Forza Motorsport is a game that is almost synchronous to racing on the Xbox consoles, just like Gran Turismo is for the Playstation. When the first Forza was released back in 2005 for the old Xbox it immediately made a big statement in the world of driving simulations. The game was received extremely well and had everything in it to make the heart of any motorist beat faster. Since then developer Turn 10 has perfected their Forza franchises in every way, but kept that core driving experience the same: realistic driving in realistic cars with realistic tuning and a massive amount of options to visually alter the look of cars. And now, with the introduction of Forza 4, Turn 10 is expanding this core driving experience with the most logical step to make things even more realistic: Kinect!

Forza in a nutshell

Those that are entirely new to the Forza Franchise and have never played a single Forza game might question where all this Forza fuss is coming from, and why most people think it’s such a good game. Well, simply put: Forza delivers a very compelling, complete and realistic driving experience. This is not just some ordinary racer: Forza has a staggering amount of cars that all drive like their physical counterpart and can be tuned, upgraded and painted in surprisingly detailed ways. Forza features many realistic circuits that are modeled to perfectly match the real thing and features a ton of options to tune the driving experience and difficulty to each player’s level of skill. Then there are also all kinds of community options that allow players to buy and sell cars, tuning setups and designs. So Forza is really just a very complete racing simulation with a near perfect execution and a ton of features. It is so good that even now that Forza 4 is out the Forza 3 community is thriving and very active. Forza is a game that grabs you and holds on to you only to let go when a new iteration of the series arrives, just so that the new game can grab you and entertain you for hour and hours to come!

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Forza 4: Now with Kinect!

Fine tuning the Forza formula

Forza 3 was already a very complete game, it had tons of cars, tons of circuits and tons of stuff to tweak and tune. Because Forza 3 was already so complete it’s not really a surprise that Forza 4 doesn’t really add that much in term of new content. You will still be able to choose from a serious amount of cars, but their number hasn’t increased. There are new tracks, but for now there are only five new ones. You still have the option to tune your car, install aftermarket parts and paint it in whatever way you like, but since this was already pretty perfect in Forza 3 there is no major difference here. No, the new stuff in Forza 4 doesn’t come in the form of tons of new content but rather in a couple of nifty fine-tunes to the Forza formula, giving you an even better playing experience!

The first and most visible fine-tune is that in the graphics department. I’m pretty sure that Forza 4 uses almost the same graphic models for the cars and the environment but at the same time they look just so much more realistic than in Forza 3. I think this has something to do with the lightning engine that is being used, and that the use of this HDR lightning is adding a healthy dose of realism by slightly changing the way light reflects off the cars, and by slightly changing the way the exposure regulation of light works. Check out the comparison video below and you’ll see what I mean.

But graphics wise it doesn’t stop with the new lightning engine. Turn 10 did a phenomenal job at modeling the interior of the cars. I think in Forza 1 and 2 there were no interiors at all, Forza 3 introduced them and now in Forza 4 they look almost as realistic as the real thing! I was amazed when I first stepped into the VW Sirocco, which almost has the same dashboard as my own car, and see that not only all the dials and buttons where there but also that the multifunctional display was implemented and that even the clock on this display was working! Amazing stuff! Even cars that greatly diver from a traditional dashboard are modeled in great detail. For instance the Lamborghini Reventon does not have speed dials but instead has a full on digital LCD display. You might think that this is too much detail to get into a game like this but the opposite is true: the Reventon’s dashboard is also modelled in great detail and all the LCD displays show exactly the same as the real thing!

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Above: The real thing. Below: Forza 4

Gameplay wise there are also a number of tweaks that improve a ton of stuff: The cars for instance feel a tad more realistic; going back to Forza 3 I think those cars are a bit more ‘sticky’ and tend to feel like they are glued a bit too much to the road. In Forza 4 the cars ‘feel’ more alive and they feel wild and alive. Then there is the AI of the game: In Forza 3 I would always leave the AI cars far behind me if I drove decent enough. Now with Forza 4 the AI is giving me a real run for my money and I have serious trouble getting the lead and holding it. This means that the experience is a lot more exciting and you’ll have to be on your toes at all times to keep that first position! Another nice new improvements is the ‘immediate feedback indicator’ telling you after every corner, drift or pass how well you did, giving you immediate valuable information to improve your driving. Oh yeah, the cars sound a lot better too!

And this list of little improvement that have huge impact just goes on and on: The career mode now always gives you a choice of events that suit your selected car so that you won’t be forced to drive in a specific car all the time. You also won’t be leveling up cars anymore but instead you will level up a specific manufacturer (up to level 50) so that you will not have the feeling you have to switch cars so that you will still gain XP again. Upgrades will now even come for free after getting a manufacturer to level 5 so that you won’t need insane amounts of cash to get your cars competitive for multiplayer. Speaking of multiplayer: you will now be able to create clubs which you can use to share cars and other stuff with your friends (look for the 123Kinect club if you want to join us). Also, when it comes to setting lap times, if you hit another car, go off-road or use the rewind feature your lap will be classified as ‘dirty’ and dirty laps will always come under the clean laps. And like this there are many more improvements. One is so nice though that I think it deserves a special paragraph: rivals mode!

