Forza Motorsport 4 sure knows how to start our engines. Although you’ll have to listen to Jeremy Clarkson prattle on for a bit, you’re otherwise straight into a fast sports car with an engine that roars like a nest of angry hornets. As first impressions go it’s a masterstroke, showing off the velocity and lush visuals of Microsoft’s racing extravaganza in just a few choreographed moments.

So it’s a tad anticlimactic when this segues into a career mode that starts by offering an underwhelming choice of cars. Practical and kind on the wallet as these are, chugging around race tracks in a plum purple Ford Ka is hardly the stuff gasoline dreams are made of.

Don’t be put off, though. Forza is a generous game and it only takes a few races to build a virtual garage with enough motors to make Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay green with envy. And they keep coming; there’s a second DVD to install if you want to access them all.

So does Forza 4 have the quality to back up its quantity? Yep –Forza also manages to walk the tricky tightrope between entertaining those wanting pedal-to-the-metal action and appealing to those who fancy tinkering under the bonnet.

The Forza series has always had a rare knack for gameplay, and this fourth installment keeps its foot firmly on the gas. In doing so, it delivers an even greater sense of open-throttled action and dare-you-to-blink speed.

Each car feels different – American saloons are lumpen and spongy while European sports cars are efficiently unforgiving. And these aren’t broad strokes lazily sketched out in code – they’re precise judgements etched into every single car in the game. No wonder they had to include that second DVD.

The game also has some Kinect-powered tricks up its sleeve. It can track your head movement so you can look left or right with a glance and you can drive using Kinect by sticking your arms out to grip an invisible steering wheel. It works better than you’d think, but still not well enough to keep us from reverting to our trusty controller.

Kinect can also be used to navigate around Autovista, the game’s virtual showroom where you can poke around and lust after expensive cars while listening to Clarkson’s verdict. It works okay but only if you don’t mind looking like a lollipop lady waving kids across a zebra crossing. And, of course, you have to put up with Clarkson’s banter.

Back in the real game (thankfully bereft of Top Gear personalities) Forza offers races with up to 16 players and spilt-screen racing plus some more inventive ideas. The Car Club mode lets you and your mates join forces to climb up the leaderboards and share the cars you win in career mode. Rivals mode lets players race each other in various events even when they are not online by storing people’s performance online and then letting others race their virtual ghost at any time.

It might not quite match Gran Turismo 5 on the simulation side (although there’s barely a Rizla paper between them), but for anyone not seeking the ultimate in console car simulation, Forza 4 should take pole position.

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Forza Motorsport 4 review

Forza 4 is the ultimate console racing sim – smart, pretty and unbelievably entertaining