Review: Forza Motorsport 4

Gaming nerds are divided into two camps: console gamers and PC gamers. I’m a PC gamer. You can keep your crap textures, arcadey first person shooters, and giant menus off my dual monitors, and I won’t pwn you with my mouse and keyboard. But strangely, there’s one genre that keeps pulling me back to the couch: racing games. I even tried once to download and play Need For Speed on my PC, but something was just not right.

When I heard Forza was coming back for another round, I jumped on the twitters, and the PR company very kindly responded. I’m so glad they did. I was expecting subtle revisions to the game, but Forza 4 is a revelation.

It’s the best car racing game you’ll find on any platform.

Dropping into the introduction race, the whole game just felt more visceral from the start. I couldn’t pick out any one thing that nailed it, but everything from the subtle head bobbing inside the car to the twitchy new physics and incredible audio just drew me into the game instantly. I’ll try to break it all down logically.

The Gameplay

The Forza you remember is all here. World Tour, multiplayer (now with public, custom lobbies), free and purchased cars, upgrades, car categories, everything. The in-game experience is also similar with the suggested driving lines and other optional assists (each one counting against your points potential). But all the new additions make so much sense.

Rivals mode lets you challenge friends and anons on a track and mode (hot lap, drift, etc.) with the same car, racing against a ghost. Each time you beat the rival you can race again against someone a little faster. You move up the ladder and earn credits as you beat rivals. It’s a fun and interesting new way to earn cash for cars and upgrades. There’s something special about racing against real people instead of computer opponents.

In-game has been tweaked too. The most notable addition is a subtle rating system for cornering, passing, drafting and drifting. After each corner, for example, you’ll see four little boxes in your peripheral vision, rating how well you handled the corner. It turns every track into a series of minigames, and you find yourself paying much more attention to using the right lines and all of the track through the corners. Same goes for clean passing: bumping your opponent on the way through is a sure way to get a 1-star rating for that passing manoeuvre.

The Cars

They’re all there, and they are all there. From the Kia Cee’d to the Bugatti Veyron, by way of muscle cars and Japanese drifters; if you can’t find a car you like, then you don’t like cars. There’s even a selection of V8 Supercars so accurately modelled that I’m positive Avesco are getting a cheque for every copy of Forza sold. Unfortunately there’s no Bathurst track to take them around, but then again how often do you get to blast around the Nurburgring in Craig Lownde’s Holden?

Every car has an active dashboard, making the in-car view my new preference (I’m usually a bonnet-cam kinda guy).  I haven’t had an opportunity to try out the Kinect head tracking, but I’m told it works well.

For someone like me who has outgrown the desire to lie under his car every weekend, Forza’s upgrade system is my happy place. I’ve upgraded my ’89 MR2 to A-class and happily race it against Porches and Audis. It’s lowered, got a giant intercooler and a rorty exhaust system. I love it.

The Tracks

Again, all your favourite Forza tracks are in 4, with a few new ones to boot. Perhaps the most notable is the addition of the Top Gear test track. Yes, you can drive the Kia Cee’d to see what time you can run as the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. Having Jeremy Clarkson narrate the intro and car descriptions adds to the Top Gear flavour. Check out his overview of the Halo Warthog:

The tracks have had a makeover, and seem just that little bit more real. Maple Valley has more stuff over the fence, and the Nuburgring has more paint on the track. There’s no weather effects, but the low cloud at Nurburgring has an entirely different feel to the blue skies over the Amalfi Coast.

The Physics

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I certainly don’t remember being able to unsettle a front wheel drive in any other sim the way that I can in Forza 4. If you’re a driving fanatic, you’ll know you can spin a front wheel drive by lifting off aggressively in a corner. The front wheels bite, the rear lifts, and you’re going backwards before you know it. Forza does this, and I think it’s incredible.

But! If you’re not into the simulator physics, turn it all off and you’ve got a friendly arcade racer.

The End

If you like driving games, just buy it. Heck, buy an XBox too if you don’t have one.
As usual, fire away with questions in the comments if there’s any particular aspect of the game I missed, or questions you want answered.

Beatles Rock Band Review

Beatles Rock Band GameplayThis is going to be fairly easy, so I’ll give it in bullet points:

  • Everything I said about the original Rock Band remains unchanged.
  • Beatles Rock Band is visually gorgeous. The progression of the boys’ straight-up suits through to shaggy psychedelia is perfectly reflected in the game.
  • My 62 year old mum, who has probably never touched a computer game before, was singing along enthusiastically while my 5 year old played bass and I played drums. Name me another game that three generations of family can enjoy at the same time.

Buy it.

The End.

