Playing With The Enemy And Loving It



In the interest of full disclosure, I should make it clear up front that I have always been a loyal devotee of Gran Turismo. The series helped craft my automotive knowledge through middle school and high school, helped me choose the proper spring rates for my track rat in college, and generally consumed days and days of my young life. So when Turn 10 introduced Forza Motorsport for the Microsoft xBox in 2005, I was skeptical. Whereas Gran Turismo seemed to push the realism line ever further, Forza Motorsport felt laced with traces of Cruisin' USA or some other relic of the arcade circuit. But that was then.

The Forza Motorsport series has matured significantly over the intervening six years, and Forza Motorsport 4 has debuted as the pinnacle of xBox automotive entertainment. With over 80 manufacturers on hand and 22 tracks, each with multiple configurations, this latest version promises to be an eruption of digital motorsports glory.

With Gran Turismo 5 currently collecting dust and wallowing in a tepid pool of disappointment, it was finally time to give Forza another shot. Turn 10 was kind enough to provide a review copy as well as a loaner xBox 360 for a week. I tried not to look my Playstation 3 in the eye as I wired up the rival machine, brushed off any traitorous feelings and hit the power button. It was time to go racing.
I've spent the majority of my time with Forza Motorsport 4 in the World Tour portion of Career mode, working my way from adorable subcompact hatches to brawnier sheetmetal. The progression more or less follows the same path as other driving simulators, with one big exception. With each step up in driver level, players are rewarded with genuinely interesting cars to drive.

Visually, Forza Motorsport 4 sinks the Gran Turismo battleship.
Instead of filling your garage with 15 variations on the same obscure Japanese kei car, the crew at Turn 10 offers up a BMW 2002 Turbo or a Toyota Sprinter Trueno Apex. Even better, you can pick your victory car from a selection of similarly capable machines, so that you aren't just stuck with a default prize or a vehicle that you already own. As a result, you find yourself having fun almost by default. The variety of available vehicles is fantastic, and each one is rendered in painfully expert detail inside and out. Visually, Forza Motorsport 4 sinks the Gran Turismo battleship.

Turn 10 has also made Forza Motorsport 4 accessible for those who aren't diehard gearheads with a convenient vehicle class system. While we're more than a little irritated to find no specifications for victory cars available, each vehicle is broken down on a points and letter-grade system. This means that you won't find yourself wading into a race with a grossly over- or under-powered vehicle. At least not if you're paying attention. All you have to do is match up the classes, pay attention to your numbers and you're good to go. There's no balancing out power-to-weight ratios or performance modifications, and while purists may pine for their power graphs, the truth is that you spend less time flipping through menus and more time racing in Forza Motorsport 4. That's always a good thing.



In three days of racing, I never campaigned on the same track twice.
Turn 10 didn't just pour all of its resources into an impressive vehicle catalog, either. That same variety is applied to track selection. Instead of offering gamers the same reconstituted tracks, Forza Motorsport 4 delivers a wide range of venues spread all over the globe. In three days of racing, I never campaigned on the same track twice. Whether you're bashing fenders with a Ford Ka at Road Atlanta or nudging bumpers with an Escort RS Cosworth at Hockenheim, the track surface, background and lighting are all expertly executed. Of course, that variety also means that racers have to rely on their reactionary skill instead of course memorization, at least for the first lap or two.

I should probably lend a word or two to the driver AI in Forza Motorsport 4. Whereas Gran Turismo seems to be populated by a race of superhuman drivers who would rather fall on their own tire iron than miss an apex, Forza 4 lines you up against a virtual cast that actually has personality. Some are more cautious while others will go headlong into a hairpin and wind up playing in the gravel. As a result, you can't simply stick to the driver's line in front of you and hope for the best. That's a hard-earned lesson on a real track day, and it's no less true here.



That's not to say I'm completely won-over by Forza Motorsport 4. While the game boasts a revamped physics engine, the racing can feel a little over-assisted even with all of the driving aids turned off. While that makes the game more accessible for those who haven't been glued to a controller since The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones were acceptable party material, it also takes a good bit of the challenge out of the experience. The interaction between the car and the track feels a bit plasticized, which is a surprise given how beautifully everything is rendered.

