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Forza Motorsport 4 Review

The newest entry in the franchise is likely the most definitive racing experience of the year

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Following the successful release of the racing series every two years on Xbox 360, Microsoft has continued the trend with Forza Motorsport 4. Once again developed by Turn10, Forza 4 is a much refined experience that manages to actually feel fresh but what is an otherwise straightforward progress-based sim racer. There is a wide variety of cars and tracks, restructured career mode, intriguing online offerings, and a ton of racing to be had at a smooth 60 frames per second. The series continues to focus on clean racing – perhaps too clean, as will be discussed later – but it is nonetheless a fantastic achievement that’s well worth taking part in.

Forza Motorsport 4

At the core of the single player experience, the developers have created the World Tour. Offline play is fairly different from what other games in the genre have done, as well as Forza 3. Essentially, the player’s progress now occurs with a lengthy series of 10 seasons, each consisting of a set number of races. Starting off with season one there are only 6 races, 8 in season two, 10 in season three, and so on. Each race, in turn is locked in to a particular track and racing conditions – however the twist is, there is a variety of cars and opponents that can be used. What this means is that depending on the class of the player’s car (ranging from F to R3, as expected), the available races will actually change, thus presenting players with numerous gameplay scenarios. Select an E class car and your three available events will change, presenting the possible races to take part in. All of the races differ in their opponents and prizes up for grabs, but the track and win conditions remain the same. The game also does well to break up the circuit racing with the occasional drag, bowling, and head to head events.

If you enjoy driving your fully customized Mitsubishi, or that tweaked Nissan – you can do so for quite a number of races. The game gives the player a fairly large number of events for each race, so swapping in and out of cars, or sticking with the same one, is your choice to make. As mentioned earlier, there are different bonuses depending on the event undertaken, but it’s still possible to cruise your D class car for quite a while. The game does though, eventually, force the player to start using higher end machinery – or at least making you upgrade your current ride to the next performance class.

There is a driver level system in the game, as well as a new manufacturer affiliation level. Both levels are based on XP earned, and your driver level increases satisfyingly quickly, at about 5 levels per season. The level itself is just an artificial number, and has no gameplay implications such as restricting you from races. It’s only function, in fact, is a very useful one – to provide the player with a new car at each level up. Rather than limit the prize to a single vehicle, players get a choice of one car out of a few, all from the same artificial category and very similar in statistics. This means that the game’s economy is fairly relaxed, as you’ll always have the correct car needed to not only progress through the races, but even take part in the more specialized events (such as manufacturer competitions).

The second progress tracker is the manufacturer affiliation level, which only progresses when you use a corresponding car brand during races. This progression level is tied a bit more into the game than the driver level – particularly, the economy. It only takes a few races with the same make of car to get past level 5, at which point all performance parts are completely free. From that point on, all manufacturer level increases simply add more cash. Thus, the game’s economy feels quite a bit unbalanced – participate in about 8 to 10 races with the same car brand and you’re free to buy whatever performance parts you want, with no cost. It provides a great opportunity to endlessly tweak and adjust your ride. But, with all the free cars from Driver levels and free car upgrades, the game’s currency does feel largely devalued.

Forza Motorsport 4

Which isn’t too bad, because there are a ton of vehicles to check out with that extra cash. The game already does a great job of providing you with a wide selection of free rides. And in fact, when tuned, there’s barely any need to actually buy a vehicle until season 5 or later. Once you do want to go for something new, the catalog is always fully unlocked regardless of your levels, and any car can be purchased if you have the cash. Forza 4 features a large selection of vehicles, from the most amusing turbo hatchbacks to the ultra fast Corvettes and specially tuned Racing class cars. They all come very well detailed both on the outside and with an accurate in-car design. Each of course offers a set of varying stats and an overall class level, which can be tuned with a wide range of tweaks and upgrades, very reminiscent of titles like Gran Turismo 5. Having a maximum overall level in a class doesn’t mean you’ll be able to compete, if all your opponents simply have a higher acceleration stat but lower top speed. Like any good sim, a lot of strategy is in play when it comes to car tuning and the racing itself.

