I sort of have a love/hate relationship with games like Forza. I love cars and racing in general and I’m a massive racing game fan; however, the more hardcore sim games like Gran Turismo and Forza often leave me wanting more. As much as I like the realism these games bring to the genre, I often tire of the grind of levelling up through a myriad of grocery getters to get to the cars I really want to drive: the fast ones! Enter Forza, a game that aims to cement its spot as the king of console racing sims. It promises enhanced visuals, physics, new game modes and locales. Does Forza 4 deliver? You bet it does and it does so in spades.
Forza 4 just might be the first hardcore racing sim game that offers something for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a casual racing game fan, someone that’s hardcore competitive, or someone who is somewhere in the middle. As the game’s introduction perfectly points out, if you are a car or driving enthusiast of any sort, Forza 4 is the ultimate playground.
As I alluded to earlier, this isn’t your typical sim racing game. Forza 4 takes things so far beyond the vanilla race after race grind to unlock new cars and classes it’s crazy. This might just be the first driving sim sandbox (hey, did I coin a new genre). I am constantly finding myself being diverted from the main World Tour mode to do a myriad of other activities. Whether its unlocking and checking out cars in the Autovista mode, playing Rivals events trying to best my friends times, or playing online, there is so much to do! It is very impressive.
The main portion of the game is the newly named World Tour mode. Instead of going with the traditional event types to choose from, you spend “seasons” travelling around the globe to the different race locales. At each locale you can choose from three event types that may offer different challenges or car classes as well as different bonuses. I prefer this way of playing through the various events compared to sifting through menus trying to figure out if you have the right car for the right event. Forza 4 also brings some new event types into the fold that help to keep things fresh. It’s not the same race after race over and over again and I appreciate that.
Complementing the World Tour mode is a slew of other things to do. Forza now supports up to 16 players for online multiplayer races. There is a robust marketplace in which you can buy and sell cars, setups, paint jobs and vinyls. What people come up with in terms of designs never ceases to amaze me. You can spend hours upon hours in this area if it’s your sort of thing.
New to the Forza franchise is Rivals events and the Autovista mode. Rivals events are set, one-off event types. There are things like time trials, hot laps, track days, autocross, and drifting. There is literally something for everyone here. I’m a time trial guy myself. My least favorite of the Rivals events are the Track Days where you compete against a rival ghost in an effort to best their time. Track days mean there are other cars on the track while you are lapping. For the most part the other cars are pretty slow and stick hard and fast to the racing line. I found it weird to see high performance cars driving so slowly. These cars really only serve to get in the way of things. I understand it is designed to replicate having a number of cars on the track at the same time but things really amount down to chance. In order to get any sort of good lap time you need the luck of having the other track cars being in the right spots at the right times. I found it maddening to get stacked up between two or three Ferraris into a corner that were being Sunday drivers as they headed to the flea market.
The cool thing about Rivals events is that the game automatically matches you up with a Rival. It can be anyone, but I found it was often one of my friends, which was cool. Trying to beat these ghost times was highly entertaining. This brings me to another point. Lap times only count if you stay on the track. Go wide off the track or cut a corner and you’ll see a small exclamation point beside your lap time indicating that it will not count. So you have to race clean in order to post a time and beat these rivals. This is nothing new, but I find it far stricter in Forza 4. Not a criticism, just an observation. You can also go straight to challenging your friends from Car Clubs and Leaderboards which is a nice touch.
The new Autovista feature can best be described as car porn. In this mode, several cars are presented in the highest level of detail I’ve ever seen in a game, and all for you to explore. Even the legendary Halo Warthog. You can move around the car, get in it, open the hood and trunk, and even start it. Jeremy Clarkson from the Top Gear TV series narrates an informative piece on each car. There are also several action and information points around the car that give extra details on specific things that make the cars unique. Clarkson pulls no punches in his commentaries about the cars. They’re totally worth a listen and you’ll likely learn a thing or two about each car. The cars are about as close to real as they can get in this mode. Every little detail seems to be there from the texture of the engine block, the lovely reflections from the showroom lights, to the safety decal in the corner of the windows. In order to gain full Autovista access to the cars you must complete a single race event with the car you wish to view. These events are pretty simple but they offer a nice chance to drive some of the higher end and unique cars that aren’t as readily available early on in the game.
Getting into the actual gameplay itself, racing games live and die by the way they handle and control. The controls in Forza 4 are an interesting beast. With the controller they are really good! I would go as far as to say this is the best controlling racing game I have ever played with a controller. Steering with the thumbstick feels tight and direct. All of the cars feel more controllable, especially in conditions of oversteer. Things feel less “snappy” this time around. These are high-powered cars, well most of them are, that we are playing with, but it does feel like you have greater control of catching the back end of a high horsepower RWD car if you get too happy on the throttle and your back end threatens to swap places with you.
