It does seem that in its fourth iteration, the Forza Motorsport series is having something of a ‘Wash ‘N Go’ moment, aiming to be both arcade racer and motorsport simulation. But is there a need for such a multipurpose race game when there’s so many other competitors ready muscle it off the road and leave it flailing in the bushes?
2011 has been good for cutting loose on the road. Need For Speed is back firing on all cylinders, DiRT and Motorstorm have allowed you to get all muddy and outrun the apocalypse respectively - even last week’s FPS Rage weighed in on hot rubbery ruination. But at the cerebral end of the starting grid there are two lone competitors – Playstation’s Gran Turismo and Xbox’s Forza Motorsport.
Just in case you didn’t know, since writing last year’s Gran Turismo 5 review, I still haven’t learnt to drive – yet I learned to love the icy beast from the East. But Forza Motorsport 4 is an altogether more patriotic production from the team at Turn 10. They’ve even got Jeremy Clarkson on voiceover duties;
The Top Gear hook-up is a divisive one though. Top Gear thrives on merging pure dumb bloke entertainment (explosives, sarcasm, fast cars, casual racism) with an genuine adoration of all things automotive. Forza 4 adopts a simarly broad attitude (albeit without the racism). As Jeremy says, Forza is a place of sanctuary for the petrolhead – solace in “speed, grip, gears and fun”.
On one hand you have the guiltless automotive hedonism, exhibited no better than the new Autovista mode, allowing you to gawp, pop the hood and even get inside some of the world’s most expensive supercars like they were some doting concubine (as Jez might say). Autovista takes up one whole disc of cars, notes and history, all with full Kinect control allowing you to go all Minority Report with the interface.
You’ve then got your garage where new cars are delivered regularly for completing race challenges. With classic Ford Mustang GT Coupe 1965 to supercars like the Koenigsegg Agera 2011, Tesla Roadster Sport 2011 and the RUF RGT-8 2011, there’s a true dodecahedron of automotive pornography on offer from 80 Manufacturers, with 22 tracks to experience.
The Marketplace feature allowing addition, customization, and even subscription to new car packs monthly, some for free – some requiring exchange of Microsoft points. Your Garage is also linked with Forza’s social platform forzamotorsport.net, where you can exchange messages, challenge other people to races and show off your shiny harem of cars.
But if you’re gunning for a reality-light blast of drift and draught, there's enough subtle bolt-on stabilisers and variation in the games race mode to play the entire game as a nippy arcade title. An award system congratulates skillful road etiquette as well as boisterous play, with an XP system that delivers a new award almost every other race (you think you’re Black Ops?) and allows livery and decal customization of your increasingly garish Garage. Oh you can also purchase a Warthog from Halo.
Yes, I am unashamedly resident in the latter category, a knuckle dragging heathen who wants nothing more than to bully these purring pieces of 20th century craftsmanship into the nearest ditch and win by being the last remaining driver ALIVE on the track, and Forza does seem to be talking to me. Gran Turismo 5trundled off Sony’s production line, deep and unique in its vision, yet stubborn and unintuitive in presentation. It was a closed book until I could speak ‘car’, while Forza’s super-intuitive interface sat-navs you into the game narrated by the creamy tones of not-Patrick Stewart, and builds on your knowledge, piece by piece, explaining what it’s doing – but never inferring that you don’t understand the game.
Just try a few reckless laps on the Infineon Raceway with a 2005 Lotus Elise 111S will be enough case for the prosecution. Digging allows for micromanagement (tire pressure, braking, anti-roll, steering etc.) Before I knew it, it was tuning the type pressure on my olive green Nissan 240SX, applying clever paintwork and practicing laps to look for optimum breaking distance. By guiding you over the grubby details, Forza 4 allows you enjoy the game before having to whip out that greasy rag and pop the hood.
Play is robust and accomplished. The feedback from the cars and the road is subtle and warm, never once making the player feel peripheral to the drive. You’ll quickly be hitting test track slaloms at sunset or weaving downhill Sunday traffic chases in sunny Japanese prefectures or indulging in enthusiast rallies and old rivalries. All scored by the obligatory liquid drum ‘n bass (is it too much to ask for a bit of Splash Wave?)
Forzais broad enough to be casually accessible, but also deep enough to be captivating for the most ardent petrolheads. It’s a celebration of style, speed and excitement of automotive racing, more than a trawl through the raw data that would reside more comfortably on Microsoft’s Excel than on their Xbox. Turn 10 have created a very British game. From Goodwood to Silverstone to the Top Gear test-track, the obsession with speed is a quintessential British institution. Sure, the Japanese can design an engine from the periodic table upwards, the German’s can tune it to stoic perfection and the Italians can put some muscle behind it and some leather gloves on the wheel. But the British are just concerned about the driving the bastard, really quite quickly. Forza Motorsport 4 opens the doors to the world, and leaves the key in the ignition.
Forza Motorsport 4is available exclusively on Xbox 360 now.