Review: Forza Motorsport 4
The world of Forza Motorsport – there’s no clever storyline, no rise to fame through a faceless character, just you, few hundred cars and the open road. This is more than a game, it’s an experience and one than can be tailored to any play style and level of skill. The latest game in the hugely successful franchise finally sees the addition of Top Gear, which includes the iconic Top Gear test track and commentary by the man himself, Jeremy Clarkson – I am however still yet to bump into The Stig in-game though!
The game can be played in two ways, with Kinect or with a controller and Kinect. Going into the game exclusively using just Kinect gives you full Kinect-ivity in Autovista (Forza’s new car showroom) as well as being able to drive any of the cars on one of the games many tracks using just your hands. While this is super enjoyable as Kinect is extremely responsive, there is hardly any competition to be had here. The game accelerates and brakes for you leaving you to concentrate on taking a virtual grab of the wheel and enjoying the spectacular scenery Forza has to offer, think of this mode as more like a Sunday drive in the countryside.
You can also take on a friend locally in split-screen for a head-to-head Kinect race. You can choose from a small selection of tracks and cars, but there are one or two issues with the Kinect only mode that make split-screen rather painful. Firstly the navigation of the menus isn’t great (which is also an issue in the single player modes). You can scroll through the cars and tracks by swiping your hand across the screen, sounds simple enough but the execution of this in Forza 4 is one of the worst menu navigations I’ve seen from a Kinect enabled game. Not only is it a bit of a fiddle to grab the pane and swipe across to navigate, it’s practically impossible to navigate through one pane at a time. This can be particularly annoying when playing in split-screen as you watch your opponent wrestle with the navigation to look through ALL the cars on offer. Once in-game and racing against one another, Kinect seemed to struggle somewhat with my movements, they didn’t seem to be as responsive when compared to the single player modes.
The main beauty of the Kinect only mode of Forza 4 though is Autovista. This is Forza’s car showroom and while not all the cars are available in this mode there are certainly enough to keep you entertained for a long while and I would certainly expect Turn 10 to deliver more through DLC during the game’s lifecycle. Initially not all the cars are available for you to explore and you must unlock them by completing a challenge which can be from completing time trials and races to passing as many cars as possible. Autovista mode remains the same whether you choose to explore it using the power of Kinect or by a controller – although challenges are a lot easier to complete using Kinect.
Once you have selected a car to explore you are able to virtually walk around and look at the various parts using head tracking, which works pretty much faultlessly. There are multiple points of interest on the car which when selected, you are treated to a brief narration on that part. There is also a hotspot on the car that will play the Top Gear presentation, which is narrated by Jeremy Clarkson and shot in a very Top Gear-esque fashion. This feature looks and sounds great and wouldn’t look out of place on the TV show, you learn a bit about each car and what Jeremy Clarkson thinks about them. This is a great little feature and you will certainly want to look at the other car’s in Top Gear modes.
Outside of the information hotspots on the cars you can navigate around, open doors and even get into the car all through the power of Kinect. Head tracking works particularly well, allowing you to peer around and inspect the car’s finer points and there are plenty of ‘fine’ points. The cars look absolutely unbelievable, like they are ready to leap out of the screen. The reproduction and detail in the vehicles is breathtaking, they look stunning and it isn’t until you get a closer look at the alloy wheels and the rubber on the tyres that the illusion of looking at a real car is shattered. When using a controller you can look around the car using the sticks and while the experience is relatively the same it’s more fun and immersive to use Kinect.
With such great integration to head tracking in Autovista it’s a shame that Turn 10 didn’t integrate this into the racing side of the Kinect mode. While I can see that this may have been too distracting while racing with your hands, I would have liked to of been given the option to turn it on or off. Likewise there are no voice commands available to you when in Kinect mode, which if there was, could have helped the navigation issue I experienced. The Kinect racing modes may all be played while sitting down, but you need to stand to make full use of Autovista.
The Kinect only mode is just the tip of what’s on offer in Forza, the main game is experienced with a controller, or in the case of this review, a steering wheel. Starting the game you will be treated to a Top Gear presentation about the new game before being thrust into a celebration lap of new level – the Bernese Alps. You now have the option to import your Forza 3 profile and receive a nice achievement as well as cars and credits from your Forza 3 career. Now you can pick your first Forza 4 car in which to begin your World Tour. Similar to previous games in the franchise, you begin by selecting from bog standard “small” cars – I went for a Toyota Aygo.
When using Kinect in contoller mode you can call out ‘Xbox’ and make a voice command to jump straight into a menu or mode at anytime. Don’t worry, all the possible voice commands are listed in the menu just like in the Kinect dashboard. Now, before you begin to sink your teeth into the main game you can if you wish install disc 2 to your hard drive which enables an extra 250 cars to be available in the main game. You can opt to install the whole disc or choose packs to install.
