A beginner-friendly racing simulator with added Jeremy Clarkson – but don’t let that put you off
You can tell a lot about a video game by what it chooses to show by way of an introduction. And appropriately, after the traditional warning not to try out your racing skills in real life, this latest entry in Microsoft’s Forza Racing franchise opens with a voiceover from Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson.
Not so much a voiceover, in fact, as a soliloquy concerning the joys of driving, and this should be enough to divide the game’s potential audience into two: one half raring to go, and another set to hurl the television out of the window. But a word of advice: even if you fall into the latter category, this is a game worth sticking with.
Because, whatever your opinions on television presenters making offensive remarks about the citizens of various European nations while joyfully burning through the world’s oil reserves, driving games can be great fun, and this latest Forza focuses well on fun above all else.
Take the single player game, for example. Like other driving ‘simulators’, Forza’s career mode starts you out with a tiny, off-the-shelf car and requires you to work your way up to faster ones. The way the game is set up, though, makes this easy: stick with one car for a few races and your brand ‘affinity’ reduces the cost of speed-boosting upgrades to a pittance.
And better still, the upgrading and tweaking needn’t be tedious: although car fans can, if they really wish, spend hours choosing the best limited-slip-differential for their highly modified motor, others can simply let the game choose and apply needed upgrades as appropriate.
Completing races also earns you points, and these are regularly converted into new cars, so it’s easy to quickly acquire a garage full of speedy vehicles without really trying. In only a few hours we’d moved from a fairly dull supermini to a hurling a race-tuned supercar around corners at eye-melting speeds.
The racing gameplay is also designed to be inclusive. Almost too much, in fact: many driving aids are available, including help with braking and even steering, so to start with it seems almost impossible not to win. Turn a few off, though, and as well as a more entertaining drive you get a score boost for your efforts.
It’s usual for a game of this type to have a wide range of cars and tracks, but even by that standard Forza’s selection is rather spectacular. Over 80 brands of car are included, from cheap and cheerful Kia superminis to hand-made Koenigsegg sportscars, and each can be upgraded, painted and smattered with graphics to your heart’s content. Or you can just drive them very fast.
Career mode in single player is fun, and includes some surprisingly human-like computer controlled rivals who, unlike their counterparts in other games, occasionally veer from the racing line or overshoot corners. For a real human rival, though, the Community section offers sixteen-player online races, and a ‘Rivals’ mode where you can compete against other players’ best laps.
There are missteps, of course. Despite some gorgeous lighting effects the look of the game occasionally leans towards the sterile and artificial, and the music is a largely ignorable assortment of clunking guitars and clashing cymbals. Autovista mode is a fairly tedious gallery of 3D cars, of interest only to motoring obsessives, and the Top Gear themed mini-stages feel bolted on, but might appeal to fans of the programme.
None of this, though, really detracts from the heart of the game. It’s not quite perfect, but whether you’re an absolute beginner or a driving game fan you’ll find hours of entertainment here.
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Whether or not you're a Top Gear fan, Forza 4 provides a racing experience that’s fun for beginners and keen gamers alike
Huge range of cars and circuits; caters for a wide range of difficulty levels
Top Gear minigames are gimmicky; music is generally poor
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