It’s hard to believe that two years have passed since Forza Motorsport 3 has made the rounds. That’s what kind of staying power Turn 10 Studios’ product has, I suppose…which is more than what could be said about Forza Motorsport 2. Not that it sucked, mind you, but Forza 3 went leaps and bounds over it in terms of quality and attention to precision driving. The difference was like night and day. While those differences may not be that vast this time around with Forza Motorsport 4, there’s still enough significant changes here to consider this the ultimate game in the series.
Like Forza 3, this fourth chapter is all about accessibility. Those of you who fear being routed by opponents (like in Shift 2: Unleashed) need not worry, as the game features various adjustable options to make your ride smooth. You can turn on all sorts of assists, making the braking handle automatically, so you just have to worry about trying to get the best lap times. If you’re a frenzied driving type, however, you can turn off these settings and go for broke against the best in the world. This’ll shave precious seconds off your time, provided you know what you’re doing and don’t go flying off into the pasture.
Where the multi-class structure of Forza 4 really takes off is online. Rather than pit you against impossible opponents or make drives seem like a cakewalk, the online lobby actually sorts in multiple classes, so you can check on events as they’re happening and go up against opponents that will actually put up a fair fight. This is a vast improvement over the stuff happening in Forza 3, and the fact that the versus drive count has doubled – going from eight to 16 – is a nice touch. You can also save ghosts at any time for players to compete against, even if you’re off-line. Also, being able to transfer photos and replays to other users, either through Xbox Live or ForzaMotorsport.net, never gets old.
If you keep your saves from the previous game, you can transfer over some of your liveries from Forza 3. Though not full auto skins, you’ll actually sustain some rewards for your efforts, including monies and other gifts. It’s not a necessity, mind you, just a nice little bonus.
The game’s single player career mode is worth a mention. You’ll get whisked all over the world with a wide assortment of events and cars to choose from. The variety here is quite welcome, especially the light-hearted Top Gear events, which challenge you with everything from drag races to bowling with your car. Yes, bowling with your car. While the Top Gear is a little more limited than we would’ve preferred, it’s great to see some of its stuff included.
All this is moot if you don’t have great gameplay, but we’re happy to report that Forza 4 has it in spades. No matter which assists are turned on, you’ll find that each vehicle’s handling is specific and worthy of taking control of. What’s more, you don’t have an over-reliance on arcade tactics, just real driving knowledge and how to keep your lap time from hitting a penalty. (Just avoid going off road and hitting other cars, you should be fine.)
Kinect integration is there for those that own one, but it doesn't in any way overshadow the rest of the game. You can drive around selected tracks either by yourself or with a friend side by side by holding an imaginary wheel. The game does all of the acceleration and braking for you, so all you really have to do is steer, which the kinect actually picks up very accurately. Then there's the Autovista, a mode where you can shop around in a virtual shop, looking at things in a first-person perspective and tweaking small options. Most of the cars are decent to look at, but the level of interaction could’ve been higher. We did like seeing Halo’s Warthog, though…but why can’t we take it on the damn track?!
One area where Turn 10 Studios has done its homework is in the visuals. While the 60 frames per second speed of Forza 3 remains intact, a lot more detail has been poured into the game. Cars look extravagant, whether you’re staring at them in your garage or taking them 90 MPH around a tight corner. The real-time damage is splendid, if not lacking in over-excess, and the small lighting details, especially ones glaring off your hood, are amazing. The tracks themselves are worth spinning around and taking a look at as well, from your run through the snow-covered Alps to the laps you take around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Also, with so many tracks and cars to choose from, you may never get enough of looking at this game – even if some of the circuits are borrowed from Forza 3.
As for audio, the game’s soundtrack could’ve used a little livening up. A couple of the tracks are good, but hardly the type of stuff you’d take in a real car with you – unless you’re one of those avid atmospheric types. You can always play stuff from your Media Library if you prefer, and that’s the best route to take. Doing so, you’ll still hear the authentic engine noises, which are mind-blowing and constant. The occasional crowd cheers and atmospheric touches, like racing through a tunnel, add to the flow of audio bliss.
Had the game featured more original tracks and better use of Kinect, Forza Motorsport 4 would’ve been amazingly unbeatable, but it easily coasts into the lead of best racing game market of 2011, thanks to its packed feature list (mainly online), as well as a smooth visual presentation and wide assortment of cars and racing modifications to choose from. Hop in and go for a ride already.