If there is one thing that is absolutely certain, it is that Forza 4 is one stunning racer in terms of sheer graphical might. At E3 2011, we sat down with one of the developers at Turn 10 to go over the new lighting engine and a slew of the Kinect and other new gameplay features. Though racing is still obviously at the forefront, the game has an impressive set of features that are new to the series.
One of the big new changes to the game's look was in how the lighting engine has been reworked. In traditional racing games, there are usually two lighting engines at play: one to illuminate the environment and a second to do the same for the cars. Forza 4 is one of the first games to utilize image-based lighting, a technique normally used for the CGI in car commercials that use the environment to automatically generate the lighting for the cars. This allows for an absolutely beautiful amount of hard and soft lighting throughout, cementing the car's presence in the game world and making it look absolutely gorgeous.
The Autovista mode allows for you to inspect your cars in close detail, which you can do with a controller, but the experience is tailored from the ground up for use with the Kinect. This mode allows you to interact with information points on the car, displaying both highly detailed as well as anecdotal information about the car or component. The voice behind the narration should be familiar to fans of "Top Gear UK," as Jeremy Clark both wrote and produced the content. Turn 10 entered into a creative partnership with Top Gear UK and let them put their unfiltered input into many areas of the game. While not taking over outright, this allows for the game to have much more character in its proceedings whereas in the past, it has mainly been a straightforward yet stellar racing franchise.
The Autovista mode is also where you can really get up close and personal with your automobiles, allowing you to get up to six inches away from the exterior. Turn 10 has made use of varying and seamless levels of detail for the vehicles, depending on your distance, and it gets ridiculously detailed at such a short distance. You can see individual stitching on the gearshift handle, the uneven texture of a leather dashboard, and other extreme areas of high detail. The mode is all about exploring your cars, and the level of information and detail in which you can do so is pretty impressive.
The career mode allows you to import your saves from Forza 3, and you can even import some of your cars. At that point in the new game, you may only be a level 0 novice in the career mode, but you will immediately have access to higher-ranked events or those that only allow certain vehicles. The difficulty level also automatically adjusts to this as such, so players who are used to the third game can essentially play the new one as a continuation, whereas new players can start off in a more standard beginning to the career.
One area that seemed very useful was in how you can augment your experience with head tracking by using the Kinect even as you use a controller or racing wheel. Though players with a fancy setup will certainly not want to use the Kinect for all actions, it's hard to understate the ability to utilize subtle head movements to look around the cockpit and check your mirrors during a race. Combined with the new camera work in the cockpit views to more accurately simulate the effects of turns and changes in acceleration, it may make for an incredibly immersive in-car view for even the lowliest of race cars.
Community presence is no new addition to the series, but the inclusion of car clubs and the ability to share rides is certainly a welcome new addition. Car clubs have the ability to share tuning setups, paint jobs and even automobiles to the point that if your friend just purchased that new McLaren, you can elect to use his rather than pony up the cash for your own. This also allows car clubs who have a good tuner or artist to trick out the club's rides.
As time passes, Forza 4 is looking better and better, both in terms of visuals and its feature list. Kinect head tracking is a nice addition to the control options, and the new lighting engine and the new shaders for the cockpit views provide Forza 4 with some of the best visuals in a racing game to date. With its combination of stunning graphics and interesting new features, Forza 4 is looking to be a very strong contender to take the throne in the racing game genre when it's released.
Greg Hale also contributed to this preview.
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