Curious about the appeal of Forza Motorsport 4? It's all perfectly distilled into the final event in Rivals Mode's Top Gear playlist. Everything that makes the game so compelling for racing fans can be found in that single challenge - and it's not even a conventional race.
Even though it's something you play solo, like so much in Rivals Mode, it's inherently tied to the online community. Hop online and the game will automatically rustle up a rival of similar ability to you and offer a bounty as a challenge. Accept the duel and you're whisked away to, in this case, to the daunting Nurburgring Nordschleife and plonked into the cockpit of a barely-road-legal Radical SR8.
It's not just any random track and car pairing - Forza's deeply involved in car culture, so this is a tribute to the fact that the fastest production car time around the circuit's terrifying 14 miles was set in the Radical. When you roll up to the start line, you know you're not just trying to beat the masses but taking on a real life record as well.
Like everything else in Forza Motorsport 4, the circuit looks stunning - grey skies loom overhead, mist hangs in the air and the sparse, functional dashboard of the open-topped sportscar fills the lower third of the screen. Squeeze the right trigger and the engine wails as you skitter away from the line.
Assuming you haven't dulled the handling feel with all the driving aids, there's enormous subtlety to the tyre model now. As a result it's easier to push all of the cars to the absolute limit because you can feel exactly when the tyres begin to lose grip. That feeling's never more obvious than in a quick, responsive track-weapon like the Radical on the most demanding circuit in the world. Fast now feels properly, life-threateningly fast.
Providing you make it all the way round without ending up in the weeds, either you'll have beaten your online rival or you won't. If you have, you'll earn the bounty, but even if you haven't, you're still richly rewarded. Simply completing an event like this rival challenge gives you lashings of XP that go towards your next driver level (not to mention the free car that comes with it) and you also earn 'affinity' to that particular car manufacturer, bagging you discounts on parts. Every time you play the game, in any mode, you're progressing, earning and achieving.
In theory you could spend hours just hammering away at this single challenge, but this is just one of hundreds of events available to you in Forza. The new World Tour bounds around the globe, offering up events that match the cars available in your garage. There's more variety this time around - a regular race might be followed by an overtaking challenge or by Top Gear bowling. Anyone who levelled accusations of sterility towards the previous game will find a much more playful Forza this time.
The Top Gear content is a lighter touch than perhaps some fans were hoping, but what's there is great. The ability to lap the test track in the Kia Cee'd alone will provide hours of entertainment in Rivals Mode. Clarkson's contribution to the opening video and Autovista is one shot entertainment.
We've got relatively few gripes with Forza 4, but there are a couple. One is the lack of flexibility in single player mode. While you can create a multiplayer game and tweak every last parameter, if you're a solo player and just want a quick race you either only get to pick a car and a track or have to run one of the preset challenges from the World Tour event list. Also, some of the series' more longstanding tracks are beginning to look a little neglected - Silverstone is based on surveys conducted for the original Forza back in 2003.