With Forza Motorsport 3, Microsoft's Turn 10 Studios tried creating the greatest racing game of its generation. Arguably, it was. On October 11th, when Forza Motorsport 4 is released for Xbox 360 they're setting their sights higher — creating the next generation of car enthusiasts.
As the man in charge of the world's largest auto enthusiast site, I know a little bit about car guys. I also know that they're a dying breed. I also realized our culture will die even faster if we all continue down a road built by soporific, auto industry-obsessed Autoblog-like sites or the beige buff books.
It's the reason why, two years ago, I wrote "The Awesomeness Manifesto," a plan to use Jalopnik to not only cater to the hardcore enthusiasts, but also use its almost lifestyle-like reach to build the next generation of car enthusiasts. Since then, we've almost doubled in size. Yay us.
At the heart of my strategy was the realization that the next generation of car guys were no longer being bred in garages and under shade trees, they're growing up in their parents' basements playing car video games. One needs only look at the cult-like status the GT-R has in this country thanks to the Gran Turismo franchise to understand the power of video games at molding reality of car enthusiasts. What we needed to do was turn gadget guys and video gamers into car guys. And that's exactly why we partnered with Turn 10 on "Forzalopnik" — two game packs for Forza Motorsport 3 — and it's why we're working with Turn 10 to partner even more closely on Forza 4 (Full disclosure below.)
I'll put it to you this way — it's not Car & Driver, Motor Trend or Autoblog that I'm scared will likely unseat us with the online enthusiast community.
No, it's the Forza franchise that keeps me up at night.
Especially after I traveled out to Seattle last month to get behind the wheel — literally and figuratively — of Forza Motorsport 4. The game features some seriously impressive-looking new graphics, a completely re-worked physics engine with an enhanced tire dynamics system, two new game-play modes utilizing the XBox Kinect motion-action-camera-sensor system and a slew of cool new community features. Combined, they look like they might be able to deliver on the promise of my "Awesomeness Manifesto" in a way that I never thought possible.
Let's walk through the new stuff:
Graphics (Polygon count size does matter!): For starters, Turn 10's re-rendered every single vehicle, ripping the graphics engine down and building it back up. And the results are simply staggering. Polygons per car are up from Forza 3's 400,000 to over one million polygons per car in Forza 4. Turn 10's added real-light changes like blooming and lens flares help make the cars look like they're really in the environment. Forza 4 is achieving in real-time at 60 frames per second what was once something Pixar needed weeks to render. Just take a look through the gorgeous gameplay shots in the gallery to the left to see what I mean. It's beautiful.
Physics Engine (Kick the tires and light the fires!): Not only has Turn 10 rebuilt the physics engine from scratch, they've also tried to address one of the most glaring problems with Forza 3, the tires. That's why, for enthusiasts anyway, the most important addition to the game is going to be the tire physics. Thanks to a partnership with Pirelli, Turn 10 has completely redone the modeling for tire dynamics. The tire company let them inside their testing system to give the game a soup-to-nuts data download and allow them to directly input it into the game.
That means that when you turn off all the nanny systems, and you're in a car fitted with a set of racing slicks, and you push down the accelerator a touch too hard, you'll slip and slide in the most realistic way I've ever experienced. I found out embarrassingly first-hand in a simulator the perils of such a setup on a ham-fisted and lead-footed auto journalist.
But it's so brilliantly realistic you can't not be excited at the prospect of turning off the nanny systems and letting loose some tire-shredding burnouts on a digital skidpad. Or, in my case, skidding into walls on an all-new track that Forza tried to build to be the best driving road on Earth. Set in the Swiss Alps with three to five different ribbons, it's certainly intimidating. It's also beautiful to look at.
Kinect (Somehow we find a Kinect-ion is made!): There's three ways to use the Xbox 360 Kinect motion action camera system and the best way to conceptualize why both of them exist is to think of them as being for three different types of people. One, a sort of gimmick-y mode called "Autovista Mode," is a system for "bringing the automotive experience to life." You can walk around a car in a virtual showroom, crouch down to look at the details, or open the doors and hood using the power of Kinect. The coolest part of that feature is there's a heavy integration with Top Gear — Jeremy Clarkson has a soliloquy on each of the cars in Autovista Mode.
The second, is what I like to call "frat boy" mode — imagine a fraternity house where you have the game set up and everyone's taking turns to play each other — a la Goldeneye from back when I went to school. Basically, you stick your hands out and grab a virtual wheel as you sit on the couch with your friends and family — and thanks to auto-acceleration and auto-braking — there's no controller required. That also means there's no controller to accidentally drop beer on. It's an easy way to play with friends with no muss or fuss.
The third feature is really for the hardcore gamers and hardcore enthusiasts. You can truly immerse yourself in the game with Kinect Head Tracking, which pans the camera view based on how you naturally look into the corners when you're hard charging. There's even a fourth integration that I didn't try that can take advantage of Kinect voice control to easily navigate the game's menus.
Community (Because car guys are social little bitches!): One of the coolest new community features is the ability to create a guild-like car club and then recruit your friends — or, really, the best of the best — and have the ultimate dream team of drivers, tuners and painters from the "Forza" community. Within each club you'll be able to share your custom cars and then, if you're interested, use them to dominate the other clubs. A second feature is an all-new Rivals Mode that lets you play against your friends whether they're online or not in a variety of different game types. Basically, you'd race against a "ghost" version of them, chasing or leading your opponent's ghost around the track.
Now combine those features with access to cars from over 80 manufacturers — more than any other racing game.
With the number of manufacturers Forza comes to the table with, it turns the game into something more — almost a quintessential experiential automotive game. You can have access to cars and manufacturers you'd never be able to afford or touch in real life, whenever and however you want them. Who cares what a car magazine says when you can walk around the Ferrari 458 Italia yourself, pop the hood, slip inside, shut the door, hear Jeremy Clarkson talk about it and then drive it yourself against your friend.
And that's exactly why I'm more excited for Forza Motorsport 4 than I've ever been for a driving game. Not only does it look to be brilliant, it might even help save car culture. I'm all for it. Even if I am worried it'll put me out of business.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Jalopnik had an editorial tie-up with Turn 10 Studios on Forza Motorsport 3, this game's predecessor, on two DLC packs for the game. We are working on a similar tie-up on Forza Motorsport 4. Although no money has exchanged hands in this relationship, because it might be something you feel could affect our judgment and clarity in covering this game, we felt the transparency was important.