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Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson brings his distinct voice to Forza 4, narrating information about cars and tracks from across the globe. Clarkson also opens the game with a monologue, reflecting on the state of the driving enthusiast in a world increasingly concerned with fuel efficiency and the environment, introducing Forza 4 as a haven for those who get shivers from the sound of a Ferrari 458 Italia's engine.
Autovista mode offers an opportunity to get up close and personal with cars most of us are not likely to see in person anytime soon. Clarkson's smooth voice is ready to describe every detail of vehicles from the world's most famous car manufacturers, and players can use a controller, or Microsoft's Kinect to explore interior features and take exotic offerings for a spin.
While Forza 4 offers such delicacies, along with vehicle tweaking options that can seem a bit overwhelming at first glance, the game also creates an inviting space for players of any experience level to step inside this potentially intimidating world. Though I normally prefer the freedom of arcade-styled racing games, it's hard not to be seduced by the automotive passion and presentation on display. I've been reminded that if I could buy and collect cars, I would quickly want all the cars my imaginary garage could hold.
This release includes a second disc that contains several of the available cars, which can be installed to the 360. The sheer volume of makes and models, from the familiar, to others I've only learned of via this game is immediately impressive - though sadly my 2000 Honda Accord didn't make the cut.
The game's career mode, which takes players to famous tracks from around the world, may start players off with lower classed cars, but quickly offers opportunities to shop for new rides - all of them ready for extensive upgrades.
The experience is far removed from racing games of the past, where the goal was the straightforward pursuit of upgrades that allowed a car to outpace the competition by simply selecting the best of every available option. Forza's class system provides consistent balance that keeps every race competitive, along with AI that manages a convincing job of appearing human at times, with a mix of persistence and random moments of driver error.
Forza does offer players quick means to upgrade vehicles, with credits and the affinity bonus ever ready to reward brand loyalty with increasing discounts on parts, allowing players to augment their experience with street, sport, and race performance parts. And while driving a maxed out Integra is certainly fun, the real charm has been simply trying out the vast array of stock vehicles to see how they differ in sound and handling, tweaking certain parts to accentuate the personality of a vehicle while staying within a preferred class.
Maxing out a car’s performance can quickly create a beast to control on the track, but newcomers can rely on driving assist features that help engage breaks during difficult turns and provide a visible race line, while vets can peel rubber online right away. Driving assist is a great feature for widening the invitation to test drive Forza 4, but turning off such assistance, along with the effect damage has on cars, greatly increases the rewards. It's also easy to get a tad over-confident with assist features – turning them off makes for a dramatic difference in the level of attention required to successfully complete a race.
Forza 4 also has a sense of humor, offering a great moment of geekery that saw me trying to get a DeLorean up to that mythical 88mph, along with Top Gear tracks that offered me the chance to take up car bowling.
While I've been enjoying a more solitary and casual weekend driving experience, I'm looking forward to having plenty more to say as the game hits shelves this week and Xbox 360 owners take to the tracks with the extensive online features.