With Forza 3, Turn 10 studios finally cracked it, producing a game that improved on the rather bloodless racing that marred Forza 2 and finally matched Gran Turismo for cars, tracks and game modes. So, where to take the series next? Turn 10’s answer is both a refinement and a whopping great expansion, with a revised graphics engine, career structure and handling model, all tied into a bumper package of cars, tracks and modes that makes Forza 4 the most comprehensive rival Gran Turismo has ever faced. It’s a generous game, in every way possible, and one that bends over backwards, forwards and sideways to please anyone with an interest in four-wheeled autos.
And by everyone, we mean everyone. Microsoft has sensibly held back from pushing Kinect features into every area of the game, but this is still one of the most Kinect-friendly ‘hardcore’ games that the company has released to date. The new Kinect steering mode – with CPU-controlled acceleration and braking – is restricted to simple one-off races and challenge events, but it works surprisingly well, and if it gives younger gamers and families a simple,fun way into Forza, all the better.
Navigating the game’s numerous nested menus through voice is arguably easier than doing so with a controller, and if the much-trumped AutoVista feature is a flashy gimmick, then at least it’s a good flashy gimmick. Through a series of simple pointing, leaning swiping and grabbing gestures it’s possible to check out the cockpits, curves and engines of a good range of luxury cars of the sort that most of us will never see physically, and if the occasional bits of Jeremy Clarkson commentary get perilously close to self parody, then at least they make the experience a bit less clinical.
But then you don’t really splash out $40 on a new Forza to look at cars or waggle an imaginary steering wheel: you do it for an authentic experience of driving. Here Forza 4 excels. The game uses a new handling model based not solely on manufacturer data but also on tyre data from Pirelli, which Turn 10 claims has transformed Forza’s physics simulation. Well, it’s hard to say whether Forza 4 beats GT5’s famously realistic handling, but it certainly matches it. While - tragically - you won’t find us driving high-end Jags and Ferraris on our weekends, the cars in Forza 4 handle like you imagine that they should. And if you don’t agree, check your current difficulty settings. Should you find you’re not working hard enough while keeping vehicles on the road at high speed, then it’s time to start switching some assists off. As we said, Forza really tries hard to give everyone a good time, and not just those of us who want our driving sims accurate and exacting.
The graphics, too, are fabulous,with Turn 10’s brand new lighting engine doing a spectacular job of knitting cars and tracks together to make one sometimes hyper-realistic scene, with the kind of rich, natural light that Hollywood cinematographers would wait all day for. If Forza 2 suffered from an excess of sterile-looking race-tracks, then Forza 4 goes even further than Forza 3 in redressing the balance, with a new sprint through a stunning alpine track a particular highlight. The cars are beautifully modeled, and the whole thing looks like a moving photo-shoot for a particularly glossy high-end car magazine. A quick spin along the Amalfi coast in a classic sixties Alfa Romeo leaves you pondering the unfairness of a life in which you’ll never get to do this for real.