Kinect doesn’t just stop with voice commands, Kinect delivers one of the finest intergrations of the system into a game, head-tracking. To enable head-tracking you must delve into the options screen and switch it on. Here you can also tweak a variety of options to best suit you. You can adjust the sensitivity on head yaw, lean sensitivity and also adjust a setting called “head yaw with lean” which roughly means a setting to adjust the neutral position when you look straight forward. You can also adjust Kinect’s ability to clip out unwanted objects in the background. It’s an impressive set of options but does it work? Oh my word does it!
So how does it work? well as the name suggests, Forza can now track your head movements and translate them directly into the game so now you can look down and round a bend or even check your rear view and wing mirrors. Head tracking becomes even more noticeable when you start drifting around corners at high speeds, the view looks into the corner you are drifting round and through the side window rather than transfixed out front, it’s an incredible experience and is a stand out feature of Forza 4.
The thing I have loved most about using a steering wheel and cockpit view in Forza is the level of immersion it creates, it’s as close many of us will get to sitting in a real car and racing around a track. Many games have carried the better with Kinect tagline and I think that Forza 4 is the first game to really prove that it certainly is, this feature alone makes having Kinectability with Forza 4 worthwhile, I love it!
Just to make sure head tracking is a worthwhile addition, try turning it off after using it for a prolonged period of time. Instantly the cars will feel very rigid and the game will be less immersive. It’s a tremendous accolade to be able to boast the best Kinect support in a game and one that I think Turn 10 will be proud of and deserve.
Turn 10 haven’t just fiddled with Kinect-ability and intergrated Top Gear, they have also delved into the physics of the game making each of the tracks feel like a fresh challenge as you battle against the road surface and the condition of your tyres, the level of immersion just keeps getting deeper. Like previous games you can also tweak the difficulty to suit your skill. On easy, the game will assist you in just about every aspect allowing you to concentrate on steering – Sunday drivers apply here! As the difficulty increases the game gives you more and more control over the car until you are on full simulation mode and have to deal with the clutch as well as driving without any assists such as ABS (I can recommend using a steering wheel if you plan to go for this mode). You can of course also select a difficulty and then tweak individual elements that make up that difficulty, for example, you could opt for medium but instead of limited damage you can change it to full simulation. The possibilities are endless and there really is a difficulty for everyone, as you get better you can keep stepping up the difficulty until you are a racing pro.
There’s nothing worse than playing a racing game against AI that is clinical and overly aggressive, well in Forza 4 the AI has been tweaked further since the last game and while you will come across some overly aggressive drivers who will force you into a spin, you will also see plenty of errors in the way that they drive. On only my second race the AI was out in front with me hot on their heels, as we approached a tight S bend the AI bottled it and spun off the track just as if I was racing a human player, it was truly exhilarating stuff. Unfortunately though there are no options to directly control the AI difficulty in World Tour, their skill does scale with how you set up your car difficulty but there are no direct options to control their skills or levels of aggression which is kind of a shame considering how in-depth most of the options are in Forza. Playing the game in free play\quick race or by choosing to race an event from the list in career mode does allow you to set your opponent difficulty. The event list mode also allows you to set the opponent upgrades and class restrictions, so I felt it was rather odd to leave these settings out of the world tour mode.
Other than new physics to contend with in Forza 4, gameplay wise it remains the same, it’s racing, but in Forza 4 the guys at Top Gear are on hand to help “mix things up”. Bowling anyone? That’s right, knock over pins as you race around the Top Gear track and this is part of the career mode. It’s a shame that there aren’t more of these modes to mix up the standard race career. All of the different circuits of the Top Gear track are available in Forza 4 including the ability to race in the classic Kia cee’d. The only thing I found that was missing was Mr Clarkson’s voice warning me as I approached hammerhead, just like in the celeb hot laps.
As well as catering for just about any level of skill, Forza 4 also caters for a wide range in car taste, from the everyday family car up to the top of the range sports models. Finally I can now drive the family car decked out in a body kit that my wife would never consent too. The cars all feel and look great, each coming with slight differences to the way they handle. Each is so intricately detailed that I’m sure only the nerdiest car fanatic could pick holes!
The single player element to Forza 4 remains vastly unchanged, take part in World Tour, a mode that sees you make your way up the car classes through a plotted path of events across the world. At anytime you can jump out of this and take on events at your pace and at your own choosing by playing through the event list mode. Each event in World Tour gives you a set of options, you may choose to take on the track in one of three ways, these come down to making a choice as to what car class or type you would like to race in, each coming with its own unique bonus reward which is from bonus credits, driver XP or car model affinity bonus. Be warned though going for the best rewards might not be the easiest route through world tour, early on in your career you can jump from E class cars to B class if you want that large juicy reward bonus.
