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Forza Motorsport 4: the first few hours

Getting off the grid in career mode with the Xbox's star performer

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Okay it was a minor victory in a sub-compact beginners' class, but even so, it felt remarkably good. Handling was spot on, the opponent AI was strong enough to make you feel like you're in a proper race and if you do get something horribly wrong, there's a handy instant rewind facility to smooth out your driving errors.

With each race completed, you earn driver and affinity points to advance your career, with further multipliers applied for your overall difficulty level, any driver assists and a bonus for (lack of) damage. Driver points open up new driver levels which mean a choice of new cars (a rather tasty Suzuki SX4 Sportback in this case), while your affinity bonus earns you kudos with a manufacturer, who'll send over rewards like Forza points and discounts on parts.

Successive races at the Tsukuba Circuit in Japan and Rhode Atlanta again saw us run out winners, but the fourth event turned out to be on very familiar ground, the Top Gear Test Track in Dunsfold. No sign of The Stig on this occasion, but a challenge event which involved knocking over a series of skittles on the racing line. It made a nice diverting break from the more serious racing action and as we roared around Gambon for the first time we discovered it is most definitely as tight as it looks.

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The amateur division concludes with a longer two race event at the splendid Hockenheim circuit in Baden-Württemberg and this was a much tighter affair, with a bigger circuit and the AI drivers upping their game to provide a sterner challenge. First in the morning heat, we could only manage second in the full evening race (with no rewinds), after a prolonged and rewarding duel with the eventual winner and our newly nominated rival. We vowed to have him when we move up to the Clubman Division.

So that's how you'll spend the first few hours with Forza 4's new World Tour Mode and its certainly the most complete and beautiful looking of the Xbox performance racing series yet. There's hundred of cars and events to explore, authoritative tuning and upgrade experiences and a pleasing tie-in with Top Gear that adds a merry macho whiff of petrolhead excess.

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