Tech News on G4
'Forza 4' a race anyone can finish
Nov 29, 2011
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
By all accounts, it's a wonder simulation games exist at all as a racing sub-genre. Sims feel so niche, with their focus on spending time in virtual garages while tweaking engine and suspension settings, mixing and matching paint jobs and decals, or putting vehicles you spent dozens of hours of work into on the line in a single winner-takes-all race.
In this day and age where instant gratification typically trumps working toward a reward, it seems even less likely for racing sims to exist. But with the latest entry in the Forza Motorsport series, developer Turn 10 Studios has managed to put together what may be the best simulation/arcade hybrid ever.
The name "Forza" conjures up certain assumptions in gamers, but right from the get-go, Forza 4 shows itself as something different. Its presentation is as slick as a rain-covered race track, and despite a dizzying array of things to do in the game, it's never overwhelming getting to where you want to be. Whether you want to advance in your career, race online, check the latest challenges, or just take some pictures of your latest ride, it's all easy to find and easy to get to.
A lot of people are presumably going to want to do one of two things right off the bat, which is start their own career mode, or check out cars, and both options are available directly from the main screen. The former is fairly self-explanatory. In career mode, you take any number of vehicles you choose, and simply complete races over the course of several "seasons", with each season consisting of several events.
As you'd expect, the competition you're up against becomes much faster as you progress in career mode, and you encounter some extremely challenging tracks from all over the world. You may have your heart set on using a certain vehicle, and if it's not mechanically up to the challenge of competitors in a certain race, players are given the option of automatically tweaking their vehicle at the touch of a button. In other words, it takes a matter of seconds to create something that's up to par with the grid you're taking on. You just have to have the cash available to do so.
Though most of these events involve straight-up races to the finish line, Turn 10 sprinkles in a few just-for-fun challenges such as the slalom-like Auto Cross, and Car Bowling. The latter puts you on a short track where you have to reach a certain score by driving your vehicle into bowling pins set up among the asphalt. These challenges are few and far between, but they're a nice way to break up the action.
Autovista mode, meanwhile, allows players to virtually "kick the tires" so to speak. It's here that vehicles are put on display in all their gleaming perfection. You'll find nary a smudge or fingerprint as you walk around vehicles, poking under the hood or starting the engine. This mode also has Kinect functionality, allowing you to crane your neck around to view a certain aspect of a vehicle or to step inside. The Kinect stuff isn't perfect - even opening or closing a door can be cumbersome - but it is kind of neat looking around a vehicle or reaching for the ignition start button.
Earning possession of vehicles comes in a variety of ways. The game offers up a choice of several rides each time you reach a new level in career mode. You can buy cars the old fashioned way by earning credits and purchasing them. There's also an in-depth online auction where you can purchase cars put together by other Forza 4 players, or sell your own creations. You can even purchase extras such as paint jobs if you'd like.
Once purchased, you can do all the minute tweaking your oil-filled heart could ever desire. This stuff is never forced on you, but for the real gear heads, you could spend hours adding stuff to your works of art on wheels. Again though, to cater to the more casual crowd, you can always do automatic upgrades, where the game will add parts for you depending on what you need, such as improving your vehicle to a new class.
How about the actual driving in Forza 4? In a word, it's fantastic. You can add as much or as little assistance as you want depending, once again, on just how comfortable you are. Turning on things like brake assist, suggested lines and simulation damage, and turning off features like the rewind function, will make completing races a lot easier, but will earn you less cash.
I found myself starting with a lot of assistance, and slowly turning things off as I progressed through career mode. Changing even one setting can result in a noticeable difference, so just be aware going in that you may need a lot of help at first. Few people in the world could successfully drive a Lamborghini Gallardo on Japan's Tsukuba Circuit - in real life or the world of Forza 4 - without hitting a few walls, after all. There's no shame in using ABS or assisted steering.
Like Autovista, there's basic Kinect functionality when racing. You simply hold your hands up like you're holding a steering wheel, and turn left or right. The game brakes and accelerates for you, effectively making this mode even more simplistic than your average Mario Kart. It works well, but chances are it will keep only the most casual of gamers occupied for longer than a race or two.
The tracks are also very faithfully reproduced as well. I've driven a Porsche Panamera on Road America at Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin, and though I couldn't recreate that exact setup in the game (there are sadly no Porsches in Forza 4), it was a blast going through the virtual track.
That said, one issue I have with Forza 4 is that there are no weather effects at all. You'll be driving either in the middle of the day, or during sunrise or sunset, and always in perfect conditions on a dry track. It would be awesome taking on Mazda Laguna Seca - or any of the numerous tracks, really - after a rain shower has passed through.
The online portion is of course a great way to hone your skills and earn bragging rights. Hopping into races is extremely easy, and if you're dropped into a lobby where a race is already in session, you can view the whole thing from the (outside) view of any participating vehicle.
There's a lot more to the Forza 4 community, including daily challenges offered by Turn 10, such as rival events where you're asked to beat the time of another driver. Needless to say, you're constantly being given new challenges to attempt, and like any good online-enabled game these days, there's plenty of reason to keep coming back.
My big gripe with the whole online experience is with the uploading of files. You can take pictures in high-definition through the game, and then download them through the Forza 4 website, but besides taking a ridiculously long time to upload pictures from the Xbox 360, there were numerous times where an upload was just about to finish, and then promptly failed outright, meaning up to 10 minutes or more completely wasted. In addition, each person can only have one asset (picture or video) uploaded to their Forza 4 space at any time.
There are a few other small issues I have with the game. The biggest one that I'm sure won't be shared with many others is my disdain for the game's narrator, Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson. For the most part he keeps his annoying opinions and pathetic attempts at attention and humour to a minimum, but he still manages to slag Porsche, which is all the more grating considering that automaker's vehicles aren't in the game.
Despite a few issues, Forza Motorsport 4 is still one of the best games to be released in 2011. It has a ton of content to keep players busy, it offers something to every type of player out there that’s looking for a racing game, it looks gorgeous, and it's simply a ton of fun.
If you've ever wanted to join the racing sim club but felt way too overwhelmed by what's been offered in previous years, Forza 4 acts as the perfect garage door opener.
Forza Motorsport 4
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