For its familiarity, it's a welcome sign that Turn 10 isn't operating in a bubble - the sort of bubble that ensured that, for all of its achievements, Polyphony's Gran Turismo 5 felt antiquated at times. Forza 4's improvements and flourishes give the cars a character that was previously lacking, and elsewhere there's been a further injection of personality, even if it isn't entirely Turn 10's own.
The Top Gear track, used so gingerly in Gran Turismo 5, is here just one offshoot of Turn 10's collaboration with the TV series. First - and perhaps most importantly for fans of the series - there's the inclusion of the Kia Cee'd, Top Gear's own 'reasonably priced car'.
Then there's the presence of Clarkson, Hammond and May, all three of whom provide detailed narrations of the cars themselves. Sitting alongside the clipped tones of the returning Peter Egan (Peter Egan!) they're an incongruous addition, though their obnoxious TV selves have been reined in and neutered to smooth the fit.
Elsewhere, the fit requires a little less manipulation. Challenges set by the Top Gear crew will feed into a revised career mode, which is now dubbed World Tour Mode, though quite what they'll be and how they'll be filtered remains unclear. As too does much of the World Tour's content, although the dry calendar-based front-end of Forza 3 has been replaced by something a little more dynamic and a little more colourful.
It's that little bit prettier too. Forza 3 tended towards the functional end of handsome, its visuals sturdy if a little flat and its cars faithful if uninspiring. Autovista, Forza 4's new gallery mode that debuted at last year's E3, now fetishizes them with the same fervour displayed by Polyphony, the cars now described with exacting detail.
They're also told in interactive detail, with doors sliding open and slamming with a hearty clunk, Kinect enabling players to stroll around the cars and examine their every nook and cranny while that Top Gear narration plays out. "Every car should be like a level in a platform game," enthuses Turn 10's Dan Greenawalt, "where round every corner there's something for you to explore or interact with."
It's a cute feature, for sure, but it's not quite strong enough to support the weight being placed on it in these early presentations. Its true purpose, it seems, is in highlighting the heightened visual fidelity of Forza 4. Turn 10 have striven for what they call the sub-6-inch detail, which translates as the finer details of a car – be that the plastic honeycomb of a tail light or the metal weave of a brake disc.
The level of detail attained for Autovista mode carries over to the track, and here Image Based Lighting - a technique borrowed from Hollywood – seats the cars naturally in their environments, the sun dancing off their bodywork in believable ways. It's likely that the cars will be party to differing light conditions too; an early pass at Suzuka shows it at both noon and early evening, and Turn 10's coyness when it comes to addressing questions about whether we'll see that sun fully set is a sure sign that night-driving will play a part in the final code.
Alongside the Top Gear licence, it could well be another feature that flies close to Forza 4's natural rival, Gran Turismo 5. It'll unlikely be the last either, and with its Kinect-enabled head tracking, it's fascinating seeing these two entities - and the peripherals that support them - going toe-to-toe. Forza 4 takes this particular round, with the head tracking proving swifter and more responsive than the disappointingly digital movement of Gran Turismo 5 - but it's still a little way off from being reliable or, for that matter, much fun to use.
And with all the fuss and focus on Kinect, it's another, more modest motion controller that steals the show. The newly announced Wireless Speed Wheel, ungainly as it may look, provides a surprisingly engaging ride, its long triggers providing accurate control of throttle and brake and its solid build making it neither too wearisome to hold or too light in the hand. For those without the room and inclination for a proper steering wheel, it's perfectly adequate.
Pedestrian as it may seem from the outside, Forza 4 represents a comprehensive shake-up for a series that's reached a turning point. With Gran Turismo having its momentum sapped - critically, at least - Turn 10 has moved out of that particular shadow. With the focus now seemingly no longer on its rival racer, Forza's attention has turned to itself, and the result looks to be a better, smarter game that's less sterile and much more alive. Surely that's something worth getting excited about.