Forza Motorsport 4 Hands-On Preview – To Affinity and Beyond
Written Friday, September 23, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
If there's one thing that Turn 10 has nailed home time and again with the Forza series, it's all about passion for cars and passion for racing. Getting our teeth into Forza Motorsport 4's Career Mode we're immediately drawn in with a fittingly passionate intro narrated by Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson. “We are an endangered species,” Clarkson begins, before going into a long, entertaining spiel about how passion for cars makes us outsiders in a world obsessed with economy and global warming. “But there is a haven...” he continues. “And it's all here for you to explore.” Welcome to Forza Motorsport 4. This is a place for passionate petrolheads, even if they are a dying breed.
You then begin the game going straight into the driver's seat of Forza 4's cover star, the Ferrari 458 Italia, doing a celebratory lap of the stunning Bernese Alps circuit with several other equally desirable cars, but that doesn't stop us from muscling through the pack with a few knocks and scrapes to take first place. Upon completing the just-for-fun lap, you're then invited to pick your first car from a selection of little compact hatchbacks, and it's here that you might want to choose your loyalty to a particular marque, as sticking with the same manufacturer can reap benefits as you level up, courtesy of Forza 4's 'Affinity System'. So opting for a Ford Ka, we decide to have a stake in Ford, which will earn us discounts on parts as we complete races in the car, earning credits and XP.
“Cars speak to people on an emotional level. You just need to find the right car,” Creative Director, Dan Greenawalt tells us. “My first car, a 1973 Toyota Corolla cost me $250 and it was what you might call a 'shitbox'... But I loved it and made it my own.” That same idea extends to Forza 4's career, although you won't be driving a shitbox at any point in the game. You might be able to paint it to look like one, but otherwise, you'll be driving gorgeously shiny, new cars that look like they've just rolled off the production line. And after completing a few race events tailored specifically for our choice of car, we're given the chance to upgrade to a brand new Ford Fiesta Zetec, reaching level 2 and getting the privilege of half-price Ford autoparts factored into the deal as part of our brand affinity, which rewards your loyalty.
Consequently, you make your cars your own and like previous Forza titles, there's a shedload of customisation options for creating decals, paintjobs and tuning configurations, and with over 500 cars in the game from 80 manufacturers, you'll be hard pushed to find a car that doesn't appeal to you on some level. Continuing with the career, we get to take on the Hockenheim circuit in Germany, followed by the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain, where again we have to ram our way through the aggressive AI pack to take the lead, but the handling feels so immediate and responsive that it's always great fun to race in Forza 4. Eventually, we make it to our first Top Gear event at the show's Test Track in Surrey, where it's time for a spot of bowling using our newly acquired Fiesta.
Maintaining speed around the track to wipe out as many pins as you can to beat the target score is the name of the game, which is a brief but entertaining diversion from racing and is another glimpse of the game's Top Gear content, which is interspersed throughout Forza 4 in various places where appropriate. It's worth noting too that Jeremy Clarkson's commentary in Autovista is fantastic, as Greenawalt demonstrates while showing off the cynical Top Gear host's frank assessment of the Morgan Aero SuperSports, which gets a grilling for its wooden construction, cross-eyed headlights and the fact that Richard Hammond owns one. “The idiot,” he quips. It's good to hear that Clarkson has been let off the leash in Forza 4, so you'll be getting his unedited, dry witticisms in the same manner in which he delivers them on the show. There's Top Gear football for up to 16-players in multiplayer too and more besides.
Career Mode is still the crux of Forza 4 and will have you globetrotting from venue to venue, tailoring the events around your choice of car to suit you. While you can remain loyal to an individual manufacturer and eventually get free car parts, you'll soon get the opportunity to shift your loyalties and go for a different car if you want to, but the idea is that you can decide to remain faithful to your favourite car, paint it and tune it to your hearts content while getting discounts into the bargain too. It's essentially up to you though. As well as a choice of cars, Forza 4 also brings with it a choice of control methods, and as our hands-on at E3 2011 showed, the Wireless Speed Wheel works well and is a viable, more affordable alternative to a full-sized wheel and pedals, although both are obviously supported. Kinect is also great for casual players (or kids as Greenawalt notes), who are simply happy to steer a car and still get something out of the game, but for the more serious Forza fans, the ability to tell Kinect to paint your car is a novel idea, as is the head-tracking, which complements the standard controller or steering wheel control methods.
Playing what is pretty near to the final build of Forza Motorsport 4, we can confidently report that the game looks almost every bit as stunning as the screenshots suggest, with near-photo realistic cars and landscapes, complementing a game that plays exceedingly well. The sheer breadth and depth of options is startling, from the World Tour, Career Mode, multiplayer, the customisation options and the superb community-based features, such as the auction house and Car Club that fosters teamwork and collective buying power between fellow Forza fans. So, it's with bated breath that we look forward to getting our hands on the finished product and delving into all of that lovely Top Gear content, Autovista and the meaty Career Mode that sends you around the world, racing and building your very own garage of cars that Turn 10 hopes you'll be passionate about. Forza Motorsport 4 looks as though it'll be all things to all car lovers then, and as they're an endangered species, perhaps this can save them from extinction.
Forza Motorsport 4 is out on October 11th in North America and October 14th in Europe.