When Forza arrived in 2005, it was the plucky young upstart, challenging the golden god that was Gran Turismo. Microsoft putting their brand new racing sim up against the biggest of the big was a bold move, but In a short four years Forza has established itself as the best racing sim on the market. Forza Motorsport 3 was the best of the series, and now two years later Forza Motorsport 4 is here. Can it one-up one of this generations most complete racing simulations?
Above: Even the milquetoast rides are fun with the assists off
The bread and butter of racing simulations is the career mode, and FM4 spices up its “World Tour” mode with a number of different events. Instead of dictating the events themselves, FM4 picks a location and you're allowed participate in any event of your choice that has a race located at that track. The events themselves are fortunately more than just endless lapping. King of the Mountain is a touge style event where you race a single opponent down a mountain road while weaving through much slower traffic. Having to give up your racing line to zig zag around some F rank microcar is a lot harder than it seems.
There’s also a number of Top Gear branded events that skew a little more wacky than the average race. Car bowling involves whipping around the Top Gear test track trying to hit as many pins as possible, especially the gold ones. Drifting is encouraged, and hitting the high score requires either a big car or some serious sideways action. The Multi Class events also offer a nice take on the standard races, putting wildly different cars on the track at the same time so you can see the drastic difference between car types. Don’t worry, you only have to be competitive within your own class.
Above: Testa Rossa means "red head", in this case because of the car's red valve covers, Autovista taught us this!
The Top Gear touch also makes its presence known in the online play, offering car soccer as a multiplayer option. It may sound silly, but it’s quite a bit of fun. Multiplayer also includes “Tag (Virus)” mode and “Cat and Mouse” mode. Tag (Virus) has an infected player bumping into leading cars, passing the infection up through the ranks. The goal is to be the last one not infected, which is difficult when the majority of the racers are gunning for you. Cat and Mouse mode has two teams, each with one mouse and a number of cats, attempting to escort their mouse around the track. It’s up to the cats to simultaneously harass the enemy mouse if he’s in the lead while assisting their mouse if he’s boxed in. Of course there’s the traditional circuit, drift and drag racing to tackle as well.
We made sure to try out the game’s much hyped Kinect functionality, and it’s much more usable than you’d think. Most people we know who aren't into cars yawn at the idea of sitting down with a racing game where you actually have to brake. The Kinect functionality offers a degree of intrigue to these players, as it’s much more forgiving and allows you to fool around with a great looking game without memorizing every turn and your car’s torque curve. Using exclusively Kinect controls reduces the gameplay to simply steering your car around the track while you hold an invisible steering wheel. While this is hearsay to any dyed in the wool sim fan, it’s a foot in the door for the vast number of players that feel overwhelmed by too many options and a steep learning curve.
For more traditional players, the game does give you the option to use the controller while using the Kinect unit strictly for head tracking. What this means is that you can look towards the apex of the turn as you drive through it and the camera will shift towards the direction you’re looking. It’s a slightly more complicated version of Shift 2’s feature that automatically does the same thing. It only really works in cockpit mode, and requires a fairly in-depth set up with the Kinect unit so that it reads you correctly.