Have you ever stood at the side of the road, watched a Lamborghini or Ferrari or, as was once the case with us, a TVR that looked like it had been designed by a cartoon illustrator, zoom past to leave you jaws wide open, with a slight look of longing in your eyes? Have you ever been trotting along a pavement, minding your own business, only to find yourself doing a double take at the R8 you only just noticed. Your girlfriend's talking to you, you can't stop to carees the car, you can only crane your neck to catch one last glimpse for a mental gallery of car pornography.
You don't have to be the world's best driver, or most technically-minded engineer to appreciate a nice car. Since we were tiny we were making 'vroom vroom' noises, blissfully unaware of the differences between understeer and oversteer, unperturbed by variable differentials and optimal tyre pressures. We just wanted to go fast.
As much as it is a game for petrolheads and garage enthusiasts, Forza Motorsport 4 is also a game geared toward those of us who just never quite let that young innocence go. Put simply, if you love cars, whether or not you're a hardcore racing gamer or not, you're going to go absolutely nuts for this.
Racing games these days abound with features that let you ogle your chosen chariot for hours from nearly every angle, lovingly recreating a virtual incarnation of the world's best and brightest four-wheeled stars. Forza 4 takes this a step further with Autovista mode. Now you can set up a car of your choice, and there are hundreds from which to choose, in an aircraft hangar, circle around it, pop the trunk and see what's underneath, and even step in the car and just rev the engine. As you do, little icons will appear, begging you to press A or hold your hand in front of Kinect for a moment to activated an eruption of information. On a number of them, you'll even find a Top Gear icon to receive an appraisal from Jeremy Clarkson himself.
The Top Gear stamp of approval is rather ubiquitous, with Clarkson popping up in a number of modes, injecting a little variety into the World Tour mode with some of the series' more wacky inventions such as car football and racetrack bowling. Sadly, though, there's no caravan darts...not yet, anyway. Fans will be pleased to know that the Top Gear test track is included and there's even an Achievement for leaping behind the wheel of a Kia Cee'd and taking on the mantle of the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car. Which feels good...really, really good. If you're not a fan, the game won't castigate you for such a preference. There's a rich vein of Top Gear gold here for fans, but ignoring it doesn't really detract much from the main experience.
Offline, that proves to be the World Tour. The Career modes of instalments passed have been fine-tuned and streamlined to create a straightforward singleplayer mode. Jetsetting across various tracks around the globe, you'll be given a choice of three events at each one, usually with slightly different entry requirements and different rewards too. Once again there's an RPG-lite progression system that fuels many a moment of 'just one more race', with every result across modes both on and offline earning you driver experience, unlocking new vehicles with every level boundary, as well as good standing with the individual manufacturers each time you roll out in one of their cars. Loyalty brings its own rewards as well as cheaper parts, new cars and special races.
Behind the wheel, things are blissful as usual. As with the previous instalment, it is clear that Turn 10 laugh in the face of the impossible. The word 'accessibility' has long been a games journalist's lament, with more and more titles going hunting for a wider audience by dumbing down. As with Forza 3, number four proves it's possible to cater for fans of all ages, of all abilities. The level of experiential customisation is incredible. Beginners can have the computer handle pesky things like racing lines and braking, even offering steering assistance if you so wish, in order to fully concentrate on driving really, really fast. At the other end of the spectrum, there's plenty here to keep the aficionados and enthusiasts happy, with everything adjustable if you have the right parts. If you want to make any impression on the leaderboards at all, you'll have to know your cars back to front, tailoring them to your driving style, and making things work the way you want them to. If you can, you probably should.
Whatever your level, once you've found it, the game just opens up to gift one of the finest experiences we've ever had behind a virtual wheel. True, there are a few arcade-esque concessions that might not appeal to Gran Turismo's most ardent supporters, but for everyone else the formula is bound to instil some serious enjoyment. Damage, rewind functionality, tyre wear and fuel consumption, these are all optional features and there'll be some who no doubt see their very inclusion as some kind of sacrilege, but the comparison goes to show just how much Turn 10 have got things right with all assistance turned off. It's a bit too much for this writer, a nail-biting, pulse-racing experience where a tiny mistake means the end of your race, but it's utterly brilliant too.
There are one or two things, though, that we still want to see from this series. First and foremost, it beggars belief that there are still no weather effects to speak of. That there's so much detail in the game, that so much data crunching has been done to offer up a genuine racer for a simulation crowd, and yet there's still no chance to see how vehicles change in terms of performance in wet and windy climes, is something of a headscratcher. It would add spice to a World Tour that, in spite of the occasional bout of Top Gear-inspired vehicular bowling and car football, can become a little stale on occasion. The RPG elements help to pep up the grind to a certain extent, but we'd like to see a tad more variety.
The AI is still a slight cause for concern too. It's not universal at all, indeed much of the time the AI is exceptional, with rivals jostling for position, anticipating overtaking manoeuvres and taking steps to try and block your path past. They're not perfect either, computer players occasionally finding themselves running wide as a result of trying to keep pace. However, too often we found cars and their virtual drivers showing flagrant disregard for the proximity of others on the track, sticking to a predetermined racing line like single-minded automatons, barging vehicles in their path as if it were a fairground rather than a raceway.
Online, though, that doesn't really come into it, and it's here that many of the improvements may be found. Community is the order of the day here, with Forza 4 working to provide a haven for fellow-minded fans the likes of which this series has never seen before. Turn 10 take a lead here, helping to guide and shape online experiences with suggestions and daily events, but again giving you the option of simply creating your own custom races and competitions. The marketplaces return, with the Storefront and Auctions offering up the opportunity to check out the artistic efforts of others, letting you buy tuning settings and complete cars if you so wish. Finally, the Car Club let's you bond together with friends and set up your own stable of racers, sharing a club garage, competing in internal rivalries, with your own leaderboards. There's plenty to enjoy with Forza 4 if you're playing on your own, but if you've got a bunch of likeminded friends, Turn 10 has created a rewarding playground for you.
Forza 4 is a stunning achievement, replete with staggering beauty, sublime landscapes and, crucially, fantastic car modelling both visually and in terms of performance. It's a game that shuts no one out, opening its arms to anyone with even a passing interest in automotive delights and rewarding those who take the bait highly. Pop it in your console and you'll find that Forza 4 isn't just a racing game, it's an embodiment of that feeling of fist-pumping joy you get when you step behind the wheel of a car and roar away, a realisation of that wish-fulfilment you have as a youngster making absurd noises as you sit in the backseat, sticking your head out of the window on a motorway and beaming with delight.
- Captures the thrilling of simply driving better than any other game on the planet
- Accessible to all-comers without sacrificing depth
- Excellent online and social features
- Not quite 100% authentic
- Kinect integration a bit wasted unless you have a giant setup
- Knowing that you'll never be able to afford the supercars with which you're having so much fun
The Short Version: Forza Motorsport 4 might not necessarily be the most realistic driving simulation ever, but then again that's not it's main remit This is a game for anyone who loves cars, pure and simple. That's not to say the game is unbalanced, there's plenty here to keep the hardcore sim crowd happy, with even more to tinker with than ever before. But Forza 4's greatest success is building upon its own legacy, and offering the ultimate experience for car lovers of all ages and all abilities.