Forza 4 is so passionate about cars and racing it's contagious. Quite simply, developers Turn 10 get it. They understand that special feeling, smell and adrenaline that comes with racing and car enthusiasm. They celebrate it unabashedly and they share this passion with you with such meticulous attention to the presentation and mechanics that the game transcends the ordinary and verges on the spectacular.
The Autovista mode is the perfect representation of this passion. It showcases a huge array of cars - although not the full roster of 500 - one model at a time, recreated with absolutely precision. A large empty hanger provides the stark background whilst the car of your choice sits in the centre, rendered to an awe inspiring level of realism. The shiny paintwork begs to be touched whilst you move the camera around the vehicle. Additionally you can highlight parts of the car to bring up narration on its performance and design, as well taking a closer look at the engine, boot, wheels and driver's seat to really appreciate it up close. And with a large amount of the narration done by Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson, the enthusiasm is enhanced that little bit more, adding an authenticity to the whole experience. And then, of course, you can take these dream machines out for a drive.
The main mode is World Tour, a dynamic set of events that follows you choices of competitions and vehicles around the world in your racing career from newbie to world champion. The dynamic nature means several events are available to choose from depending on your available cars, meaning there are hundreds of events to come back to as you progress. Variety is also impressive with your standard races mixed up with one on one battles through traffic, precision obstacle dodging, and even bowling pin knock down challenges. You'll also feel compelled to keep playing by a very speedy level progression, which grants you a new gift car every time you level up leading to further races and challenges to experience in an entirely new motor. It also means you won't have to waste money on cars for specific races and can instead use your hard earned cash on upgrading what you already have.
Your affinity also levels up as you remain loyal to specific car manufacturers. The larger your affinity level, the more of a saving you'll receive on upgrades as well as cash bonus in races. With customisation being a major part of the Forza experience, these saving will certainly come in useful as you pop the hood and start tuning your collection of cars. Like with Forza 3 you can also mess with the colours and decals to create completely custom paintjob, and you can even export previous designs over from Forza 3 as well as extra cash and cars from your progress.
Forza 4 doesn't feature any Porsches this year due to a licensing disagreement but with 500 cars running the gamut of other manufacturers you're likely not to miss them, although many are familiar from the previous title. There are 26 tracks top race around although once again many of which have been seen before in the previous titles, however, the Infineon raceway, the Hockenheimring and a utterly gorgeous fictional course in the Bernese Alps adds some variety as you dash around raceways, through lush countryside.
Leaderboards are also back for setting fast lap times but they've now been enhanced with the new rivals mechanic. You can choose to compete is specialised events from motorcross to specific challenges set by Top Gear against a set rival chosen based on you leaderboard position. Beating your rival nets you a bonus and allows you to climb above them on the leaderboard, giving you a new rival for the next time. You can also manually choose rivals to try for bigger bonuses and compete and friends.
Multiplayer returns with standard racing for up to 16 players, tag and virus for more arcade fun with players chasing each other around tracks to tag or infect respectively, and a cat and mouse mode where teams use defensive driving techniques to slow the opposition whilst others head for the finish line. The community features havealso been expanded to include clubs where you join other players, sharing a garage and benefiting from the collective's bounty of tuned and painted cars. You also have the store and auction house allow you to buy and sell your creations.
Feedback in controls has been greatly improved. Subtle use of the controller's rumble feature, the sound of your engine and tyres, and the feel of your car informs you of exactly what's happening on the road, giving you chance to counter any problems or, at the very least, learn from them. You can feel a spinout coming as your control loosens when careening round corners and hear your engine chug and tyres moan if you have a collision or head off road. It also highlights the subtle differences between cars and when you tune a car's components. It's technically impressive and brilliantly informative and will turn advanced players in to expert ones.
However, the Forza series has always sported great accessibility and Forza 4 continues that trend. A number of assists can be activated and deactivated to adjust the overall difficulty and make the experience as accessible or technical as you desire. On the easiest setting speed is automatically determined and driving lines are present to guide your position, as well as the rewind ability returning which allows you to rewind time if you should mess up a particular section. The hardest setting leaves everything up to you and includes no rewind ability, damage affecting your cars performance, and a new simulated steering option. You are also encouraged to turn more of the assists off by an earning's multiplier that increases as less assists are activated. And regardless of what assists are activated you're also incentivised to drive better by receiving additional credits for passing other vehicles without crashing and taking corners precisely.
Achieving the perfect overtake to net these extra credits is a difficult challenge. The AI is aggressive and responsive, blocking your advances and jostling for position with other AI cars. Once you do get out in front, however, it's hard to lose first position with the AI often failing to catch up. Overall though, the AI shows remarkable personality, down to even losing control when put under pressure.
The much talked about Kinect functionality really only acts as a gimmicky extra. The Autovista mode allows you to open and close the door as well as peak at the car and their assets with gestures and actual motion but works just as well, if not a little smoother, with the controller. Driving with Kinect isn't bad but can only be done with the assists turned on for acceleration. The best use of Kinect is through the head tracking, which allows you to check your side mirrors and look out your side windows at what's immediately around you. It does come in pretty handy with the driver view but a third-person view without Kinect works just as well.
One omission Forza 4 still hasn't addressed are night courses and weather effects. Time of day and road temperature are present and make a difference but it feels like a missed opportunity not to have rain slice or snow covered roads to navigate.
Otherwise Foza 4 is an exceptional driving title. It looks absolutely gorgeous, with lighting and car detail looking truly breath taking. Even the environments look impressive, although the occasional tree looks artificial and vehicle damage isn't overly realistic.
Forza 4 really is a must buy driving game for Xbox 360 owners. It still has a little work to do in the future to hit perfection but it's not far off.