For a long time, when a racing fan want the most accurate and best looking racer with an unimaginable list of cars, they usually looked to the Gran Turismo series. When the original Xbox came out, several racers like the Project Gotham Racing and Rallisport Challenge tried to compete with it. A true experience like Gran Turismo wasn’t available on the Xbox though. Then Forza Motorsport came along and helped to redefine the racing genre, filling a void made by the delays in Gran Turismo 5. Now Forza Motorsport is on its fourth game in the series and has integrated some support for Kinect.
When you first start the career, there is a sense of respect for the machines that populate Forza 4. The British voice-over talks about how popular thought emphasizes fuel conservation and practical vehicles. How it longs for the day where cars were fun, just a touch of the steering wheel heightened the sense, and excitement came with driving at a high speed. Forza really wants to make you feel like you are driving in a car more than playing a video game.
Forza starts you off small in the F-Class series. These cars have easy handling and low top-speeds that make these the easiest cars to drive. Once you prove yourself in the first circuit you can move on to higher car classes. These cars have higher top speeds but also handle much differently. The progression is smooth enough that once you master a class moving on to the next one should provide more challenge.
You find out the location and a bit of history of each new track as it is introduced. These tracks are located all over the world, from Japan, to the US, to locations all over Europe. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Road America, and I haven’t actually driven out on the track. However, it does look a lot like what I would imagine it to be like if I was racing there. This shows to me that the developers have taken time with not only the well known tracks but with the lesser known tracks as well.
The difficulty levels in Forza 4 make the game accessible for anyone. These difficulty levels don’t change the abilities of the drivers but instead changes the help given to you by the game. The perfect track line is available to show you the best path on the track. Braking and steering assists make the game easier for those who aren’t used to the finer points of driving. If you make a mistake, you can rewind the race until you clear the area that you made a mistake in. The more assists that you have turned on, the less experience and money you gain from each race.
Instead of changing the driving style of the cars depending on the difficulty level, the AI adjusts to your driving style. If you drive aggressively and bump other cars, they won’t be afraid to trade paint either. The more finesse you have, the less you’ll get hit. The World Tour mode does get more difficult, but it is more because of the trickiness of the tracks. The difficulty curve is gradual though, and the racing never feels cheap with catch-up logic.
While racing against other racers on the track is fun, Forza breaks up the racing by using the Top Gear Test Track and creates some unique challenges. Early in the game you’ll have to knock down bowling pins set out on the track. Granted these pins are long and skinny and as tall as the car instead of the regular bowling pins we are familiar with, but it is kind of fun to drive your car through obstacles without worrying about causing any damage to your car.
Examining vehicles in the Autovista mode is a treat for car aficionados. Here some of the fastest cars are on display. You can get a close-up view of the exterior and interior of the vehicle and see all of the features. You can pop open the hood and trunk, examine the engine, get into either side of the car, and get the specifics of each feature.
While it’s easy to make the cars look great while sitting still, making them look good while in motion is a bit more difficult. Even in action, Forza 4 looks spectacular. The damage taken on the cars shows up externally. Seeing those scratches on a new paint job makes you wince. The interior in the driver’s seat gives enough detail to make it feel like you are actually sitting inside.
The sound effects used make the cars more lifelike. You can instantly tell the hum between an F-Class car and an A-Class car. The car tires squeal when you take a curve too quickly. The British voiceover gives you direction and an air of respect when talking about the features of the car.
Forza 4 does have compatibility with Kinect, but it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. A mode exists where you can put your hands in front of you like you are handling a steering wheel, but the game handles all braking and acceleration. It’s neat to do a few times but it doesn’t replace holding a controller and having full control of your vehicle. It might be something to break out when you have company over to show off the Kinect and have a little fun with. While this isn’t very useful, the head tracking mode is. If you are using the cockpit view, you can tilt your head to the side or look up to see the car mirrors. It adds realism to the racing and a great inclusion for those who have Kinect.
Online play is capabile to handle up to sixteen racers. The racing is fast but the experience is smooth. You’ll see cars crashing, but not because they pop in and out of the race. You can form a guild in the form of a Car Club. Sharing your car online is available as well. The lobbies don’t give you much information about the others in there with you, so you might be racing with drivers who have a much different skill set than your own.
From the opening cinematic to the garage to the customization to the races, you can just tell that the developers just love cars and they have poured that into Forza Motorsport 4. They have allowed enough tinkering to satisfy the grease monkey while making it accessible enough for newcomers that they won’t feel lost. While some of the Kinect functionality feels tacked on, it is exciting to think about what possibilities there are for the future of this technology. If you have been scared off of racing games because you are afraid that realistic can’t be fun, then don’t be afraid to give Forza Motorsport 4 a try.