Rivals mode

Rivals mode is a brand new semi multiplayer addition to the Forza series, and in my opinion it is an absolute cracker! When entering Rivals mode you’ll be presented with a selection of tracks and their associated rules which regulate car usage and modifications. Your task is to set an as fast time as possible on this specific track. Sound simple enough you might say, but fortunately there is a big kicker! When racing on the track you can pick a rival (represented by a saved ghost lap from an actual player) and race against him or her! So in a sense you can race against any Forza 4 player in the world and try to beat their best time! Win from your chosen rival and you will get a healthy dose of credits and experience points. A prime example of this is the Top Gear Reasonably Price Car challenge, which dictates that you have to drive on the Top Gear Test Track with an unmodified Kia Cee’d (just like in the show). What I really like about this mode is that I can set a time, pick a rival that has a time just a little faster than mine, try to beat that and learn the track in the process. In this way you can improve your time step by step and win credits in the meantime! Turn 10 is going to recycle these challenges every few months, so this will guarantee a lot of re-playability. I’m totally loving this mode!

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It is now time to put a star in our reasonably priced car...you!

No controller needed

But enough about this general Forza stuff. This is 123Kinect so you’ll probably be interested in what Kinect has to offer for Forza 4. Kinect is not just a gimmick to give the game a “better with Kinect” label. The sensor’s experience is really deeply woven into the game. This becomes immediately apparent when launching Forza 4: The game will ask you if you want to control the game with a controller or with Kinect. A simple wave at the screen will tell it to use Kinect and the game will show a Kinect optimized interface (which is totally different from the regular controller interface). From here you can launch a single race (hot-lap or against the AI), play a split screen race or get into the all new Autovista mode (more on that later).

When racing in Kinect mode you’ll immediately find that this mode is not made for the traditional Forza audience. In Kinect mode you’ll be lacking a whole lot of things: you won’t be able to play career mode, you won’t be able to tune, paint or upgrade cars, you won’t be able to set up driving assists or tweak the difficulty and you won’t be able to play online or make use of the new rivals mode. But what you can do is race in an innovative and accessible way in one of the most realistic looking driving simulators available! This mode is for people that just want to hop into the game and have fun, without having to learn the controls, car mechanics or the exact layout of a circuit. You just start up a race, stick out your hands like you are holding a steering wheel and drive! And it works perfectly: as soon as you realize that making small movements is key the steering with Kinect you will be able to move perfectly around the track. And yes the game will automatically brake for you, and yes this makes it very easy, but this is exactly what the audience of this mode needs. I would love to see the look on the face of a little kid driving around with no trouble at all in a super realistic looking car over a super realistic track…that is what this mode is about! Forza was all about having a super realistic racing simulator that could also be made super accessible (with all the driving aids) and now with Kinect it got even more accessible and will cater to an even wider audience.

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You can drive this beast with no controller whatsoever!

Still there are a few odd choices made when it comes to this Kinect driving mode that I do not like. For starters, I don’t like that the automatic braking mode only brakes for corners, and not for cars. With no option for manual braking you will find yourself ramming into other cars a lot. You could of course try to avoid them but radical steering movement almost never turn out good with Kinect steering mode. So by not having an option to brake the game turns into a kind of destruction derby where collisions are inevitable. Then there is the Kinect interface which is controlled by gestures: Holding your hand over the big buttons selects them and when presented with a lot of options (like when picking a car) you can swipe left and right to move along the bar with options. You would think that after a year of Kinect this interface would be fluid and user friendly, but sadly this is not the case. The cursor moves with a certain kind of lag that makes it less pleasant to use, and scrolling along options sometimes works against you because trying to select something will accidentally scroll the bar. It would’ve been nice if options would be selectable with voice commands but it seems that this is only implemented when playing in the ‘controller mode’. Then there is the fact that they left out the head tracking (see the next section) feature while in Kinect mode , in my opinion it’s odd that this is not supported because this with Kinect steering would’ve made for one innovative way of racing. Finally I must say that after a few laps while holding the Kinect driving pose my shoulder muscles were starting to get pretty sore. I don’t know if this is just me but I can’t really hold my arms up that long. I was also unable to find a pose where I was resting my elbows on something as every time I tried that the game started to complain it couldn’t track me that well. So for me I either play in short bursts, or I’ll have to train my shoulders so I can go for longer. I think I’ll just opt for the first option.

All in all the Kinect racing in Forza 4 is pretty good if you take in consideration the audience it was made for. If you are a hardcore Forza player you probably want to avoid this mode as much as possible. Kinect driving has a few flaws but Turn 10 nailed the Kinect tracking and I think this will make for one of a hell party game!

It’s tracking my head!

