Forza Motorsport 4: First Drive

After my first quick hands-on this past June with Forza Motorsport 4, the latest iteration of Microsoft's Turn 10 Studios' racing franchise for the XBox 360, I claimed they were attempting to create the next generation of car enthusiasts. I was wrong. They actually want to rule all of Metropolis.

Full Disclosure: Jalopnik worked together with Turn 10 on "Forzalopnik," a strictly editorial tie-up (meaning, no money exchanged hands) that birthed two downloadable car packs for Forza Motorsport 3. We are already working with Turn 10 again for another tie-up on Forza Motorsport 4. But we did get, like, four free copies of the game. Frankly, I don't know why we received four — because that seems like overkill to me, but whatever, we'll use them as coasters! Oh, and we did get a month-long loan on a Fanatec CSR wheel and pedal set. Mustn't forget the annoyance of carting three large boxes over to the office only to find out that they don't fit on your desk and then have to cart them back. At least the intern helped with that.

I've had a review copy of Forza Motorsport 4 in my hands since this weekend. In the 60 hours I've spent with the game, I've neglected my friends, family, and colleagues, my job, and my own personal hygiene. Aliens could have landed outside my apartment building down here in Manhattan's Financial District and I wouldn't have even noticed. Come to think of it, given the large masses of people holding signs and chanting outside right now, maybe we were invaded.

I've done nothing but eat, breathe, and sleep Forza 4 and because this game is so immersive I still feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what it offers for car guys and non-car guys alike. What you're getting here is my first, sleep-addled impressions of the game. I'll have more of an opinion after I've fully explored the game over the next few weeks.

What I can say from this first run through of the game is that thanks to the rich patina of added features, polygons and physics that Forza 4 has added to the automotive gaming experience since the last version of the franchise hit the XBox's plastic console platter back in 2009, I may never have to leave my apartment again.

To begin with, let's talk about the graphics. Unlike the half-finished feel for half the cars in Gran Turismo 5, Turn 10's re-rendered — or rendered for the first time — every one of the 502 cars available on the game discs (and the 31 other cars available as DownLoadable Content on day one). In fact, the entire graphics engine was ripped out and rebuilt from scratch. The staggering result is that polygons per car are up from Forza 3's 400,000 to over one million per car in Forza 4.

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But it's not just the cars — it's also the environment. Turn 10's added lighting changes like blooming and lens flares to help make the cars look like they're really sitting on the track. And the tracks themselves? Gorgeously rendered. Although Turn 10 likes to talk about their new "Bernese Alps" track — the real home run for me is how amazingly life-like the real-life tracks are. Whether you're racing on the Nürburgring's Nordschleife, the Rainey Curve at Laguna Seca, or Gambon on the Top Gear test track (only one of many tie-ups between the Forza franchise and the famous BBC motoring show) — at speed it looks, and feels, like you're there. Take a look through our slideshow of tracks to the left.

That's thanks to Forza 4's real-time rendering of 60 frames per second — what used to take Pixar weeks to do is now being done on the little box next to my TV. The result is so mind-numbingly beautiful that while I was playing the game at my office, people would walk by, stop, turn around and then ask me if it was a game or — frankly, they didn't know what else it could be. It looks that good.

But it's not just the graphics engine that's been overhauled. As I told you back in June, Turn 10's not only rebuilt the physics engine from scratch, they've also tried to address one of the most glaring problems for any enthusiast — a problem shared by not only Forza 3, but with every console game — the tires. Thanks to a partnership with Pirelli, Turn 10 has completely redone the modeling for tire dynamics. The tiremaker let them use their testing system to give the game a soup-to-nuts data download and allow them to directly input it into the game.

Forza Motorsport 4: First Drive

That means you better be ready for some seriously scary moments when you turn off all the nanny systems in a Corvette ZR1 fitted with a set of racing slicks. If you push down the accelerator a touch too hard, and get into an inertial wrestling match between your brakes and throttle, you'll slip and slide sideways into a wall — like I did a few minutes before I took the screen capture above.

Tires also realistically heat up as you race, and changes in tire pressure have in-game effects like nothing I've felt before from a console game. Hell, although you won't get the same level of settings control you get with iRacing, (and unless you're Lewis Hamilton, the control you do get will be more than enough) the added control you do get pitches Forza 4 forward from being "another console game" to truly competitive with the purpose-built simulators.

Try taking a Camaro SS sideways around a tight corner (or even a not-so-tight corner) — as I did in the image over to the right — and it responds with an ass-wagging level of realism that exceeds the feel of Gran Turismo 5.

Forza Motorsport 4: First Drive

But the Forza 4 upgrade I'm most impressed with is how fast things load. I gave up on Gran Turismo 5 after I played it for my review last year — mostly because load times were so mind-numbingly slow. And I don't just mean the load times for races, but also the load times for menu sections. And speaking of menus, don't even get me started on GT5's batshit-crazy nested menu system. The sharp-looking, quick-loading, and easy-to-navigate menus of Forza 4 is enough to warrant an XBox 360 purchase alone.

Sure, this might sound like gushing, but I think the game's totally got my back. But for anyone who thought Forza 4 would be nothing more than an evolutionary update to the franchise, you only have to take a look at the first of a number of new features — Autovista mode.

