Developer: Turn 10
Platform: XBOX 360
Genre: Enthusiast Driving / Racing Simulation
OFLC Rating: G
Now when I think driving simulation, I have certain expectations – Namely true to life accuracy. So far what I’ve the one simulation game of this kind that has delivered such accuracy as a simulator are those that were developed by Papyrus, their NASCAR Racing series in particular. Since playing NASCAR Racing Season 2003 (the final game of the series) I have used that my benchmark for racing sims. There have been games that have come close and the few that I believed to contenders against this benchmark title, one such contender is the Forza Motorsport series. As a gamer who holds the belief that PC and PlayStations are superior to XBOXs, this is one of four (Gears of War, Mass Effect and Halo are the others) series I would strongly recommend as a reason for giving the XBOX consoles the benefit of the doubt.
Forza Motorsport is quite an interesting series especially when you look at the name, for any Italian or those who know the language will know that word “Forza” translates into English as “Force” ( and for the record it’s pronounced Fort-Sah not For-Zah – similar to how you would with pizza). Though I started with the previous game, I have noticed from observations made from other reviews that the series gradually made advancements to the series whilst keeping a consistent formula going. For something that started out as a developer’s tribute (on the XBOX) to the Gran Turismo series, this latest version of Forza Motorsport has done that and surpassed as it continues to live up to it’s own name – I think it’s fair to say that this racing simulation series is a force to be reckoned with!
Beginning a review like this I cannot help but raise comparisons, most of these will end up taking potshots at other games that have attempted to simulate the racing experience.
Firstly there is Forza’s PlayStation adversary Gran Turismo. The GT series has been somewhat consistent in the way it has presented itself as rather than as it has been advertised by it’s slogan/subtitle “The Real Driving Simulator”, it is more a highly “Technical” driving game that gives you a feel for the general driving mechanics particularly handling. Up until GT’s latest instalment Gran Turismo 5 the game never really simulated the dire consequences of your mistakes, and yes I speak of the physics called “Damage”. Though GT5 features cosmetic damage physics it never truly delivers fully simulated experience of of totalling your car all because you got careless in some way shape or form. One patch addressed this to a degree, but introduces “Mechanical” damage upon reaching level 30 or so. By then you have just gotten used to what could be compared to “Bruising” only to be face with (in career mode) repair bills. Part of what makes a simulator a simulator is offering a “Sandbox” toolkit where you can create any simulated scenario from out of the box.
There have been “Arcade” racing games that “Think” their a simulation game, like the Need For Speed: Shift series for example. Yes it may boast some cool features like an actual driver first person camera, but that’s about all you can expect from it as the first thing you are greeted with are “Urban-esque” arcade-style menus which really does little get you to the game seriously as a racing sim. But in terms of the quality of the simulation it takes a technical style similar to GT and mixes that which Need For Speed’s tried and true action feel, yet fails to deliver an authentic feel as a simulator.
Forza Motorsport 4 is the latest version and the third release on the XBOX 360 (as the original was released on the old XBOX). Forza 4 (like it’s predecessors and PlayStation nemesis Gran Turismo) is what you would clearly and safely define as an “Automobile Enthusiast’s” racing game as it is one that emphasises the variety of cars in your garage. Such games that cater to would be enthusiasts present the relationship between car and driver as each game approaches this idea in a different way. Gran Turismo asks the question “What can this car do?”, thus emphasising the need to collect better cars to get ahead and progress through your career. Forza Motorsport on the other hand asks “What can I do with this car”, thus presenting the idea that no car is restricted by it’s limitations and puts forward a different motive for build your collection. In Forza 3 (first introduction to the series) you could do more than just race you can tune, render cars into works of art by paint and applying vinyls, even reengineer vehicles into unimaginable forces of reckoning – A perfect example would be to take a Honda Jazz and upgrade it with all available options making it a prime contender against the likes of Ferarris and Lamborghinis. Ultimately these features gave you the ability to create “Racecars” from regular street-legal cars in turn giving you a reason to build you collection with the means explore your automotive creativity as diversify you skills as a driver. Forza from the beginning has always hand an experience point (XP) system that offered complimentary cars as reward for advancement as a skilled driver. You had another experience point meter that focused on your loyalty or “Affinity” with specific manufacturers, you are rewarded with discounts when upgrading those particular cars. Forza 3 is known for making the series accessible to casual players whilst still keeping a formula that kept the enthusiast veterans interested by offering a flexible skill adjustment system comprised of AI difficulty, assisted braking, traction control, driving line and damage settings. Players are given an incentive to wean themselves off the assists and step up to higher AI settings with XP and cash bonuses on top of their race payouts.
