With an unusually inviting difficulty tier, enhanced graphical oomph and some massively significant refinements to vehicle handling, Forza Motorsport 4 is easily the most accessible Forza model yet. But if you’re worried that the series has suddenly gone all softcore, rest easy. The new handling model turns Forza into even more of an authentic racing simulator than it already was, and despite the fact that (because of some kind of licensing dispute) you won’t be racing with any Porsches this time, Forza 4 feels pretty darn exhaustive. You’ll see some old cars and recycled tracks, and the menu system hasn’t received as much of an overhaul as it probably could have done, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is anything other than a richer and more expansive Forza proposition than last year’s iteration was.

The experience is buoyed by some very smart tweaks. Various gameplay stabilisers remain present to help welcome in the newcomers, but discarding them is now encouraged by the fact that the more of them that you use, the less winnings you’ll incur after each race. The game is also now something of an aural powerhouse, with every vehicle sounding raw, real and distinctive, and frankly the game’s audio designers are a concrete shoo-in for awards recognition next year. In addition, Rivals mode – which allows you to do battle with your friends regardless of whether they’re online or not – is quite furiously compelling, with the biggest rewards reserved for beating whichever of your pals is highest on the game’s worldwide leaderboards.

If you aren’t a fervent petrolhead then the much vaunted attendance of Jeremy Clarkson throughout Forza 4 may initially irk you, but his presence isn’t overbearing. Aside from the (presumably self-penned) FMV curtain raiser in which the man does the one thing that he always does best – find a way to vocalise how damn oppressed and noble he is – you’ll only hear from him when he’s introducing tracks in the campaign, or if you visit Forza 4‘s other new addition: Auto Vista mode. Auto Vista is an area in which the game shines in every conceivable department; it’s little more than a glorified interactive photo gallery, but it looks astonishing and Clarkson’s spiel is riddled with fascinating tidbits of information. And that’s regardless of whether or not you class yourself as a hardened automobile fetishist or not.

The Kinect features are pleasant and well-implemented but never essential, but the new Wireless Speed Wheel peripheral is unquestionably neat. Although it turns Forza into something that feels way more like Mario Kart than you suspect its creators ever intended, as a gateway for casuals to progress into the real thing, it’s thoughtful and deft. Piddling around in the Auction Houses is still almost a game in itself, and the constantly aggressive new AI is capable of occasionally making you forget that you’re playing the game offline. Forza Motorsport 4 is sleek and elegant, but also gripping.

Forza Motorsport 4 is available now for the Xbox 360.

Watch the Forza Motorsport 4 trailer below:

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