Forza Motorsport 4 Hands-On Preview -- Top Gear Answers Prayers With...Car Bowling?By Sophie Prell - Posted Jul 28, 2011
I'm a car person. That might not sound like a particularly big statement to make, but it wasn't until my recent hands-on time with Forza Motorsport 4 that I actually discovered that. In fact, when the presentation started, I repeated several times to my hosts, "I am not a car person." I don't know the difference between a V8 and Hemi engine or even between a spark plug and an oil filter. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. Point remains, I wasn't a car person. But Forza 4 has convinced me I am.
"Everyone's a car person," John Wendl, Content Director of Turn 10 Studios told me confidently, before asking me what my first car was.
"'98 Pontiac Grand Am," I said with a bitter tone, recalling the lack of functioning A/C and broken lock on the rear passenger door. But then I thought of how, without A/C, I always felt the fresh breeze on my face, and how having a broken door actually saved me a couple times from locking myself out. My sour expression turned into a smile and I nodded. "Yeah, I remember that car."
"See? You know the year, make, and model of your first car," Wendl said. And those feelings of freedom, excitement, and the twinge of fantasy one gets from driving any car, be it your first, second, third or beyond, are exactly what Forza Motorsport 4 is about.
Picture your car - the one you own right now, the one you first owned, or the one you hope to own someday - racing along the Bernese Alps. It swings along the edge of a cliff face on an impossibly tight corner, and as you look forward you see a drop-off; thousands of feet below and all around you, a valley of snow shines brilliant white. If that sounds like a commercial, it's because that's exactly how I felt watching the Forza 4 demo.
All Forza 4 tracks look to be a dream for those of us who ever watched an advertisement for the latest, greatest model and thought how much fun it would be to own that car, if only we could drive those winding roads and see those larger-than-life sights. The tracks are fictional, as are some of the locations, but their inspiration comes from real-life wonders. The new graphics and lighting engine in particular help bring out a ridiculous level of detail in both the environment and the cars themselves.
It doesn't look what I would call photorealistic, but instead keeps that theme of commercial presentation with some clever use of high-dynamic range lighting to give cars a pristine, showroom presence. Speaking of showrooms, it wouldn't be fair to talk about Forza 4 without going into the Autovista feature.
Autovista is far more than a virtual garage for your hard-won vehicles to call home. In Autovista, you can get right behind the wheel, pop the hood, and basically get the most visceral, in-depth look at any vehicle you'd like. Considering there are 500 cars in Forza 4, expect to spend a ton of time in Autovista, learning all about what makes those pretty kitties purr. Prep yourself though, because car show Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson has recorded an intro and summary of every car, and if he thinks yours is an overrated hunk of junk, he'll say so.
The Top Gear collaboration with Forza Motorsport 4 doesn't end with voiceovers though. The show, which has driven cars across volcanoes, reproduced James Bond-like stunts and more, was encouraged by the Forza team to think outside the box. If they weren't constrained by the real world, what would they create? Turns out the answer is bowling and soccer. Oh, those crazy Brits.
I'm not kidding, by the way. My hands-on with Forza 4 was limited, but the biggest chunk of time was spent powersliding across the Top Gear test track, knocking down pins to earn bonuses and credits for use in the game. I drove a Mom-mobile 4-door sedan, but Wendl promised every car can be used in these game modes. He remarked how, with some of the big muscle cars, pins would "absolutely fly," sometimes shooting up like rockets into the sky.
Though I wasn't able to try out the soccer mode, it sounded like a perfect party game. SUVs and trucks can operate as goalies and blockers, while the more agile, smaller cars zip around the field, trying to knock the giant soccer ball into a goal. I imagined a Ferrari spinning around, popping open its trunk to "kick" the ball like a little Pixar vision of David Beckham. I have no idea how close that is to the game's reality, but a girl can dream.
The last feature shown was Kinect integration. Like the game itself, Kinect is designed to appeal to casual use and hardcore gamers. While the game can turn on abilities like brake assist and steering assist in an effort to bridge the difficulty gap for newcomers, Kinect is likewise aimed at appealing to the casual crowd by having players - you guessed it - hold out their arms as though holding a steering wheel. Kinect also features prominently in the Autovista section of the game, allowing you to do things like reach under the hood, turn the ignition, or open the doors.
Those less inclined to hold an invisible wheel can use Kinect to hyperlink through the game for quick and easy access to some of their favorite modes. Since the game is so large, with an immense career mode that has several branching options based on your preference of play, the Autovista showroom, a community tab, splitscreen options, and more, it's natural that the menus could easily overflow and become cluttered as opposed to useful. With Kinect, you can hop to a mode with just one or two voice commands instead of backing up through layers upon layers of menus. It seems like a small addition, but it keeps things quick and easy.
Quick and easy is right where I like my racing games. I've never understood why someone would tinker with suspension, or torque, or any other words I don't actually know. I'm drawn to the arcade racers, with explosions and aggressive driving, not to simulations with photorealistic car models and customization options that can absorb hours of time. So it's interesting that Forza 4 honestly has caught my eye.
If I had to guess, I'd say the reason why is that it falls neatly between those two extremes, with a streamlined, organic and fun racing experience for the casuals and a deep, sophisticated competitive streak for the hardcores, not to mention the community support Forza 4 offers with car clubs and of paints. Heck, if you have a Forza Motorsport 3 profile, you can even import it straight into Forza 4 to get a head-start on the game.
That's the way I've rationalized my feelings in my head, anyway. If I were to just go with my gut though, I might say the reason I enjoyed my time with Forza 4 is because Wendl was right: I'm a car person after all.