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The Fight for the Throne
Watching the Forza franchise build momentum has been like watching an avalanche. When the original Forza Motorsport was released, it was nothing more than a few flakes of snow tumbling down a hill, and received only slight notice. It was not until Forza 3 that most reviewers began to realize that the series was becoming a monster, threatening to swallow up every other game in the genre.
As such, there are great expectations for Forza 4. It is meant to come roaring in, conquering the genre and burying every other competitor. Does it manage to accomplish this, or has an error in the last turn cost Forza the race? Let’s find out.
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Simulation and Gameplay
Much of Forza’s success as a franchise has come down to the way it simulates racing. Most other simulation games, both past and present, have focused on modeling the pure physics of the cars and the track. Forza also goes to great lengths to make sure that cars handle as they would in the real world, but the franchise is one of the few that realizes a simulation is experienced through simulated controls.
Forza 3 made the breakthrough in that area. Enhancements in the game made it possible to, at least, truly feel the car through either a standard console control or a wheel. It was possible to tell when a car was going to break traction through the feel of the controller, and as a result driving in Forza 3 was both more realistic and easier than in Forza 2. There were far fewer situations where a car suddenly broken traction without warning.
With the new version, this has only been improved. It’s not as noticeable in the slower cars, but in supercars and race cars, the improvements are apparent. These cars communicate more information through the controller than before, and aren’t as prone to going out of control at a moment’s notice. They’re still hard to handle, and I’ll probably never be able to push a R2 or R1 car to its limits without crashing, but they’re far less frustrating than before.
One simulation improvement that is noticeable no matter the vehicle you’re driving is the addition of “simulation" steering. In Forza 3, even with all the assists turned off, there were some minor steering assists that were designed to help keep over-corrections and very tiny driver errors from sending a car skidding off the track. These likely made sense in Forza 3, but with Forza 4’s even more detailed and predictable handling characteristics, a simulation steering mode with all assists off is now available.
The difference between this and Forza 3 isn’t noticeable in most situations, but in extreme instances, it becomes apparent. Coming into a corner with far too much speed in a rear-wheel drive car, for example, is a harrowing and exciting experience, as every twitch of the steering wheel or controller stick is communicated.
With all of this said, Forza 4 is most certainly not as big of a leap over Forza 3 as that game was over Forza 2. The refinements are appreciated, but gamers who were expecting something that feels entirely new might be disappointed. It appears that Turn 10 has settled on a physics model they’re comfortable with.
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Forza games have always had epic campaigns, and the single-player World Tour mode in this latest installment is no exception. It includes a wide number of events that focus on all kinds of cars, from the slowest F-class city cars (a new segment) to the quickest S-class supercars and R1 class racers.
There have been some changes to how the campaign progresses. The choice of tracks is linear, but you have a choice of different events at each track. These choices are partially based off the car you’re driving, but the track and the events you’ve previously completed also have an impact.
In theory, this new system is supposed to allow players to spend more time with cars they’re comfortable with, but there are still limits. Personally, I like to race cars that I’ve personally driven, or that I could one day drive. This means I prefer zipping around in a Miata to hauling butt in a Ferrari 458, but that choice isn’t always available. I found this disappointing. I’ve never completed a Forza campaign because I eventually end up driving race cars that I’m not interested in, and it looks like Forza 4 doesn’t entirely solve this.
The system of rewarding players with cars has received a nice improvement, however. Previously, a particular car was provided after completing a series of races, but now cars are given as gifts when players reach a certain driver level. When you receive the gift, you have a choice of several similar but different cars. For example, you might receive a choice of “sport sedans" including an Audi S6 and BMW M5.
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Strong community support has been a strength of the Forza franchise, and Forza 4 does little to change this. Just as before, there are numerous racing modes available for public or private play, and there’s also a strong online store where players can buy and sell cars, paint jobs and much more. There’s no shortage of players, and in my time so far I’ve played more multi-player races than I have single-player campaign events.
One weakness remains, and that’s the reliance of the multi-player on pre-existing event categories. If you want to do public races rather than private ones, where friends are invited off your friend’s list, this is your only option. While there are a large number of events available, it is limited, and in the long run you may become bored.
Races now can include up to sixteen cars, and the netcode seems to have little trouble handling the strain. There is also a new rivals mode, where players are challenged to beat other players in challenges, usually in the form of time-attacks. You simply download your rival’s ghost, and then attempt to beat it. This is an excellent addition for players who are easily annoyed by the bump-and-grind of a full sixteen player public race, or those who simply prefer to pick a car and drive without changing tracks every three to five laps.
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This is one area where Forza 4 seems to fall a bit short. That is not to say it doesn’t have a huge selection of cars. It does. The problem is that most of the cars were already available in Forza 3, either originally or as DLC.
If you played Forza 3 for a month or so and then never picked it up again, you may find the car selection in this new version to be fresh. Those who played up to the end, however, will be less impressed.
Another addition that must be mentioned is Autovista. This is Turn 10’s attempt to further encourage car enthusiasm through video games. In this mode, you can explore a car in-detail, looking up-close at its interior, exterior, engine and even the trunk. For many people, it’s the only way you’ll get to see what it’s like to turn the key – or press the ignition button – on an exotic supercar.
Yet the experience does fall short. There are not enough cars to make the mode more than a distraction, and though the detail is significant, it’s still obviously a game. Players who are madly in love with supercars may find some enjoyment in Autovista, but it’s mostly a side-show distraction rather than meaningful content.
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Graphics and Audio
This new game marks the third installment of the franchise released on the Xbox 360 over four years (Forza 2 was released in 2007).
As such, the graphical improvements made to the game are minor. Forza has always been an attractive title, and more importantly, it’s always been a quick one. Turn 10 has always insisted that frame-rate not be sacrificed on the altar of graphics quality.
Even so, this game is as beautiful as one could expect from a modern Xbox 360 title. The obvious lack of competent anti-aliasing (if there is any at all) and the often jagged, unrealistic lighting effects are just another example of why we really need a newer, more powerful console, but it’s not as if there’s anything better available.
Audio quality, on the other hand, requires no excuses. The cars in Forza 3 sounded amazing, and that has carried over to Forza 4. I particularly enjoy driving around the big V8 muscle cars, as their roar is music to my ears. You also owe it to yourself to play this game on a system capable of significant bass and some surround-sound effects. With hardware such as this, the virtual cars in Forza 4 sound identical to their real-life counterparts.
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There’s a lot to like about Forza 4. It offers new tracks, new cars, new multi-player and single-player features, and slightly better simulation.
It is also, without a doubt, the new king of the genre. Frankly, Forza 3 could have also earned that title, but Gran Turismo 5 was not yet out and so a comparison could not be made. While competitors like Gran Turismo and Need for Speed: Shift have strong points, the overall package found in Forza 4 is clearly superior, and the simulation is clearly superior.
Other games let you drive virtual cars that act like real cars. Forza 4 lets you drive virtual cars that feel like real cars.
Yet this praise must be tempered by a bit of criticism. While there are a lot of new features, none of them are ground-breaking. Some players have called this release Forza 3.5 as a result. Forza 4 is like a car that’s been “refreshed" rather than re-designed. There’s some new details, some new features, but the chassis is still the same.
Fortunately, the chassis was already amazing. The simple fact is this – if you want to play a racing simulation game, Forza 4 is the one you want to buy.
- Image Credit: Turn 10
- All information from author's experience