FORZA Motorsport 4 (XBOX 360)
Since the dawn of mankind racing games have been a popular genre on consoles and PC's... well maybe not that far back but certainly back to the early days of gaming at home and in arcades... titles such as Ridge Racer, Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge and even further back Pole Position blazed a trail for more recent franchises like Gran Tourismo and Project Gotham which have gone on to redefine what we expect from racing titles.
The wait for the latest and greatest in the above series can be unbearable for some and the completely over the top reaction to GT5's numerous delays just goes to show how passionate gamers are about their sofa based high speed thrills and it is probably fair to say that some lessons were learned in the industry from watching how an ever slipping release date harmed GT's reputation.
Turn 10 and Microsoft were clearly amongst those who were paying close attention and they have quietly gone about developing the latest Forza title, a follow up to a game many consider to be one of the all-time best racers. The PR campaign really kicked off in the last week or so though with TV spots, online adverts and of course review samples landing with press.
With all new Kinect functionality and an expanded racing experience Forza Motorsport 4 looks to build on the success of its 2009 predecessor. HardwareHeaven don's its Stig like helmet and heads on into the world of Microsoft's key racing title for the 2011 holiday season.
Right from the outset Forza 4 makes it clear that this is a game designed for car enthusiasts with an introduction voiced by BBC Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson who eloquently voices his disdain with the real worlds move towards hybrid cars and environmentally correct evolutions that remove the fun from our real world driving experience. From there it would be a rather bizarre decision for Turn 10 to force us into some lowly hatchback where we had to grind through a championship or two until we get some real speed so it is a welcome discovery to be thrown into a decent quality car to race through the Swiss Alps.
From there we find that Forza Motorsport is a massive game which can be many different things to different types of player and we are free to play as we like from the various menu selections. We can for example start on a reasonably standard career mode where we work our way around some of the world's most famous circuits, attending events which are split into different classes of vehicles. The rewards for winning our races come in the form of XP and credits as well as unlocks and achievements. Our rise through the ranks is accompanied by the ability to buy newer, faster cars as is the norm for this style of game and as with all semi-serious racing games we can fine tune and tweak our cars to enhance performance and even take them from one class up into the next.
Turn 10 realise that not everyone wants to gets their ehands dirty though and so also supply some quick fixes for those who just want to race, offering to enhance our vehicle for us if it doesn't meet the class of the next race.
With this being an arcade style racing game with elements of realism the developers have had time to employ a few little tweaks and twists to help separate the game from other driving titles. We can for example hit Y to rewind the race slightly, allowing us to perfect a passing move or maybe avoid an upcoming mistake. Then there are the tie-ins such as involvement of Top Gear. The Top Gear Circuit appears a few times during the game giving us the chance to drive round a very impressive representation of the TV show's track and complete fun challenges set to us.
This easy pick up and play style continues into the rest of the game where we are presented with numerous types of gameplay such as the ability to tweak assists, drop into quick races, hot laps and the like or head online into the Forza community. When playing online the quick matches and race creation are available but Turn 10 have also included some variation through the inclusion of gameplay styles such as Virus, cat and mouse and keeping the it. Using the latter as an example the aim is to be "it" for as long as possible during a set time. Get tagged by another car and they become it... simple but fun.
We can also challenge our friends to "Rivals" events, competing in challenges online or offline for rewards and the ability to rub our success in their face in real life...
The Forza community extends out beyond the game and Xbox live too with access to My Forza at ForzaMotorsport.net
where we can get access to our stats and screenshots we have taken. In fact dotted through this review are images we have taken ourselves and accessed through this method. We can also set up Car clubs and involve others in creating a team of drivers, tuners etc to enhance the experience and view event calendars to see when community race nights are happening.