Wii Sports Resort with MotionPlus

The Nintendo Wii is a polarising device. Ask a gamer, and most of them will agree that the PS3 is overpriced, and the XBox 360 is unreliable. These are facts. The Wii on the other hand polarises people between love and meh. The graphics are decidedly last-gen, and the controller is either miraculous or just a pointless add-on, depending on who you ask.

MotionPlus, with and without the silicone case.
MotionPlus, with and without the silicone case.

I owned a Wii for a while when it first came out, but eventually sold it for a 360 when I realised that (a) none of the “major” franchises that I enjoy would ever come out for the Wii; (b) I can’t watch videos from my PC with the Wii; (c) the Wii wouldn’t drive my HD TV at decent resolutions; and (d) the waggly controller is fun for about 3 months.

None of this has stopped Nintendo from making the Wii more … waggly I guess. The engineers have engineered a new add-on for the Wiimote. This comes in the form of a small extension that you attach to the bottom of the controller. It incorporates a tuning fork angular rate sensor, but that doesn’t sound sexy so: MotionPlus. Apparently the MotionPlus increases the accuracy of motion, and enables new styles of gameplay. The MotionPlus also removes any doubt that Nintendo were serious about the padded silicone case for the Wiimote. The plug comes embedded in a silicone case with room for the Wiimote to slot in above it, forming one complete, padded unit.

Does it work? To be brutally honest, unless you play regular Wii Sports then Wii Sports Resort with MotionPlus one after the other, I’m not sure you’re going to tell the difference. There’s still no force feedback, so you’re left with a reasonable simulcra of the sporting motions required, but none of the feeling.

Wii Sports Resort comes with some improved and some brand new sports that ostensibly benefit from MotionPlus. A quick rundown of how I felt after a week with the console:

  • I’d say golf is slightly improved – it feels like you have a little bit more control over the hook/slice mechanic.
  • Swordplay is a better mano-a-mano option than boxing ever was, with a more satisfying strike and block system. Speedslice makes you feel like a total samurai, slicing sushi and flowerpots and … umm… giant pencils.
  • Bowling is almost identical in mechanic. They have changed my favourite “Power Bowling” to a full multiplayer game of 100-pin bowling, which is remarkably satisfying. It’s like a combination of dominos and bowling.
  • Frisbee is alright, perhaps better called golf-lite?
  • Wakeboarding is a little frustrating. It’s hard to work out what makes you land correctly and what makes you nosedive.
  • Canoeing appears to be designed as the optimal way to show just how frustrating a lack of force-feedback can be in a game.

But it all comes down to this: you get out what you put in. Watch any newbie using a Wii (or a promotional video), and you’ll see people thrashing about like epileptic cats, thrusting and swiping and poking with their full range of motion. Watch someone who has used a Wii for more than a few days, and you’ll find them sitting on a couch barely moving their wrist. Sure the Wiimote and MotionPlus will mirror your gigantic Tiger Woods golf swing, but it will just as happily register the same movement using a wrist-flick.

Ultimately, I think the Wii (with or without MotionPlus) has lasting appeal only for kids, and gamers who need their Mario and/or Zelda fix. This is not a Bad Thing.

Here’s a little video to illustrate, with compulsory Yakety Sax. In the final scene we’re having an epic sword battle, can you tell?:

Star Wars: Force Unleashed: Barrels of Fun

pre-e3-2008-star-wars-the-force-unleashed-images-20080701023110197_640w I?m not a massive Star Wars nerd. I have seen all six of the movies, regardless of how badly I want to un-see the last one, but I wouldn?t know the name of any Wookie other than Chewbacca, or even how to bulls-eye a womprat in my T-16.

Having said that, I do enjoy a good bit of lightsabering and Sith mayhem, which is exactly what Star Wars: Force Unleashed offers up.

The game starts in an admirable fashion. No namby-pamby cutscenes here. You?re dropped straight into the game as none other than Darth Vader. Starting as Lord Vader gives you an opportunity to see the potential of the game, with virtually limitless ?Force? power, you can throw opponents across the screen, push them off bridges, collapse trees and structures, and just generally wreak mayhem.

Once the initial level is over, you are back to a more mundane character, albeit still with a good deal of Force powers and plenty of lightsaber skill. From there you progress as per most modern games, unlocking skills and powers as you work through multiple levels, meeting ?boss? characters at the end of each one.

The beauty of Force Unleashed is not in the storyline (although this is adequate), but in the gameplay. The visceral fun of flinging boxes, crates, bombs, and characters around the environment is palpable. I find myself using Force powers more than the lightsaber, purely for the fun of it. A few levels offer a platform or puzzle segment where you must use your ?Force Grip? to move objects or parts of the level in order to progress.

I haven?t completed the game, so I don?t know the length of it, but at the moment I?m having so much fun playing the game that I hope it never ends.