Speaking of driver aids, the game defaults with every assist imaginable on. Not only are you provided with a driving line laid onto the track, but the game will also automatically slow you down if you're coming in too hot on the easiest settings. As with most real sports cars, you're going to have more fun when you turn everything off.



I'm also still a bit on the fence when it comes to Kinect integration in Forza Motorsport 4. While the system's head tracking is a step toward allowing gamers to finally look through an apex from inside their virtual helmet, the range of camera motion is a bit limited. Under tight turns, you'll need to snap a vertebra or two just to get your virtual self to look through the side glass. Even after playing with the sensitivity settings, we were frustrated to see the limited range of view. Unfortunately, we can't muster up any good words for Kinect in Autovista mode, either.

Theoretically, in Autovista mode your virtual self will move around a vehicle while Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame prattles on about the car's merits or lack thereof depending on how you move your body. The whole system had me swaying drunkenly, flailing my arms about and generally growing more irate by the second. I don't want to do an interpretive dance, damn it. I just want to open the door of the Ferrari 458 Italia. Do yourself a favor and stick to the controller on this one or you'll find yourself looking for things to fling about the living room.

New tech integration aside, Forza 4 is an impressive game. It lacks much of the technicality of Gran Turismo, but makes up for the deficit with excellent and engaging gameplay, an interesting and varied selection of vehicles and a wealth of detailed tracks. Is it enough to make me sell my Playstation 3 and finally become an xBox 360 convert? No, but I'll have no problem admitting that the Forza franchise has grown into an amazing effort from here on out.

With downloadable content available right from the launch date, each player can customize their game to suit their automotive tastes with packages that bundle similar metal together, including the currently-available Muscle Car pack. Forza Motorsport 4 is available starting October 11 with an MSRP of $59.99 for the standard edition and $79.99 for the limited collector's edition (above).

