We've been playing Forza Motorsport 4 for hours on end and now we're back with the verdict.
My Nissan Skyline (R33) is 14 years old. A pile of crap, really. I bought it for a mere 18,000 credits. A bargain for such a pacey ride, despite the mileage. It was meant to step in for my tuned Lancia in the Class A races where it didn't qualify, but then the money started rolling in and I felt the urge to tune it. I spent a whopping 180,000 credits on tuning, styling and other stuff. My once rather weak R33 now sports 1090 hp, 900 Nm torque, and goes from zero to 100 km/h in less than three seconds. Insane. Unfortunately the breaks aren't up to par. The breaking distance is twice that of the Le Mans cars I'm racing.
Forza is back. Seven years ago Turn 10 challenged the genre defining giants of the genre - Gran Turismo, and ever since Microsoft and Dan Greenawalt and his team of racing nuts have given birth to four high quality racing games, based on the same basic principles that Polyphony established back on the original Playstation.
I had promised myself to never again spend time in the career mode of a racing game after my 30 plus hours with Gran Turismo 5. I went from compact car to compact car, failed licenses and crawled my way up the ladder. It was pure humiliation and hard to stomach.
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Forza Motorsport 3 wasn't much better. From Polo to Kia and onwards to a blue mini bus. I wanted to die. The hours I spent behind the wheels of little shopping carts will never be given back to me. Hundreds of races against stupid AI controlled cars in sluggish compact cars. Back 1998 it felt like something new and challenging, and even addictive. Today, 13 years later it makes me want to throw up.
Thankfully Turn 10 had made enough small improvements to the career mode this time around. A fancy world map, tour dates, extreme variation and nice British chap who sounds a lot like Patrick Stewart is enough for me. It's quick work to elevate yourself from the compact car hell we usually have to endue, and I race around the world to get enough cash to buy a proper car.
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It's great that Forza Motorsport 4 is an improvement in this area, even if it hasn't made giant leaps. The most effective tactic is still as simple as it is mundane. Take every corner aggressive and make for the inner line, break later than all your opponents and force your way through on the inside using the computer controlled cars as a wall of sorts. It may cost you a few credits for a new paint job after the race, but it always pays off. The artificial intelligence is stupid. Your opponents are dead drones that always speed ahead of you on the straights and always break too much in every corner and every race.
I travel between Japan and the States and onwards to Germany to throw my powerful Skyline around Hockenheim. The other cars don't stand a chance. The R2 class allows for massive amounts of gear and I've pushed the my car to the absolute limits. One day later and the career mode is finished. I've reached the maximum "Driver Level" and with a clear conscience I can leave the drone cars behind.
It is now that Forza Motorsport 4 truly shines and truly lives up to its potential. I jump into the same Japan GT version of Nissan Calsonic GT-R that I loved in the predecessor, I pick Hot Lap, remove all aids, and turn the physics dial to "simulation", turn off the music, some of the HUD and the enormous rear mirror. With my Fanatec wheel I once again drive down Mugello, and it is here that I notice all the subtle, but important improvements that have been made since Forza Motorsport 3.
The sterile, overly stabile, somewhat streamline sense that your 600 horse power Japan GT monster was a commuter train is gone. The sense of always having grip no matter how you threw your car into the corners is also gone. Forza Motorsport 4 comes closer to the real thing than what the series has ever done before.
Turn 10 has finally be able to capture the intensity in a way that neither the previous Forza games or the Gran Turismo series has ever been able to. It shakes, pops, and rattles inside your car. I can clearly sense how the centre of gravity is shifting as I break too hard. The rear tires lose their grip and even before I push down on the accelerator I know I will have a wide exit to the corner. The rear end is all over the place, but the front grip and the torque of my Calsonic is still there and I can power my way out of it. It's a beautiful feeling. And it's never felt more alive and like the real thing than now.
Another area that has seen vast improvement is the sense of speed. In the predecessor that immense real sense of speed that racing lovers live for was sadly missing. You could throw yourself down Nordschleife at 250 miles an hour in an Aston Martin DBS and still not get that proper feeling in your guts. In Forza 4 it's a different story. The road seems to narrow and I really feel the need to sharpen my senses. Turn 10 have managed to correct one of the major shortcomings of Forza 3.
