Forza Motorsport 4 is a beast of a game no matter which way you look at it. While the third iteration of the series on the same console, the game does not skimp on content or innovation, and provides almost everything any racing fan could ask for out of a game. There are cars and events to compete in up the wazoo, and there's also the much-touted Kinect integration. We've already spoiled the review by saying Forza Motorsport 4 is awesome, but just how awesome is it? Read on, dear reader. Read on.
The first thing we should probably talk about is just how darn accessible Forza Motorsport 4 is, especially if you're one of the people who thoughtfully decided to purchase a Kinect, and totally didn't buy it or receive it as part of Christmas shopping desperation. When you first start up the game, you have the option to wave your hand to start up Kinect mode, or pick up the controller to get into the game proper. Kinect mode brings up a small range of options, headlined by the excellent Autovista mode - we'll get to that in a second. Casual players can play single races or split-screen multiplayer simply by sticking their arms out and driving an imaginary wheel Kinect Joy Ride-style, which works well and is absolutely fine for just a bit of a spin with friends, as the game automatically handles speed and braking for you.
Autovista is a new feature to the Forza series, and if we had to sum it up in a couple of words, they would be - so cool. While the choice of cars that appear in the mode is quite small - around 20 or so of the 500 in the game, all unlocked in fun challenge races - it's the way they're presented that's fantastic. Meticulously detailed, you can walk around or sidle up to these cars to examine them close-up, lifting the bonnet or opening the doors. While this mode can also be accessed with a regular controller, experiencing it with Kinect is one of the most impressive uses of the camera we've seen thus far. Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame also lends his voice to provide honest and humourous descriptions of each of the cars on offer, and his presence lends a friendly and informative feel to the game. If you want to check out some cool cars you've dreamed of getting close to, or want to learn about cars in an easy, accessible way, then this is an excellent mode to get stuck into.
Other Kinect-enabled features that aren't exclusive to the Kinect mode include head tracking and, surprisingly for Australia, voice recognition. Both work well, with the head tracking letting you look at your side mirrors with ease in the cockpit view during races and voice recognition letting you select different modes in the menu. It won't let you pick individual cars by voice, and it sometimes picks up background noise as an invitation to choose an option, but when you want it to work it gets the job done nicely.
Getting into the main meat of the Forza Motorsport 4 with the Kinect-free modes, players are presented with several options. World Tour sends players around the world, forcing them from location to location and giving them a selection of events to race in, depending on the car in their garage, as you complete various cups. It's very nicely presented, although the transitions as you are pushed along from course to course with no control can get a little tiresome. If you prefer, a simple plainly presented event list is also available for you to peruse. These events range from simple races, to multi-class races pitting D-class slowmobiles alongside S-class wundercars, and of course the wonderful Top Gear challenges, that include plowing through giant bowling pins. You compete in these events for credits, as well as experience points to level up your driver level and affinity level with manufacturers. As your driver level increases, you are gifted with increasingly cool cars, while your affinity level gets you discounts on parts.
The actual racing in Forza Motorsport 4 does not disappoint either, as the handling is superb. While we are bereft of a racing wheel for Xbox 360, using the controller still provided an impressive experience, as cars reacted realistically, engines roared convincingly and we had a terrific amount of fun. It's not greatly different from past games in the series, and there is an overarching air of familiarity about the racing, but that's not to say we didn't have a blast. Tuning and upgrading your car even slightly can have very noticeable impacts on its performance in racing, which makes it very easy to test out setups or predict how others will react.
It's also easy to modify the game's challenge to suit your skill level or experience. There are pre-set difficulty levels ranging from easy (with assists) to expert (stay far, far away unless you have a wheel and a boatload of driving experience), but what is cool is that you can customise these to suit yourself. For each modifier you turn off, for instance say the driving line or assisted steering and breaking, you'll gain a percentage increase to your winnings, giving more basic players incentive to up the challenge level as they get better at the game. The AI in Forza Motorsport 4 is also solid, if not incredibly impressive. You won't often see other cars fighting over a position in the race quite the same way you see human players do, but that doesn't mean they're pushovers when you're trying to overtake them, and they provide a suitable challenge on any difficulty.
In terms of multiplayer, alongside the split-screen local multiplayer is a fully fledged online mode that fans of the series should be familiar with. A new addition is the 'Rivals' mode, which really is about as fun as competitive online racing can get, pitting you against ghost cars representing your friends' best efforts. You can challenge them in a range of modes, including the always interesting Top Gear events, in yet another good use of Forza's partnership with the program.
By now you will have seen the screenshots of Forza Motorsport 4 in this review, and perhaps you've even seen it in a few trailers. And yes, it really looks that good. Each and every one of the cars in the game look amazingly realistic, and they all have detailed and accurate interiors for convincing cockpit views. The range of cars is split over 80 manufacturers, and you'll encounter everything from budget cars, to the exorbitantly priced Aston Martin One-77 and even a DeLorean (sans flux capacitor, unfortunately). On the other hand, the tracks on offer are well-realised, and very rarely have any noticeable flaws which draw the eye away from the experience. That said, while some tracks pop like the Alps, other real-world offerings are a bit more bland to race around, and unfortunately there are no weather effects or night-time races to enjoy for some variety and challenge.
Damage on cars is a bit of a hit and miss affair, if you'll pardon the pun. While you can flip cars over and cause bumpers to fall off and sparks to fly if you try hard enough, most of the time it's represented with a simple texture overlaid on the cars, and they don't look nearly as pretty as the rest of the game, especially when viewed up close in photo mode. Cars can also suffer mechanical damage, that can be easily repaired with a credit deduction from your winnings at the end of a race.
Ultimately, Forza Motorsport 4 is still one of the best racing games we have ever played. It mixes some fantastic presentation with deep and realistic gameplay, while adding spectacular features such as Rivals and Autovista as well. The Kinect integration is among the best we have seen, and the way the game caters for almost any experience level also gets a big thumbs up from us as well. There are small niggles here and there, but nothing to detract from the fact that if you're in the market for a brilliant racing game, you need not go past Forza Motorsport 4 on the shelves.