Progress through Forza is pretty much all about self progression and improvement. You can complete the game by chosing easy and just driving mindlessly through the games hundreds of tracks and even if you don’t finish first you can still proceed to the next stage. It’s all about the enjoyment of driving around tracks and improving the simulation experience by increasing the control you have over the car.
The new edition to single player is Rivals mode which can also be played amongst your car club in multiplayer. Rivals is a mode where you compete against other gamers lap times and scores in an effort to better them and place yourself on the line for others to beat. While playing in rivals you continue to earn driver XP and affinity XP and there are various rivals races in which to compete giving every type of Forza player something to compete in. What’s more is you don’t have to race the rival that the game chooses for you if you don’t want to, by pressing Y you can select to take on a rival from your friends list or car club. You can take on a racer from the top scores on that track, racers that are located “near you” or from any you have “favourited”. The game really does cater to what YOU want to do in a racing game and how YOU want to play it.
Graphically Forza is one of the best looking racers out there. I mentioned before Autovista mode looks truly stunning and while not quite as gorgeous, in-game racing still looks superb and will certainly give a wow factor especially if you have people over and the game happens to be on in the background – Forza is eye bleedingly beautiful, I just want to sit and stare at it’s lucious curves all day long. To be fair Forza has always looked pretty awesome but Turn 10 have upped their game further in 4. The tracks look more real than ever, the lighting engine has been improved and makes the cars look so real as light bounces off of them and coupled with a steering wheel and head tracking on Kinect you really can’t get any closer to the real thing.
Forza has always been about the community. The game has offered multiple tools over the years which have all linked in with the website. Picture and video sharing was the tip of the iceberg, Forza features a very comprehensive art tool where users can decorate their cars and create vinyl sets which they can then sell to other users through the storefront or even put one-off designs and cars up for auction. The community has also seen a strong rise in creative flair as gamers try to produce stunning pictures or gameplay movies. In Forza 4 you can now take HD pictures to upload to the website and you can record up to 30s worth of video in either web or high quality format and upload it to the forza website, this can be a lengthy process to record but worth it if you want to show off your greatest driving feats.
The lastest addition to the Forza 4 community is Clubs. Clubs is an extension of the online community that has formed over the years and is best described as a clan. Club members can race against each other, beat each others records in Rivals and best of all share cars and tuning setups. Forza loves it’s community and the attention Forza 4 shows towards this is evidence that the community is a mighty strong and active one. The only issue I found with clubs is that you have to type in gamertags manually to send out invites to join your car club, there didn’t seem a way to access your friends list to fire out invites directly.
There are plenty of modes to race online and you have direct access to invite either friends or club members into your party. The usual race modes are ever-present here but there are also several fun modes to play around with in the playground. The online will certainly extend your Forza career but for me I much prefer the solo experience although with the new club mode I can see myself getting rather competitive with one or two gamers from my friends list and club mode could open up the world of online racing to me, something I’ve never really got into before.
I’ve enjoyed past iterations of Forza but none of them have grabbed me and immersed me as much as Forza 4, it’s utterly fantastic and the best racing game I’ve ever played. Maybe it’s the head tracking but never before have I ever felt like I’m in the car so much as I do with Forza 4, in fact after thrashing the family car about the tracks I have to refocus myself when driving said car in the real world. It just feels all so right, a little too real – I just can’t see how Turn 10 will better the game in the next version which will undoubtedly release on Microsoft’s next console.
What I love about Forza is you don’t have to race on a certain track X amount of times before you can unlock a new track or buy a new car, you don’t have to be the worlds best racer to enjoy all its modes. The game caters for everyone and every skill. It’s not just a racing game but an experience and one that Turn 10 continually improve upon in every iteration. Just when you think the game is at its pinnacle Turn 10 break out the Turtle Wax and elbow grease and bring in something new and squeeze more beauty out of the games graphic engine. The competitive nature of the AI is spot on, the physics feel great particularly the force feedback coming from the road through the steering wheel, which at times makes you really feel like you have to fight against it! To top off the authentic nature of the game you will even get road rage!
If there is one racing game you buy this year make it Forza Motorsport 4 now I’m off to thrash the family car around the Top Gear race track one last time!
Review: Forza Motorsport 4 Results
What we liked:
Superb Kinect integration, particularly head tracking
Incredible graphics, especially autovista mode
The best racing game/experience on Xbox
What we disliked:
Terrible menu navigation in Kinect mode
Can't directly adjust the AI in world tour
I would of liked more modes like bowling or cone gates in World Tour