"We're an endangered species, you and me."
This is the first phrase uttered in Forza Motorsport 4, spoken by none other than Top Gear presenter/right-wing poster boy Jeremy Clarkson himself. The environmentalists are taking over, the age of the Petrolheads is heading into receding hairline territory, and automotive fun in general is dying out.
I have a confession: I am one of those people who thinks driving is bad for the environment. I hate the idea of families owning multiple cars. I don't have a driving license. Jeremy Clarkson, if we ever met, would probably kick me in the balls.
I do, however, really enjoying playing Forza Motorsport. The third game was so comprehensive it essentially rendered all other racing games inert, and I've been slowly chipping away at it for a couple of years now.
The fourth entry in the series opens with you in an inordinately expensive sports car blazing through the Bernese Alps, a new track with thick roads and enough leeway to cruise down much of the track at full throttle. This is the World Tour, the revamped version of Forza 3's Season Play, and its main new features are dynamic difficulty adaptation and the new ability for AI drivers to upgrade their cars. M Rossi will probably be even more of a douchebag than ever.
Then, as if we were playing Metroid, the game snatches it all away - at least for now. Before the sporty numbers are the trendy city cars, and it's time to pick an F-class starter vehicle. I go for the 2011 Toyota Aygo, purely because I remember it from those ridiculous adverts where the machine turns into a sticky blob.
I paint my RWD Aygo a metallic grey (because that's all the rage right now) and head off into the five-race Amateur Division, designed to segue you into the game good and proper. It's a whistle-stop tour of five countries, starting with a short version of Spain's Ladera test track.
Like with Forza 3, the game presents a series of different events for you to enlist in - and these are tailored specifically to your current car alongside other cars in your garage, rather than pie-in-the-sky vehicles you won't be able to afford for weeks. There are about 20 per cent more events in total than in the last game, which should give players even more choice and extreme completionists even more challenge.
I chose a simple event for Toyota cars, and took my Aygo around Ladera's narrow but undemanding bends, although ruined the handling slightly when I turned into the exhaust of the vehicle in front. Second place, basically, and a few credits to repair the damage after the event. It was off to Forza favourite Road Atlanta in the USA for the second event; I took first place on the second corner and kept the lead for the entire race.
The victory was enough to tip my Driver Level to 1; now you're offered a selection of cars when you increase your driver level, and I was allowed to choose between the Toyota Yaris S, the Fiesta Zetec S, SX4 Sportback, Punto Evo Sport, Mazda Z, Fit Sport, Scion xD. I was having a bit of a Toyota day so I went with the Yaris - a slightly faster car than the Aygo, as you might expect.
The third event took place in Shimotsuma's Tsukuba Circuit, and I managed to snatch 1st in the Yaris S-Spec Series challenge, before moving to a Championship Event in Germany's Hockenheimring, a two-race event taking place at sunrise and sunset. I completely miss the apex on the first couple of corners and end up finishing the first race in third, but my victory at sunset means I manage to claim second place overall.
Forza 4's chains of unlocks are even more pronounced than before - like an MMO, you always feel like you're about ten minutes away from unlocking some kind of spangly new trinket or medal. Levelling is now quicker, but the level cap is exponentially higher; Turn 10 expects less than 1 per cent of its players to hit the max level in the first 24 months of the game's lifespan. Additionally, cars no longer level up individually, instead contributing to a manufacturer Affinity that confers additional rewards and discounts. On top of that, there are also over 400 badges and titles to unlock for your Forza Player Card.
The final leg of the Amateur Cup swings by the Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey - home of the Top Gear test track. This is no Reasonably Priced lap, but instead you knocking down as many pins as possible. Golden pins are worth more, and these are positioned over the perfect racing line.
It's not what you'd normally expect from a Forza game, but it works - it mixes something else, something a little bit different, into the regular cycles of play. The collaboration with the popular show bleeds into every part of the game; Jeremy Clarkson opines his thoughts on Autovista's 25 cars, quirky events pop up in the World Tour mode, and you can even play car football (like Richard Hammond and James May did absolutely yonks ago) in multiplayer.
The next step is the Clubman Division, but that would have to wait until later. Clarkson might think car fans are a dying breed, but it seems highly unlikely when Forza 4 is this much fun.