Forza 4 starts with a tease. Jeremy Clarkson, well known from the hit series Top Gear, narrates that in this world there are very few places where people can indulge in speed, performance and beauty. Before the game starts in earnest, the player is treated to a quick one-lap race in the Alps. It’s a well-hidden tutorial, but it also accentuates Forza’s prime virtues. It is a game of beauty, about chasing that beauty; it is a shrine to speed and the vehicles that help us there. During the actual races, a simple touch of the Y button will rewind time a few seconds. This combats the all-too-common problem of making a last-minute miscalculation, and losing a whole race because of one mistake. The time rewind can be removed, for the player who wants a purer experience, along with assisted steering and turning and other modes of assistance. These are the default, but removing them gives the player a bonus in cash and experience.
The bulk of the game takes on a well-worn structure. Win a race to move on to the next round in the series; this culminates in a championship race. Each round presents several race options along different classes. If you want to race a few clunkers in the E division, you can, but if you want some speed, there are higher class options. There are also different race styles: want a straight race, you can get it, but sometimes there are manufacture-specific races, or multi-class challenges where faster cars race on the same track as a group of lemons. It allows for variety, but again pushes the idea of casual fun. If you don’t want to compete in the higher level races right away, you can hold off for the first couple of series. Driving also gives you cash and experience points. It’s pretty easy to figure out what the cash is for, but the experience is a different matter. There’s the driver experience, which is mainly interested in how often you drive. Leveling up offers up a new car, which is a great motivation to go forward. Better yet, the cars themselves aren’t just this year’s showroom darlings: I was floored when the game offered me a slew of 70s Trans-Ams (I went for the Camaro, obviously.) The other type of experience rewards you for using cars from the same manufacturer. The more, say, Volkswagen cars you drive, the more you level up you manufacturer rating, offering discounts on parts along with cash sponsorship deals. These experience systems give the sense of progress.
The multiplayer is expanded, and has become more robust. Up to 16 cars can be on the track now. You can join car clubs with friends, try to auction off your unwanted vehicles for extra cash, and race against opponents in standard races or in variants like tag. The best addition comes in the asynchronous rival mode, where you race a course against the ghost of another player’s best lap. Beat them and feel smug self-satisfaction, but your rival might come back with a better time. I’ve had a few rivalries that have festered into full blown feuds, checking back every few races to see if there was a new time to beat. There are other modes, but nothing quite matches the intensity of toppling a rival player.
Again and again, it comes down to Forza 4 being so accessible. The anal attention to detail that Gran Turismo has been known for also holds it back. Forza is about speed, and it is about making that sense of speed open to anybody. The game scales from amateur to pro easily, but the true triumph is that it manages to be all things to all driving-sim fans.