Forza 4 builds upon all of this and ups the anti making it’s casual-friendly predecessor a complete push over by offering a richer quality of simulation and AI opponents that more “Competitive”. However along with introducing a deeper level of community features to game such as clan support (by way of the Auto Clubs) multiplayer features, the dual (Skill and Affinity) experience system is improved to the point where you are (significantly) rewarded for (actually) trying as well as winning. In fact the standout advancements made to the series this time is are the greater emphasis on choice as well as offering modes and incentives that make it easy to make the most of your experience. Now unless you’re a series veteran, this review will (hopefully) shed light for newcomers on what Forza Motorsport 4 has to offer.
When you first start the game up you will be treated to (what appears to be a one-time only) special introduction video with narration from Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson (for those you who are fans of the show). Just as you would have done you are thrown straight into a casual race in a pre-chosen car to help familiarise yourself with the game as all the assists are active. Not just any… A Ferrari 458 Italia! This is the type of event I casually refer to as the “Date with the Cover Girl” (cover girl referring to car featured on the cover of the game’s box as most racing games do) – Forza 3 featured the Audi R8 5.2 FSI Quattro on the cover, where this time Forza 4 (unless you get the Limited Collector’s Edition featuring what appears to be the 2012 BMW M5) has the Ferrari 458 Italia.
Once you’ve finished the “Crash Course” run you are offered a small selection of sub-compacts ranging from American, European to Asian makes. As you will soon notice this selection and all others included upon skill advancement still give that subtle hint as to what level of events you will be facing while still offering you a choice rather than giving you a single car every time – In this way the game takes on a more “Personalised” feel as you’re given various different choices available to you throughout your career mode. You then enter the Career main menu area where you see your car parked with a nice scenic backdrop (these of course can be interchanged between indoor and outdoor environments), in fact the game’s menus offer a clean and easy means of navigation to get you doing what you’re looking to do faster. Career mode is probably what you would call the major business end of the game as from there buying / selling of cars, tuning, upgrading and art design is carried out along with the main single player progression through World Tour. The other area you’re going to be spending your time (assuming you have an active Live Gold membership) is the Community section which is where you will be able to join / establish Forza Car Clubs, compete in online multiplayer races, compete passively via the Rivals mode along with being able to do business from Storefront and Auction (trade cars and buy setups, vinyls, designs, etc.). New to Forza is the Autovista mode where you can browse (up close and personal) an interactive gallery of featured cars. When checking out cars you can interact with them like you would as though you had one parked on your driveway. What makes this mode interesting is that you will find various little information icons popping up on the car giving you an audio commentary on the car depending on what you activate – The regular information points feature Peter Egan (who is credited for the Forza 3 narration) covering the technical specifications of the car, whilst the “Top Gear” icon information point feature commentary from Jeremy Clarkson covering his take on the car. Initially you will have four of the featured cars to browse as the others will be locked, however unlocking them involves accepting and completing the challenge relating to the car in question. As always there is Freeplay mode where you can indulge on casual races, hotlaps, and splitscreen multiplayer.
Forza Motorsport’s primary game advancement has always been through it rich career mode where you gain both experience for skill and manufacturer affinity. In the previous title the career was presented in linear “Seasons” each on a shown on a calendar, this time however Forza 4 seasons are presented on a satellite view of the earth as you go from location to location. Unlike Forza 3 where you chose multi heat tournament events now at each location you select form the three events offered (taking place at the specific location), each as before these events come with a required class along with any accompanying prerequisites (such as manufacturer, year, car type, etc.). Each season has set number of events and often finishing up with a tournament event – As you progress from season to season you will notice the each season will be slightly longer than the previous.
However Forza 4 opens up an additional means of earning experience points, by way of the Community section. New Rivals mode serves sets of challenges where take on times set by other players and race their “Ghosts”.
