Forza Motorsport 4
Forza 4 has a lot to live up to. Not just because of the quality of Polyphony's Gran Turismo 5 but because its own predecessor was also a perfectly balanced and visually stunning driving sim in its own right.
This time around Turn 10 have turned it up to 11 fine-tuning the graphics and handling, adding support for the brand new wireless Xbox 360 wheel and adding in the all-important Kinect features.
In fact, Microsoft had Forza 4 on display at their Christmas showcase with their new wireless wheel for all to see and try out and it did come as quite a surprise.
As always Forza is a pretty sumptuous experience. There is a great feeling with Forza 4 that each of the cars has been recreated with a great amount of love. Stick on a race and you'll know what we mean. Forza 4 aims to coax you into being better at driving games allowing you to turn off the assists one by one as you get better and with the new wireless Xbox 360 wheel it is surprisingly good at this.
At first the idea of controlling a game like Forza 4 with what initially feels like a Wii wheel feels a little daft. This is especially poignant as David Braben has just pointed out earlier on that people's arms get tired when they hold them out in front of them for too long. This quickly fades away as you realise that getting the wheel just right has been part of the focus in the development of Forza 4. As well as the motion controlled steering there are two triggers on the back of the wheel and the face buttons are carefully placed so that they are easily within a thumb's reach.
Controlling Forza 4 with this new wheel seems pitch perfect. The wheel responds smoothly and quickly under cornering and the triggers, which are analogue, give you just the right amount of control over your accelerator and breaking. The longer you sit with the wheel the more comfortable it becomes and it really gives you a good feel for how to control the cars as you careen around the exquisitely rendered tracks.
Forza 4 itself is equally impressive. There is only one track and three cars on show at the moment but each car is modeled faithfully and comes in a variety of colours. Given a choice between a Subaru Impreza, a Ferrari and one of Mercury's classic American muscle cars we played it safe and went for the handling of the Subaru.
This proved to be a great choice as it stuck to the mountainside road track like glue. The race was only two laps but is showed off exactly what makes the series so special. While it has the visuals and the detail to match GT5 easily Forza steers away from the sheer gluttony of GT5's huge roster of in lieu of perfection on each and every one of its cars.
The Subaru did not disappoint in this respect. The inside of the car was every bit as detailed as the outside and the handling was everything that you would expect from the world-famous WRC-winning car.
Switch to the Mercury and the handling changes again. The sheer power on the muscle car all channeled through the rear wheels gives a different sensation. There is a completely different style if driving required here to make the car drift and slide round the track but again Forza 4 handles this effortlessly bringing the authentic feel of the Mercury through right down to the meaty growl of its massive V8 engine as it barrels it round the track.
Turn off the assists we are reminded the other reason why Forza has become such a powerful competitor for GT5. The realism of the ride when you turn off all the assists is phenomenal. The Mercury slides and wriggles around like a fish trying desperately to get out of your hands and back into the water and keeping it under control requires all the skill in the world.
It is refreshing to see that Turn 10 have managed to maintain such a good balance between realism for those that crave it and accessibility for gamers that just want to go fast.
The demo was not all that we'd hoped however. There was no sign of the much vaunted Kinect features that we have heard so much about. The ability to use Kinect to take tours of classic cars in the game with the vocal assistance of Jeremy Clarkson or test out the head tracking while driving was a bit disappointing. Despite being surrounded by Kinect titles and even just feet away from a demonstration of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier's new Gunsmith weapon customisation tools, the Kinect features of Forza 4 were very conspicuous by their absence. Not having them to show off this close to its release does raise questions as to how well they will work come October.
Without Kinect, Forza 4 is a very impressive driving sim. Combined with the new wireless wheel for the 360 is does create a very compelling driving experience and we hope that the final version will live up to what we have seen so far.
Forza Motorsport 4 is out on October the 14th only on Xbox 360.
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