Forza 4 carries on the tradition of being a very clean circuit sim. The focus is clearly on precision racing, and that translates across the whole driving experience. Cars handle with great care, and it’s easy to notice the different performance factors as you complete laps. It should be noted that the game’s default settings are fairly relaxed, giving the game great accessibility – but also a challenge, once you’ve turned up the difficulty which in turn earns more credits. There are race feats that also earn more credits, for completing tasks like perfect corners, drafts, and drifts during the race. The driving engine feels right, and there are no problems at all with the experience.

A few annoyances, though, do occur on the track. First of all, and perhaps the most odd and noticeable design decision, is the invisible wall. Yes, you read that correctly. On the game’s many, many sharp corners, the developers have put in some kind of extreme slowdown effect, in an attempt to prevent cutting of the track. If you happen to fly off the asphalt on the outside of the track, the physics behave appropriately and slow your car down and out of control, but it’s still manageable to recover. Hit an inside corner at a wrong angle though, and your car will instantly slow down to near crawl. It’s understandable what the developers were trying to accomplish, but it’s implemented in the most brutal way possible and often triggered by pure accident as the line between cutting the track and taking a sharp corner is extremely thin. To say that it breaks immersion is an understatement.

Another oddity is the AI. It’s fairly straightforward, keeping on your back if you’re in the lead, but let a car or two slip by and you’re unlikely to catch up. They are decently interactive, and not simply rocks following a set trajectory (ala GT5). The aggressiveness level is very low but on higher difficulties they will definitely take chances and bump you off the track. One particular curiosity often occurs, even on medium difficulty, to the leader of the race. Unless the player is in the lead, the AI driver in first place will, without a doubt, lose control some time during the race and go way off the track. Perhaps this is supposed to simulate the nerves of the first place and being more error prone, but it looks scripted more than anything. It only occurs once or twice per race, and always to the lead car; it doesn’t happen if the player is the leader. Odd, to the say the least, and yet another immersion breaking issue. Also of note, the AI doesn’t seem to suffer as much as the player does when going off track, including being immune to the invisible walls mentioned earlier.

Forza Motorsport 4

From the purely new additions, Forza 4 features support for Kinect control and even has a special wheel that can be purchased separately. Simply putting up your hands and driving is an interesting, but fairly basic take on the technology. What’s much more engaging is the Autovista mode. There are a small number of iconic cars in the game which are available in this mode, where a player is presented with a virtual 3D environment where they can walk around and interact with the car. Playable both with Kinect and a regular controller, players can walk around, interact with the car’s functions, and get in/out. You can also get various tips and information about the vehicle, including comments by Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson. It’s a neat experience that is successful at creating an immersive and informative environment.

Forza Motorsport 4 comes with a fully fledged online mode as well. There’s plenty of standard, grid-start racing to be had, with all your activities online adding to your Driver and Affinity XP levels. Online racing is smooth, and aside from quirks such as floating cars, is a fun experience as long as others play nice. There are also online storefronts, where you can put up custom tunes, cars, and car designs for sale. Other players do the same, and it’s a good market system where you can find anything you could possibly want, from perfect drift tunes for your car to great looking custom liveries. You could buy new rides and sell off your unwanted cars for extra credits.

New for this year are Car Clubs, which are essentially groups for your friends to create and join. Players in the club get the same clan tag for their name, and can compete together or against each other for both club and public leaderboards. You can also share cars with members and take them for a spin, which is a good way to try out different tunes. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but Clubs certainly makes it easier to play and interact with friends.

A much bigger online feature to note is the Rivals mode. It’s essentially a single player mode with an online component. There are many different events to undertake, all with a set goal that was achieved by a random online user (or a friend/club member). The player can then attempt to beat this record – be it a lap time or a drift score. Once done, you collect the bounty and a new goal appears, higher than before, also completed by someone in the world of the game. Starting off easy, the game picks better scores as you go, also increasing the bounty for beating them. With all Rival modes, the ghost of the car to beat is downloaded and you’re free to race against them as best you can. It’s a very ingenious way to let users feel like they are competing online, and yet without any frustrations or over competiveness. It’s also a fundamentally better, though perhaps less interactive, experience than EA’s Autolog, all thanks to the fact that you’re competing with global players and not just those on your friends list.

