Version tested: Xbox 360
The 330 P4 never triumphed at the Circuit de la Sarthe, but it's as if the car was built for Le Mans' Porsche Curves - and it's as if, despite what their name suggests, this extended slither of road was laid down and tarmacked with the express purpose of putting Ferrari's low-slung sports car through its paces, designed expressly to tease out the pleasures of this legendary machine.
String each corner together and there's a sense of heady weightlessness, the steering loosening beneath your fingers as you find yourself in the throes of a perfect four-wheel drift. Nailing the sequence requires you to throw the car from one drift to another, a delicate dance between throttle and steering that's scored by the throaty growl of one of Maranello's finest V12s. It's heart-in-mouth gaming, and it's one of many moments in which Forza Motorsport 4 reveals itself to have a real heart of its own.
It's all about passion. Beyond the lists of torque ratings and wheel dimensions lies the simple love between man and machine, as pure and innocent as that between a eight year old boy and the Ferrari GTO poster haphazardly blu-tacked to his wall. It's that very passion that Forza Motorsport 4 endeavours to evoke.
But the truth is, Turn 10's has typically been a slightly cold passion. Contrasted to Polyphony's wild-eyed, crazy love that resulted in the flawed genius of Gran Turismo 5, there's always been a cold glint to Forza. As it's methodically worked towards creating a driving experience that's comprehensive, it's often failed to embrace the emotion its subjects can inspire.
There are times when that stony glare returns in Forza Motorsport 4, but there are many, many others when it feels as if Turn 10 has learnt to love a little, where it has softened its approach and brought a little tenderness to a formula that the developer has whittled towards something approaching perfection.
It's there to be seen up front in the new visuals that remove the flatter edges of previous Forzas. Image Based Lighting is the cold, hard name behind this soft new look, with differing times of day (not dynamic, sadly) showing the new model in all of its glory. Even the most banal of autodromes is lent a little warmth when bathed in the glow of a rising sun, the light glimmering through trees and painting the tarmac a dim gold.
It's an added character that even finds its way to some of the more austere backdrops. The Nordschleife, long established as the yardstick of the serious racing game, has arguably never looked better, here permanently overcast and with a melancholy fog hugging the trees that line its 12.9 miles.
And there's more character behind the wheel too with the in-car view, surely Forza's default, enlivened by a new dynamic camera. Partly inspired by Need for Speed: Shift's dramatic approach though stopping little way short of Slightly Mad's visual theatrics, the camera pitches and yaws across each handsomely replicated cockpit, helping to gently escalate that all-important sense of speed. Paired with Kinect-enabled head-tracking it provides a minor revelation - while a little slow to react it proves surprisingly intuitive, and it's well ahead of Gran Turismo's disappointingly digital take on the feature last year.
It's got a little more personality to the touch, too. Forza 3 marked a step away from the sterility of the first two games, seeing a taste for oversteer that's developed and further refined here. Cars are never less than lively, with even the lower tier models all too happy to step out of line with a tickle of the throttle. Finding the limit of adhesion is easy thanks to some generous feedback - no doubt helped by Pirelli's involvement in this department - and Turn 10 ensure that you'll spend much of your time operating in and around this zone.
Indeed, Forza 4 is often so eager to kick the rear end out that it can feel more akin to Project Gotham than any of its more serious-minded competition. A reward mechanic that's the distant cousin of Bizarre's Kudos goes hand in hand with the abundance of mid-corner oversteer, a soft chime greeting every well-taken corner, graceful drift or successful pass.
There's further character, too, in the online, which takes Forza 3's extensive feature set and pushes it that little further, makes it that little smarter thus sending it several leagues ahead of its competition. The community mode that sits at the heart of Forza is trimmed around the edges, the auction house and storefronts returning to ensure that there'll be a bustling automotive bazaar here for as long as players wish to support it.
