Gamer: Forza Motorsport 4

By Brandon Turkus

October 20, 2011

We’ll cut straight to the chase. Forza Motorsport 4 is one hell of a game. In fact, in the realm of driving sims, this might be the finest console-based game ever made. Here’s why.
Starting up Forza for the first time, you’ll be greeted by the dulcet droll of one Jeremy Clarkson, the host of the BBC’s hit television show Top Gear, and the new staple of Forza narration. After Jezza’s done, you’ll be dropped into a Ferrari 458 Italia on the Bernesse Alps track against other comparable supercars for a race. For this starter race, all of the assists were turned all the way up, meaning you get the holy trinity of stability controls (antilock brakes, traction, and stability control) on top of a series of arrows that trace the correct racing line around the track, and tell you when to brake and when to accelerate. Not that you need to worry about such things, as the game will brake for you automatically. All you need to do is keep your finger on the gas, and the game will do the rest. Even the steering is assisted by the computer.
Once this “race” is complete, you’ll be taken to the usual array of dreary runabouts that will form your first foray into the world of Forza Motorsport 4. Once you’ve chosen from the likes of the Chevrolet Spark, Ford Ka, Citroen C1, Volkswagen Fox, and Toyota Aygo (among others), you will be set up in the game’s Career Mode. Per the norm, you race, collect, modify, and customize cars here, earning credits for races to buy new cars. The main display will be identical to anyone that has played Forza 3, with the Race, Cars, Upgrade, and Paint sections along the left side of the screen. Each of these, with the exception of Race, works the exact same way as Forza 3.
Race offers the option of an Event Listing, where you can choose from every event in the game to race in, much like you could in Forza 4. The other option is World Tour, which is a slight variation on the Season Mode of Forza 3. You’ll be entered into a series, which is made up of a set number of races. The computer determines each venue, but you’ll be able to choose one event (out of three) to participate in at each track. This gives the game some added variety. This choice of events also changes based on the vehicle you are driving.
Other new features we liked in Career Mode were award bonuses and driver level prizes. Winning a race now nets you extra driver experience, extra cash, or extra affinity with the maker of your car. Affinity is the relationship between you and a particular manufacturer. Maxing out affinity has the happy advantage of making upgrades for that manufacturer free for every car you buy. That means maxing out Ford affinity with your Fiesta early on means you could buy a GT500 and give it the whole catalog of upgrades completely free later in the game.
The other change comes when you reach a new driver level. Instead of just giving you one car, like in Forza 3, Forza 4 gives you the option of several cars, based around a theme for each level. This is great, as all too often, prize cars aren’t much of a prize at all. Instead, you can pick a car simply because you like the model, or because you’ll actually want to race it.
Exit out of Career Mode, and you’ll be greeted by a screen with five windows. On the left is Career Mode, followed by Community, Autovista, Free Play, and Marketplace. Community is your online home in the Forza universe. You can find online races, along with the new Rivals mode, which pits you against other drivers in a variety of challenges, from hot laps, to drifting, to the more inane challenges dreamed up by Top Gear. Community is also where you go to buy and sell cars at auction, as well as graphic designs, vinyl packages, and tuning setups.
Autovista is one of the really cool new modes of Forza 4. Here, 24 of the most influential cars of all time, from the Hummer H1 to the Aston Martin One-77 to the McLaren F1, sit, waiting to be perused by you. You can walk around the cars, get information on unique features from a stately Englishman we took to calling Rufus, and of course, hear Jeremy Clarkson’s interesting narration on each particular car. You start out with five cars, and need to complete challenges in new cars to unlock them in Autovista mode.
Free Play mode is the home of quick races, hot laps, and split-screen action in Forza. Here, you’ll have access to the entire catalog of cars and tracks, and be allowed to let loose in whatever you choose. To be frank, this is our favorite mode, as it allowed us to really do whatever we wanted.
