When it comes to driving games these days, there are two main camps, arcade and sim. Fans of the former are far more at home with over the top contenders such as the Need for Speed and Burnout series, which often eschew realism in favour of movie-like chases and simple handling, whilst the latter players hanker for the kind of anorak-heavy statistics and real world physics of such titles as EA’s F1 series, and the big two racers – Gran Turismo and Forza. Indeed, within the sim loving world there are another tow main camps fanatically supporting their title of choice, and that GT and Forza.
Both games are great examples of the genre, and although Gran Turismo had the upper hand for a long time, Microsoft and Turn 10 have closed the gap greatly, up to the point where, arguably, of course, there’s very little, if anything, to separate the two. This has carried on with Forza 4, a title that, whilst it may not evolve the series greatly, still makes for some damn fine driving all the same.
Hit the road
Now, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m hardly a great racing sim player. In fact, if I’m honest, realistic driving sims are something that I’d more often than not avoid in favour of more arcade-centric titles. However, Forza 4, for some reason, appealed to me much more than previous entries. So, with my relatively modest skill level, it takes something a little special to draw me in and make me enjoy such a traditionally daunting game. This is one of the initial areas where Forza 4 excels. No sooner had I fired up the game, and ran the intro race, than I was competing in all sorts of races, in all sorts of cars, and winning.
The accessibility, even for a casual racing sim player like me, is excellent. So much so that, after a few more races, I delved into the ample driving aids and trimmed some back, upping the challenge and giving me more, actual control. It’s a great system, and works very well. Of course, much of this isn’t new, to Forza or any other sim game for that matter, but it’s a good start on the long, long road that the game has to offer, and means that this isn’t so much an elitist, gearhead-only title, but should also be considered by players will a more modest skill level.
Sleek and sexy
Visually the game is an instant tour de force, thanks partly to some funky new lighting and a general attention to detail that’s sure to please racer boys the world over. It’s a fine looking game, and the massive collection of cars on offer are all stunningly replicated, right down to, and including, fully detailed and impressive internal dash views (which is more than can be said For Gran Turismo 5, even after it’s recent update).
But, visuals don’t make a car feel like a car, and thankfully, Forza has never suffered in this department either. Handling and control is simply superb, with each car and class feeling very different, and a simple, but effective, control layout works perfectly.
You’ll begin with the obvious bargain basement cars in the lower classes, which aren’t exactly speed demons, but after you win a few races and earn credits, you’ll soon have access to faster and more powerful motors. These can, as ever, be upgraded and fine tuned, and you can buy new parts and spend hours tuning your ride to perfection.
As you complete races with each manufacturer’s cars, you’ll earn affinity points with that company. These earn bonus credits and, more importantly, discounts to spare parts. In fact, if you attain a high enough affinity, parts will be totally free. This adds a kind of loyalty to specific makers, and players will no doubt have their favourite stables to go at.
You can have many cars, and as you hit each driver level, you’ll also be given a gratis car just for levelling up. You don’t have to keep these cars though, and you can sell or auction them off, or even ‘gift’ them to a friend.
This gifting is only the tip of the iceberg though, and Forza 4‘s online community is a strong one, with obvious inclusions such as competitive racing, alongside great features such as being able to sell tune ups, paint jobs and other services to fellow players. There’s also driving clubs to join, and the whole online section is a very real and fleshed out affair, not just a bolted on afterthought.
Especially interesting is the rivals mode. Just as it sounds, this lets you race against your friends times in order to try and better them. Some events feature generic cars that you have to pick from, and other let you bring along your own, fully customised monster and invite you to let rip.
It’s a system that works well, and is a great way to not only push your driving skills to the limit, but also test your automotive knowledge, as you try to fine tune your cars to get the very best chance of record times as possible.
Reasonably priced licence
One of the most notable new additions to the series is the acquisition of the Top Gear license. Bringing with it not only the Top Gear test track and a couple of fun game modes, including car bowling and football, Jeremey Clarkson also makes an appearance in the AutoVista mode, which lets you ogle at amazing reproductions of cars, play around with them and listen to various technical details. Clarkson has his own views on each, albeit in a rather diluted way than most will expect after watching the show.
The Top Gear content is indeed a welcome addition, and although limited to the track and a couple of modes, it adds that extra fandom to the mix, and breathes a little more life into a series that has, despite always being great, often been accused of being bereft of personality or love. Forza 4 addresses this to some degree, and whilst it may not have the drool-factor of Gran Turismo, it’s hard not to see the care that’s been lavished on thing here.
Even the little touches are great, with perhaps my personal favourite being the inclusion of the DeLorean DMC-12, complete with an ‘Outta time’ achievement when you get to 88mph during a race. Okay, so it’s a geek-thing, but it‘s cool nonetheless, even if, as Clarkson confirms, the DeLorean is a total mess of a vehicle.
As good as Forza 4 is though, it’s not without its issues, some of which have plagued the series before. Chief amongst these is the general lack of new tracks. There are a couple of new American jaunts, but much of the track list is the same as previous editions, with little in the way of refinement.
This is a shame as a racing title is only as good as the tracks it has on offer, and long time Forza fans may find themselves with an overly prolonged sense of déjà vu. The career mode does a good job of keeping things interesting, with masses of class-based challenges and multi-class races to name a couple, but more tracks and variety would be very welcome.
The other issue that I have is with the opposing AI. At times, it’s just not all that good really. Sure, it can put up a fight, and later races are very tough, but it’s also a little rough around the edges, often smashing into you for no real reason and generally not behaving as drivers in this kind of motor sport should. More than a few races I’ve had have degenerated into barge-fests as AI irresponsibly hits you, and more work is needed I feel.
Some, especially hardcore racers, may also find Forza 4‘s levelling system a little easy, and grabbing high powered cars a breeze. I recall older incarnations of Gran Turismo, for example, forcing me to slog through race after race and hour after hour before I could get a truly decent car, but here I got a cheap enough, decent car and managed to upgrade it to an S-class monster in a single sitting. This is helped along by the affinity system that sees you get free parts after only a few races.
Although it’s hard to shake the feel of Forza 4 being more like a 3.5 release at times, and despite some simple re-hasing of content, it’s still an undeniably excellent driving experience, and more importantly, it’s one that succeeds in being all things to everyone. There’s a metric crapton of content here to go at, masses of modes, a decent career system and an exceptional online component. To put it simply, if you’re an Xbox owning racing fan, then Forza 4 is an essential purchase. The debate will no doubt rage on about which is the better racing sim, but whilst you’re screaming around Forza‘s courses in your own custom ride, complete with home-made paint job, you won’t care.