Racing games don’t get much bigger than this. Almost two years to the date since the well received Forza Motorsport 3 launched we have its successor. Forza Motorsport 4 (FM4). It has been taunted as the biggest, best and most feature packed assault on the racing genre to date. Breaking tradition with most review formats I’m going to come right and say it. Forza Motorsport 4 is easily the best and most enjoyable racing game I have ever played. Now it’s not perfect, but it’s the closest to it I have ever seen.
As the game starts you’re welcomed by a cut scene voiced over by Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson, then you’re thrown straight in the deep end behind the wheel to the truly stunning Ferrari 458 Italia on the all new Bernese Alps circuit. First impressions is that this looks, sounds and feels amazing. The car is beautiful. It roar from the engine is realistic and intense. The stunning vistas surrounding the track is breath taking and the in game music is truly horrendous. Well, at least that can be turned off. This introductory race uses all assists turned on and no onscreen display. It really does feel just like a welcome to FM4. After that it’s a quick introduction to the new slick user interface and then into the World Tour. Consider this the backbone career mode of FM4. Various race events over multiple series and multiple disciplines which increase in length and difficulty as you progress. The start of each event you’re given the option of three classes depending on what vehicle you’re in or what you have in your garage. Credits or winnings are dictated by the finishing position, damage incurred, difficulty and the assists chosen. There’s a lot of racing here and this is just a fraction of what’s available.
Backing up the World Tour mode is the Event list. A combination of multi race events feature different classes of vehicles, locations and disciplines. As well as that is possibly the biggest new addition to the game. The Rivals mode. It’s a selection of predetermined events where you select a rival of the leader board and try to beat their lap time on the selected track in the selected car. Some of the events feature slower traffic on the track so it’s a matter of managing your passing opportunities as well as racing tidy lines. This is feature I’ve had a ball with and something I can see attracting a lot of attention. A welcome addition and in my opinion will add HOURS of gameplay and could easily spawn a whole new subculture of Forza addicts with the urge to crush their fellow rivals.
Those paying attention may have noticed I’ve mentioned different disciplines a couple of times now. This time around there are more than just straight races. There are autocross challenges. Which is a precision driving challenge where you drive through a series of cones and gates on any of the predetermined tracks. Penalties are awarded for missing any gates or hitting any cones. Surprisingly great fun and will no doubt be a favourite of many in the Rival mode. Plus there’s the Pin Challenges. Simple idea, drive a circuit and knock over as many pins as you can. A little gimmicky in my opinion as as much luck is required as skill. Something for the kids perhaps?
The cars, where do I start. Boasting over 500 vehicles from European supercars, American Muscle cars, purpose built race cars right down to the sporty (and some not so sporty) family sedans and hatches. Australian V8 Supercar fans will be happy to know that the cars are back again. This time featuring five cars from each manufacturer and sporting all the 2011 liveries. From what I’ve seen each and every car is beautifully presented. The polygon count is up from FM3 and so is the attention to detail. Like with the previous Forzas, in game the cars do suffer from some minor jaggies or imperfections. These really are minimal and you do have to look hard to see them. Special mention must be made of the lighting, shadowing and reflection detail on the cars. It is nothing short of breath taking. The bonnet reflection is almost clear and fluid enough to drive with.
All vehicles are either available to purchase from the manufacturers list as before or by winning them as you progress through World Tour. PLUS for the first time there’s an all new Car Token system. This is where if you don’t have enough in game credits to buy what you want you can buy car tokens using real money or Microsoft points to make the purchase. Now I don’t have all the details on how much these tokens are worth as it’s not unlocked on my review copy yet, but it’s an interesting move by Turn 10 and I’m not too sure how well it’ll be received by players. Time will tell. Regardless every vehicle once purchased has the option to upgrade from its original specifications and can be done simply by selecting quick upgrade, which the game upgrades the car to a specific level for you or you can modify the car yourself through the upgrade shop. As well as performance upgrades FM4 utilized its industry leading customizable creation tools. Whereas before what liveries can be created is limited only by your imagination.
Every car features Forza’s ‘unique’ damage modelling. To be fair there is nothing really wrong with it although it can be a little buggy and to be honest it doesn’t appear to have evolved much from the earlier versions. Little issues like bumping a car in the lower right corner and the paint scratches in the top right corner or visible paint damage when using out of car view but the same panel (bonnet) is flawless when in car. Although despite these cosmetic nuances when the damage modelling is turned onto either limited or simulation the affect it has on the vehicles can be devastating. Which really encourages clean tidy driving. Although even the best of us is partial to the odd mishap which leaves our car in a less than desirable condition, a simple drive through the pits will fix all mechanical problems. Pity to see there is still no pit work animations again and the cars are just magically repaired. Not a major and definitely doesn’t affect gameplay.
