Forza is the Xbox’s answer to the PlayStation’s Gran Turismo, and this fourth instalment is the best yet. It’s an evolution rather than a revolution (as Microsoft would have you believe) but plenty of effort – and love – has gone into making this one of the best racing games we’ve played in a long time.
The new AutoVista mode makes it clear this is a game for petrol heads, since it involves nothing more than looking at gloriously detailed cars (even their engines) shining with their showroom finishes in a hangar. A Top Gear tie-in means Jeremy Clarkson will talk endlessly about the car you’re viewing in his usual sardonic style. He doesn’t narrate all the cars, though, and not all the game’s cars feature, presumably because it would have taken too long to model them (plus their interiors) and arrange the voiceover.
When you’ve finished drooling over the car of your dreams, you can take the World Tour, which replaces Forza 3’s Season Play mode. It’s well thought out, and offers three different types of race at each location, with various rewards. Some give you cash, while others improve your driver ranking.
Just about every popular circuit is featured, as is the Top Gear test track – a big draw for hardcore fans of the show. Not only do you get to race in the Reasonably Priced Car (the old Liana and newer Cee'd are featured) against The Stig’s benchmark time, but other novelty events involve driving round the track trying to knock down as many bowling pins as possible.
Every performance car you can think of is present, past and present from American muscle cars through to cars you might actually own (such as the Ford Focus ST) plus the latest supercars from Ferrari et al. The interior of each has been digitised, since this is a serious racing game. Graphically, Forza 4 is stunning, eking out every last drop of performance from the Xbox's aging hardware.
In terms of handling, this isn't a simulation, but it comes close enough without being impossible to master and losing all sense of fun. Driver aids are turned on by default but, although you can choose between the coarse Easy, Medium and Hard settings, you can also turn off individual aids such as traction control and ABS – each one gives you an extra percentage on your race winnings.
The game's rewind mode lets you turn back time by a few seconds if you make a mistake - this saves you having to restart a race if you have a serious crash or flip the car. Turning this perk off also gives you extra credit at the end of the race.
In races, we particularly appreciated the AI. Other drivers spun off at tricky corners, or ran wide allowing you to overtake. This happens fairly often, making it feel more like you're racing against real people.