The car physics are amazing. A perfect balance has been found and it's easy to tell that the developers have spent a lot of time in real racing cars on real racing courses. Forza Motorsport 4 is not an unforgiving simulator along the same lines as say Iracing. But it's not as exaggerated and gimmicky as in Shift 2: Unleashed. It is just... right. The cars come across as balanced, dynamic, and strong. The simulation mode is challenging and addictive. But it naturally requires you playing with a wheel.
The amount of torque versus the peak effect is just perfect. The importance of line, breaking points and positioning cannot be overstated. As always Forza is as much a driving instructor to the casual fans as it is advanced classes to racing fanatics. It all comes down to not forcing your car to do more than one thing at a time. This is communicated in subtle, but clear manner. Placement, breaking, turning, accelerate. And if you go into corners too strongly you will be punished much like in real life.
You can tell that the developers have been working with Pirelli to improve the already brilliant tire physics. You can now tell even more clearly when your tires are overheating, and how hard you can push various tire types. All of this helps deliver that intensity that is at the core of the racing experience.
Forza Motorsport 3 was a great game, but it wasn't pretty. A simulator doesn't need to be to the same extent as say an arcade racing experience. I'm still playing Rfactor despite its aged looks. But with Forza Motorsport 4 Turn 10 decided it was time to challenge Gran Turismo 5 in the looks department. This meant that they completely rebuilt the system for lighting and shades, in Forza 3 the track and the cars where lit by separate sources. In Forza 4 all objects are lit with the same HDR-source and the result is stunning.
This game is not just a small improvement over its predecessor. It's way more beautiful. The sun dances on the hood of my car, the tarmac gleams, and the shadows cast by the cars in front of me are almost eerie. Sometimes it even gets to be too much. Certain tracks have been given a bit too much sunlight and the reflections in the tarmac feel a bit over the top in places. For those of us who like to shave our times on one certain track, this can be annoying.
Something else that impresses is sound. Engine sounds is something both Turn 10 and Polyphonu have been great at for years, but previously I have missed the metallic feel of real racing sound and that deafening roar of the most powerful V12:s. You know, that immense base thump. In Forza Motorsport 4 all of this has been included and tuned to perfection. My Nissan GT-R (R35) sounds exactly as it does in the game, and the volume for most engines have been turned up.
That takes us to Kinect. Personally I was very worried about the implementation of Microsoft's motion detecting camera in Forza. Thanks to Kinect you can use a feature called head tracking that has the driver's head move much like your own head as you play. Much like the helmet camera in Shift 2: Unleashed it offers a visually striking experience that will impress your mates for a few laps. Kinect keeps good track of your head movements, and overall it works very well. However, this is not something I will employ on regular basis. I'm out to set great times - not gawk at visually impressive gimmicks.
Apart from head tracking Kinect is also used in the new Autovista mode. Top Gear mad man Jeremy Clarkson introduces and talks about certain selected models while you can walk around and take in the shapes, open the doors, sit down and admire the interiors. All models included in Autovista are incredibly well crafted, and it's an awesome feeling to climb into a Bugatti Veyron with the aid of Kinect.
Part of the reason why I've often chosen Forza Motorsport 3 over say Iracing or Rfactor the last few years is the incredible online features. Forza Motorsport 4 continues down the same road with an evolution of the brilliant online mode that has become a hallmark of the series. Meeting friends, creating groups, compete in cups, auction of cars, buy cars, trade styling tips and compete has never been more fun, accessible and polished. If you don't want to spend your nights on Xbox Live, there is also a split screen mode, that sports the same silky smooth frame rate and an impressive visuals.
This game is filled to the brim with 502 car models, 80 manufacturers, plenty of great game modes, Kinect support and an excellent online mode. The total package is massive and of the highest quality and no racing fan should miss out on. It comes across as a more homogeneous and well crafted product than Gran Turismo 5 and offers both superior tire physics and graphics. If you're looking for a racing game for Xbox 360 this fall your choice is simple.
9 / 10
Brilliant car physics, wonderful online mode, well crafted Kinect support, loads of cars, great visuals, astonishing sound.