It's not just about the racing
While it’s difficult to convey in a press release or a review, the non-racing options in Forza Motorsport are occasionally as time consuming and entertaining as the actual racing itself. While you can certainly do nothing but non-stop races until you’re blue in the face, FM4 does a great job giving you a lot of fun things to play around with off the track. For the gearhead gamer, car tuning is still as addictive as ever, and dialing in your car’s settings will eat up many hours. Browsing the online content is also a huge time sink; the number of cool cars for sale on the auction house and seriously impressive fan made content are great fun to peruse.
FM4’s simple menus and interface make finding what you want simple and effective, and both are leagues better than FM3’s somewhat messy layout. Car clubs allow direct access with your friends and their vehicles, and the auction house, race area and storefront are easy to navigate. The car clubs also allow players to freely swap cars with one another, drastically reducing the amount of time you'll have to spend grinding for a race specific car. FM4 even gives you a daily cash bonus for checking into your message box and seeing what’s up online. The number of things you can dicker around with in FM4 are vast and fun to browse, especially the Rival challenges.
Well, maybe it is
Even if you’re not the kind of gamer that enjoys meeting up with others at an appointed time to play, the Rival mode offers a great alternative, establishing a set challenge for every Forza player to complete. A lot of the challenges are pulled directly from Top Gear itself, and ask you to complete certain challenges in certain cars on specific courses. The game pits you against people on your friends list first, then more advanced ones if you manage to beat them. Beating your target opponent awards you with a “bounty” of credits and some XP.
It should be noted that the XP bonus from racing online is definitely in line with the XP you get in World Tour mode, making leveling up strictly via online play a viable option. There’s enough events in FM4 that you can also make it through a large portion of the game in a single vehicle. Not that you’d have to though, as the game is constantly rewarding you with gift vehicles. Every time your driver level goes up you’re given the choice of a number of themed cars. Allowing the player to chose their prize car is a genius touch and should be the new standard for the genre.
Of course we couldn’t call this a review without a mention of the driving itself. FM3 had a great simulation feel that you could tweak by turning off the assists, but FM4 takes it a step further. While hardcore players will probably ignore it entirely, FM4 features both steering and braking assists that can help even the greenest newbie make it around the track without putting their car into a wall. FM4’s driving feel makes the difference between front wheel, rear wheel and all wheel drive cars immediately apparent, and if you insist on getting on the gas too soon out of a turn, you’ll quickly find yourself over or under steering into a wall. Even with the assists all turned off, Forza’s low level cars are very manageable, though the higher level race cars require a delicate throttle finger.
While we try not to get hung up on graphics, FM4 looks amazing. Gran Turismo 5 is no slouch, but the lighting in FM4 really impresses; when the light hits your car at just the right angle, you'll notice a bright flash off the mirrors just as you would in real life. And not to sound too snarky, but while the number of cars in FM4 may technically be half of those in GT5, none of them look like they were pulled directly from the PS2. FM4 is also the first driving game we’ve played where we really noticed how great the backgrounds look. While less picturesque courses like Infineon are accurate but a little drab, the Swiss Alps and Amalfi tracks are stunning. The game's graphics and attention to detail truly shine in Autovista mode.
Above: Two old British guys talking adds a surprising amount of character to the game
In our preview, I dismissed the Autovista feature as something you might only look at once or twice. After sitting down with it though, it definitely justifies itself as more than just a tacked on mode to pitch Kinect. You unlock a number of vehicles in Autovista by completing a small challenge for each, usually a short race or Top Gear challenge. Each car is rendered flawlessly, and the commentary from Jeremy Clarkson and Forza veteran Peter Egan is funny, informative and interesting. For the true gearhead or car geek, the Autovista mode is a lot of fun. It also allows players to get a little taste of what they traditionally miss out on in sim games, the feel of the car as a complete thing. Get in, turn the engine on, learn a little about the make’s history and the people that made the car. We didn’t know the McLaren F1 had a special compartment panel in the side for custom made luggage, now we do. While it’s certainly easier to render still objects than it is a full field of moving cars, we have to say that Autovista really impressed us, it’s the ultimate in car porn.