Forza Motorsport 4 Hands-on Preview -- AutoFetishizing beyond AutovistaBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Sep 23, 2011
The Forza series has long since peeled out of the shadow of its PlayStation rival, Gran Turismo. Forza’s steadier and more reliable release schedule over the years has certainly helped, but more importantly, many genre fans (including myself) consider Microsoft’s driving franchise to be a friendlier, more approachable series than other racing sims. Much of developer Turn 10’s philosophy behind Forza is in creating a game about cars as opposed to being a game about racing. It echoes Yu Suzuki’s classification of Outrun; that it’s not a racing game, but rather a driving game. Based on our recent hands-on time with Forza 4’s gold build, we couldn’t agree more.
In contrast to Forza 3’s single player campaign, the World Tour mode in Forza 4 is a much more linear track-to-track-to-track progression. There are also more events to the World Tour this time, with as many as seven races per cup. That allows you to experience robust tour events based on the cars you currently own. Think of this as a unique reversal of campaign progression from past driving games. Whereas progress in other racers opens up new tracks and tournaments like the branches of a tree, Forza 4 goes the opposite direction. All the races (or if you will, tree branches) are immediately available and all Forza 4 does is custom tailor a series of races based on the car you’ve picked from your garage. You find your own path through this automotive playground while putting a positive spin on linearity.
For all you obsessive compulsives, there is a separate view mode in World Tour that lets you see the complete grid of beaten and unbeaten races, all 290 of them. It would be impractical to go down each grid column in order unless you actually have at least one type of car in each class. Yet as we expounded on in a prior preview, Forza 4 looks to encourage a strong sense of bonding with the few cars you might choose to have. This is further reinforced by the affinity system where you earn points for repeated use of a given car.
Ever since the Kinect’s unveiling, we’ve rightfully been skeptical of the various glossy sizzle reels showing how driving with the motion sensor would function. The actual execution on Forza 4 goes with a very practical approach. Nope, there won’t be an invisible pedal/brake combo to worry about; Forza 4 automatically brakes and accelerates so all you have to worry about is steering. It’s a practical approach, but still a simplified one. I’m darn sure it’s going to impress its share of non-gaming households during the holidays. Moreover, based on what developers have been able to pull off with the Kinect, I can’t help but feel that Turn 10 would devote some research time to possibly add more Kinect driving functionality should there be a Forza 5.
Arguably the Kinect’s biggest draw is in Autovista which doesn’t involve any driving at all. While also functional with the controller, there’s an unsurprising sense of immersion in walking around and tilting oneself in admiring a car as you would in real life as well as simulating the motion of opening a car door. Once inside, you can almost imagine the car smell as you take a close look at, say the textured leather and the contrast stitching of an armrest. This mode also makes it easy to admire the series’ newly implemented image-based lighting engine. It’s a Pixar-assisted feature that makes the lighting effects more realistic looking, and has only been used in a handful of games such as Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit and Uncharted 3.
To clarify on past reports, Autovista actually does NOT feature the entire Forza 4 automotive roster. That would be a whole lot of contrast stitching not to mention countless hours of voice over from Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson. Instead you start off with four default cars with 21 additional cars to unlock and one more to buy as DLC. Of these 26 high-end vehicles, Jeremy certainly knows how to make the most of his wise-cracking, informative monologues. He had a lot of great things to say about the Lexus LF-A despite his assertion that it’s so different from any other car to carry the Lexus name. He definitely makes no bones about his belief in the inferiority of American cars when he delves into the background of the Ford GT. Despite his snippy introduction, you can sense his admiration for the Ford GT as he goes into the history of the car and Henry Ford II’s passion to beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1960’s. It’s illuminating stuff and he also has things to say about the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG, the Aston Martin One-77, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, among other vehicles.
In a way, Forza’s series-long commitment to its community feels like an extension of the decade-long success of Xbox Live itself. Forza 4 built upon this with both its Community feature and the game’s ability to handle 16 players with little to no visible framerate issues. Further distancing itself as a mere racing game, Forza 4 also fleshes out non-traditional casual games like the previously reported Top Gear Bowling and 8-a-side in Top Gear Soccer.
Much like EA’s Autolog, Forza 4’s Rivals mode joins the growing ranks of games that are now featuring asynchronous multiplayer. You can think of it as a highly evolved form of leaderboards where you’re challenged to beat a rival’s time. It comes with suitable profile progress rewards if you do manage to get a better time. It might not be a proper replacement to an online race with 16 players (which Forza 4 does offer), but it’s a practical alternative for busy people and maintains the trash talking vibe even if your rival might not be online when you’re playing. You can be ready with your own smack talking when Forza 4 is released on October 11, 2011.