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Forza Motorsport 4, F1 2011 and Need for Speed Run - Virtual Racing

With a slew of new games released for Christmas, we review the best driving games for the holiday season.

There’s a frustrated racing driver inside all of us, and one of the most common questions is how do I become a professional. The sad answer is that very few of us ever will, but events like the Octane Academy elsewhere in this issue might give you a step up the ladder. Similarly, the newest video games are a great way for professional and amateur drivers to learn new tracks or understand driving behavior because the latest physics engines are so realistic; it’s almost like being there. You can definitely put them to good use in the real world but, in general, they’re simply a great way to entertain yourself or interact with friends online. The three titles we’ve gathered here are the biggest titles to emerge this holiday season and each will guarantee lost hours and days while the family argues and the leftovers start rotting.

Forza Motorsport 4
The Forza franchise has a solid reputation for providing quality games over the years, and we’re happy to confirm that anybody who purchases Forza 4 will be delighted with the new game.

We enjoyed Forza 3 and were wondering how they’d improve it. Yet FM4 is about as perfect as a racing game can get – yes, it’s possibly better than our original benchmark, Gran Turismo 4, the game by which all others were previously judged.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect is the graphics. Viewed on a HD screen, this could almost be TV footage. The gap between virtual and reality is narrower than ever. You can almost feel the wind in your hair and flies in your teeth…

And it’s not just the cars; everything from the road surface to the vistas unfolds majestically, not appearing in jagged chunks as you round a corner.

Graphics are only one aspect of a successful game. If it plays like crap, it doesn’t matter how it looks. But Forza 4 has made so many subtle improvements that it’s made a good game great.

As always, the game starts slowly, putting you in small-engined, low-powered cars as you learn the courses and controls. Initially, I found the steering felt odd on my chosen Ford Ka; cornering was awkward, trips onto the kerbing robbed momentum and off-road excursions were disastrous. Yet as I got acquainted, I realized that altering the steering characteristics gave a far more realistic response. Switching off the traction control also improved the feedback – this is how I’d drive a real car on the track – the game was responding like the real world and with so much subtlety.

Within a few races, I’d got the little car dialed-in. I was altering the settings to suit each circuit and hadn’t even got into the tuning aspects of the game.

As the wins mounted, I was acquiring new cars as prizes, which allowed me to seamlessly move up in classes as I progressed through the World Tour.

The experience couldn’t have been sweeter, and the developers ensured it remained fresh by switching the circuits and challenges. One minute you might be sweeping through Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew, or bowling down skittles on BBC Top Gear’s test track…

With so much variety, FM4 has so far avoided the pitfall of many racing games by keeping it fresh and fun. And I haven’t even got into the more glamorous supercars or racecars yet.

Also ahead of me is the community aspect of the game, where you can create an online car club with friends, tune cars, paint them and share among yourselves.

You can also challenge those same friends in the Rivals Mode, where you attempt to set times for them to beat either online or in single-player mode.

Perhaps an even bigger entry point for Forza 4 is its Kinect functionality. This Wii-style interactivity allows anybody to step up to the game and control it with their arms and voice. Kinect also tracks head movements, allowing you to look into corners or over at competitors.

With no controller needed, it lets kids and grandparents access Forza 4 at an arcade level, but with the graphics you want from a high-end TV and console. You can also inspect individual cars, open doors, sit inside, lift the hood; with Jeremy Clarkson talking you round the breathtakingly detailed graphics.

If you’re into racing games, Forza Motorsport 4 is now the benchmark. To date, our only criticism is that going off-road slows you artificially. I’m sure it was programmed to keep racers on the blacktop but we found it jarring at times. We’ll obviously report back if we find any major problems down the road.

- Greg Emmerson

Developer: Turn 10 Studios for Microsoft Studios, forzamotorsport.net
Platform: Xbox 360 plus Kinect

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