I?m fine with). The only issue with the rewind is that it seems the marks to restart at are set points rather than however long you want. Sometimes you?ll need to rewind twice to get back to the spot pre-screw up.

As I mentioned above, because there?s no AI difficulty setting, they will adapt to your skill and aggressiveness. The more you bump your opponents, the less they?ll try and avoid you as well. This means that the career has its own preset difficulty, though you are able to make it easier with the assists toggled on should you choose. You?ll notice quickly that every race seems to take place in perfect weather. That?s because there?s no other weather options unfortunately. No racing in rain, snow, or even fog for added challenge; definitely a letdown.

Other than your standard circuit racing you?ll also have access to other types of events. Multi-class races are highly entertaining and stressful. It takes place on a course with two or more separate car classes racing at the same time. You might have F?s racing with A?s and you need to compete with your own class rating while also avoiding the slower or faster class(es) to keep your own ranks lead. 1 vs 1 races usually take place on a point to point track and is littered with regular traffic (though no oncoming cars). You need to maneuver with agility which is easier said than done when slow moving traffic is in your ideal racing line. There is even bowling pin events that have you trying to knock down as many as possible to try and reach the set score.

Sixteen players can compete simultaneously online and is very entertaining (and hectic) to witness that first corner where everyone usually crashes into one another. Unfortunately the lobbies are still bland and don?t give you all that much info about other racers in the room. You can create or join a Car Club (like a guild) and can even share your cars for others to use.

Rivals Mode is a new way to enjoy multiplayer and will have many hours of gaming within if you?re competitive. You compete against other player?s ghost cars trying to beat them in almost any type of event you desire. The much praised Autolog from the Need for Speed series obviously isn?t here, but you?ll get similar style of notices if someone beats your time (and they will if you beat theirs) though it?s not done as smoothly or intuitively as Autolog showed us.

You?ll notice on the box that it says ?Better with Kinect?. Kinect has a few uses for Forza 4, two of which I really enjoy and two that could do without. You?re able to use Autovista mode with Kinect and move around the car with just a wave of your hand, but it feels very unnecessary. You can play a quick race with your arms held out as if you were holding a steering wheel and drive in that manner. While this works quite well surprisingly, this means that the game automatically will control the gas and brake pedals though, meaning you?re only steering and that?s it. These are the two that I feel the game could do without, though it?s not forced so it doesn?t hinder gameplay in any way.

What I do like is the inclusion of voice commands that can be used as a quick shortcut to where you want to go in the (convoluted) menus. While it?s a cool inclusion and I use it often, it?s a shame that it can?t be used for everything as you only have a small set of commands that can be used. You can?t simply say ?paint car red? or anything like that as that would have been very interesting. The most interesting Kinect feature though is easily the head tracking mode if you use the cockpit view. When this is enabled, a slight turn of your head to either side will move the camera in that direction so that you can see out your side windows and into your mirrors. It?s a small Kinect inclusion like this that adds just that extra small bit of realism.

Each car sounds authentic and very distinct. A V8 muscle car sounds completely different than a Lamborghini revving its own engine. The voice over work is done wonderfully and the only negative thing I have to say about the sound overall is the music. The music selection is very weak and just has generic music rather than licensed music tracks, so I just ended up streaming my own soundtrack for each race.

Forza 4 builds upon what made 3 so great. Cars have more detail, tracks have more wear and tear, and sun glare is a real thing just like in real life that will leave you temporarily blinded if you?re racing into the sunlight head on. You?re still able to put plenty of hours into Forza 4 without ever racing. Painting and tuning cars can become an art that takes many hours to master and you can even spend a full day just buying and selling on the in-game Auction House (and yes, unicorn cars have returned).

You?re always being rewarded with xp when completing races regardless of single or multiplayer. You?re constantly working towards your driver and affinity levels and I?ve noticed how much working towards a specific affinity determines what car I?ll chose for a race. The only major gripe I have with the game is that the menus are very convoluted and it takes time to learn where everything is hidden within. Since the underlying game is so fantastically executed, I can give the menu issues a pass since you?re only passing through them to get to the next race most of the time anyways. Ok, I have two gripes. You?re able to spend Microsoft Points in exchange for Cark Tokens to purchase cars in game. It seems like a cash grab more than a feature, but because it doesn?t hinder gameplay nor or are forced to have Car Tokens to buy specific cars, I can?t hinder the final score because of it.

The way World Tour is laid out is done wonderfully and I hope other racing games learn from this structure and pacing. There?s no reason I shouldn?t be able to use my Delorian in every race, which is why I have multiples, one for each car class. Forza 4 may only have incremental updated features from Forza 3 but it?s still an amazing time to be had and the best simulation racing game to date. It still has that awesome new car smell.

Overall: 9.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.8 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.8 / 10


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