Gran Turismo 5 had its chance, but with such high anticipation over too many years, it was never going to deliver. By comparison, Forza 4 has arrived without the expectations and aims to offer the racing simulator PS3 fans expected to call their own last year. With better Top Gear support, a new career mode and improved physics, while still offering accessibility to all players, Forza 4 has a strong support to reach that goal.
A driving simulator – The Forza 4 demo raised more questions than answers when it was released earlier this week, with many fans suspecting it might be more of an arcade racer than a driving simulator. While it certainly has arcade elements, if you choose them, Forza 4 is a comprehensive driving simulator. However, it all depends how you want to play the game. There are a magnitude of settings the drastically amend the driving conditions and the realism. It doesn’t force you into a driving test like Gran Turismo 5 and doesn’t take itself as seriously, but that isn’t to the detriment of the gameplay. Rest assured that it’s a quality racing simulator, if that’s how you set it up to play.
The driving physics are as good as any racing sim, far surpassing those of Forza 3. To get the best out of the game, you’ll want to enable the new “Simulation” steering setting which transforms it into a bona fide racing simulator that encompasses the spirit of motorsport. There are comprehensive options to upgrade, tune and customise your ride, but they go behind that. Detailed explanations explain how tweaking the setup will impact on the car’s performance, and it actually does a great job of teaching you about the workings of a race car.
Suburb visuals – The screens look fantastic, the demo is the best you’ve ever seen and the trailers are mesmerising; yet, you still don’t quite understand how good Forza 4 looks. The cars are amazing and leave Gran Turismo 5 in a trail of dust. There’s absolutely no comparison between the two. I could go on about it all day, but there’s really no need to it. The level of detail on the cars is beyond what we previous thought possible and must be pushing the Xbox 360 to its limits.
Epic Top Gear support – Gran Turismo 5 was ambitious but rubbish in its implementation of the Top Gear Test Track. With over 350 million viewers worldwide, it was always going to be a massive hook and didn’t deliver. Forza 4 has done it right, or at least gotten much closer and will please fans.
The game opens with a monologue from Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, who continues to detail vehicles in the new Autovista mode. It’s followed by a series of challenges at the TG Test Track during the World Tour.
Best of all, you can race out onto the track, in any car, right from the beginning. You can even take the Cee’D out for a spin to compare your time against the stars’ in the reasonably priced car. There are also a number of variations of the track, including straight drag races, and hot laps begin from the line – no rolling starts here.
Accessible to everyone – Forza 4 sets itself apart from the competition by being genuinely accessible to anyone of varying skill levels. At its easiest difficulty it will control breaking and handling with an exact driving line, TCS and ABS. The rewind feature has returned from Forza 3 and offers beginners the opportunity to crank up the difficulty before their time, to face a serious challenge knowing that they have a safety net.
Racing veterans can turn all of this off and crank up the difficult to face realistic conditions. It won’t be quite complete without a real wheel, not the Kinect rubbish, but the standard controller does a decent job of getting you around the track.
Autovista – Autovista is a new addition that allows you to inspect your cars and learn more about them. It’s designed for Kinect, but the first thing you’ll want to do is disconnect that and pick up a controller. You can explore the interiors, under the hood and features of interest on each car and hear tidbits about their mechanical prowess and performance. The Kinect implementation suggests that it’s trying to draw casual racers into the world of motoring enthusiasts off the track, but it will only be off interest if you want to see a virtual replica of a car many of us will never be able to afford, with some snippets of information and hilarious commentary by Jeremy Clarkson.
The career – The career mode, now dubbed World Tour, has been revamped to become easier to navigate. The confusing calendar system and multi-stage event options have been replaced by a world map that is navigated for you. The narrator will take you to the next stage, where you will be able to pick from three events, depending on your current car, before it’s off to the next leg. It’s far more accessible than Forza 3 and will be much easy to continue if you shelve the game for several weeks before returning. It also spices things up with new events such as track days and challenges amidst traffic, as well as fan service on the Top Gear Test Track.
Pitch perfect audio – You either get it or you don’t, but there’s something about the sound of an engine that will get any petrol-head going. Forza 4 sounds absolutely amazing. It’s easy to harp on about the visuals, but with the right setup the audio is out of this world. It sounds as if you’re actually there, out on the track listening to these babies purr. It might look great, but true motoring enthusiasts will appreciate nothing more than the sound effects. It’s a shame the background music doesn’t live up to the same high standards.
The car collection – Like any racing game, Forza 4 places a heavy emphasis on your car collection, tuning them and selling them. From over 80 manufactures, they have been arranged in region and rarity to make re-sales more interesting.That’s handled fantastically through the online auction house, where the final price will be determined by the aforementioned variables as well as your customisations.
The online community – The online community in Forza 4 is as good as it gets in gaming. It’s a little hard to appreciate when there’s nobody online besides gaming journos looking to bash through everything as quickly as possible, but the potential to ignore the single player due to the online quality is here. There are car clubs to join, a hectic auction house and detailed leaderboards, as well as a number of real world opponents, and even listed rivals, to challenge to a race.
Kinect is rubbish – Microsoft are boasting about the Kinect implementation, but it’s awful at every turn. The option to control the game strictly with Kinect forces you to hold your arms out at full stretch and turn an imaginary wheel, while the A.I. does the rest, which is uncomfortable at the end of one lap, let alone an entire race.
The hybrid control through head-tracking with Kinect is passable, but nothing more than a gimmick. It’s a distraction rather than an advantage, and the right control stick is a far more useful option to momentarily adjust your view.
Feels like Forza 3 at times – Upon loading the game for the first time, it feels exactly like Forza 3. There’s no noticeable difference between the two when it comes to first impressions, and you’d be forgiven for thinking not much has changed. It has, of course, been totally overhauled, from physics and visuals to the career mode, but it does first appear to be Forza 3 with Jeremy Clarkson.
After extended play it will also lack tracks. There are plenty initially, but it’s not long before you’ve blasted through them all. This could, and should, all change with DLC.
Forza Motorsport 4 is the best in the series and takes the mantle as the finest racing simulator this generation. At times it feels too similar to Forza 3, and Kinect is awful, but it has been updated where it counts with fantastic physics, stunning visuals and realistic sound effects. The World Tour mode offers more variation and is much easier to navigate compared to Forza 3’s hectic calendar system, and the online community will keep you off the streets for months to come. It’s a fantastic racing simulator that everyone, no matter how excited you are by automobiles, can play and enjoy.