The physics is what really sets the Forza franchise apart and FM4 is no exception. The physics have been obviously enhanced from FM3. Users will feel instantly comfortable with how the cars feel but will notice the cars feel a lot more grounded. FM3 was criticized by some as being a bit ‘floaty’. I wouldn’t say it’s easier to drive but perhaps just a lot more natural and realistic without being over the top simulation physics, basically they’re a lot more fun to drive. Special consideration needs to be taken of the temperature at the track or the time of day as this has a enormous impact on how the tyres perform. There’s an arsenal of customizable assists and controls to suit pretty much anyone. So regardless of gaming ability or experience anyone can pick up and be competitive. Which in my opinion is why Forza had always been so approachable. Plus there is now a turn, pass, speed, drift meter which appears on screen after each turn or pass etc. It grades you on how well you’ve completed the corner/pass. So you have a real time indicator if you’re a good smooth driver or a raging lunatic. Which is handy. The game’s A.I. seems improved as well. Not only are they more aware of you as a racer but they seem to drive as thinking individuals. Some seem more aggressive than others and will take risks that may seem rash. But this just gives it more a realist feel to the game. There has been times when I’ve come around a corner and the vehicle in front was spinning across the track after contact with another car. Really starts to blur the lines between A.I. controlled drivers and real ones.
As mentioned earlier there is the new Bernese Alps location, but you’ll be pleased to know as well as most of the favourite tracks have returned so have a couple of other new ones. The Hockenheimring in Germany and the well known Top Gear Test track. All the tracks are beautifully recreated and look amazing. The Top Gear track features heavily in the Rival mode and you’ll be please to know it features ‘A Star in a reasonably priced car’ event. Unfortunately there is no sign of any Australian circuits so those crossing their fingers for Bathurst may have to resign to the fact that it’s not coming to Forza.
Auto vista mode. Here you can admire and inspect a select number of performance supercars. Not all are unlocked to begin with. You must complete challenges in the relevant cars to access them. Another example of Turn 10 providing as much gameplay as physically possible. The attention to detail of these cars is staggering. It’s as close to life like as you can expect with the current generation of technology. You’re able to explore each vehicle throughout the engine bays and cockpits. The history of the cars lovingly told through Jeremy Clarkson. Regardless of your passion for cars, it’s hard not to be impressed by the visuals.
The online mode is what will really give FM4 its longevity. Packed full of new features it really is an outstanding experience. New this time is the introduction of user controlled clubs. Where like minded individuals or gaming communities can meet, arrange races, share cars and challenge other clubs to online events. You’ll be happy to know the Buttonmasher NZ club is already setup up and awaiting new members. Online races feature up to 16 players which is a vast improvement over FM3 (or almost any other racer, to be fair). The races I managed to have had understandably small lobbies. Regardless the games ran silky smooth and even though I was playing over a wireless network there was no sign of lag at all. Whether it can maintain the same level with 16 in a room and New Zealand’s infamous internet performance is unknown. But I’m hopeful.
Kinect is utilized a few times with FM4. There is a Kinect mode which allows you to either select quick race, split screen or auto vista mode. I’ll admit I was very sceptical how well Kinect would work for controlling the car. When driving with Kinect you only have control over the steering. There is no way to control the throttle or brake, so you’re completely reliant on the assists, which can be frustrating. But the actual sense of control is surprisingly good. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s as good as a controller. But regardless it does give me high hopes for the effectiveness of the soon to be released Microsoft wireless speed wheel. Kinect can also be used for head tracking in game. Allowing the user to look around while driving. Really easy to setup and use but to be honest it did make me feel quite nauseous after a while. I found it quicker and easier to just use the thumb stick to look around. The user interface utilizes voice controls as well. I didn’t encounter many issues which you might expect with sumone wif a thuck Nu Zealund akcent.
Now to be fair I really have only brushed over many of the neat new features in Forza Motorsport 4. Turn 10’s attention to detail and new additions have made this a truly amazing experience. I said at the start this was the best racing game I have ever played and I stand by that. Slick user interface, beautiful cars, stunning tracks, outstanding physics and challenging AI. Hundreds of hours of gameplay and with the ever evolving Rivals mode, I can see no reason to need another racing game for quite some time. Well done Turn 10. If you have any questions or would like any more information on Forza Motorsport 4 please feel free to ask here or hit me up in the Buttonmasher Forza 4 forum. So roll on October 13th and I’ll see you on the track.