One of the first things I saw as I explored a pre-release version of Forza Motorsport 4's storefront system was a a vinyl set made to look like the head of the Pringles guy. You know, the little mustache face guy that's on the cans? Right then and there, I knew Forza 4 was going to be totally fine.
I'm honestly not sure where the Pringles thing comes from. It was one of the first vinyl groups I saw in Forza Motorsport 2, I think. It carried on to Forza 3, and... I don't know, is it some sort of weird in-joke in the Forza community? Is one of Turn 10's long-timers a fan of canned chips? It's a mystery that someone should probably solve someday. But as I only had a few hours to sit and take in the early parts of Forza 4, that person isn't me. At least, not yet.
Forza Motorsport 4 probably isn't going to shock you if you're already familiar with the series' past. The cars look great, the tuning setups are well-explained, and the game is primarily structured to feed you events that fit with the cars you currently own. If you're driving a stock Honda Fit, you'll get races for low-powered hatchbacks, cars of Japanese origin, events for your specific engine type and so on. As you upgrade that car, you'll start to see offers for higher-class events, but your driver level will have to be high enough to qualify for certain events, also. The game will once again automatically upgrade or downgrade your car to fit certain events, if you need a helping hand.
But if touring around the world and racing in the game's preset events leaves you a little cold, Forza 4 has a new Rivals mode, which is an asynchronous multiplayer mode in the same vein as Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit's Autolog. Rivals mode gives you groups of events, often requiring specific cars (which it lends you for the event) and other restrictions. From there, it's leaderboard battles against ghost racers as you attempt to beat the community or, if you're being realistic about your abilities, just your friends. It's a good change of pace, but everything you do still filters into the same driver and car level buckets, so it looks like you'll find yourself progressing through the game regardless of which mode you choose. That progress includes an affinity level with the game's different car manufacturers. Instead of leveling cars, you'll level a relationship with, say, Nissan. This has the same effect as the car levels in that you'll get a discount on parts and upgrades.
As before, the game will invite you to install a load of cars from the second disc, but you can opt to just play off of the first disc, if that's your thing. Of course, you'll still have to earn enough in-game money to actually buy these cars and add them to your garage, right? Actually... no. Forza 4 comes equipped with a microtransaction-based option that lets you purchase packs of "car tokens" for varying amounts of Microsoft Points. You can, at any point, opt to buy the game's best cars for a few of these tokens. But this might not give you much of an edge, as your driver level still prevents you from entering single-player events in super-high-class race cars. Considering how many different ways you can earn credits in Forza, the whole car token thing seems a little silly.
The storefronts, as you may have guessed, have returned. If you want to slap anime ladies all over your cars then you can build it one layer at a time, just like you did before. You can sell full cars or just vinyl groups on your storefront, as well as tuning setups and stuff like that. The auction house is back, too. It looks like some more options have been added to make it easier to find the stuff you're looking for, but you can still browse around if you're just window shopping.
The Auto Vista mode has been a real focus in a lot of the pre-release Forza coverage, so you probably already know that it's all about floating around a bunch of high-quality car models and zooming in for a closer look. I messed around with it for a bit with a controller and, yeah, it's nice. If you're interested in hearing Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear feed you some notes about different cars, it's pretty cool--but I don't know that I'll spend much more time with it now that I've gotten the basic idea. Maybe if you're an absolute car fiend it'll make more sense, but I think I'd rather drive. Or, actually, I'd probably rather surf the storefronts for ridiculous decals to slap all over my cars. To each his own, right?
After a few hours with it, Forza Motorsport 4 doesn't feel dramatically different from the previous game. You'll quickly recognize tracks that appeared in previous games and the options you get for adjusting the difficulty and driver assistance are similar, as well. That should actually feel like good news for most of you with an interest in the Forza franchise. It certainly gave me just enough of a taste to get me excited to sink a ton of hours into painting and driving cars when the game's released next month.
Here, check out these other screenshots!