I’ve got a half million Forza 4 credits and nothing to do with them. I rarely have to pay for upgrades to my cars, since I’ve easily raced my affinites to a 100% discount on upgrades to the cars I drive (by the way, Forza, there’s a better and shorter word for “100% discount”). And since Forza 4 never pressures me to drive a particular car, and since I therefore have so many cars that I’ll never drive, and since I keep getting new cars just for leveling up, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with these half million credits. Bid on a car in the auction house? Why? I already have more cars than I know what to do with. Buy paint jobs? Considering how little I want the most expensive paint jobs, that’s not much of a money sink.

For all its improvements, Forza 4 is like the Forzas before it in that it has no meaningful economy and almost no meaningful caRPG progression. It doesn’t even care whether I win or lose a race. After any given event, it flashes a congratulatory “race completed” message. Not “race won“. “Race completed“. 1st place, 3rd place, 12th place. It doesn’t matter. The race was completed.

Is Forza worried that I might get discouraged if I had to reach the podium to progress? If so, it needen’t worry. I constantly win, despite doing everything I can to make the game challenging. All the races feel rigged for me to win. I’ve been playing with all the assists and players advantages off (except for the color-coded braking line, something for which I’ll always be grateful to Forza). I haven’t been doing any tuning, and the only upgrades I’ve gotten for my cars are the automatic upgrades the game recommends before a race. Yet nearly every race feels like the old Wipeout games, where I start in the back and the only challenge is passing each of the other cars before the designated number of laps are over. I usually nose past them with almost no effort within a lap or two. And consider that I’m not using the rewind function, which is turned on by default, that allows any mistake to be erased with impunity. When is Forza 4 supposed to get challenging? Why isn’t there a separate difficulty setting for the other cars’ racing prowess? Or is the whole point that Forza 4 isn’t supposed to get challenging? Because right now, nearly half way to the level cap and well into the middle part of the career mode, the other cars are never a challenge. The only challenge is the course itself.

Forza 4 is a safe, visually bland, and thoroughly competent racing game. When I listen to the news on the radio while playing Forza, I can actually remember what I heard. The prime minister of Ukraine is in jail. The Republicans shot down Obama’s jobs bill. The underwear bomber is throwing in the towel. Kim Kardashian takes a whole week to get married. But when I listen to the news on the radio while playing Need for Speed: Shift 2, I have no idea what’s going on in the world. The world consists of nothing more than what I see out the windshield. I am invested, challenged, absorbed, 110% present, and sometimes wrestling with my own car as much as the other drivers’ cars. But Forza 4, a serviceable game in which I won the first time I took a Dodge Viper out onto a track I’d never driven, is about as engaging as a morning commute.

2 stars
Xbox 360