Forza Motorsport 4
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Racing; Publisher: Microsoft
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
Grade: 4 stars
Similar to a successful car franchise that puts out a new edition each year that looks and drives the same but has a few new features, so goes Forza Motorsport 4.
Fear not, drivers, this isn’t lipstick on a pig. These tweaks take the fantastic Forza 3 game to an even more impressive level of gameplay.
The game’s thrust is fairly simple: Race, earn money, buy some new rides and race them some more.
Don’t let the minimalism of that statement steer you away from this game, however. There is depth throughout Forza 4, from its accessibility for newcomers to new modes of online play.
First-time players get the chance to adjust all the sliders that aid in keeping your ride firmly gripping the pavement, while more experienced vets will surely unleash their drifting expertise.
I found the best action is online, where the available game modes are built for more competitive and thrilling races. The highlights are Rivals mode (races against ghost cars of other players) and multi-class races (two or three different races competing at the same time on the same track) that keep the replay value high.
If there is a true disappointment, it’s the lack of new racing circuits. The five new additions are nice, but that doesn’t cut it when compared to other racing titles that push the number higher. Forza 4 also lacks some varying driving conditions, which is a shame because races at night or in pelting rainstorms could break up the monotony.
For fans, the two-year wait for this new Forza title must have been rough, but they will be roundly rewarded with a game that rarely hits the skids.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Genre: Action; Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Grade: 2 stars
The makers of Assault Horizon have taken my favorite aerial combat franchise and made it into a Michael Bay film. And I don’t like it.
Years of narratives built around the stresses of being a fighter pilot and the struggles of nations going to war, rebuilding and expanding through aerial domination have given way to game that is all about explosions, and not nearly enough about tense dogfights.
Oh, sure, Assault Horizon has a new “dogfight” mode that is one of the game’s selling points. Trigger this mode on, and the camera angles are more cinematic, the explosions fill the screen and symphonies signal your epic triumph for the 10 seconds before another dogfight begins.
The dogfights are cheapened this way. It doesn’t take long for this new mode to wear out its welcome, but playing without it makes the missions a total bore.
The game does attempt to mix things up by leaving the cockpit of nimble fighter jets and instead doing battle in a helicopter or lumbering bomber.
The chopper missions are better executed, but they’re still too easy -- like the rest of the game. Some online modes at least allow you to test your skills against human competitors. The AI is lackluster otherwise.
It’s a shame that, after stellar releases like The Belkan War and Fires of Liberation, gamers are now forced to play a game that is all about big cinematic explosions with blaringly loud music and little substance or plot.
Follow Chris Campbell at twitter.com/campbler or email him at game_on_games(at)mac.com.