If you have ignored “Forza” out of apprehension that the world’s deepest driving sim is too imposing to enjoy, here is the shocking truth about “Forza Motorsport 4:” It’s as accessible as any racing game this side of “Mario Kart.”
If the preceding paragraph bothers you, “Forza” fanatics, fret not: “FM4″ is as dedicated to its craft as ever, and if you test its generosity on the hardest setting with assists deactivated, it will punish you swiftly and unkindly.
That both statements ring true about the same game is testament to Turn 10′s successful effort to make “FM4″ a breeze to learn on its easiest setting, a beast to master on its hardest, and a joy to operate on any level because of an interface that outdoes itself in terms of polish, organization and a willingness to help players get around and leave them to mold their own experience whenever the desire arises.
As perhaps is no surprise by now, “FM4′s” 500 vehicles (up from “FM3′s” 400) collectively look incredible and drive like a dream regardless of difficulty. Incremental improvements creep into both the handling and the visual presentation – new lighting effects work with some nice camera tricks to create a greater sense of speed, particularly in dash cam view – but considering how polished “FM3″ already was, there is no room for “FM4″ to completely blow it away.
Rather, “FM4″ bounds forward in the features department, and those who compete on-line (16 players, up from eight) or engage in “Forza’s” astonishing community features stand to benefit most.
Clan support comes to “FM4″ in the form of Car Clubs, allowing you to assemble a team of racers and designers, share a garage, and compete against other clubs on the track and in the marketplace. (The ridiculous array of automobile customization tools returns, and Turn 10 hasn’t broken what needed no fixing.)
Rivals Mode, conversely, will please fans of EA’s Autolog interface. Like Autolog, it lets you challenge friends to beat track times or special event scores – and collect in-game money for beating their challenges – whether they are available to play that moment or not. “FM4′s” exquisite interface makes it simple to set up and manage challenges, and if you set up rivalries with friends or club members, the game handles all communication duties for you.
On the single-player side, “FM4′s” improvements are subtle but still significant. The track count grows only by five, but one of those is the “Top Gear” Test Track. “FM4″ puts it to exponentially better use than “Gran Turismo 5″ did by mining it for entertaining special events and integrating it into the World Tour mode that comprises its reconfigured (and absolutely massive) single-player centerpiece. (Support for 16-player Car Soccer, in which teams of eight vehicles push around a novelty soccer ball, ensures some on-line Test Track exposure as well.)
Kinect support is the only area where “FM4″ wobbles. Driving with Kinect works adequately, but there is too much guesswork in pedal management for it compete with traditional controls. Head tracking’s usefulness doesn’t compensate for the potential trouble that arises from turning away from the screen even momentarily. Navigating menus via motion is too squirrelly, and walking around in the new Autovista mode – where you can analyze 24 vehicles in educational and insanely pretty detail, with “Top Gear’s” Jeremy Clarkson narrating – is novel with Kinect but far less cumbersome with a controller.
The one place Kinect provides a tangible advantage – with controller or without – is with the capability to jump around modes via voice commands. That works exactly as advertised.
Microsoft’s new Wireless Speed Wheel, meanwhile, works better than advertised by magnificently bridging a longstanding gap for those who like the idea of a racing wheel but do not like the price or bulk those accessories carry. The U-shaped Speed Wheel is small enough to hold like a standard controller, and it uses traditional triggers for its pedals instead of actual pedals like a full-sized racing wheel.
But while it looks no more advanced than the dinky wheel that accompanied “Mario Kart Wii,” the Speed Wheel’s sensitivity easily matches that of a full-sized racing wheel. It blows the Kinect controls away, and requires no tuning or set-up to use. It works so intuitively well, in fact, that it already supports the racing games you have in your Xbox 360 library. How’s that for backward compatibility?
Billy O’Keefe writes video game reviews for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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