Return of the king?
It’s been along time coming. We’ve waited patiently for the daddy to return. I have played GT5, I have toiled with NFS Shift, and enjoyed GRID, but for me; nothing does racing like Forza Motorsport. From the very first game, Forza put the fun back into the racing sim where in my opinion other simulators had become far too serious and conceited, and therefore; dull. Forza isn’t just a game like so many others. Forza is an institution for us hardcore racers, car enthusiasts, and lovers of all things automotive. Where traction control, stability management and automatic gearing is for the weak. We like to catch our cars wild, then try and tame 600 horses of snarling supercharged V8 by hanging onto it for dear life around the Nurburgring. This. Is. FORZA. On the interior the game is stunningly well polished and finished, it really feels like a pedigree machine in itself. The graphics leave your jaw hanging as you drool over your favourite shiny machines, rendered in near photographic quality just waiting for you to enjoy them. As if that wasn’t enough, the Auto-vista suit allows you to experience an even closer look at some of your most treasured cars. With a quirky intro to every featured car by our very own Jeremy Clarkson, delivered on his usual irreverent style: “…and Hammond owns one…the idiot.” Auto-Vista is the gem of this game, a real immersive experience, giving you the chance to get your hands on 20+ cars modelled in spectacular three-dimensional photographic detail. It grants you the freedom to really get up close and personal; open doors, bonnets, boots, and learn something about you dream wheels. The whole interface is a first-person interactive tour of each car featured within Auto-vista, get in them, ‘walk’ around them, and even start them up.
…it delivers a very personal driving experience
But that’s enough dribble over the shiny bodywork… A car comes to life when it’s on the track, and we all know Forza is all about the track. Though perhaps not delivering the atmosphere of some racing games, Forza still serves up exceptional feel when you put the hammer down in any one of the many beasts on four wheels. Unlike a lot of racers, the level of customization and tuning is second to none. You can literally spend hours in the paint shop or under the hood of your cars tweaking away until it feels and looks just right. The paint shop area alone gives you 100 layers a side to create a visual masterpiece, using vinyl shapes, decals, and lettering to increase a cars aesthetic appeal from OE to showy. Eat your heart out Need for Speed. The physics of the game and driving experience are very ‘Forza’; anyone who is an FM veteran will know intrinsically the feel of this game. Those of you who are not, Forza is diverse in drivability. The cars are as smooth as you want them and as unforgiving as you dare. Run in too hot and you will be punished with more under-steer and tire wall than any driver should have to bare, finishing in a dented heap with nothing but red hot break discs and a look that says “I may have over cooked that… a bit”. Forza is also extremely rewarding and consistent. If you really pay attention to your car, and take some time tuning and practising, Forza will reward you with a great experience tailored by you, for you. I often run tuning set-ups that my friends can’t drive with, but that’s how I like my cars. In this it delivers a very personal driving experience. I wont go into huge detail about the career because as we all know driving games follow the same structure and have done since they came out; start off small and slowly working up to unlocking big and fast. The cars and races become more challenging as should be expected and with all the extra features the life of this game is almost as long as you want it to be. Replay value? Most definitely. The difficulty setting also allows tweaks to be made in many ways. You can opt for a suggested line and/or assisted breaking and steering but choosing to have traction control off if you feel like getting your wiggle on in a safe environment. This means that the most inexperienced player can jump in a Ferrari and actually make it round a track without too many bumps, and enjoy it. Though I have raved on about the great points of this release, what is it lacking? Where does it fail? Because no matter how super-fast and beautiful; a Bugatti Veyron is still pretty useless for the weekly Tesco run with this kids. What Forza has in beautiful graphics and a timeless choice of auto-mobile excellence to tear up any one of your favourite racetracks from around the world in, it loses in the ‘feel’ of the game. Forza has always felt very sterile. Not a bad thing as such, but when compared to GRID, which oozes atmosphere where you really feel like you’re there at Le Mans, Forza does not. The feel of the cars is exceptionally good, the look of the tracks is equally inspiring, but the feel of being pulled into a live racing world sadly isn’t there. I know it’s a racing simulator which tends to come with “as sterile as an operating theatre” as standard, but that’s not what racing is about. It should simulate the atmosphere, the passion, and the adrenalin. In this you also get a deficit of weather, I know you don’t really see much weather on racing games now, but it would be nice to be challenged by differing track conditions, even if it was just rain, wet, or dry. A simulator should test you, this isn’t Mario-Kart after all. I’m hammering down the straight after Bentley corner on the Top Gear test track, coming up to Bacharach, I run in way too fast, missed my marker, now I plough into the tire wall sideways at 120mph… Are bits of my shiny Aston Martin flung across the track with unscrupulous abandon, as wheels bounce off over the grass severed from their axles, is my car unrecognisable from the ones at the local scrapyard as it should be after such an impact? No, it actually doesn’t look much different. After the epically destroyable cars GRID gave us you would have thought that Forza would have updated the crash modelling for this game, but sadly not. You can still make your cars un-drivable, but it by no means reflects this in appearance, it all feels quite wooden. There is no barrel rolling down the dirt strip after loosing it at 80mph with pieces flying off in all directions. That’s what I mean about atmosphere, it just doesn’t quite feel like you are there. Games now aren’t so much games as they are immersive experiences and in this respect Forza 4 doesn’t cross the line in 1st. So what of this latest instalment of Forza Motorsport? Realistically the pros far outweigh the cons. If you are like me, and just love the automotive world, and maybe know a thing or two about cars in real life too, or you’re a weekend console racer who yearns for realism without discounting on the fun, then this game is for you. Because Forza 4 perfectly balances the power output for both the discerning perfectionist who shuns TCS, ABS, and STM, and plays excellently for those people who don’t even know what that means.
Good: Beautifully modelled in almost every way. Spectacular cars and tracks, realistic handling.
The Bad: Lacks atmosphere, still feels quite sterile. Crash physics and effects need updating.