As much as I would love to get through this review without mentioning Polyphony Digital’s, Gran Turismo 5, the two games are now so intrinsically joined at the hip that attempting to do so would surely prove an effort in futility. Like Pro Evolution Soccer and FIFA or more recently, Call of Duty and Battlefield, these games have become so intertwined to the point that they essentially represent different sides of the same coin. While this is certainly true of Forza 4 and GT5, there are certainly enough differences between the two games to make them wholly unique experiences and both so full of quality that it really doesn’t matter which title you choose.
But choose you must. As great as it would be if we could all just get along, the fact of the matter is, gamers will argue the case for each title until they are blue in the face. Be it a simple matter of preference or the altogether darker art of console bias, these two games are destined to duke it out across a million flame bated internet forums in the months and years to come.
So, to get straight to the point – which game is better? Well, that’s a tricky question. If you are comparing Forza 4 with a launch copy of GT5, then Turn 10’s supremely polished, extremely modern take on digital motorsport takes the crown by virtue of ease of use alone, but when you take into consideration the recently released GT5 2.0 patch, things arguably swing the other way. Despite being unable to match Forza 4’s incomparable online capabilities, GT5 2.0 just about pips it thanks to the game’s pure passion for all things automotive. I would stress however that it really is down to a matter of taste – be it Forza 4’s clinical perfection or GT5’s more loving tribute, both games delivery truly outstanding experiences.
Despite Turn 10’s latest effort once again favoring precision over passion, there is little doubt that Forza 4 represents their finest attempt yet to meet somewhere in the middle. With slightly wilder handling, more oversteer across the board and a basic reward scheme based on your driving skills, this is a game that really encourages you to push the limits of each car’s control, to take them to the edge and to swing into each corner with your back end hanging out like a boy racer with a little too much Red Bull in his system. It’s not quite Project Gotham Racing, but Forza 4 is certainly a more aggressive driving experience than it predecessors. It doesn’t quite capture the finely tuned, edge of your seat handling found in GT5, but it is the most enjoyable driving model Turn 10 has yet delivered and, as usual, is home to the kind of crazy feedback and information overload that racing fans will absolutely lap up.
Beyond delivering a more enjoyable driving experience, there is little question that Forza 4 is far and away the best looking game in the series to date. While additional details and general improvements are apparent throughout, it is the all new Image Based Lighting technology that really steals the show. Despite the disappointing lack of dynamic weather effects, each track is beautifully realized and enhanced via the game’s truly fantastic lighting system. Whether you are racing under sunny skies or overcast clouds, Forza 4 is a game that consistently pushes the ageing 360 architecture to its very limits. The lack of any truly memorable new tracks is a disappointment, with Forza once again relying a little too heavily on its well worn track selection, but the ones available are all beautifully recreated and deliver an almost universally enjoyable racing challenge.
As usual though, it’s the cars that quite rightly steal the show. While home to an obvious favoring of the game’s vast collection of supercars and fan favorites, Forza 4’s cast of 500+ cars does not see the drop off in quality that was so apparent in GT5. Each and every car in the game seems to have been recreated with the kind of love usually reserved for the Ferrari’s and Porche’s of this world. It may be lacking some of the more unique inclusions found in GT5 but in terms of consistent quality, Forza 4 is second to none.
In fact, the only aspect of the game in which favoritism is clearly enforced is in the game’s highly impressive Autovista mode. With only 25 cars available, you can take a walk around this Kinect-enabled showroom and get up close and personal with this carefully chosen selection of automotive masterpieces. Encouraged by the wisecracking Jeremy Clarckson, you can use either Kinect or a controller to get an idea of the level of accuracy and attention to detail that Turn 10 has achieved for Forza 4. As good as they look on the track, when viewed in this mode, this collection of 25 cars represents the most realistically rendered collection of cars ever committed to a videogame. I appreciate that photorealism is a term that has been thrown around with gay abandon in recent years, but this really is the closest anyone has actually come to achieving that goal.