I have to admit I’m a little disappointed with the steering wheel controls so far. There’s going to be a learning curve with a wheel in any driving game, but the controls don’t feel as direct with the wheel as they do with the controller. The force feedback in the wheel feels as it has been almost over-programmed. I expect a certain amount of resistance under certain driving conditions but it often feels like even simple drifts or wheel plow are communicated with excessive tugging from the wheel to the point it feels artificial. Now I haven’t driven many cars under race conditions. I’ve rat-bagged on my parents old ’77 Pontiac Parisienne a few times and have had some decently powered RWD and AWD cars in recent years. I have never felt as much force as I do with the Xbox 360 steering wheel in some driving conditions. At the very least give me some sort of ability to adjust the force feedback. Perhaps this is a limitation in the Xbox 360 Wheel versus something more high end like what Fanatec offers. I guess I should consider sneaking one into our household to complement my recent racing seat purchase.
The AI in both the Forza and GT series have long been criticized for good reason. Forza 4 tries to improve upon this with many more AI driver profiles than before (20 now) and a dynamic system that chooses what level of AI you face based on your performance in previous races which keeps your competition fully tuned to the top of each race class. It sounds good on paper right? Not so much in reality though. Everything started out as I expected when playing the World Tour mode (in which you cannot select an AI difficulty level). The AI seemed a bit more aggressive than previous games. They would defend their line a bit more and had no qualms about cutting off your nose if you took a look inside going in to a corner and didn’t have position. Not the best AI I’ve seen (see F1 2011 for great AI) but definitely something that I can live with. Sometime into my fourth season though things just changed, almost like a switch was flipped in the game. Suddenly the AI was incredibly aggressive. I would get rear ended under braking and AI cars would take crazy unrealistic dives for position going in to corners. Since you never start near the front of the pack in a Forza game, racing at a tight, short track like Tsukuba I needed a combination of a perfect lap, a bunch of luck, and maybe a bit of dirty driving in order to have a chance at winning a three lap race. This has proven to be the most frustrating part of my experience with Forza 4 so far and I know that I am not alone. Many in our community have complained about the AI as well, so given there is more than just me noting this, something is definitely going on here.
A solid online marketplace, solid design, an online car club, and numerous online options make up for the AI shortcomings though. Being able to play with 16 players online is long overdue. Car Clubs make it easy for you to find and play with your friends. I enjoyed just seeing what my friends had done in various events and there’s a nice Launch Race feature where you can compete against them right from the leaderboards. I admit that I’m not a tuning or design guy and this is a good example of how the game tailors to a wide spectrum of players. I make use of the Quick Upgrade options to do my upgrades but if you choose to get into the detailed minutia of individual parts it’s all there for you.
When I first played Forza 4 the graphics were pretty, but I had no idea of the sort of graphical jump it was until I went back and popped in Forza 3 to compare. Boy oh boy this is a pretty game. The graphics are incredibly sharp. Dan Greenwalt has made it no secret that it’s 60fps-or-die in the racing genre. Forza 4 pulls this off no matter which point of view you choose to play in. For the first time, the in-car view is completely playable and you will not see a step down in the frame rate while in this viewpoint as you did in the previous game. That said, I think hardcore players will choose to play either the hood or bumper view. There’s something about these two views that give you an extra sense of speed that can be so critical. I can’t put my finger on it exactly but I think it has to do with how much peripheral vision you have in this view.
The tracks are a visual treat to view. Some of them have been enhanced so much graphically that it is almost like playing an entirely new track. I found that the draw distance is amazing as I have seen literally zero pop up while racing. As sharp as the graphics are though, Forza 4 lacks that photorealistic appearance that games like Dirt 3 and F1 2011 have. The lighting in those games adds so much to that life-like look. I think Turn 10 would be well suited to borrow some of the lighting tricks Codemasters uses to make their games look as realistic as they do.
The cars themselves are incredibly detailed. The Autovista mode really let you see the amount of detail that has been put into ALL of the 500+ in the game, unlike GT which only allows for a fraction of the cars to be seen in a “Premium” mode. There are some minor particle effects such as tire smoke, sparks, and dirt/dust being kicked up, while you are racing, but they’re decent at best. The good thing here is that their averageness doesn’t detract from the game play at all.
The high quality continues over into how Forza 4 sounds. The attention to detail and the steps taken to make sure that every exhaust, tire note, and car sound is accurate to the individual car is amazing. If you haven’t done so already, check out the developer blog at ForzaMotorsports.net for more detail. Having owned a 350Z, I typically use that as a benchmark for how accurate a racing game’s sound is. I approve! I am amazed with the distinction of each car, from Ferrari’s, Fords, Lamborghinis, to anything and everything else, even a H2, all sound different and very impressive. The menu music has a nice atmospheric tone to it that’s not intrusive. The same can’t be said about the in-race music. I despise music in a racing game while actually racing. Thank you for the option of being able to turn it off! This is a sim game; I want to hear all the details.
Forza 4 might not be the revolutionary step that many people look for in a game sequel, but it is certainly a strong evolutionary step. While it most certainly has a few flaws, the sum of Forza’s parts makes for the most incredible driving experience available on a console today.