Autovista is Turn 10's attempt to bring the showroom to the gamer, taking 24 cars and rendering them all with such an exquisite level of detail, it's the closest I've seen to digital reality outside of big budget movies. Once you unlock a car (usually by finishing a race-for-the-win challenge), you can open up the door of the Ferrari 458 Italia, look around the cockpit from the center-mounted seat of the McLaren F1, or climb into the Hummer H1 Alpha. You'll almost think you're able to feel the GM-grade parts bin plastic.

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But just as cool as the almost-in-real-life (and Kinect-ified) interaction you can have with the cars is the integration Turn 10's devised with Top Gear. You probably remember Jeremy Clarkson's voice over walk-through of the fictional Halo Warthog. Great news! Each one of the 24 cars available in Autovista mode has a walk-through from Clarkson. Even greater news? We've unlocked every single one of the Autovista cars, and have recorded Clarkson's walk-through for each of them. Go ahead and peruse them all in the gallery to the left — it's like watching 24 Clarkson reviews in a row.

Oh, and once you finish half of the Autovista challenges, you unlock a secret car (Spoiler: It's Jay Leno's Bentley 8-litre). Once you finish all of the Autovista challenges, you unlock a second secret car (Spoiler: It's the Halo Warthog — strangely, however, is that it's missing the Clarkson review we've already seen).

Forza's also expanded further into community features with their new "Rivals" mode. In this mode you can challenge friends or random community members in a bunch of different events — from Top Gear bowling to timed autocross. If you beat your buddy's ghost from his timed lap, you'll earn a credit bounty.

There's also a new "Car Club" mode where you can band together with your friends and share cars and work together to move up the leaderboard. Yes, there will be a Jalopnik Car Club. No, I don't have details on it yet — but fear not folks, I'm working on it.

That's not to say this game's without flaws. For starters, the career mode feels like a jumble of choices, with no clear progression map allowing you to return to a specific track or event list. I feel like I could come in last place in every race and still progress through the game — albeit slowly. There's also no way to sort by tracks — which is annoying at first, and really annoying six hours later.

Kinect head-tracking is also feels like a gimmicky add-on and may be more trouble than it's worth — but I haven't used it more than once.

Forza Motorsport 4: First Drive

But even those feel like I'm just sort of looking for a problem for the sake of a problem. However, since there's so much more here to discover — and since I'm barely scratching the surface with this first drive — I'll likely find other problem areas.

And that's exactly what scares me about this game. It's just too good. I feel like it'll swallow me whole. For some reason — and maybe it's the lack of sleep — but Forza 4 reminds me of my favorite scene from Aaron Sorkin's amazing, but short-lived, Sports Night. It takes place between Dan Rydell and Casey McCall — the two co-hosts of the aptly named fictional "SportsCenter" clone called "Sports Night" — as they're talking about Sally Sasser, the producer for the West Coast edition of "Sports Night," who Casey is expressing interest in having a fling with. If you don't know the scene I speak of, here's the script from the scene:

CASEY MCCALL
What's your problem with Sally?

DAN RYDELL
Look at her. I don't think she's of this world.

CASEY MCCALL
You don't think she's of this world?

DAN RYDELL
I do not.

CASEY MCCALL
What world do you think she's of?

DAN RYDELL
She scares me. She's too good looking. Nobody's *that* good looking. I'm not that good looking.

CASEY MCCALL
Do you really think she was flirting with me?

DAN RYDELL
Her beauty comes from a very strange place. Have you noticed that?

CASEY MCCALL
The places her beauty comes from weren't that strange to me. I can identify almost all of them.

DAN RYDELL
Don't do it Casey. She's got an agenda.

CASEY MCCALL
You think she wants a job on "Sports Night"?

DAN RYDELL
No, I think she wants to rule all of Metropolis.

CASEY MCCALL
You see the job she does on "West Coast Update." She's a very skilled producer.

DAN RYDELL
Of course she's skilled. She's Satan's handmaiden!

CASEY MCCALL
She's not Satan's handmaiden.

DAN RYDELL
On the entire planet, have you ever seen anyone with eyes like that? Huh? She's a Stepford producer!

CASEY MCCALL
I say she's a very nice person.

DAN RYDELL
I say she has no reflection!

Now substitute "Forza 4" for "Sally" — and it'll sum up exactly how I feel about this game. It's too realistic. It's too amazing. It's too likely I'll pick up the controller and find myself setting it down four days from now blinking blindly at the TV, stained underwear and puddled drool at my feet. I'm scared to play it because I feel like I might never wake up from the digital racetrack.

Car guys will be happy to know that Forza 4 is the most realistic console racing game ever. Non car-guys will love the Top Gear content and the ease with which you can join races and play your friends. I'm happy in knowing that a good chunk of those non car-guys will likely find themselves becoming car guys because if Forza 4 can't create a new generation of gearheads, I don't know what game will.

High praise? Sure. But it's valid.

It's also why, zombie or not, I'm about to strap on an adult diaper, put some newspaper on the floor beneath my feet, call my mom, tell her I love her, and then pick up the controller again to head back into the game.

Let me know if there's anything you want to see or hear about the game over the next few days as I continue to destroy myself reviewing it. E-mail me here.


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