Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Forza 4" redefines racing game genre

Forza 4

Developed by: Turn 10 Studios
Published by: Microsoft
Available: NOW
Available on: Xbox 360 exclusive
Price: $59.99 for standard edition, $79.99 for limited edition
Works with: Kinect, controller, steering wheels
Rating: E for Everyone

I have never driven a Lamborghini. I want to drive one, own one, wipe it down with a microfiber cloth as my wife in her Daisy Dukes on helps me. Yes, that's what I want to do.

I am not cool enough like fellow co-worker (and homie) Pete Holley to drive one around - no, really or an Audi A8 either. One day, yes, I will have my Ferrari 612, Carolina Blue paint job with tan, Napa leather interior sitting in my garage. Until then - or I do a body swap with PHolley, I'll have to stick to my virtual stable of whips in video games.

Forza 4 not only gives car lovers who play video games a great driving game, but lets anyone old enough to know how to steer a chance to play an awesome driving game at their own pace.

Developed by Turn 10 and published by Microsoft, Forza 4 is more than just a reboot of the smash hit Forza 3. No, it adds Kinect support, a virtual petting zoo for cars and Top Gear's stamp of approval.

No, I won't bore you with the technical parts of the game - you can tune your whip into different classes, trick out your baby with decals, designs and sick paint jobs. I won't focus on the cool Rival's mode, which allows you to race your buddies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even if they are offline. I won't even delve into why the game should get Game of the Year but won't. No, I am going to focus on a few of the several noteworthy things this game accomplishes.

By far, the best part of Forza has been the ease of use. You love car racing games but can't stand the learning curve. That's fine. You can find a race or an event - like the hot lap - you can compete in. If you want to amp up the difficulty, go for it. If you want to go hardcore and disable all the assists, go for it. The only issue is how much longer it will take you to achieve milestones. However, only the devoted fans will be concerned with this. The average person doesn't care if the car's AI controls braking and assists with driving. They just want to play a driving game that lets them pick up a controller, race a bit and walk away. Yes, games like Gran Turismo 5 is THE definitive driving simulator, but what about just driving because it's fun?

I posted a video of my children *playing* Forza 4. If they can play it and enjoy it ...

The next part of Forza 4 I want to spotlight are the much-improved graphics. Easily, this game is the best-looking game on the 360 right now. The lighting, the textures, the overcast and photo-realistic environs are not only engaging but breathtaking. You can easily get distracted by the beauty that's zipping past your windshield at 175mph. You were amazed with the beautiful eye candy in Forza 3 - Turn 10 didn't sit on their brains and add a coat of polish to the mix. They built a new wall and tweaked it to perfection.

Next, the controls. You already know you can change the difficulty, but you can also adjust the controls and the control scheme to your liking. Want to use your standard controller? Sweet. Want to step up and use a steering wheel? Nice. Want to go hands-free and use the Kinect? Yes, sir. However, you make the choice. That's the beauty of it all. For years, even though I had steering wheels - from an old-skool Mad Catz one for my original Xbox to my Logitech G25 setup - but could never find a game where I'd gladly pull out my steering wheel to use it consistently. That changed with Forza 4. I was able to use my wired Joytech Nitro steering wheel with it. Granted, I had to make sure I was hitting a few of the buttons - LB, RB, left trigger is actually the brake - but it worked great. The steering was responsive, and the force-feedback was impressive. From the slick tracks at the Indy 500 to the cobblestone streets on the Italian track, the experience was truly memorable.

The Kinect integration is limited in modes, but I wasn't expecting it to be flawless. The headtracking does work to a point - and the Kinect can get confused if you put one hand over the other to steer in tight turns. Is it perfect? No. But tell me another game where I can drive a burner or muscle car with my hands as the controller. The mode really made me appreciate the Kinect. Sure, it's baby steps now, but eventually, the tracking will be so good that you - not the 360 - will be able to control shifting, braking and acceleration instead of the CPU.

The last thing I want to cover is the Auto Vista mode. This mode, along with the Kinect integration, make this game a must-buy, especially if you are an auto lover. The mode gives you an up close and personal view of some of the most legendary cars ever made. You may never sit in a real Lexus LFA, but thanks to Forza 4, you can not only take it for a test drive, but examine it and hear Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson give you tons of details about the vehicle. You can even unlock more Auto Vista cars by completing various challenges in them. Combine Auto Vista with the Kinect and you can literally swipe doors open, move in close to examine engines, or turn the engine over and listen to it roar. It truly is virtual automotive masturbation. All of this running at 60fps is a beautiful sight to behold.

The verdict? This year has brought some of the best video game titles I've ever seen. In my years of covering video games, there are only a few perfect games I have had the chance to play. Even Mass Effect, which is one of my favorite games, has flaws. I looked hard with a critical eye toward this game and have yet to spot anything to be critical of. The game rocks. I'll withhold my endorsement for Game of the Year but this one should be in the running.

10 (out of 10 stars) - Magnificent.

No comments: