Racing games are not for everybody. Well, the old ones were, but time went by, we slowly got away from the simplicity of just getting over the finish line first. Now we're at a point where we're controlling high-end simulations where realism and physics play a major role. You can't mindlessly mash the gas pedal anymore. Now you have to mind your racing lines, think about your cornering, perform upgrades and modifications, and put your mind in a place where you can focus on every aspect of the vehicle as you speed through insanely detailed recreations of real-world tracks. One missed step and you'll find yourself smashed against a wall.
Even with as complex as these games have become, fans of these racing simulation-style titles still come out in droves to pick up the latest "car porn." The realism in these games allow racing enthusiasts and vehicle lovers to toy with cars they might not otherwise get to handle. For many years now, Polyphony Digital's Gran Turismo series has been the front runner for these racing sims, but Turn 10's Forza has been on their six, looking for an opportunity to pass. The race is not over yet, but it looks like Forza has pulled out in front.
Turn 10 has set a new high mark for racing games with Forza Motorsport 3. Fans of racing games are already frothing at the mouth at the level of game play and car offerings included. But what's most interesting is how the game now also caters to those that may have written off racing games in the past. Now's time to get back into the race.
Forza Motorsport 3 (Xbox 360)
You know how this works by now. You start out by hopping into a starter car, usually some low end hatchback car, you enter a race, win, collect your winnings, and then use it to buy a bigger and better car. Repeat and repeat again until you're the best racer that ever lived with every car ever created. Conceptually, that's about all you'll get out of a racing title. At its roots, this is how Forza Motorsport 3 works. But that's not what makes it great. Let me tell you what makes it great.
Even the "crap car" looks nice!
This is the most beautifully conceived racing simulation I've ever played, and it all has to do with the control. Simply put, you feel like you're really racing. Through technology, physics, modeling, previous game experience and many other things I can't even begin to pretend to understand, Forza Motorsport 3 manages to blur that line between game and reality. I often found myself "in the zone," fully connected and focused only on the gas and brake pedals, feeling how the weight of my car shifts when I brake, looking into the horizon to where I expected to be in seconds. The illusion is so great that I've often found myself shifting my real-world weight into turns, griping my controller as tightly as I'd grip a steering wheel if I were moving at 90 miles per hour. The realism continues in-race, as the artificial intelligence used here is second to none. Simply put, your opponents are road-hogging assholes that know how to race. I could spew a bunch of technical terms that I don't fully understand, but I'll say this instead: For reasons I'll never fully be able to explain or quantify, Forza 3 is the most realistic racing experience I've ever had, and this alone makes it the best racing game I've ever played. But there's more.
There's a huge game under the hood. Turn 10 calls it an automotive playground, and I'd say that's a pretty accurate assessment. For starters, there's over 400 cars and 100 tracks to tackle. That might sound daunting, but Turn 10 managed to tweak the single-player experience to where you don't feel like you're aimlessly racing. In Season Play, you start out with your low-end car and low-end racing event, marked on a personalized calendar. Upon completion, three more race options are presented, this time with slightly higher-classed cars and race stakes. Pick what you like, and the next race dates will be marked on the calendar. You just show up, win, and collect your prize money. You'll move from event to event like this, with championship races interspersed. There are over 200 events, and you'll have to play the game more than once to experience them all. The beauty of this is that you're never racing in events that you don't care for -- you can play the career mode as you'd like.
As races are completed, players will receive both credits and experience points. Credits let you purchase more cars from the 50-something manufacturers in the game and upgrade them to your heart's content. You'll always get credits for finishing a race, but you'll earn more for driving better, or for shutting off any of the game's many assists. Damage your car by running into others, and your credits will be docked. Experience points go into both your individual cars and yourself, as a driver. Cars get better with age in this game through EXP, and the experience points the player receives goes toward gift cars that are unlocked as they progress.
Lovely winding roads.
