REVIEW: Forza Motorsport 4 (Xbox 360)

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Name: Forza Motorsport 4

Genre: Racing

Platform: Xbox 360

Price: £37.99 from Amazon

review-line.JPGTurn10 studios really laid down the gauntlet with Forza Motorsport 3, a deep, accomplished racer that was as realistic as it was fun. Can this year’s sequel, Forza Motorsport 4 go one better and overtake Gran Turismo 5 to take pole position? Read on to find out!
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Forza Motorsport 4 is, for want of a better description, “car porn”. From the opening rhetoric of Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson, ranting against hybrid, green-conscious cars and the “Lentil-matics”, to the anal tinkering and tuning you can perform under the hood of a Bugatti Veyron, this is very much a car nut’s wet dream.

That’s not to say it’s intimidating however. Like Forza Motorsport 3 before it, Forza 4 is accommodating to videogame drivers of all experience levels, swinging wildly from arcade thrills to po-faced simulation depending on your preferences, making it accessible and enjoyable to everyone from Noddy to Jensen Button. Being able to toggle a suggested driving line, or traction, handling and brake support among other helpful settings lets you totally tailor the Forza 4 tarmac experience into something you find comfortable.

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Of course, becoming over-reliant on steering aids and the like can come at your detriment too, particularly in the lengthy single-player World Tour mode. Here you’re awarded credits for your performance on the track, which are penalised the more you use the built-in driving supports.

Those returning to the World Tour mode from Forza 3 will notice a few changes this time around. Most important of these is that cars no longer level up alongside the driver experience you accrue from racing which lets you tackle more challenging events and unlock more powerful cars. Instead, each car manufacturer has an “Affinity Level” that increases the more you perform well with their vehicles. In turn, building this stat will offer you bonuses, such as drastically cheaper car upgrades on the manufacturer’s models.

While on the one hand this makes beefing up your favourite, most-used cars far easier, it also (along with the fact that you can purchase cars across Xbox Live with real money) devalues the in-game currency that was so vital before. Add to this the fact that you’re regularly offered new, incrementally higher powered cars free of charge each time you level up, and you could very well go through the entire World Tour mode without buying a new car, which diminishes the sense of achievement you once got from saving up for your most-wanted vehicles. It’s not a bad change though, and will suit less committed players well, given the fact that hardcore collectors can still race for hours to collect enough credits and levels to earn the rare “Unicorn” cars.

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A more universally welcomed addition to the World Tour mode is the greater sense of freedom given. While you’ll still be whisked along on a whistlestop tour of the globe, every time you land at a new circuit you’ll be given a choice of events to participate in of varying difficulties and with differing win bonuses. You’ll be able to pick and choose races depending on your preferred cars and car classes, as well as take part in events that may, say add an extra credit bonus if your chasing a particularly expensive car, or add an Affinity bonus if you’re looking to boost a particular manufacturers models in your garage.

If you’re a true grease monkey, you can spend hours tuning pretty much every conceivable component of the a car in Forza, catering it to each tracks specific needs should you be that way inclined. It’s such a precise and varied system that you can even sell your best efforts via your very own in-game shopfront, letting you up your credit count by trading with real-world players. The same goes for custom vinyls and liveries, which can contain minute details making each truly unique.

Whatever the look of a vehicle or the tuning specs however, take a car for a spin in Forza 4 and everything feels spot on. Responsive and with distinct differences between each model, there’s a superb weight and grunt to each vehicle in the game. AI opponents are a little more aggressive this time out too, meaning you’ll really have to work to keep ahead of the pack, though we noticed they’d behave a little erratically if we used the “Rewind” ability to undo our on-track mistakes too often. Overall, the game gives you superb visual and audio feedback at every turn, making it a true joy to play.

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What’s more, it’s even more stunning to look at than we were expecting, given the stellar standards set by the last title in the series. Were it not for the slightly ropey fans dotting the stands on some tracks, you’d be totally forgiven for doing a passing double take to check if you were in fact watching a real-world race.

The extra visual fidelity is capitalised upon in the new Autovista mode. Unlocking more super-powered cars as you progress through challenges, here you’re given the chance to explore in great depth the game’s most lust-worthy cars, with voice over narration explaining each model in great detail and the odd quip given again by Jeremy Clarkson. You can get in the driver’s set look from every angle, open the bonnet for an exploded annotated look at it’s components and much more. Whereas out on the track Turn10 are using all the 360’s considerably processing power to render at times 16 cars at once, here all that power is just focussed on one. Autovista mode then is in many senses a sneek-peak at what cars on the track in a Forza Xbox 720 title may look like.

It’s a shame then that more attention wasn’t given over to adding brand new content to the table. Only five new tracks feature (with a handful of variations on each) for a total of 26 race courses, each with variants. And though 500 cars now feature, the vast majority are ones we’ve seen before. Now that’s still a hell of a lot of racing to be getting on with, and newcomers wont be complaining, but returning fans may feel a little short changed. Even new weather conditions, such as rain-soaked roads are missing, which in itself could have added more challenge as well as being a visual treat.

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Turn10 have tried to do some brand new stuff with the Kinect sensor though. It’s a mixed bag, and the less said about the controller free Kinect steering mode the better (losing control of the accelerator does NOT make a driving experience better). But there’s clever use of the sensor in the in-car viewpoints, allowing you to glance out of the car’s side windows just by turning your head. It’s a subtle, intelligent use of the sensor that doesn’t feel too intrusive.

Lastly there’s the multiplayer suite, which has had plenty of attention lavished upon it, and is one of the titles biggest improvements over its predecessor. Up to 16 racers can now compete online simultaneously in all sorts of modes that include everything from straight speeds to the finish line to drift events to tag events. Multi class races, which see sedans sharing the track with sports cars, offer new thrills as you have to take into account the wildly varying abilities of each car on the track. Best of all though is the new Rivals mode that lest you challenge other racers to beat your best times and scores across a series of events that include slaloms, overtaking challenges, fastest lap times and much, much more.

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Verdict:

While not every addition in Forza Motorpsort 4 is a must have one, none of them are awful, nor detract from the absolutely stunning race action on offer here. You could argue that more brand new content could have been thrown in to appeal to returning race fans, but the truth is that there’s so much on offer here it’s already being squeezed onto two discs here. Turn10 are turning us into spoilt little petrol-headed joyriders. Who can blame us for wanting more?

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5/5

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Gerald Lynch

13 comments

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