Forza Motorsport 4 Preview: Better with Kinect?

In less than the same amount of time it has taken Sony to knock out just one Gran Turisimo title, Microsoft and Turn Ten Studios have managed to turn out three Forza Motorsports. These aren’t just cheap bolt-on sequels either, they were full almost ground up style games. I know it sounds like I might be trying to start a fanboy war – honestly, I’m not – I’m just trying to get across the feat of development that the guys at Turn Ten studios have pulled off. Historically, the Forza franchise has very much been a core racer for core gamers, but with the last instalment some new features were added that made the game much more accessible, but without compromising on the building blocks of its predecessors.

Now though, it’s been taken one step further and Microsoft have made it better, better with Kinect. Yeah, I know, I refused to believe it at first too.  The racing game geek in me jumped at the chance to be one of the first to hop on Microsoft’s hydraulic platform with an industrial strength racing wheel and three large monitors marking where the windscreen and side windows would be. As I turned around a banked corner, the steering wheel would tighten and the hydraulic platform would lift up on one side to simulate the car banking. I won’t lie, it was pretty awesome and even though I had set one of the top five times of the day, I wasn’t particularly good at it.  It was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to actually driving, the only difference being I wasn’t thinking “ohhh shit these tyres are expensive” as I booted around the corner at the best part of one hundred miles an hour.

If I could have had another go I’d have nailed the top time of the day, I’m sure.  So, it is a game can be that accurate in its re-creation of driving if you have the right kit and enough money; with the control pad it’s always been one of the best, but now that Kinect support as been added, the journalist, the tech-head and the gamer in me had to see how Microsoft was going to make it work.  Ben and I wandered into one of these little Kinect bubbles that Microsoft had set up on the show floor (not that dissimilar from the one my trousers fell down in back at E3). On the screen I was presented with the new Ferrari 458 Italia, sat inside a large white aircraft hangar. Graphically it looked too good and anybody could easily be forgiven for questioning if what they are looking at is a real car or part of the game – it really does look that good. Then, as Kinect notices me the user interface wakes up and white dots start to appear on various places on the car.

I hold my hand over one located on the bonnet and a kind of showcase starts;  numbers are flying towards me on the screen like torque and brake horse power, while a voice over precedes to tell me everything about the car and even some history of the company.  It’s the sort of stuff that would have been in a text box to the right of the screen in the old Forza Motorsport; in Forza 4 though, this has been made all the more special, not by a sexy posh lady, but by a Yorkshire man.  Yes, that’s right it’s every petrol head’s favourite TV presenter, Jeremy Clarkson. The best of it is that even the things he says are very much how he would say them. It’s not heavily scripted and designed to make every car sound amazing, he actually told me that the Ferrari I was looking at was a stupid car, not as good as the old one and that I would be much better off with a Mercedes. It’s just Jezza waffling about cars and it injects a level of passion and soul into a genre that rarely has any.

After our little chat I have control again and am free to walk around the car. Now, this is going to be hard to explain so hopefully I’ll get it across. To look around the car you simply step or lean to the side of the centre of your room where you started; the faster and further you move from that starting position will determine how quickly you move around the car. If you want to go in for a closer look simply step forward, while stepping back will take you further away. It sounds bizarre but it is a strange experience and it’s like actually having a Ferrari in your living room. Walking around to the door will pop up one of the white dots we had earlier, but this time it appears on the handle; holding out your hand and then pulling the door obviously causes it to open, but not in a set animation kind of way, if you want you can wave it around for a while or even slam it shut. I decided to open it fully and step closer to the screen to get in. Once in the driver’s seat I’m presented with a highly detailed and accurately recreated cockpit pit full of little white dots for me to interact with; I couldn’t resist though and went straight for the big red start button.

What I expected to happen was I’d just get to hear the car start up and rev a little, what actually happened was that I’d get to take the car out for a drive and this is where it got… well… it got a little weird.  You stand in front of your TV with your arms out like you are holding an invisible steering wheel and all you need to do is turn your arms, the game will accelerate and brake for you; what was weird about the experience is that it worked and it worked really well. Kinect picked up the slightest movements of my hands and adjusted the car accordingly, the gadget man inside me was impressed that Kinect is now capable of doing this kind of stuff, while the core gamer inside me was telling me to go and have another go in the hydraulic rig or, at the very least, pick up a controller. It was just so sensitive and really did make me question if I needed a controller for Forza 4 at all.

This isn’t just a tacked on game mode in much the same way that different types of gamers can choose to have all the steering and braking assists on if their skill level isn’t as high as the hardcore guys who like to go cockpit view with the HUD switched off. I was a Kinect hater once, I didn’t want this flappy arm stuff getting in on my games. Forza Motorsport 4 really is better with Kinect, you just need to let your guard down to be able to see it. I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t expecting it to be anything special but I went into the Kinect bubble with an objective head on and I was surprised that I actually really liked it, it was fun.

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  1. FC360 says:

    So when using kinect to play the game and you keep going on the grass I can’t blame the brake button not working anymore? I’m a little surprised it doesn’t use feet to accelerate and break, sitting down and having kinect recognize your hands and feet movement would be pretty cool and I thought this is what they would do in Forza 4 to make it more realistic. I might just buy this game as the last forza I have is Forza 2 which I never completed.

  2. Lee says:

    I dunno as it would work to well like that if I’m honest, the way they have done it fits the game perfectly and it really is impressive. I played all three ways of playing it (pad, hydraulic rig thing and kinect) and was impressed with every one of them.

  3. Edward Edward says:

    Sounds like it’s going to be one of the few racers that get my attention. Much as I find Jeremy Clarkson boring, it’s pretty cool they’re letting him have more or less free reign on what he says as well.
    Granted, I’m not interested in Kinect, and I won’t be, but it’s a serious step up by the company to help people get into it as an entry level thing, and all the more power to them for it.
    Good job, Lee :D

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