Added to this, though, is Rivals, a new mode that offers up asynchronous online play. Spinning off from Need for Speed's Autolog, while it's not quite as neat as its inspiration the appeal is undimmed. A broad selection of track and car combinations are offered, some presenting stock machines while others invite you to bring a vehicle of your own, and from there it's simple - just drive, and drive fast against times that are pulled from your friend's list and, when the competition dries out, from the wider world of Forza. It's here, drilling down into the extremities of one particular car and exploring the limits of a given track, that Forza 4 shines the very brightest.
There are other, duller moments too, though they're ones that seem endemic with the series. The AI opposition are, quite frankly, jerks. Some none-too-subtle rubber banding keeps the racing close, though all too often it's a little too close - other cars will have little concern for your whereabouts on the track, carelessly bumping into you when you've right of way and unhelpfully parking on apexes and braking on a corner's exit when they're in front.
The World Tour, while tidied up around the edges, remains something of a slog. It's wise enough to never overly restrict you, tailoring the events drawn in to the car you're currently driving or to those that reside in your garage, but it's largely lifeless - as soothing as Peter Egan's voiceover is, it's hardly the compelling thread that Forza 4 needs - and it's hampered by a handful of other concerns.
It can, however, be ignored, and Forza 4's kind enough to reward players wherever they may find themselves in the game. Indeed, Forza 4's pleasingly generous; the route to level 50 is greatly speeded up, and at each tier you're awarded with a choice of three cars, while an Affinity level rewards you for staying loyal to any given manufacturer. That Ferrari 330 P4, a car that would require weeks of dedication to acquire in Gran Turismo 5, can be at your fingertips in around 12 hours here.
Car Clubs add a communal sense to the car collecting, allowing players to share cars between one another. Helpful, given that the economics of Forza 4 can conversely seem a little less giving. Credits are drip-fed slowly, a decision that seems particularly miserly in light of the ability to buy tokens on Xbox Live's Marketplace with real money, which can then be used to buy cars in-game.
It's a car list that, while beautifully realised across the board, is missing some of the eccentric exotica that Gran Turismo 5 excels in, and if Polyphony are accused of a slant towards anonymous Japanese machinery then Turn 10 are equally guilty of overindulging in US muscle cars.
It's an American twang also present in a track list that sadly adds little to Forza 3's already well-worn offerings. The Bernese Alps, a dazzling fictional run through snow-capped peaks, provides the kind of spectacle that fellow debutant Hockenheimring - a once great track forever ruined by the scalpel of Hermann Tilke and here in its mutilated form - lacks.
The two new American tracks are equally divisive; Indianapolis, for all its prestige, provides a tepid drive, leaving Infineon Raceway the unlikely star of the new additions. A run through the dust of California, it's a collection of blind crests and impossible cambers that's a delight to drive, providing the perfect arena for Forza 4's tail-happy handling.
There is, of course, the Top Gear track too, which is here exploited much further than it was by Polyphony last year. The inclusion of the Kia Cee'd - the show's reasonably priced car - helps, as does the aping of camera angles in replays, but otherwise the licence feels if not underused then a little misappropriated.
Events in the World Tour mode are limited to automotive ten-pin bowling, a half-hearted attempt to replicate the bawdy humour of the show, and a handful of themed events are threaded into Rivals mode. Jeremy Clarkson's presence helps as a stamp of authority as he lends his voice to Autovista, Forza 4's Kinect-enabled showroom mode, but he brings a strangely diluted brand of his humour in a partnership that feels forced.
The same can be said for the partnership between Forza 4 and Kinect. Autovista's cute but limited, with only 25 of the game's 500 cars available for close scrutiny, and the ability to drive without a controller, while pleasantly responsive, is limited even for the more casual audience it's designed for. Of all the Kinect functionality it's the voice commands that prove the most useful, providing a swift and easy way to navigate through Forza's maze of menus.
It's ultimately however just one small part of a package that's grown broader, deeper and has done much more besides. The series' steely heart has softened, revealing a game that's as exhaustive as it is exhilarating and that's now been infused with a little extra passion. Forza has always been a series to admire, but now it's a little easier to fall in love with it too.
9 / 10