Game Junkie chats with Radio Wammo: the “do I need my haircut?” edition

It’s Tuesday which means it’s the day I chat gaming with Glenn “Wammo” Williams and today we talked about the imminent dashboard update for the Xbox 360 (it was due to be available for New Zealand Xbox 360 owners sometime tonight)

I’m hoping that the update, which brings the new Metro user interface to the Xbox 360 (the same one used in Windows Phone 7 and coming to Windows 8), will arrive tonight so I can put it through its paces. I saw a list of all the TV content the Americas and Europe are geting then saw what New Zealand was getting and …  it’s a little disappointing, when I think about it. We’re getting YouTube later this month and then something called MLB.TV in 2012 but that’s not much.

Now, I’m assuming that MLB is Major League Baseball. Really? I’m sure the ex-pat Americans now living in New Zealand will be excited about that. Me? Not so much.

The update brings better voice commands so it means I can now say Rid Did Ridimption (a running joke between Wammo and myself is my supposed pronunciation of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption as heard by some Americans during a review of the game.)

Lastly, my daughter reckons that I should have had a haircut before today’s segment with Wammo. Do you agree? (If I’m being honest I’m due to get a pre-Christmas haircut anyway but it’s hard trying to find a free appointment these days). My hair is looking a little messy, to be honest.

Listen up: audio interview with Turn 10’s John Wendl about all things Forza 4

Thanks to the mighty helpful Glenn “Wammo” Williams, who kindly offered to record my interview with Turn 10’s John Wendl, content director on Forza Motorsport 4 (I think Glenn was lurking during my conference call but all praise to him and his professional recording equipment), you can now listen to my lovely nasal tones as I ask various questions of Wendl, including utilising Kinect in the game, Forza 4’s darn neat Autovista mode and how they they managed to get Top Gear involved.

I haven’t listened through the whole thing –  I think it goes pretty well, apart from some rather long questions that get a little confusing – just don’t get distracted by my nasal tones.

I also discovered Soundcloud today which lets me upload audio files and embed a lovely looking player, like the one below.

Just press the play button. Go on, you know you want to (it’s 27mins long so make sure you’ve got some time).

Forza Motorsport 4: my impressions

Looking good: a publicity still from Forza Motorsport 4.

I’m just going to come out and say it: Forza Motorsport 4 is the best racing sim that I’ve ever played. It’s that simple.

I’ve only had the game since the end of last week but have thrashed the collection of cars in my garage to death (many other NZ  gaming writers got the code early at a special event in Auckland on the Tuesday that I didn’t attend), especially the poor Toyota Sprinter Trueno, a car introduced to the world by the Japanese car manufacturer in 1983.

Despite the fact that it only has a 1587cc four-cylinder twin-cam engine, I was able to gun the Trueno to within an inch of its life around some of Forza 4’s racing tracks, including the Top Gear test track at the Dunsfold Aerodrome, the Tsukuba circuit in Japan and at Laguna Seca in the United States. I was so impressed with the Trueno that I actually raced it in races that I probably shouldn’t have. Oh, well.

(This is completely irrelevant to this write up but I never owned a Toyota Trueno but I did own a Datsun 180B during my youth. I used to loving call it my Dats-hoon 180B. I don’t think there is a Datsun 180B in Forza 4 but it would be bloody cool if there was. Ah, nostalgic memories …)

Anyway, the first thing I actually did on Forza 4 before launching my career was try out the Kinect enabled features – you know, Microsoft’s motion-sensing device – and I was pleasantly surprised at how good it worked in races. While all you do is steer the car – you have no control over accelerating, braking or gear changes, and it’s never going to replace using a controller or steering wheel if you’re serious about the game – it was far more responsive than previous racing games on Kinect (Kinect Joyride especially) I’ve played. I didn’t actually think the Kinect functionality would be any good, but it actually works well.

