We've seen a handful of games call themselves "Better with Kinect" — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I and Virtua Tennis 4 are two of the more high-profile titles, but neither managed to use the sensor for more than mildly entertaining side games. Arguably, Forza Motorsport 4 is the first game to show the sensor can be integrated into core gameplay and improve the overall experience.
Let's be clear about this: Forza 4 is not a Kinect game. It's a control pad or steering wheel game with Kinect features. It earns its purple stripe with some smart ideas, but to enjoy the game fully you'll need buttons.
Essentially the Kinect features are Turn 10's attempt to widen Forza's audience from the extremely core car fan and to draw in the odd family member or occasional driving game player. It's a sensible approach that keeps the game's spirit intact while offering something for those who don't want to tune their cars for hours on end.
For those who are phenomenally into cars, the Autovista mode will be a dream come true. While Autovista can be played with a controller, it's best experienced with Kinect. Essentially turning your TV into a car showroom, you can walk around a huge array of cars, learning trivia about them or hearing TopGear's Jeremy Clarkson wax lyrical about whether or not he'd buy that particular automobile, given the choice. The Kinect integration here is impressive: you can lean, kneel and peer to take a look at each bit of the car, with white nodes indicating more to see or do by hovering your hand. Get inside the car, start it up and hover over the wheel and you can take part in a special challenge, ranging from fastest lap to overtaking as many cars as possible, to unlock more vehicles for Autovista. The challenges are welcome, elevating this from a mere showroom simulator, with a more subtle form of body tracking than we're often used to.
Core car fans are also likely to find the head-tracking useful too. Usable in any mode that uses a controller, this allows you to turn and tilt your head to change your in-car view. Need to take a look at your rear view mirror? Turn to look at it. In those early race moments when the pack is jostling together it's valuable to see who's trying to squeeze past you, and once in front it lets you block more effectively. Again, it can be emulated without Kinect — just use the right analogue stick — but Kinect makes it feel intuitive. It's also got pleasing amounts of options, including a 'clipping' setting that lets you block out background movement or alter how sensitively it reads your left and right movements, very useful if you sit slightly off-centre from your TV.
All the things that Forza fans are used to — custom paint jobs, tuning, career modes and so on — are present and correct but do not support Kinect, beyond the head-tracking feature. In a game like Forza where accuracy is everything, this is probably a wise move and not something to gripe about, to be honest.
When it comes to straight-up Kinect features, the game has its own Kinect menu for the Autovista, Quick Race, Hot Lap and Split Screen modes. As with the last Kinect racing game — the forgettable Kinect Joy Ride — the Xbox takes care of acceleration, braking and gears, just leaving the steering to you. Having the on-screen racing line guide will likely make this far too simple for anyone wanting a challenge — auto accelerate and brake essentially reduces this to an exercise in following a coloured line, and it's unlikely you'll find much reason to race on your own. Two player fares better, but it's more an enjoyable one-off than a reason to return.
Overall the game's Kinect features vary in usefulness: although you can take any car onto any track with Kinect for a quick race or fastest lap, it's all in short bursts whereas the game's real quality is in its depth: career, online and customisation are all sublime, each enough to captivate you for hours on end. Head-tracking is likely to get the most use over time, and is the most natural way to use Kinect in a traditional control pad-based game we've seen yet.
Forza 4 is superb: a huge technical achievement for the Xbox, with the head-tracking lending an extra layer of control to the game. Turn 10 has succeeded in tuning up the already excellent Forza 3, resulting in one of the finest driving games ever created, and a game that — at last — really is better with Kinect.