While the fact that Kinect works fine in this mode won’t come as any surprise given the rather pedestrian nature of showroom viewing, what is surprising is just how successfully Microsoft’s no hands control scheme has been implemented into the core gameplay. It’s still a far cry from replacing the controller, but taking on steering with nowt in your hands but fresh air is a surprisingly enjoyable and, more importantly, viable way to play. At the end of the day though, with the exception of the most casual of players, you’re unlikely to use Kinect-based steering for any great length of time. What you might keep using it for, however, is for its head movement scanning. Combined with the new dynamic in-car camera (think a toned down version of Need for Speed Shift), Kinect’s head movement scanning subtly eases the camera towards each corner’s apex, thus making turns a more natural and realistic proposition. It may not be a game changing new way to play, but it does stand as one of the interesting ways that Kinect can be combined with a more traditional control scheme to good effect.
In terms of game modes, Turn 10 once again deliver more content than your average gamer could ever hope to get through. The single player experience is centered on the World Tour mode and, while still a little short on personality, it’s good to see that Turn 10 has clearly made the effort to make it a more appealing and involving experience this time around. Helped along by the always pleasing Peter Egan, World Tour mode delivers challenges based on your current car and those held in your garage. It still lacks the personality of Codemasters’ more involving single player experiences but it’s a step in the right direction, and will certain deliver hours upon hours of racing for those who choose to take it on. The AI still seem blissfully unaware of your existence and rubber-banding is still a little too prevalent for my tastes, but the majority of races are highly entertaining affairs and can naturally be played from the most casual to hardcore of settings.
While the return of Arcade mode and a host of basic single player options make solo play a solid option, it’s once again in the online arena that Forza truly soars above the competition. Even with the additions that have come from the 2.0 patch, GT5 is still light years behind the online options and game modes available in Forza 4 – but then again, so is just about every other racer out there to be honest. With the usual, never ending array of online challenges and game modes, it’s down to the new Rivals mode to take the online experience even further for Forza 4. Playing like a toned down take on EA’s Autolog system, Rivals delivers a host of car and track specific challenges that are marked up against your friends list and, failing that, the rest of the online world. It’s not quite as robust as the all encompassing Autolog but it does provide an extremely inviting set of challenges for those looking to push a particular car and course to its very limits. It’s here, when pushing yourself to get everything out of your chosen car, that Forza’s fantastic handling and brilliant track design really comes into its own. Many of the tracks fail to capture the imagination from a visual standpoint, but that is of little concern when you are fighting tooth and nail to shave half a second of your fastest lap time.
Speaking of shaving seconds off your fastest lap time, few tracks will push you towards obsession quite like the Top Gear test track. Although previously seen in GT5, its implementation here goes much deeper, and, thanks to the inclusion of Jeremy Clarkson and a true to TV replay system, feels like the definitive recreation of the show’s famous challenge. The inclusion of the Kia Cee’d (the shows reasonably priced car) also adds an extra bit of authenticity while also upping the overall challenge by encouraging every gamer to take on the track in the same car.
Outside of the actual driving, there is the usual array of outrageously deep bodywork paint options which, when combined with the returning auction houses and storefronts, can easily steal away months of your life. Car Clubs also rock up, allowing players to share and swap cars without the need for game credits which are surprisingly tricky to come by. Given the constant rewards lavished upon as you play, it’s surprising how stingy Turn 10 have been with the credit system…..it couldn’t be anything to do with the fact that you can buy additional credits with real money…..could it? Nah, surely not.
You know, I could go on for days about the level of polish, attention to detail and myriad of options that run through every aspect of Forza’s design, but I have to stop somewhere and now seems as good a spot as any. The fact is, Forza Motorsport 4 is a fantastic game. Whether it is superior to Polyphony’s latest is a matter of taste, but in its own right, Forza 4 is rarely anything less than fantastic. The handling, the improved visuals, the online options, it all comes together effortlessly to create a truly spectacular digital racing experience. The question is, with such an incredible degree of depth and polish already on display, where does Forza go from here? The future surely lies with the next generation of Xbox, as I for one would be amazed if Turn 10 managed to squeeze another ounce of potential out of the 360.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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