Does one wind down a generation of hardware by resting on past success? That’s the inevitable question you’re left with after hours upon hours of tearing up asphalt in Turn 10’s latest iteration of its Forza Motorsport franchise. Addictive fun it may be, but there’s this sneaking suspicion at the back of your noggin that it’s also the same addictive fun that you had in the previous game in the series.
You’re given 50 new additions to Forza 3’s repertoire of 450 cars, and a similarly stingy extension to the number of tracks. The main mode consists of a World Tour that has you skipping continents, but racing the usual suspect tracks. There’s also a separate standalone event mode that populates based on what cars you have in your garage and what races you’ve taken on in the World Tour. The game takes the familiar route of awarding you driver XP (up to Lvl 150 this time) as well as manufacturer ‘affinity’ XP based on how dedicated you are to each carmaker.
Aside from the steady stream of new cars you get when you up your driver level, the new affinity stat also nets you free upgrades after you’ve done a handful of races with a particular manufacturer’s car. This can be a bit divisive as it pretty much renders the game’s currency system moot (at least in the early stages), as the cars you’re awarded are perfectly suited for whatever events you’re tasked with at that given moment. On the flipside, one could say that the World Tour mode intelligently tailors events to suit the cars in your stable, which is a nice change from having to buy a car to suit a particular event, but also a bit of a let down as you don’t feel like you’re being made to work for your XP.
Now this is soothing
The cars themselves look just beautiful (even more so than before), but the rest of the game’s graphical suite is quite similar to what we saw in Forza 3, as good as it was. The lighting department sees the biggest improvement, and it's particularly satisfying to see the glare of the sun both in your eyes as well as glinting off of your car. Car damage, however, is still quite underwhelming. The menu music is quite nice, but the in-game trash electronica is something you’ll want to switch off ASAP. It’s a good thing the car audio more than makes up for it.
The cars are open to a robust set of upgrades, although again, this isn’t something new to the series. One nice thing with the affinity system is that you’ll be able to experiment with different cars and upgrades a lot more than otherwise. Even the menus have a sense of déjà vu about them, aside from the color scheme, that is.
While the game drives as good as ever, the differentiation between the cars seems to have been compromised for accessibility. Most cars are entirely manageable for beginners to drive from the get-go, even if you have the game’s robust set of assists switched off. The AI is quite timid, and you’ll find it hard to avoid taking advantage of their conservative braking and cornering. Kinect gets a showing, with a separate set of throwaway races and challenges that have more in common with Mario Kart than a true racing sim. The much talked about Autovista mode is interesting enough, even if only in a glorified car gallery sort of way. Using Kinect in Forza 4 is something you’ll try once, and then forget it ever existed.
Isn't she a beauty?
The game also comes with a robust multiplayer suite, including an interestingly named Rivals mode. Borrowing from Criterion’s Autolog, it tracks your friends’ performances and allows you to race against them when they’re offline by downloading their ghosts. There are several events within the Rivals mode, ranging from Autocross to Top Gear challenges (Yes, Top Gear makes an unusually low profile appearance in the game), and they’re all a damn sight more interesting than the bog standard races.
Admiring the scenery
None of this is to say Forza 4 is a bad game, mind you. On the contrary, it’s extremely polished and optimized so you’re having a great time right from the very start. Unfortunately, Turn 10 has to bring more to the table than the same formula, especially when Forza’s nearest competitor gives you weather, loose and wet surface racing, day/night cycles, a track generator, and 1000+ vehicles among a raft of other features. It's time for Turn 10 to turn it up a notch and bring the fire back to one of the most entertaining rivalries in gaming.
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