For a hardcore gamer's perspective, check out the Joystiq review of Forza Motorsport 4.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 123 Comments
      Kent Kangley
      • 3 Years Ago
      I was a Gran Turismo fanboy since the first game, but the gestation time for GT5 was so long, I bought an Xbox 360 and Forza 3 about a year ago to fill the waiting time. I fell in love with Forza. When GT5 came out and turned out to be such a disappointment, I went right back to playing Forza. I've prepaid for the collectors edition of Forza 4 at Gamestop and will be picking it up on my way home tonight.
      Bird2112
      • 3 Years Ago
      WAIT...the Bosstones aren't acceptable party music anymore? Bummer.
      Luke S.
      • 3 Years Ago
      "It lacks much of the technicality of Gran Turismo" Are you serious? Gran Turismo doesn't even let you adjust tire pressure.
      ticklmecho
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm LOVING Forza 4. Just a tip though, if you're already a veteran of driving sims, make sure you change the steering to SIMULATION. It makes a world of difference and changes the entire driving experience of the game into something bordering on sublime.
      jbm0866
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm not exactly a fanboy of either system, but I also grew up with GT being the mack daddy of all console racing games....but I have to admit that having both systems, I play Forza 3 more often and like it better than GT5. Forza 4 likely put the final nail in the GT5 coffin as far as I'm concerned. I'm going to Best Buy as soon as I get off work..
      Hawkson
      • 3 Years Ago
      I can never understand why reviewers almost never talk about sound in racing simulators. Being a real automotive journalist, I would have thought that Mr. Bowman would at least mention it... I've played the Gran Turismo series from it's inception and I've always been disappointed with the quality of sound despite all the hype. Forza 3 was fine, I loved the angry turbo V8 sound of the Callaway Sledgehammer Corvette. Maybe it's just an acoustical perversion on my part, but I think sound should play just as big of a role as graphics. It really helps with immersion...
        Luis Camino
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hawkson
        watch the 3rd and 4th videos in this forza 4 compilation. they're specifically about the sound in the game: http://www.autoblog.com.es/07/10/2011/los-mejores-videos-del-forza-motorsport-4/
        JRS200x
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hawkson
        The sound in Forza 4 is pretty damn impressive. Huge improvement over Forza 3 and light years beyond GT5 (which has the worst sounds of any racing game I have ever played for the past 2 generations). Each car sounds different and authentic and LOUD. Drive the RX-7 Spirit R, the level of detail in the engine sound is hugely impressive.
      JasonERF
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm in the minority of guys who actually dislike video games in general. I played tons in my teens but throughout my 20s - zero interest... However, I saw the Clarkson ad for Forza and now want to buy it and, obviously, an Xbox. I enjoy Halo with friends a couple times a year but I would probably not buy a single other game if this is as good as it seems. i know nothing about the xbox... lol... i just want a cheap one with 2 controllers... Damn you cars! Must you consistently permeate every part of my life!
      T0pgear
      • 3 Years Ago
      Anyone know if they shortened the loading times? While it has many upsides, F3 had a 30-60 second loading screen at every menu option click.
        StephenT
        • 3 Years Ago
        @T0pgear
        My FM3 recently developed a problem when you tried to test drive a car. The little indicator would sit there and spin for a long time then the audio would go into a loop and keep repeating itself. It would load up for a race though so I'm guessing it's a fault of some sort. I need to find a new FM3 for cheap because I want keep using it for Porsche and Aussie V8 Supercars.
          onewayroll
          • 3 Years Ago
          @StephenT
          I seen FM3 for 15 bucks at wallmart....good buy
      jumpmanjay
      • 3 Years Ago
      are you sure you played with the steering on simulation, the tcs off and the asm off? cause at least in the demo, it was a real challenge to keep the 458 at a decent speed in any high speed corner without spinning. it sure felt very raw and realistic to me.
        StephenT
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jumpmanjay
        I'm wondering the same thing because I had real trouble with the Mercury Cougar set on simulation. My copy has arrived and I'll pick it up after work. Can't wait to see how it plays.
        Mindspin311
        • 3 Years Ago
        @jumpmanjay
        A car that cannot take high-speed corner without spinning is realistic?
          jumpmanjay
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Mindspin311
          when playing with the controller and not giving it just the slightest of movements, yes. basically on simulation, pushing the controller stick to either side is the equivalent of spinning the steering wheel in a split second. you cant do that in a real car when going 100+ mph. you will spin.
      johncuyle
      • 3 Years Ago
      A little confused about the lack of technicality comment. If you press down on the dpad while doing testing or watching a replay of a race you get access to a huge amount of tuning information from realtime suspension stats (compression/extension) to actual camber, traction circles, traction circles for each individual tire, real time tire pressures, tire temps, tire temp zones (inner, middle, outer, just like you'd measure with a pyrometer) and a host of other information which is necessary for properly tuning a car and which, unless they decided to add it for GT5 (the only GT game I have not played) has never been available in a GT game. You're basically guessing at camber and tire pressures in GT. There's no way to know if you're even close to being right. With Forza you can actually set a car up, and it works. I've prepped a car to basically be set up like my daily driver (a Miata with the Spec Miata suspension) and the car in-game handles almost exactly like my streetcar. It's impressive. Also, as someone else said, if you're racing with a controller there's still going to be some assist. Buy a wheel.
        nvedamuthu
        • 3 Years Ago
        @johncuyle
        The wheel in Forza only records 270 degrees of rotation even if you use a 900 degree wheel. They say they are working on a fix.
        Rotation
        • 3 Years Ago
        @johncuyle
        That information is not in GT5. Most of the info is superfluous though. The tire temperature info is a notable exception (it's invaluable for tuning) and the torque output figures are helpful for picking gear ratios, although I wish they just presented plots life everyone else. I've only played the demo, but there's assist even with the wheel.
      WatchF1
      • 3 Years Ago
      Forza tuner. Get the app or use a link. Tune a car. Tinker with the suspension. Revel at the amount of changes you can make in Forza. Now pick the same car in Gran Turismo. /sadface.
      tvelt92
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just got the game and it is amazing. The graphics are way better than GT5 (in my opinion), and so are the physics and engine sounds. The autovista feature is fantastic, almost like a virtual showroom on your tv. I would definitely recommend getting the game, especially if you were into forza 3.
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