With regard to earning cash and experience you are not restricted to the career mode to do it. As you can see competing in multiplayer and partaking of Rivals challenges and trading cars, vinyls, designs and setups in both the Storefront and Auction is a great way to makes some cash on the side.
Now we come to the business end of the game as we cover the way in which you can play the game. Again when you start out with the initial tutorial run all assists are active making the game friendly to casual players. Once in you can fine tune the skill settings to your liking, however removing all assists can work in your favour as you can expect bigger cash and experience payouts for doing so. As a fan of accurate driving simulation games having the assists turned off is by far a more rewarding experience, as you gain a relative feel for what each of the car would be like in reality. Some pointers for beginners to remember would be drive types and the general characteristics. Front Wheel Drive (FWD) pulls the cars offering better manoeuvrability and probably a good beginner’s choice. Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) pushes the car leaving the front wheels to steer, this best known for having good launch power. All Wheel Drive (AWD) is as exactly as it sounds, the advantages of this (in theory) is that you have the traction support to get out of hairy situations. FWD and most AWD systems are prone to understeer, meaning that the car when sliding ploughs forward in a straight line unable to change direction (until corrected). RWD is prone to oversteer, meaning that the car’s backend will swing out cause to slide in the direction you’re currently turning – For the record (the motorsport activity) “Drifting” is the art of controlling the vehicle in an oversteer condition, which why only RWD and some AWD cars are used for these events. Ultimately when starting introduced to having no assists, you’re going to want to stick to vehicles that are easy to manoeuvre without spinning out on you, which is why FWD is in most cases good for this. However each driving system will almost require to learn the (unwritten) disciplines for each as they bring their own style of control to the proverbial table.
This now leads us to the garage or “Upgrade” section (accessible from within Career mode and pre-race menu if you’re just tuning your car) which is where you can tune and reengineer your cars (by what of upgrading them) completely should you choose to, however again offer a tip for beginners. If you’ve played NASCAR Racing 2003 and watched the tutorials my words will be a reminder – Stay out of the garage! Before you start messing around with setups and reengineering your cars take the time to follow one of the “Golden Rules” of your Driver’s Handbook (which can most likely be obtained from your local Vehicle Licensing Departments) – “Know your vehicle”. Yes get to know how each of your cars behave before tuning it and if you have to upgrade to keep your car on equal playing field, use the “Quick Upgrade” as this tries to maintain the car’s characteristics better than what it would if you tried to do it yourself. The upgrade and tuning features are there for players who know exactly what they are doing! If you’re finding you what to try some new setups (that’s once you KNOW your cars and how they behave) then I suggest looking at “Buy Setups” as these can give you an idea as to how to create your own setups in the Tune feature. Should you decide to cut loose and upgrade everything on your cars to “Max”, bare in mind the following.
Whilst you can reengineer something like a Honda Jazz (Fit) to powerful enough to run with Ferraris and Lamborghinis, all cars when maxed out so to speak can behave very differently to you what you may have been used to which will require you to tune them so you’re to able to handle them properly. For those who know how to dial in the right settings for their cars in reality and get results from their setups, these modes are you the “Enthusiasts” and/or “Professionals”.
Storefront is feature where you can upload and sell / share (depending on whether or not you attach a price tag) as well as purchase other players creations. These include vinyl groups, car (complete artwork) designs and car (tuning) setups. (Storefront) Setups and Designs for your currently selected car can be found with in the Upgrade and Paint sections of Career mode, these are great way to pick out nice (ready done) paint jobs and useful setups that can save scratching your head as to how to get your car dialled in right.
So far the only downside is that the cockpit view only renders forward view only unlike GT5 that offers a 360 degree view of the cockpits. Although this drawback does little if all to spoil your fun in Forza as “Hood” camera I feel offers a better first person view, giving you the view passed your windscreen.
Overall Forza Motorsport as series offers what I believe to the most satisfying driving simulation experience on a console as most of the good ones are PC-Based, along with being one of the better enthusiast racing games available between the major consoles.
Is Forza Motorsport 4 worth getting?
If you love a trackday racing game, then yes.
If you love cars in general. Definitely!
Love racing simulation games… Forza is right up your ally!
Don’t own a XBOX 360? Forza Motorsport is (as I said) one of the four reasons to give XBOXs a look in!