By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Microsoft and Turn 10 Studios' Forza Motorsport 4 improves on the solid experience offered by Forza Motorsport 3 which is the racing game we have kept coming back to even after the initial thrill of its rival Sony's Gran Turismo 5 wore off. As visually gorgeous and sublime as GT5 is to look at, it isn't as much fun to play as FM3 specially in career mode. Sony's venerable GT5 is the quintessential racing simulator but we find that it isn't the most pleasurable driving game. We were anxious to see if FM4 could be what we were looking for.
Forza 4 has been designed to take advantage of Microsoft's Kinect controller which means that while you can't drive the car by moving your hands in front of the sensor, you can simulate walking around cars and inspecting the finer details of their interiors, body details and engines.
Only 24 cars can be checked out in the Kinect powered Autovista feature but these are so precisely rendered and accurately presented that serious petrolheads can spend hours just toying around with this feature.
Kinect can also be integrated into the gameplay with a head tracking feature that gives drivers a bit more peripheral vision when looking at the apex of a corner or nearby cars while racing. There are instances where players can call out voice commands through Kinect as well. All in all, a nice addition if you already have the Kinect installed but nothing users will miss if they don't have it.
Microsoft has released a new controller specific to racing games. The Wireless Speed Wheel is a Bluetooth controller that actually doesn't look like a wheel at all but has the odd shape of a tubular horseshoe with the requisite control and directional buttons.
While far more natural for racing games than the regular controller, the jury is still out on whether this is better than the more expensive racing wheel accessories.
We used a store-bought Speed Wheel and initially found it a bit too easy to jerk around since it doesn't have the counterbalance of a properly simulated steering wheel.
We got the hang of it soon enough but after three days of using it for FM4, we feel there's too much about it that's unnatural to really make it stand out.
The little added realism it offers the gameplay doesn't seem to jusify the Speed Wheel's $70.00 price tag, but it might just be something worth getting used to
Because of FM4's multi-year deal with BBC's blockbuster show Top Gear, a lot of the content within the game, including some of the narrative is reminiscent of that show's style. Jeremy Clarkson's wry wit and exuberant pronouncements pepper the Autovista feature while a close enough sounding voice talent walks users through other parts of the game.
Fans of the Top Gear will love a lot of the inside jokes as well as driving on the famed Top Gear test track which we realized is surprisingly challenging specially in the reasonably priced cars the game starts you out with.
Forza Motorsport 4 is still highly playable and gives users manifold opportunities to feel like they are progressing even if their driving isn't that great.
It is also quite easy to amass cars for your collection and owners of FM3 get the bonus of being able to import some of their stats and cars into the new game which is a great incentive to upgrade. Users can even purchase special packs mixed with some great cars like the Lamborghini Aventador and the latest Aston Martin.
The selection of cars in FM4 is vast as it is varied. Many famed exotics are represented but there are also many missing marquees which we find surprising.
One glaring omission is Porsche. FM3 had a bunch of Porsches but this time around Electronic Arts, who for some ungodly reason, owns the exclusive rights to Porsche used in video games decided to screw FM4 over by reneging on previous collaboration. Turn 10 Studios similarly owns the rights to Ferrari but it has licensed these freely to other game developers. It must be noted that Porsche vehicles are also missing from Sony's GT5.
We feel that while FM4 offers a rich selection of vehicles, and many new to the genre such as a bevy of American musclecars from the 60's and the 70's as well as a number of more obscure imports.
Tuning and upgrading vehicles is also a lot of fun and the subtleties of actually hearing how your newly-tinkered engine sounds is something that is surprisingly realistic.
As fro the racing, it can be pure joy. FM4 has over a dozen tracks around the world and they are very realistic. Depending on what level you choose to race and which car you are using, expect to fight for every tense inch of tarmac to get to the finish line. That's the best thing about FM4, you end each race with slightly sore joints and the lingering buzz of having been in a real competition which makes this game's replay value so amazing.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5