Impulse Overdrive…

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 | Video Games

… in which I talk about picking up a new game, completely on a whim.

As of late, with financial and time constraints, I haven’t been buying as many games as I used to. It’s not that I used to buy a ton, I’ve always been pretty conservative, but I’ve really learned to curb my impulse and unnecessary spending. I’ve also found, at least in recent years, that I am fairly immune to most conventional marketing. No matter how cool an ad makes something look, I find that I can pretty much ignore its call unless I have a genuine, vested interest in the product. To that effect, when I buy a new game, it’s usually with much research and a pre-order for a much anticipated release, or a late release buy after the price has started to slip. Yesterday, however, I saw the release of Forza Motorsport 4 on a passing Tweet and decided that I really needed a new driving game.

Forza4_BMW2002Turbo
Doing a quick lab around the TopGear test track

But yes, this impulse buy was a complete break from my current shopping trends. Most often, these days, I usually find a game that I am confident that I’m going to like and try to pre-order it with plenty of time to save up the money. Dragon Age II was such an animal. I jumped on the pre-order through Amazon and had two months to get together the cash for its official release. Alternately, such as in the case of Lego Harry Potter, I waited until it was dirt cheap and picked up a new copy for under $20. I can’t remember the last time I bought a game completely blind, but when I saw the story on Forza 4, it occurred to me that I hadn’t had a real driving game since probably Gran Turismo 3 for the PS2. I fondly remembered how much I enjoyed driving simulators, so I surveyed my wallet to find three GameStop gift cards. I was pretty sure that two were fully loaded with $25 each, and the third had $5 or so left on it. $55 sounded like a decent dent in a brand new, off the shelf impulse splurge, so after work, I hopped on the bike and headed straight over to GameStop.

Despite the discovery that only one of the cards had $25, an the other two combined, totaled $12.25, I still paid the remaining $28 out of pocket and considered it a pretty darned good deal. It was a long ride home, full of wrong turns and dead-ends, but eventually I made it back and started installing the game onto my Xbox. Now I will admit, one of the major selling points of Forza 4, to me at least, was the inclusion of Top Gear licensing and material, which made it especially thrilling when the opening animations were actually narrated by Jeremy Clarkson.

The game gives you an almost eulogy-esque opening dialog, memorializing the cars of unnecessary speed and power in a world concerned with economy and environment, and then drops you into a Ferrari (458 I believe) for a quick induction into the controls for the game. Now I’m not an avid driving gamer, in fact, it’s my preference to play on a fairly moronic difficulty so that the game stays “fun” and not “super realistic” (read: impossible). To that end, Forza 4 definitely caters to both crowds fairly nicely. I set the control settings to “hard” (the medium of five difficulty levels) which automates a lot of the action, but still allows you to feel like you’re responsible for a lot of the car control. Needless to say, the first intro race was kind of a cake walk.

I went on to play for a bit longer, starting in a kind of “hot hatch” class series, racing a Volkswagen Fox and doing fairly well. After a break for dinner, I decided I’d go ahead and try out some online racing with my latest acquisition, a fully upgraded 1973 BMW 2002 Turbo. I got in a few more offline races, completed some events and started to feel inappropriately confident. I logged in to the online servers and queued up for a Class D race. Here’s the thing about offline racing vs. online racing: in offline racing, it’s about skill and precision; in online racing, it’s about aggression and brute force. I immediately felt like I had switched from a elegant driving simulator to a crude and clumsy car chase game. I was expecting some rough trading of paint, yes, but when you get slammed off the track at every corner, it’s just not really much fun anymore. I even experienced a very well placed PIT maneuver in the middle of a fairly tight race. While I can respect the talent of the driver to pull this off so cleanly, I don’t feel like this is the venue for it.

The whole affair was consistently infuriating, start off a race after race pulling ahead of the pack with some nice, agile passing and then taking the corner with the appropriate slow down for control, only to be slammed off the track by someone else using me as a bumper. I think I was the only player out there with a car that had decent handling and cornering, where every other car had straight raw power. It’s like they had no intent of cornering “correctly” and only intended to make up all races on the straights. I’ll admit, that’s how I started, too, but after playing several iterations of different driving games, I’ve learned to appreciate skillful driving. I realize that with my dual stick controller, I still only experience a fraction of what that’s like, but I feel like that’s something to aspire to.

Strangely, it took me back to may days in WoW on the PVP servers, watching my back for mooks who would come along and kill you for no good reason other than to say they could slay someone who was less than half their level. It made me long for some kind of serious filter to the online races that would only allow in people who were interested in serious driving. Maybe a game option where you were penalized with time loss for slamming and rubbing throughout the race. I don’t know what the solution is, other than to badger some friends into buying the game and racing seriously, together. It’s just frustrating that there’s not a way to really enjoy every aspect of the game. Then again, maybe I’m missing something in the online settings, maybe you can restrict it to serious drivers, I didn’t really look that hard.

Nevertheless, I got bored of being slammed around and eventually went back to my own offline game and decided I’d try out the one car I’d been dreaming of driving since having first seen it on TopGear, the Bugatti Veyron. They day I earn $10,000,000 is the day I buy the Veyron – not that it’s $10 mil, it’s just the $1.4 mil pricetag won’t feel so outrageous if I have $10 mil in my pocket. But in game, the car is still mindbogglingly fast. I decided to take on the achievement to hit 240 mph, and while the car was up to it, it took me several tries to find the track that could handle the windup. Finally, after several tragic attempts at which I maxed out at 238, I finally hit the magic number and plodded off to bed.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the game, even if I have to ignore the online douchebaggery. I’d love to race against other humans, but I’ll have to settle for offline challenges and time trials instead. But if you happen to be reading this, and you own the game, and want to do some serious, clean racing, hit me up on XBL and we’ll run a lap or two. Just look for Kacey3, I’ll be racing the cars with the ADC badges on the sides. And on that bombshell, it’s time to end the blog. Good night!

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