Rivals is exactly the multiplayer mode Forza needed, especially when many of the other online events can (and do) prove so daunting for less experienced players. There's also the option to join Car Clubs, essentially Forza's take on clans, which offers both a shared garage and a more personable relationship with the game's busy online world. You can, for instance, invite your whole Club to a game of car football.
Many events, and much of the game's presentation, is inspired from past episodes of Top Gear, and Turn 10's creative partnership with the show, complete with an introduction and voiceover work from Jeremy Clarkson, allows the game to lighten its tone, layering personality and humour on top of a game that has been criticised for sterility in the past.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Autovista, a fascinating curio of car exploration that originally grew out of a much-derided Kinect demo from E3 2009. It's a gorgeous showpiece, peppered with precise nuggets of information, and the kind of high-class camera work that you'd expect to see on episodes of Top Gear itself.
There's an obvious whiff of car porn about the whole thing, but the 25 cars on offer form an intriguingly eclectic mix, including offbeat choices such as the DeLorean DMC-12, Bentley 8 Litre, and Hummer H1 Alpha alongside obvious inclusions like the Enzo Ferrari. Using either Kinect or your controller, you can view and interact with the vehicles, stunningly rendered using the game's new trick of image-based lighting, and pick up factual information alongside Clarkson's more colourful diatribes.
Consider Autovista in a traditional sense, as a mode you have to bash through in order to win the game, and it will be a failure, a flash little party trick that burns out after the first go. It's a shame that Turn 10 feels the need to bolt an arbitrary challenge onto most cars before they can be viewed, then, perhaps too worried of an audience that would rather play racer than curator to its spectacularly ornate museum piece.
While many, like me, will just plump for the 458 Italia, the game also revels in its left field choices, turning the game into a celebration of the eclectic unicorns to fan the flames of those with a genuine passion for unexpected automotive creations. There's lord knows how many cars spread across two discs and almost fifty manufacturers (though sadly lacking Porsche due to a licensing dispute with EA), and if the post-release DLC content for Forza Motorsport 3 was any indication we can expect to see plenty more offbeat vehicles added down the line.
Codemasters might offer a better damage model, Polyphony Digital can still champion itself when it comes to on-track authenticity, and it's a massive shame to see a lack of weather effects and different track conditions. But Forza 4 trumps the competition by creating an experience much more than the sum of its parts, one that comfortably cements its position as the king of racers.
Alongside manifold technical improvements, Forza 4 brings a noticeable spark of excitement to the series. Where former entries in the series took themselves a little too seriously, this game likes to humour, dazzle and entertain, losing none of its technical competence but swapping stoic sterility for fun. Forza Motorsport 4 is fiery, passionate and thrilling - much like the 458 Italia on the front cover.
VideoGamer.com Score9 Score out of 10
- Improved handling
- Autovista mode is an unexpected delight
- More entertaining than ever
- Becomes a bit of a grind in later events