Baby, you can drive my car
Real-world racing games typically come in two flavors: simulations that authentically re-create the driving experience, and arcade-style speedsters with simpler controls and more forgiving physics. And, usually, these two styles avoid each other the way Homer Simpson avoids work. But, thanks to a series of physics- and handling-altering options, Forza Motorsport 4 works as both an authentic driving sim and an arcadey racer without being a shallow version of either.
As required by law, the fourth Forza has dozens of real and realistic courses as well as hundreds of cars that range from the $1.5 million Bugatti Veyron, which goes from zero to 60 in less than three seconds, to affordable sub-compacts that go from zero to 60…eventually.
Of course, you don’t have the entire dealership when you start. Instead, new cars are gained through the game’s multilayered leveling system. Winning races earns you cash to buy new cars and fix up ones you already own, while doing well—not just in the standings, but also in such fundamentals as passing and turning—also pays XP, with each level giving you a new ride as well. Even driving the same brand of car repeatedly pays off. Always use Toyotas, for instance, and you’ll level up your “Affinity,” prompting Toyota to pay you cash and drop the price of parts for their cars.
All of this pays off in the game’s World Tour mode, which has you racing around the globe. Set in Europe, Japan, and the U.S., most events are multilap races, but the game also offers point-to-point swervefests during rush hour, slalom courses, and even a chance to use your car as a bowling ball against some very large pins.
What’s interesting is that the events you’re invited to are dictated by what cars you own. Someone favoring Fords, for example, will play a completely different series of races than a Toyota fan or someone who has no brand loyalty. Which means you can play World Tour repeatedly without it, well, repeating.
Good thing, then, that Forza 4’s so fun that you’ll want to play it repeatedly. The courses are deliciously curvy, while the AI drivers are skilled without being perfectly programmed driving machines. Add in a plethora of online races, a “Rivals” mode that lets you challenge your friends in a series of events, and the ability to modify all aspects of your cars—both mechanically and aesthetically—and you’ve got one of the deepest and most engaging racing games of this or any generation.
Which would also make this one of the most frustrating for those who find the controls in realistic racing games to be overly sensitive. But, thankfully, Forza 4 also has a series of multilevel difficulty options that include brake and steering assistance, damage modifiers, and physics alterations that can add traction and/or prevent you from spinning out. Turn all or most of these on, even just halfway, and the game’s controls become increasingly closer to such arcade-leaning racers as Need For Speed. Granted, it never gets as simple as Mario Kart—you still have to use your brakes when going into a turn—but for those who prefer arcade-like controls and handling, it does turn Forza 4 from a tease to a triumph.
Even its problems aren’t that problematic. The only one that actually dings this fine ride is that, because you start with slow cars, the earlier races aren’t nearly as fun as the ones an hour or so in, when you start to get the sports cars. But it’s a minor inconvenience that’s more than overshadowed by everything this game gets right. And, man, does it get a lot right. Regardless of how you play it—with the ultrarealistic controls and physics or with everything simplified, on your own or online, as a car slut or a loyal Toyota owner—Forza Motorsport 4 isn’t jut the best racing game of 2011. It’s one of the best games of the year as well.
SUMMARY: An impressive and addictive racer, this one’s got not only a variety of rides, a multitude of race types, and authentic handling, but it’s also got arcade-like control options that make it as much fun for those who dislike sim-style controls.
- THE GOOD: Great controls for realists and arcade fans alike.
- THE BAD: Stars off slow (literally).
- THE UGLY: Makes less-accommodating racers look like slackers