The other impressive feature using Kinect is the game’s Autovista mode – where you get to look around and inside unlockable vehicles (vehicles are unlocked completing various challenges). Using Kinect you lean left and right to move around the car then hold your hand over various icons which will do things like open the boot or the bonnet or activate a speil from Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson about the vehicle. A neat feature is that when you’ve opened a door and step forward you’re swept into the car’s interior. If you hover over the ignition icon, the car’s engine roars into life – the first vehicle you get is Ferrari’s 458 – and it’s truly impressive to hear that engine start-up. There are plenty of other vehicles to unlock, including the iconic Warthog from the Halo series.

Then you’ve got the visuals. Simply put, Forza 4 looks stunning. My son came up to me the other day when I was looking at my cars and wanted to know if they were real cars: they look that realistic. There aren’t any dynamic weather effects  – it doesn’t suddenly start raining while you’re going around a track  – but you can race in a variety of weather conditions (overcast, early morning, late afternoon) and the interiors are incredibly detailed. For most of us, this is the closest we’re ever going to get to these real-life race cars. My son drove around the Nurburgring today in a Bugatti Veyron: I think I could safely say he’s never going to drive one of those in real life.

The audio, too, is superb: every engine note – from the deep gutteral tones of a Dodge Ram to the whiney, high-pitched sound of a Formula 1 car – it just sounds perfect.

Halo Warthog: the iconic vehicle from Halo makes an appearance in Forza 4's Autovista mode.

You can make Forza 4 as easy or as difficult as you want: if you’re new to the genre you can get all the assists turned on (ABS, traction control, auto-steering, auto-braking, racing line, rewind ability) to they don’t get put off when all they see is exhaust smoke but purists will want as many assists off as possible – to get a more realistic feel. The game suggests that if you play on expert you have real-world driving experience and have a steering wheel. I’d second that: I tried expert and just didn’t stand a chance against the aggressive AI.

While people will say “But all you do is go from race to race, country to country, and complete in events. It’s so repetitive” they’d be right but isn’t that every race game, and many games in general? By its very nature, a racing season is going from event to event, country to country, driving around tarmac in the quest for the fastest time and a place on the podium. I’ve never had so much fun driving around racing tracks in all my life.

I’m not so sure about the “Knock the bowling pins over” challenges on the Top Gear test track (they seemed a little pointless, to be honest)  and the AI drivers seemed to, at times, fall back then rubber-band themselves right up to your rear view mirror, but Forza 4 is a game that contains so much content that the most anal of tweaking purists will keep themselves busy for months just fine tuning their vehicle. Really, they will.

Then there’s the paint shop and the livery editor, the ability to set up or join car clubs where you can share cars, and the photo mode  (sorry, I haven’t used my own captured photos here: I’m still trying to find some I’m happy with) … oh, man, there’s just too much to contain in one article. Oh, forgot to mention the rivals mode which, hands down, is one of the best competitive modes to have. It’s where you try to beat the scores posted by your friends, pure and simple  – and from what I understand it will inform your friends when  you’ve beaten their time. If that’s not going to create a competitive rivalry between Xbox friends, I don’t know what is. XBLA game Trials HD was very good at spurring competition between friends – and Forza 4 is going to do the same thing.

You’ve probably guessed by know that I’m loving Forza Motorsports 4. I’m slowly making way up through the career rankings, race by race, continent by continent, and its great fun. I think, too, the Top Gear partnership is going to help the game appeal to not just hardcore race game purists but anyone. I know lots of people – my wife included – who doesn’t like cars but enjoys watching Top Gear. She sat watching us playing Forza 4 this afternoon.

I’ve no doubt missed other cool stuff in the game – oh, yeah, you can use head tracking with Kinect to look around the interior of cars while you’re racing  – but for Xbox 360 owners who are racing fans, Forza 4 is a no brainer. Go buy it: you won’t be disappointed. For those sitting on the fence, though, take it from me: Forza 4 is a stunning game that will keep you occupied for a very long time. The best racing game I’ve played? Most definitely. The best racing game of this generation? Quite possibly.