[1 December 2011]
Forza Motorsport 4 is another in a long list of games that serve as love letters to cars and car culture. For some time now, the Forza series has succeeded at presenting a robust enough driving experience that players of all levels of either skill or interest in the genre can enjoy it. From the moment that Top Gear‘s Jeremy Clarkson’s voice is first heard, you can tell that what developer Turn 10 is aiming for with the game is the most comprehensive driving experience available. It’s hard to argue that they’ve not succeeded, and Forza Motorsport 4 is about a complete package as a racing fan could hope for. The experience is highly polished, and it’s difficult to imagine any gamer not finding something to like about it. But a good deal of it is familiar, and those that sunk countless hours into Forza 3 may not find enough to get excited about.
Given the time investment that serious driving games require, and that its predecessor is only about two years old, the fact that Forza 4 allows players to import their Forza Motorsport 3 profile (along with your vinyl work) is welcome, with rewards in the new title commensurate with progress made before. While you’re still starting from scratch to some degree, the import features help soften the blow a bit.
From a technical standpoint, the game delivers in spades. Although there’s nothing wrong with the in game music, there’s something to be said for turning it off, and tweaking the settings so that either the engine or tire noises are highlighted. Visually speaking, the cars and tracks look fantastic. Given how much progress each Forza iteration has shown thus far, this really isn’t surprising. While nothing should be taken away from Turn 10, who has time and again demonstrated the technical and artistic ability to make games that look and sound beautiful, it’s worth mentioning that by this point, most AAA, realism-driven racing games look great.
It may be that with no carbon-based life forms to model and animate, and hence no uncanny valley to contend with, it’s just easier to make racing games that get frighteningly close to the real thing. This notion is reinforced by the inclusion of the visually stunning Autovista mode, which allows players to explore 25 cars with visual overlays and commentary by Clarkson. While the feature is an interesting and technically impressive diversion, there’s so much depth in other parts of the game that it’s tough to imagine spending a good deal of time with it.
Online play supports up to fifteen drivers in a race, a noticeable upgrade since Forza 3‘s eight. There are also some race types available. “Rivals” challenges players to race their friends’ ghosts, essentially allowing for asynchronous multiplayer. There are also clever and chaotic multiclass races, which amount to concurrent races between cars in the same class. The challenge here is to win the race while avoiding the traffic comprised of cars in different classes than your own.
If there’s any disappointment in Forza Motorsport 4, it’s only because expectations are rightfully high for each new entry in the series, and any flaws are easy to focus in on. There are a few things noticeably absent from Forza 4. There’s no night racing or weather effects. While these are certainly extraneous components, they would also have served as both an extra dose of eye candy and realism in an already fantastic game. Surely, the more salient void is that left by the exclusion of the Porsche brand. The sole game rights to Porsche belong to EA, and though Turn 10 was able to pay a fee for the brand’s inclusion in Forza 3, EA was evidently unwilling to accept a deal for this installment. Another minor quibble is the fact that as compared to its predecessor, Forza Motorsport 4 only provides five new tracks. But these issues are all relatively nitpicky, and Turn 10 has again succeeded in providing a polished and enjoyable driving experience.
Forza and its closest franchise competitor Gran Turismo have long since established themselves as capable of presenting staggeringly deep driving experiences. In recent years, the Forza series has taken the crown from Gran Turismo by being more flexible and inviting to the casual racing market, without sacrificing a hardcore experience. The choice to go in this direction was a smart one, and though there will always be die-hard Gran Turismo fans, at this point the mass preference seems to be for Forza. But Turn 10 is not immune to the stagnation that plateaued interest in its chief competitor, something they clearly understand. Forza 4 makes a decent number of tweaks to the Forza formula, though whether or not they’ll be enough to lure back those that spent a good deal of time with Forza 3 is questionable.