The Marketplace is, as marketplaces usually are, the place where you spend your money. This is where you go to download (read: buy) additional car packs, track packs, and Autovista cars. Each purchase uses Microsoft Points, which need to be bought outside the game using real money. The cool thing about the additional car packs (even though there are only a few right now), is that you can pick and choose what cars you want from each pack, meaning you don’t need to waste money for cars that you’ll probably never use. This is a nice change from Forza 3, which forced you to purchase the entire package.
Now that we’ve covered the initial bases, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what is a very good racing game. Let us first note that we were racing with all the assists turned off, full damage rendering (cosmetic and mechanical), a manual transmission, and simulation steering (yes, we are nerds). Players of Forza 3 (your author included) may have noted that games sometimes offer questionable physics when it comes to tire grip and body movement. Sometimes, things just don’t add up. That is just not the case here. For all the ballyhooing about the physics engine in Gran Turismo5, Forza absolutely blows it out of the water. Everything about the way these cars behave is more lifelike than any consumer-level video game before it.
In engineering the tire qualities, Turn 10 Studios brought in Pirelli (yes, the same folks that make the rubber for Sebastian, Jenson, and Fernando) to help tweak how the tires react, grip, and behave through a variety of driving conditions. The result is, in a word, epic. Grip levels and the progressive loss of grip mimic actual rubber very closely. You can actually feel the grip wear out as you push the car through a turn. There is an extremely high level of progression in the way the tires wear and behave.
The same goes with the steering movements. We were racing with the standard XBox controller, so no fancy wheel here, yet the amount of feedback was excellent. With the simulation steering, it turns off a variety of the hardwired assists that made it so easy to drift cars and chuck them about in the last game. The inputs that you give the stick have a much more real effect on the way the car moves. Slide it gently to one side, and the car will be fine. Smash it to one side, and the car will violently jerk, much like yanking the steering wheel in real life. It is stunningly real, and presents a real challenge, demanding smooth driving in all circumstances.
The actual process of racing is remarkable for a few reasons. The AI is surprisingly well done. You’ll see AI cars dicing it out in front and behind you; it doesn’t feel like you’re on one side, and seven AI cars on the other. And those seven AI cars don’t drive around the track locked on their line like slot cars. You can actually watch the AI cars adjust their line as you drive around the track.
And when you do inevitably crash into those AI cars, it looks and feels and sounds real. There isn’t just some generic thud as you bump fenders. There’s grinding, scratching, rubbing, and the sound of broken glass with each collision. Granted there is some silliness, such as a firm bump scratching the paint across your entire front end, but all told, the damage rendering is top notch. One of the coolest bits comes when you smash very hard into something. Part of the screen goes white, and its almost like your driver is stunned by the impact. It takes a second for things to come back into focus, before you can start racing again.
The cars, of course, look beautiful. Inside and out, each cars is gorgeously rendered in very high detail. The highlight, though, is the sound. These cars sound remarkable true to life. We tested a few virtual cars that we’d recently driven in real life, and came away impressed with just how close these digital copies were in the acoustics department. Throwing a sport exhaust and intake on makes a noticeable difference as well, and gives many of the cars a very serious auditory bite.
Not all is well, though, as Forza 4 does have some things that we don’t like. For a start, we’d like to see a bit more track variety. Yes, there are over 20 locations, with each boasting a variety of different tracks, but somehow it isn’t enough. We like the inclusion of Infineon and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but some more real-world tracks would be nice. Think Spa, Daytona, and Fuji. It’s also high time Turn 10 Studios brought in time-of-day and weather variability. We want to race in the wet, and we want to race in the dark. Both of these can be done in Gran Turismo 5, but not Forza. These are small quibbles though, especially considering just how good Forza 4 is.
Where Forza Motorsport 3 was merely a solid competitor for the Gran Turismo series, Forza 4 absolutely dominates, offering a more realistic, intense, and fun racing product that is accessible by both hardcore drivers and casual fans alike. It may not be enough to throw away your PS3, but if you happen to already own an XBox 360 and enjoy a bit of racing, then Forza Motorsport 4 needs to be a part of your collection. You won’t be disappointed.