But the Forza Kinect functionality does not stop with the Kinect driving mode. In fact, Forza 4 is the very first Kinect enabled hybrid game (controller and Kinect at the same time) and one of the biggest and most anticipated features in Forza 4 is the use of head tracking. This nifty feature utilizes the Kinect sensor to track the position of your head and body and use that input to shift the in-game camera, thus giving the player the ability to look into corners! This feature can be used both while using a controller or steering wheel. You simply go into a headtracking menu where you’ll be given the options to turn it on, and to set how sensitive it reacts to your movements. This means that you can really fine tune how much he in-game camera moves in relation to your head movements. In addition you can also opt for the option to move the in-game camera by leaning left or right or by having a combination of both head movements and leaning. After setting it all up you are good to go to have your head tracked and to have a massive advantage in multiplayer! Or so does Turn 10 want you to believe…

When I first turned on my head tracking mode it seemed to properly detect me in the set-up menu (indicated by my head lighting up in a camera preview window) but when I started to race the game kept on nagging me that it lost me and that I had to reposition myself. Turns out that my couch is too far away from my Kinect sensor to use head tracking and the reason that my couch is so far away is because I need the room for other Kinect games. Fortunately my couch is only a little bit too far away so when I sit on the edge of it the head tracking does seem to work. But then I found myself looking far too much away from the screen to get the desired effect in the game: if I’d wish to look into a corner I would have to move my head so far that I wouldn’t be able to see the screen anymore. The head tracking options do allow you to set up the sensitivity of the movement (how far your movement is extrapolated in-game) but even after cranking the sensitivity up to the max it was not good enough. The only option to fix this for me: roll away my coffee table, get a chair and sit right in front of the tv. It’s not the most elegant option, but it does work. In fact, it works extremely well and the effect is just totally awesome! Having the ability to freely look around to the left and right with head movements is a very realistic en natural feeling way of doing so, it just feels right! And you know what, I think I already had the tendency to move my head a bit while going into corners, but now this actually also translates this to in-game movement. I think that players with Kinect will definitely have a little bit of an advantage over players that don’t have it and the people that do have it most definitely have a more immersive and realistic experience. The only downside I could find (aside from having to be very close to the tv) is that the tracking is only on the horizontal axis. I know that I don’t really have the need to look up and down, but I think it would make things even more realistic. Other than that I think head tracking is totally awesome and every racing game should have it!

Autovista

There is even more new stuff in Forza 4! Have you ever wanted to experience how it is to open the door of a Ferrari Enzo and sit down in the driver’s seat? Have you ever wanted to walk around a Bently 8 liters and inspect the car from every angle? If yes then you are going to love the all new Autovista mode! Autovista will allow you to pick from a selection of classic, exclusive and super expensive cars and inspect them from every possible angle, both inside and outside and even under the hood or in the trunk! On top of this you can interact with certain parts of the car and get more (usually technical) information about the intricate workings of the car. All this information is given in both a visual and spoken way. The camera will zoom in on the part that is explained and a pleasant-sounding speaker will explain everything in a formal way. If you’d rather hear something about the car in a more light-headed fashon you can always opt for Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson to tell you something. He well give you all the ins and outs in a very opinionated but still informative way! All in all the Autovista mode is like one big interactive car encyclopedia that is a great addition to the Forza formula.

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Even the engine is modeled in great detail!

People that are fortunate enough to have a Kinect sensor hooked up to their Xbox system will have to opportunity to experience the Autovista mode with Kinect. Instead of moving around the car with the controller you will now be able to use your body to inspect things more intuitively. Lean left and right to move around the car (you can walk left and right too but walls form a problem with this approach), move forward to see more detail and you can even duck down to really get up close!

The question is whether the Kinect way of going about Autovista really delivers a different experience. After playing around with both controller mode and Kinect mode I have to say that it does make a difference. With Kinect I think the experience is far more dynamic and ‘real’, you’ll be moving around in your play space to really look at parts that of interest to you instead of statical sitting on the couch. Also, selecting the different points of interest seems to be a bit tricky with the controller sometimes, as when there are multiple items to select it can be hard to get the right one. With Kinect this problem doesn’t present itself because you can just ‘touch’ the point of interest you want. What I do have to say is that the experience with Kinect is a lot slower than with the controller. With the controller you can just quickly view the car, select stuff and move on, while with Kinect every action takes a sizable amount of time to complete.

Conclusion

Forza 3 was already an amazingly good game and Forza 4 is an improvement on every aspect of the series. The graphics, the gameplay tweaks, the new Rivals mode and all of the other minor tweaks are just really polishing what was already great. And then there is the Kinect functionality, which makes the Forza series available to a whole new market by making the game even more accessible. The Kinect driving works flawless, and even though with the Kinect mode you only get a fraction of the normal Forza options, it will satisfy the more soft-core racing audience. Head tracking with Kinect is a feature that makes the racing experience more immersive, more realistic and will even give you an advantage in multiplayer races. It’s too bad that you have to be pretty close to your TV for it to work, but otherwise it just works great! Finally there is the Autovista mode which will let you experience exclusive cars in a way you’ve never done before, and Kinect even amplifies this experience. All in all Forza 4 is a great successor to the series and I’m probably going to be playing this till the next Xbox is with us. Thank you so much for this awesome game Turn 10!


This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Forza Motorsport 4
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