Jeremy Clarkson’s opening monologue for “Forza Motorsport 4” explains that the car guy is an endangered species. Chased out of his natural habitat, cut down by laws and regulations, and ostracized from society at large due to his love of speed and adrenaline, he remarks that the only place left, the final frontier for this endangered species, is in the virtual world with “Forza 4.” The question then becomes if the virtual world can recreate the enjoyment of the physical one.
If you are judging by visuals alone, “Forza 4” comes close. Crisp, razor sharp resolution and detailing highlight the unique aspects of every car in the game. This differs from “Gran Turismo 5” since only a few “premier” cars got the high resolution treatment in that game. Also, there is the “Auto vista” feature. Here, you can take a painstaking look inside and outside of a variety of cars, taking in the minute details rendered in jaw-dropping detail.
Having a pretty face is one thing, but offering entertaining gameplay is a different matter entirely. Here, the “Forza” experience really starts to pull away from “GT5.” First off, you don’t need to be a car guy to enjoy the game. Game settings are adjustable from beginner to simulation levels so you can be comfortable in whichever level you fall under. Second, “Forza” doesn’t beat you over the head with technical bureaucracy. There are no license tests, long loading times, or a never-ending bog of petty races to get through before you get to the good stuff. Just hop in and drive.
Plus, you can drive whatever you want, wherever you want. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, muscle cars… nearly everything under the sun is available to you. You also don’t even need to race. You can take photos, create paint schemes, and participate in a multitude of other activities. Just like in the real world, you don’t necessarily need to be a speed freak to enjoy the hobby, but it does help.
When you do start driving, “Forza’s” fantastic physics engine really starts to shine through. Developer Turn 10 took simulating the cars so seriously, in fact, that they contacted Pirelli to be able use their tire simulation software for the game. This is the same equipment F1 teams use to develop their tires, so of course it is insanely accurate.
Not only do you get the same excellent driving characteristics as in previous games, with accurate body movements, suspension, etc., but you also get the added variable of more realistic traction dynamics. It’s amazing how such a small change can bring the experience way up. Before, you either had traction or you didn’t — it was a very arcade feeling. Now, you get the wiggle room, the “oh shit” moments between traction and none you have in a real car. This means that the cars feel alive; they wiggle, slide, and break loose with minute adjustments of throttle. It makes the game even that much more engaging.
And when you do get it wrong, you are shown “Forza’s” improved damaging modeling up close and personal. Throughout the race, your car will collect scraps, scratches and dents if you drive into other cars and things. Hit a wall hard and you’re rewarded with simulation damage to both the car and its internals. Luckily, “Forza” has a rewind feature that you can use during races in career mode to rewind the accident and try again. You definitely can’t do that in real life.
Surprisingly, the crash modeling also makes for a great stress reliever. Say, hypothetically, a white Range Rover on the freeway with an obnoxious vanity plate cut you off. Don’t take your rage out on the road — just fire up “Forza 4.” Use their depth of car choices, pick up a Range Rover, customize it a little to match your adversary (you can even choose your own license plate), and then go to whatever track with a long straight and no runoff and proceed to smash that car into oblivion. Instant stress relief.
Like real life cars, it is all about the social aspect of the hobby as well. Talking shop, smack, and specs to other car guys. With Xbox LIVE, you get the same advantages, except now you can talk to anyone worldwide. You can even start your own car club. Xbox LIVE isn’t only for racing either. You can also buy, sell or trade cars, paint schemes, car setups and pictures you take during the game. An added bonus is that the crowd seems much more subdued then the angry pre-pubescents you encounter on other games, such as “Call of Duty.”
But really, like any good car, it’s the intangibles in the game that make the difference. On the gameplay side, it’s the pace of the career mode, fast load times, and the ability to get enough cash to buy your dream cars quickly. On the racing side, it’s the breathtaking environments, the dearth of car choices, and the exhaust notes that will echo in your ears for days trying to bring the experience of being a car guy to those not yet initiated. This is what “Forza” hopes to achieve — to turn video game guys into car guys and vice versa. The car guy may be a dying archetype in Clarkson’s eyes, but there is strength in numbers. So after you’re done with “Forza,” how about turning some wrenches in real life?