When we recently sat down with Forza Motorsport 4 it was hard to mask the giddy excitement bubbling inside of us. We loved Forza 3 , and after being more than a little let down by Gran Turismo 5, there’s a very real chance that Forza may finally take the racing game throne. Our recent hands-on let us go whole hog with a near completed version of the game, letting us tear through as much of the campaign and the other features as we could. And from what we've seen, things are looking good.
Above: It's loud, uncomfortable, gets terrible mileage, and costs a fortune to get serviced. As if you care at all.
After a short introduction from Turn 10’s Creative Director Dan Greenawalt, it was clear that he’s as passionate about cars as the fans. One of FM4’s core ideas is bringing like-minded gearheads together, and the renewed focus on the community aspects are clear evidence of that. For a lot of people that played FM3, there were likely a few trips to the auction house to satisfy the Achievement requirements, but a somewhat clunky interface soured the experience.
FM4’s new car clubs aim to fix that by not only allowing easy access to your friends, but easy access to their decal designs, tune set-ups and even their cars. That’s right, club members have unfettered access to each other's garages, drastically expanding the number of available cars. Just make sure to top off the gas and put the seat back when you’re done. Club members also get official titles, ranging from club president and vice president, to club tuner or designer.
The online features naturally extend to competition, and the Rival challenges allow you to set lap times on courses and then challenge your friends to beat them, a la Need for Speed’s “Speed Wall” feature. But there’s more than just pride on the line here, best your rival’s time and you’ll receive XP and cash, meaning that if you’re not fond of going solo through the World Tour (career mode), you can level up solely through the multiplayer.
Above: Forza 4's lighting engine is better than ever and features ex-members of Pixar
Turn 10 has definitely learned lessons from its previous games, and FM4 is making a concentrated effort to break away from some of the dusty old tropes that we've come to accept in racing games. Winning a race still awards a car, but instead of one prize car, each race offers you a choice of themed vehicles, meaning there’s almost always at least one car you’ll actually want. They’ve also drastically reduced the amount of time it takes to get awesome cars into your garage. While you do have to start World Tour with the same old econo-buckets, you'll only have to use them for one or two races before you get something more fun. The rapid pace at which awesome cars build up in your garage is very rewarding, and we had a dozen legit sports cars in our garage after only a few hours of playing.
As in FM3, the game tailors the World Tour events to the cars in your garage. If you have a number of 80s rear wheel drive Japanese cars sitting around, you'll be offered events specifically for those cars. FM4 maintains the idea that you should be allowed to drive the cars you want for as long as you want, and the in-depth upgrading makes that possible. While later races will be focused primarily on race cars, there's plenty of low and mid-level events to complete if you prefer tuning a few favorites. We swapped a big engine into our AE86 Corolla GT-S, and had an unassuming little monster that could keep up with much faster looking vehicles.