Game Review: Forza Motorsport 4Juxtapoz // Thursday, 20 Oct 2011
Racing games have a reputation of being all show and no go; the visuals often lead the industry in quality, but the gameplay is little more then recycled simulators that we have been racing for years. With the nitch exceptions being Gran Turismo (Simulator), Need for Speed (Arcade), and Burnout (Crash n' Burn), Forza Motorsport 4 has joined the ranks, with potential to combine these niches into one hell of a game.
Now the Forza title is nothing new; it is the 4th installment of the game, but the first version that I personally have enjoyed. (So much so that I have been procrastinating writing this review, because every time I sit down to write, I end up thinking about the game, and eventually playing it. And this isn't even my genre of game!) This could have something to do with the integration of the Top Gear franchise, which has long been a fancy of this petrol head. The intro sequence, narrated by Jeremy Clarkson, is a wonderfully cinematic piece that will have the octane flowing in your veins in minutes. Plus the randomly scattered "Top Gear" challenges, often times involving bowling pins, bring levity and fun to an often frustrating game. However, this game isn't; you won't fight the controls, fight your friend because they cheat and ride the rail to victory, or a Ford Focus won't pass you (as it wouldn't in real life). The game is good at what it's supposed to be good at … being a simulator.
Most racing games nowadays allow you the chance to upgrade your vehicle. Now these upgrades can have a varying effect on your car, ranging from "did that do anything" to "YEEE HAAA." Forza 4 merges these two ideas into what I can determine is the most realistic tuning I have experienced. The sway bars prevent roll, the horsepower upgrades really do put the ponies on, and the weight drops really can make all the difference. Tuning can make or break you in this game. (Sure your Mercedes SL may not be able to compete in this class, but tune it up and watch that baby purr). Now this works both ways, when you downgrade you can feel it. Several times the game required me to lower the class of my vehicle to race; this is when I noticed how just adding more weight to the car to bring its class down is not a good option, you need balance in your tuning. Once the race starts though, you no longer think of the car, the speed, or your competitors, it's pure eye candy.
Visual appeal has never been lacking when it comes to Forza. It has always been known as a beautiful game, but this beautiful? I am not sure. The candy coated paints, the chrome wheels, the immaculate landscapes, and the lines that each vehicle designer painstakingly tormented over really shine in the game. They have brought real-time damage to another level, making it more prominent and recognizable then ever before. Most games slap on damage with the half hazard accuracy of those bullet hole stickers you see on a 1994 Camry. This game shows the right rear bumper dented-in just so as you tap the bumper of the gentlemen in front of you, as well as the completely destroyed side panel of the opponent you just slammed into a wall. Damage costs money, and can cost you the race if you damage enough of your engine, (I did this more then a few times). Of course this is all optional in the settings, but this is what makes these games fun! Sure companies will tell you that what really makes these games fun is the full immersion experience, complete with their crappy steering wheel accessories. Usually I avoid these gimmicks like the plague, but for the first time, an accessory actually made the game better.
The Microsoft 360 Wireless Speed Wheel was sent along with the game, and I gave it a glance, but not much more then that until we started playing. After a few races we decided to try the Kinect way of driving, by simulating holding an invisible steering wheel while the game accelerates and brakes for you automatically. This was not fun, and almost turned me off the game completely. But we decided to give the physical steering wheel a try, and never looked back. The Speed Wheel is light enough to hold for extended periods of time, while being heavy enough to feel solid and comfortable in your hands. The lights on the top light up as you accelerate and decelerate, almost supplementing haptic feedback. The turning control is snappy enough, and sensitive enough to let you squeeze through the tiniest openings, while not careening you into the wall at the slightest twitch. This actually puts you in the game more so then any steering wheel I have tried in the past, and without pedals! Pedals, often sliding around the floor, are placed in awkward positions so you can't "put the pedal to the metal", or make you use two feet which just doesn't work for your average driver. Moving these controls to the triggers on the wheel was a much better option.
I have now been playing this game for about two weeks now, and without a doubt this is the longest reign any racing sim has had on my Xbox ever. My friends and I play for hours on end, with countless upgrades, vehicles, and challenges at our whim. This has brought me into the world of racing, when I almost always defer these titles to a friend, this time I won't be relinquishing my game. Forza 4 is a racing game for me, my friends, and anyone I have shown it to. Now let me put down the keyboard, and pick up the controller.
—Nick Lattner / Juxtapoz Video Game Editor
—Nathan Smith / Photographer