Behind the wheel of Forza 4


We went to E3 to sample the most anticipated driving game of 2011 and got very excited about it in the process.

Ford vs. Chevy, Canon vs. Nikon, Apple vs. Microsoft, Oreos vs. Chip Ahoy. All of these are well-known corporate rivalries that stir intense emotions among certain subcultures, but In the world of driving video games, it’s Gran Turismo vs. Forza.

Think about this. In the six years between the releases of Gran Turismo 4 and Gran Turismo 5, the original Forza Motorsports was not only created and released, but so were its two subsequent sequels. That’s a lot of catching up, and caught up they have. Over the course of these three games the creators of Forza, Turn 10 Studios, have made the most of GT's downtime and emerged as the chief rival to Gran Turismo’s crown of top driving simulator.  

Up until now, Forza titles have been more evolutions than revolutions on the titles that came before them, which in part explains the biannual releases. Forza 4 aims to change that.

Drive Cult was at the 2011 E3 game show in Los Angeles to sample Forza 4 and early impressions are very, very good. The demo on hand was set on a stunning new track in the Swiss Alps, and three cars were available to try; a 1968 Plymouth Barracuda, a Subaru WRX STi and a Ferrari 599 GTO. Obviously, I went with the latter.

The 500 cars of Forza 4 (more of which will be released through monthly downloadable content) have been rebuilt the from the ground up and they look amazing. The polygon count per car is up from 400,000 in Forza 3 to over one million. An all-new lighting system has also been implemented which brings out more detail and really makes the car look like part of the environment.

The new track feels like a hybrid between the kind of really great driving road in you might find in the mountains of France or Switzerland and a really fast road course, but the environment itself is what really catches your eye. The Alps tower all around you as you scream through tunnels and canyons and go weightless over blind crests. The noise is the next thing that stands out. The V12 sounds spot on, and you’ll get goosebumps when you hear the way it echos off the canyon walls.

The physics of Forza 4 have also been rebuilt with the help of Pirelli tires. Turn 10’s code monkeys used numerical data taken from Pirelli tire tests and plugged it directly into Forza 4’s physics engine. Forza has never been short on that intangible ‘feel’ that so many other driving games seem to struggle with, but this time they’ve nailed it. Some might consider this next statement blaspheme, but it’s better than Gran Turismo 5.

Another big improvement that comes with Forza 4 is the number of cars on track. Until now, races were limited to eight cars, but this has been doubled to 16. I can’t stress how big a difference this makes. With every driving game you eventually get so good at it, you’re able to pass every car in braking zone for the first turn. Not very satisfying. With 16 cars you get a much better sense of working your way up (or down) through the field.

New racing modes have been created as well, the most intriguing of which is called Track Day mode. In this mode players will be rewarded based on how many cars they are able to pass within a certain amount of laps. The catch is that instead of a normal race field, a stream of cars are constantly yet seamlessly generated in the distance in front of you, creating infinite passing opportunities. You can imagine how fun this would be on the Nürburgring where you could simulate a public track day. Just don’t expect to be able to buzz past any tour buses!

Another new mode is Auto Vista. This is a sort of virtual show room that utilizes the XBOX Kinect device. As you stroll around your living room in front of the television, your perspective of the car changes and through a series of gestures you’ll be able to open the doors, pop the hood, check out the engine and get in and start the car up. There’s also a series of icons that when selected cue the voice of Jeremy Clarkson (no, seriously) who shares his lovably flawed opinions of the car being viewed.

Turn 10 Studios have always prided themselves on their vibrant player community, which not only includes racers but also livery painters, tuners, drifters and just about every other automotive subculture you could find in the real world. With Forza 4 players will be able to start clubs and recruit like minded members to share setups, liveries and other ideas. You also have the option to share certain cars in your garage with other club members.

All very exciting stuff indeed, and unlike its counterpart on the Playstation 3, we won't have to wait six years for Forza 4. The scheduled release date is October 11. In the mean time, you can see a video of Forza 4 in action here.