Gamescom 2011: Forza Motorsport 4 Impressions and Full Video Demo

Watch the full Gamescom demo and read our thoughts on Top Gear, lighting, and even Pokemon.

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While the name "Forza" may derive from the Italian word for "strength," it's been a decidedly German week for the team at Turn 10. At Gamescom in Cologne, the Xbox developer announced a new track in the Hockenheimring, which is a relatively flat circuit situated in the Rhine valley of southwest Germany that you can play either during broad daylight or the pre-sunset "golden hour." The studio also brought along the first production model BMW M5, a heavy, high-powered sedan that fans will be able to drive in Forza 4 before it hits the streets.

However, those German-centric reveals weren't all that Turn 10 brought to Germany. Game director Dan Greenawalt was also in attendance showing a demo of Forza 4 behind closed doors. While a lot of it was content we've covered before at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, there were some very interesting new details revealed in the demo that we hadn't yet seen. Luckily for you, we were able to film the whole thing. Have a look at the video below, followed by some of our own impressions.

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The Top Gear Touch

One of the ways that Turn 10 has incorporated Top Gear into Forza 4 has been through the use of voice-overs in Autovista mode. Autovista is a feature that lets you use either the Kinect or a controller to explore the nitty-gritty details of a car through things like hearing what the engine sounds like when you fire it up or popping up the hood and examining every last nook and cranny of the engine. Basically, it's the equivalent of finding a $200,000 sports car parked in grocery store parking lot and ogling it for a good 15 minutes without the fear of accidentally setting off its alarm.

When you're examining these cars, you can trigger certain audio prompts that let you hear what Top Gear's lovably grumpy Jeremy Clarkson thinks of the car. Showing off the 2011 Mercedes SLS AMG, Greenawalt played a Clarkson voice-over that went, "This is not just the greatest car Mercedes makes. Right now, I think, it's the greatest car in the world." We'll be honest: Hearing that sort of positivity from Clarkson was very refreshing. While it's hilarious hearing Clarkson make fun of cars on Top Gear, we'd imagine it's probably a lot less fun when you've spent the past 10 hours saving up to buy a car in the game, only to hear Clarkson tell you in no uncertain terms why anyone who drives this car has awful taste. Certainly, that'll probably still happen with a few Autovista models--Greenawalt insists they didn't censor Clarkson's strong opinions--but it's at least nice to see there's some variety to those opinions.

Clarkson is a big fan of the SLS AMG.
Clarkson is a big fan of the SLS AMG.

Lighting in a Bottle

There aren't a lot of people in the video game development world who can make a new lighting model sound fascinating, but Dan Greenawalt is certainly one of them. Forza 4 uses a new system called "image-based lighting" that unifies the lighting on the car with the world around it. Previously, Turn 10 used one lighting model on the car and a different one for the track; then, it used smoke and mirrors to make the two seem like they belonged to the same lighting source. Now Turn 10 doesn't have to pretend.

In practical terms, this means you'll see lighting that's less flat and more alive. Greenawalt showed off a car modeled after his own black metallic blue BMW M3, and it was interesting seeing how the dark paint job actually went from looking black in normal light to bluish (almost like a comic book character's black hair) when reflected by the full-spectrum lighting off the sun. Even more impressive is how the lighting looks in the cockpit. Whereas the car interiors looked relatively flat and drab in Forza 3, now you'll see a lot more dynamic lighting as the sun bounces off the leather wheel or dash. It'll be interesting to see how many people convert from an outside-the-car camera to a cockpit view as a result.

Germany's Hockenheimring
Germany's Hockenheimring

Hands Off the Wheel

One of the questions we asked Greenawalt after the demo ended was how much he and his team look outside the racing genre for inspiration. It was interesting to hear his response that it's a combination of expected reference points and more out-of-left-field ones that really make you think. He said that World of Warcraft was a big inspiration for the online auction house that lets players sell cars for in-game currency, which certainly makes sense. Those are two games with very similar features, so why not borrow from the ones who've found the most success? Less expected was Greenawalt's claim that Pokemon has been a big influence on his team. It's one of those things that sounds thoroughly bizarre at first but makes sense after a while. If there's one thing that sums up the Forza garage system, it's Pokemon's trademark slogan "Gotta catch 'em all!" There's a certain childlike joy, almost like collecting toys, which both games do exceptionally well.

In the end, Greenawalt summed it up nicely: "Honestly, we're huge gamers. It kind of sucks, actually, coming to a game show like this, and I'm doing interviews so I don't get to go play any of the games!"

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