Getting that credit and experience is easy at first, but as the game progresses, and the speed of cars and difficulty of courses progresses, you'll have to be a much better racer to win. Thankfully there's a rewind feature. I've never been totally keen on do-overs in a racing game, but somehow the white knuckle races in Forza 3 make me glad that you're able to hit the Back button and retry that last bad turn. And as damaging your car negatively affects both its performance and the amount of credits you'll receive, rewinding a big crash or crunch is a pretty good idea. To me, damage modeling in races sets Forza apart. When collision and its effects on the vehicle are not accounted for, a very real and large aspect of racing is being left out. Thankfully, Forza 3 manages to keep it fun. A terrible driver will pay the consequences, but as long as you're not constantly plowing into cars, you'll do fine.
Before you smash your cars up, they look beautiful. Forza 3 goes out of its way to appeal to the car lover in you, with showroom floor-style presentations so shiny that you want to reach out and touch them. Thankfully, cars look just as amazing on the tracks and in motion, as Forza 3 has to be one of the smoothest looking racing titles ever. Cars look strikingly realistic taking corners, as you can see how their weight shifts as they brake. The in-car driver reacts accordingly. Sun glistens off the side panels. This is all set on mostly beautiful and equally realistic backdrops. Some of the real-world courses are less photogenic, but that's not Turn 10's fault. You'll be looking at the cars, though, and they all look amazing in movement. The whole setting is so pretty that you find yourself working to not crash to keep it that way.
You could spend forever in the sandbox-y car world that Forza 3 provides, but there are more options outside of normal single player mode that may interest you. Of course, there's a robust online multiplayer mode, leaderboards, and Forza's deep car customization features to keep you busy. Even online play earns you experience points, and your custom creations can be uploaded and shared. I'd rather race the cars than paint and decal them, but if that's your thing, the options are limitless here. Creative types will also enjoy the movie and photography modes. Snap shots and record replay clips, and then upload them to be shared with the rest of the world to see on ForzaMotorsport.net. I just uploaded a high-definition clip some tight but fast cornering I was able to pull of in a Maserati. I'm not bragging, but you should check it out.
This is as close as I'll get for now...
It seems like accessibility was a major focus in Forza 3. Turn 10 knows that the difficulty of sim-style racers can scare people off, so they've implemented various assists that can be switched on or off as needed. There's training wheels for everything from braking to cornering. Set the game on "easy" and all of the assists are turned on. I'm sure a 10-year-old could finish a race on easy. If you're a pro, shut them all off and then watch yourself spin out and crash, you cocky bastard. Mine is set somewhere in the middle. The "normal" setting was still to easy for me. I shut off the racing lines, braking assists, auto tuning and more. This made for a better challenge and a much more enjoyable game. I'd say that if you're winning and not having fun, then you need to shut some of the assists off. That said, it's great that these assists exist for the casual player. Someone with all the assists on can race against someone with all of them off, too.
While we have no major complaints on Forza 3, there are a few items of note. The load times before matches is a tad bit long, almost long enough to break your determination to get back in and win a race you just lost. The loading delay between matches was long enough for me to be able to stop and take notes for this review, if that tells you anything. There's a second content disc that will need to be installed on your Xbox 360 hard drive to enable all the game's content. You'll need about 2GB of free space. I'd actually budget for a bit more space than that to rip some of your favorite music CDs, as Forza 3's musical score is mostly bland and stereotypical, though it sometimes moves to the annoying side of things. Finally, while the AI is mostly great, I found that races can become almost unfairly challenging later in the game. Did someone think it was a good idea to have 7 opponents that never make mistakes? Also, the "love taps" you'll receive from cars that you've hit are only cute for so long. These are only minor nitpicks, none of them deal breakers.
Forza Motorsport 3 is the new king of racers. I can safely say that I've never played a better racing game. Scalable difficulty lets anyone play, making sure that everyone from novices to pros have a good time. Drop-dead gorgeous graphics will satisfy anyone's car lust. But it's that lovingly crafted and exceptionally realistic control that wins me over. Forza 2 was already great. They've just polished it to perfection to make 3. If Polyphony Digital really does have a better game coming with Gran Turismo 5, then I'm excited, as Forza 3 is the best racing game I've ever played.
10 -- Flawless Victory (10s are as close to perfect as you will get in a genre or on a platform. Pure, untarnished videogame ecstasy.)
THE VERDICT - Forza Motorsport 3
Reviewed by Dale North