This year at E3, Forza Motorsport 4 was demonstrated by Dan Greenwalt, Creative Director of Turn 10 Studios.
Surrounded by priceless steering wheel peripherals, Dan took us on a tour of not just the game, but the underlying philosophy and five year plan for the Forza franchise.
Microsoft clearly had Kinect on the brain at E3, their keynote was for all intents and purposes dedicated to it, and Forza's use of the Kinect was a crucial announcement in Microsoft's larger strategy.
Dan Greenwalt delved deeper into the Forza 4 Kinect package, and it became apparent that the integration makes a lot of sense as part of the overall philosophy of the new product. It's about accessibility and automatic customization, in that you feel the game is made for you regardless of how you play it and what you want to get out of it. Whether that is a realistic racing experience or an amateur just smashing a car around a track is up to the player.
The main Kinect feature, which unfortunately was not demonstrated, is head tracking during racing. This was designed to appeal to the hardcore audience, but there is also a "casual" Kinect race mode where you can simply pretend to drive, aimed at a less experienced audience.
Another curious Kinect addition is voice commands for the menu. This is not simply a process of using voice instead of the controller buttons, as you can call any menu item through voice from anywhere in the menu or game. This works whether you're seven layers deep into a customization menu, or you just want to jump into a quick online game.
Graphically, the game has received a dramatic update. We saw the game being demoed on a retail Xbox 360 and it was remarkable the level of quality and consistency Turn 10 has extracted from the ageing console. We were shown new shaders for aluminium and leather that looked uncannily realistic. In gameplay footage it was evident that rocks and stones have been significantly overhauled in the background also.
The main feature touted is the new IBL lighting system, which is present in everything from the new Autovista car showroom mode, through to the interior of the car and all aspects of the race itself. In previous titles, cars were individually lit, now the entire level and everything in it is dynamically lit. This allows for dramatic graphical changes between rounds, which we were shown in the new Swiss Alps map, showcasing the contrast between bright morning drives and sunset drives.
Long-time players of Forza will be most interested in the extensive online overhaul. Turn 10 has started by upgrading the number of cars on screen from eight to 12, therefore increasing maximum numbers for multiplayer. 16 player multiplayer was also mentioned, but since that exceeds the maximum amount of cars on-screen, how this factors into the final product remains unclear.
There is the huge addition of car clubs. Car clubs will be the clans or guilds of Forza, where you can have a collective garage, allowing you to save cash for cars together and share your rides with your friends. You can also designate members to be the club's painters and tuners for those vehicles.
There will be monthly challenges and bounties (i.e. betting) as well as a new rivals mode, which is like the 3DS's streetpass feature. This asynchronous mode can download other players' best lap times/races and challenge them, even if those players are offline.
New gameplay additions include a huge AI upgrade, which will learn from the player during a race as well as in subsequent races. A new career mode will also be present in the final game. A new mode, the first of many, involves you being able to race and lap an infinite amount of cars.
However, the most touted addition, other than the Kinect integration, is the Top Gear cast. Having entered a multiple game deal, you can hear Jeremy Clarkson's commentary on each individual vehicle in the showroom, some of which is bitingly honest. The new showroom is called Autovista, in which you can check out each and every single part of the car closer than ever before. The level of detail is astounding, especially for the 360.
Finally, you can import your Forza 3 profile with all your cars, which will also result in the acquisition of bonus vehicles, though details were vague on that front. But you may not even want to use your old vehicles as, while the final number of cars is not yet confirmed, Forza Motorsport 4 will have at least 500 – with more available through DLC.
Turn 10 seems to be on track, then.