Forza Motorsport 4

It wouldn’t be a Forza game if it wasn’t also trying to push the Xbox 360 hardware to the limit. And, as you’ll be happy to know, the game does look very good. The car visuals are very detailed, there are a ton of visual customization options, and the interiors look decently detailed as well. As mentioned, Autovista takes things a step further and the cars look simply fantastic.

The tracks, of which there is a good number and variety, are equally well detailed. There aren’t many locations that you haven’t already seen in either previous Forza games or other sims on the market. However, it’s possible that you haven’t seen them quite like this. Some of the backdrops are very impressive and give a real sense of depth, even if they do look a bit odd compared to the game’s actual track rendering. The color palette used by the game is simply vibrant – colors look fantastic and the lighting system also adds to the very enthusiastic atmosphere on the track. It’s impossible not to get lost in the beauty of visually overwhelming locations like Maple Valley Raceway, amongst others. There also seems to be an emphasis to add roadside detail to the track – not the fans, they are silent and sadly motionless – but rather more trees, vegetation and landmarks make the tracks feel more detailed than in other titles. Best of all, the game runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second, making it simply a visual marvel at times.

There are some problems, sure, but they are minor. The damage model is fairly disappointing from the visual standpoint, as the paint will simply scratch off in the whole general area where you’ve been hit. Get into contact with others often enough, and parts of the car may come off as well, but it’s all at a fairly basic level. Some texture pop in actually exists on the car reflections – if driving in third person perspective, it’s often possible to spot new textures appearing on the car’s windows and roof. Some of the tracks have a body of water nearby, which reminds us that Turn10 is still unable to create any convincing water effects. And this may come as a disappointment to some, but the game lacks any weather or track conditions. No snow, rain, or dirt will ever hinder your experience, and neither will night time racing. Sure, there are some daytime light variations, but that’s about it. Apart from the good, if later repetitive World Tour narrator, the sound design is adequate. Menu music and race tunes are appropriate and even memorable, but there is still something off about the sound of the cars, engines, and tires. But again, even with these quirks, it’s a game that presents itself very well.

Between the quick sequels (Shift 2) and the lengthy ones (GT5), the Forza series seems to have come out the winner. It only took two years to make, and yet it offers possibly the best simulation racing experience on the market as of right now. It is a deep and engaging title that offers a ton of value, with a very long World Tour mode and a ton of cars to race. The online offerings are very solid, and Rivals mode is something that offline players will surely appreciate. Though not perfect, Forza’s presentation remains among its strong suits, looking great at a very good frame rate. Owners of Xbox 360 and fans of the genre should most definitely take a look at Forza Motorsport 4. It may not be the most complete racing title ever, but it’s a darn good one.

Our ratings for Forza Motorsport 4 on Xbox 360 out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Forza 4 offers a solid soundtrack, though some of the effects could have been a bit better. Visually, the game looks simply phenomenal and runs at a great 60fps to boot.
A racing sim with a lot of depth, solid controls and mostly well-implemented AI. Invisible walls and lack of weather conditions aside, this is a very pure racing experience.
Single Player
The narrated World Tour adds just enough extra incentive to keep going, and the ability to stick with the car you love for a long time is a real treat. There is a large number of tracks and cars, and completing everything in the game will surely take a very, very long time.
Standard competitive racing for those who wish it is now supplemented by Clubs that help get friends organized and sharing content. Rivals mode is a very clever and well executed way to get offline players into the online environment without any hostilities from actual opponents.
The game looks great, and runs at a solid 60 frames per second. A few small graphical texture issues can't put a dent into this solid offering.
A very solid racing experience that comes with a wealth of cars, tracks, and modes. There is a lot of racing to be had here, and with a game that looks this good - you simply can't go wrong giving Forza Motorsport 4 a green light.
Forza Motorsport 4
Forza Motorsport 4 box art Platform:
Xbox 360
Our Review of Forza Motorsport 4
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Forza Motorsport 4 is ranked #111 out of 1970 total reviewed games. It is ranked #21 out of 104 games reviewed in 2011.
110. Darkness, The
PlayStation 3
111. Forza Motorsport 4
112. Mass Effect 3
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