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    Forza Motorsport 4 review: Hybrid synergy drive

    Jordan Mallory

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    Simulation games, be it racing-simulators, flight-simulators or farming-simulators, always run the risk of designing themselves into corners and alienating potential players. These types of experiences are a challenge to craft, as implementing a feature for the die-hard enthusiast often means sacrificing something designed for the novice or hobbyiest.

    No one seems to have told Turn 10 how impossible a task the all-encompassing simulator is, however, and as a result Forza Motorsport 4 provides the same challenging, exhilarating racing experience to each and every player who gets behind the proverbial wheel.

    Gallery: Forza Motorsport 4 (Gamescom 2011) | 6 Photos

    Career Mode's dramatic and delightfully overblown opening monologue proudly proclaims Forza 4 as a safe haven from emissions regulations, safety standards, and practicality. It's hokey and entertaining in an extremely Top Gear-esque fashion, but Jeremy Clarkson's endearing delivery hits all the right emotional buttons owned by petrolheads, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't touched.

    In hindsight, the opening sequence is actually a microcosm of the entire experience: Forza 4, while completely accessible to the uninitiated, also communicates on a level specifically calibrated for the enthusiast player.

    "Forza 4, while completely accessible to the uninitiated, also communicates on a level specifically calibrated for the enthusiast player."

    Forza 4's difficulty settings, for instance, eschew pedestrian options like AI intelligence and instead allow the player to adjust how simulation-y the game is. Options exist for everything from traction control to enabling or disabling tire degradation, and for every difficulty increase you select, a percentage bonus is applied to the amount of currency you earn from winning races.

    At first, the bonuses seem designed to punish arcade-style gameplay, but in practice they only serve as a reward for skillful driving. The Career Mode's income mechanics are so well balanced that meaningful progression can still be obtained in a reasonable amount of time, even on the easiest settings.

    At the end of each race, players are awarded money, Driver XP, and Affinity Points. While I'm normally not a fan of XP and leveling mechanics outside of RPG settings, Forza 4's implementation manages to avoid being grind-y by acting as a reward, rather than a purpose. Leveling up and earning Affinity discounts are such frequent occurrences, at no point is the player left without a car that is competitive for the task at hand. They're secondary mechanics, firmly situated in the back-seat and content with rewarding you for things you're already doing.

    Once you obtain a vehicle you really like, Forza 4's upgrade system does a good job of keeping that car competitive, even into extremely high-level events. I used the same car (an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA Stradale) for the length of my racing career, and over time I watched my baby progressively transform from a sensible, E-Class coupe into a 616 BHP supercar; bolting from 0 to 60 in less than three seconds. Turn 10 seems to understand that people who love cars get attached to their cars, and want to keep using them.

    As you traverse the twists and turns of world-famous raceways like the Nurburgring, the variety of event types provided is so large that monotony rarely becomes an issue, although "alternative" races like hill-climbs and multi-class challenges act as a garnish. While standard circuits continue to account for the majority of your track time, Forza 4's solid physics engine and gorgeously rendered landscapes make for a continuously engaging and exciting driving experience, even after your tenth trip to Silverstone.

    Unlike other racers, where cars must be unlocked or purchased in single-player before being available for multi, Forza 4's multiplayer modes give you immediate access to the game's hundreds of vehicles. Because of this, racing becomes about driver skill, rather than game progression, which is exactly how it should be. Even if I bring my supercharged Alfa to the grid, every other car in its class will be available to everyone else, and I can never tune myself into an unfair advantage.

    Not only does this system keep the playing field technologically even and prevent seasoned veterans from dominating newcomers via hardware supremacy, it also improves the single player experience by, once again, rewarding you for doing what you'd be doing anyway. Winning multiplayer races rewards Driver XP and Affinity points that feed into your Career Mode totals, and by racing a car you don't yet own in Career, it's possible to earn Affinity points and eliminate a vehicle's upgrade cost before you can even afford to buy it.

    "The level of synergy between Career and multiplayer feels precise and balanced ..."

    The level of synergy between Career and multiplayer feels precise and balanced; one constantly bolsters the other, yet neither take priority or feel parasitic. It's an equalized, symbiotic relationship that neither hampers nor enables, and players that prefer one over the other need not worry over missing out.

    Despite it's many (optional) concessions towards arcade-style play, Forza 4 is still very much a sim-style racer, therefore the game's realistic physics engine keeps vehicle behavior and performance well within the realm of possibility. Anyone looking for an over-the-top, explosion-filled extravaganza should look elsewhere.

    That being said, the pervasive beauty of Forza 4's design is that it doesn't make you do anything, but rather supports and encourages your natural play style.

    If you're the type of player who wants assisted breaking, traction control and an automatic transmission, great! Enjoy your arcade-sim hybrid adventure, secure in the knowledge that you'll never need to adjust tire pressure based on track temperature or define the word "camber."

    If you do know what camber is, prepare yourself for an amazing exercise in skill, precision, and talent. The very metal of your driving mettle will be tried, tested and forced to endure grueling and demanding challenges, and you'll love every minute of it.

    This review is based off a retail copy of Forza Motorsport 4, provided by Microsoft.

    Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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