Earlier in the review we mentioned Kinect functionality being included in the game and this takes the form of three different aspects. Firstly and most obviously we can have Kinect monitor our movements, "holding" a steering wheel in front of us and controlling the car that way. A more subtle use of the technology is that when controlling with a standard Xbox controller (or the new wireless motion sensing wheel) we can enable head tracking, allowing is to turn our head and with it the onscreen view when driving. The third use of Kinect is Autovista. In this mode we can access the games cars in a garage and by moving round our room, walk round the cars. Bend down and the onscreen view takes us closer to the bodywork, reach out for the car door and we can motion to open it. Walk forward and we can "get in" to see the inside of the vehicle and access various statistics and facts about each model.
Graphics and Sound
Let's get the negative out of the way first, Forza 4 feature one of those generic electropopdancerocknonsense scores that feature in most racing games, it offers nothing to the game and unless that style of music is something the player is a fan off we suggest turning it down because from there the only way is up as we get some great, varied engine sounds, tyre screeches and crash sounds for the less able drivers amongst us.
On the graphics side the press pack claims that the latest version of Forza Motorsport sets a new graphical standard for the racing genre thanks to a new damage (physics) and lighting engine. In terms of what we experience, the first thing which stands out is that there is absolutely no slowdown in Forza 4. Turn 10 and Microsoft claim that we run at 60fps and that certainly seems to be the case. Detail levels are also very consistent, there is plenty of view distance and the sun as well as road surfaces look good. Paint tones are also rendered well with each manufacturer's distinct colouring noticeable here. In the garage areas the hundreds of vehicles from over 80 manufacturers are all drawn exceptionally well and when racing they look impressive, though not perfect... which is more the limitation of current consoles than the developers.
That said we did love playing with the photo tool, finding some great angles to take stills with and playing with "camera" settings to get the best effect. The ability to upload 9MP images was also a nice touch and ideal for making custom desktop images.
When buying Forza Motorsport 4 we are not just purchasing a game, we are getting an experience and that summary of a game has never been truer than in this case. Turn 10 have gone to great lengths to make a game which offers a staggering amount of content which can be accessed as a quick pick up and play title or played as a far more detailed game.
For those who like a sim like experience the ability to tune and customise the cars for a perfect balance will appeal. Racers will love the arcade styling's that each race offers. Enthusiasts will appreciate the level of detail which is provided on each car by Autovista and those out to have fun will find the Top Gear segments such as car soccer and skittles a welcome break from the standard races.
This extreme attempt to offer a game which includes rather than excludes continues on into multiplayer mode where finely balanced races of up to 16 players offer a challenge but more importantly we can access these quickly and easily through a race making system that works. The ability to challenge our friends also enhances the game and the decision to allow each rival to play at a time of their choosing even works round the busy schedules we all have nowadays.
Looking next to what Kinect offers us, we have to admit that our first reaction upon seeing that Forza 4 had this functionality was that it was not going to be a good idea. We are big fans of Kinect and think it has a lot of potential but this didn't seem like the place to begin exploring that. Overall though it works well, even if it is a bit gimmicky. The least effective mode is using Kinect as a controller, it just doesn't feel right over long gaming sessions and the new wireless wheel would be much more effective in increasing immersiveness. Head tracking is a decent use of the technology though and adds to the race experience. Then we have Autovista which is a whole bunch of fun, at least for the first few times using it. Being able to walk around a Ferarri, Veryon or classic car in our living room has a certain level of geek pleasing fun to it and we can see plenty of visitors being forced to try it out in the near future.
Of course the straight up racing experience of Forza Motorsport 4 is what matters the most and in this area Turn 10 have completely delivered. Each of the cars has a unique feel, the circuit's different style/challenge and visually the game pulls everything together well along with delivering a feeling of real speed in the faster cars. Really the only aspect that is in need of improvement is the score... how we wish that a developer would realise that allowing us to import our own music into a driving game is a great idea. Tearing round the Swiss alps in a supercar to our favourite album, yes please.
This is of course a minor blip in an otherwise hugely impressive game which is enhanced further by the release of extra cars for those who buy early copies and the Limited Edition for enthusiasts which includes steel case, extra cars, VIP community membership, Top Gear book and vinyl sticker set.
93/100 - F1 2011 offered the technical racing game of 2011 however Forza Motorsport 4 delivers the biggest and best racing experience we have seen to date. A classic.