My eyeballs feel like they're on stalks and my concentration is on a knife edge as I spot the 50 meter board. Passing the marker and focusing now on the apex of the second-to-last corner, I stamp on the brakes, drop down two gears from fifth to third and, guiding the nose of the car into the apex, the rear begins to let go. My heart skips a beat as I correct with an arm-full of opposite lock, praying that the car will straighten up before I attack the final corner, Gambon. Wrestling the car in, I clip the apex and plant the accelerator, before crossing the line and completing my first lap of the Top Gear Test Track.
Forza 4 hits the shelves in the UK on Friday October 14 and hopes to kick Gran Turismo 5 off the top spot of the driving simulator podium, bringing with it Kinect support and Top Gear extras.
I could tell you about the 80 manufacturers, the Kinect integration and the new tracks, but what you really want to know is this - what is it actually like to play?
Having sat down with Forza 4 for a lengthy driving session over the weekend I can confirm that it's absolutely brilliant. Those who have played Forza 3 will get to grips with 4 very quickly. The car physics feels familiar, but with perhaps a little more weight than before.
Car behaviour is just as you'd expect it to be, with front-wheel-drive cars washing out with understeer - but providing fistful of highly amusing lift-off oversteer, while rear-wheel-drive cars can be teased into heroic drifts with a squeeze of the right trigger. This isn't to say that Forza 4 is all about going sideways - it just mean that breaking traction is fairly easy and predictable, at least in lesser-powered cars with which you start the game.
I played with traction and stability control turned off and with simulation steering, but with the ABS turned on. Leaving the traction and stability on certainly neuters the game, but means than someone completely new to driving games can set a decent time.
With everything turned off there's a fine line between hero and zero - controlling anything with north of 500hp certainly sharpens the mind - but slides are easier to catch than in Gran Turismo 5, where it's all too easy to run out of talent, especially when using a controller instead of a steering wheel.
From the humble Ford Ka - which I started with - up to the savage McLaren F1, every car in the game is fun, and importantly they all feel like you're driving the wheel nuts off them every single lap.
The AI of computer drivers - something which driving games almost always fall down on - is very good. Opponents make mistakes on their own (one first-corner incident saw the pole-sitter go straight on, hitting a wall and rolling his car) and they can be seen scrapping amongst themselves. Even if you start blocking and slowing down in front of others, they will brake and navigate around you, unlike the AI in Gran Turismo, that are seemingly on rails from which they cannot deviate.
The impressive AI can be seen most clearly in mixed-category races, where there will be a group of-A class cars on the track at the same time as, for example, a D-class race. The faster cars will, of course, lap the slower ones; but being in their own race the overtaking is done carefully by the AI.
Forza 4 has a strong connection with Top Gear, which means the Test Track is included, as are several mini-games like car bowling and car football. Car bowling crops up once a season in career mode - at least as far as I got, anyway - and involves driving around the Dunsfold track and knocking over as many pins as possible. The best technique is to apply the handbrake and slide into the mass of pins sideways; it's great fun!
While there are many low-level cars, it's possible to gain access to medium-level Ferraris and the like within a few hours, and a small selection of your Forza 3 garage can be transferred from your game save. After about five hours of playing I was dialled in to the game and had a 600-hp Renault Clio - which I was actually able to upgrade for free, as I'd won sponsorship from Renault in a previous race - along with an MR2, Escort Cosworth, Ford Ka and a few American muscle cars, to name just a few.
The races that you're offered in career mode depend on the car you're in at that time. You hop around the globe to pre-set tracks and a choice between three races is given at each track. This format keeps things really simple, no hunting around for races that you're allowed to enter, or trying to find the one you haven't yet done - it's all very quick and simple, getting you straight into racing with minimal menu time.
A particular highlight of my afternoon with Forza 4 was taking the Kia Cee'd to the Top Gear test Track, desperately trying to beat a friend. Fans of the TV show will know that the Kia is the current 'Reasonably Priced Car' driven by celebrities trying to set the fastest lap time. Using the in-car view I really felt like I was in the TV show, and gunning the throttle off the line brought a very familiar noise of tyre squeal and engine noise. I was quickly on par with the higher entries of the Top Gear celebrity lap times, showing that Forza's representation of the track and car mirror the real world closely.
Finally, a blast around the fearsome 14-mile Nordschleife in a McLaren F1 proved that Forza 4 can still be a difficult beast to tame, and while you may feel like a god drifting an MR2, tackling more powerful cars is definitely a challenge. The 'Green Hell' is beautifully rendered, with track-side campsites faithfully recreated in great detail. The F1, as with all cars in the game, provided an awesome engine note - possibly a little fake and more pronounced than in reality, but it's a game and that's what gamers want. The vacuum cleaner sounds of Gran Turismo 5 were a disappointment for me to say the least.
On the whole Forza 4 provides just about everything to almost everyone. Gaming virgins can have fun with the Kinect features, while the traction control settings mean that new-comers won't fall off in frustration at every corner. At the other end of the scale, hardcore, battle-hardened racers can turn every driver aide off and wrestle just about any car imaginable around a wide range of beautiful tracks. On that note, the new 'Bernese Alps' track is an absolute beauty, best served with something suitably fast and rear-wheel-drive; blasting around in a Ferrari 458 was an absolute joy.
Whatever it is you want to get out of a racing game, be it messing around with friends, or competing for the top-stop online, Forza 4 has you covered.
Developer: Turn 10
Release date: 14/10/2011