Forza Motorsport 3 Review

Dan Webb

I have a confession to make. A few years ago, I had an addiction. Not your normal type smack-head addiction, I’m talking something serious. I was a simulation racer nut. I’m talking years ago here, and the last time I got really stuck into a simulation racer was Gran Turismo 3. Sure, I dabbled in Gran Turismo 4 but after getting 100% in GT3 and having similar aspirations for GT4... I became overwhelmed and left the genre behind me. Although I’m familiar with the Forza series and have played all the previous games, I never became engrossed in the series the way GT3 captured my spirit. Forza 2 suffered the same sort of problems as GT4 and that was overwhelming the player. Microsoft and Turn 10 with Forza 3 are looking to overcome that barrier... and potentially, suck me back into a world of racing.

Racing never looked so good.

So as I briefly touched on, Forza Motorsport 3 is a simulation racer. A simulation racer unlike any other may I add. Not only does it have the depths from a physics and content standpoint but something Turn 10 have managed to pull off successfully is making it accessible to non-simulation fans with its one-button-racing, which does exactly what it says on the tin. By turning on the auto brake, players only have to steer and accelerate whilst the game does the rest for you. Great, Turn 10 have accommodated for the casual gamer who isn’t a racing nut, but to us, the simulation aspect is what's most important.

On the whole, Forza 3 offers the most realistic racing simulation to date. Turning off all the assists gives gamers the chance to tackle Forza 3 at its simulation roots, and boy does it offer a challenge. Too hard on the accelerator out of a corner and it’s like driving on ice. Brake too late and smash into an opponent on a corner and chances are you’ll wreck your ride. The handling is top notch and you can really tell the difference between a heavy British car and a light Japanese model. It’s not all peaches and cream though and there are a few aspects that stand out as supremely unrealistic. Not only have Turn 10 made some of the surfaces off the main track feel like glue – I’m being serious, veer on to the wrong stuff and you can drop from 90 mph to 20 mph in less than a second – but the damage system has a lot to be desired.

Crank it up to simulation damage, when the damage system should be at its most impressive, and you frankly can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Although you can now roll your car in Forza, smashing into opponents and solid partitions feels more like bumper cars at the fairground on a chilly Saturday night. Yes, with full simulation on, when you truly smash your ride it can affect its performance, but from a visual standpoint, the car has nothing but a few scratches and very little body deformation. Compared to Dirt 2’s damage system, Forza 3 is light years behind... and Dirt is meant to be the arcade style racer here, not the other way round.

The opponent AI also joins the damage model as indifferent, and is possibly the most sporadic thing in the game. Once you take first place, the AI rarely challenges you unless you truly mess up, but get in its racing line, and it won’t be scared to push you around. In fact, it’s as if the AI is built to follow the ideal racing line  and not stray from it at all. If it does, it will do anything to get back on track, even if you’re in its way. Many a time racing has a computer AI opponent spun me just because I happen to be on his racing line. On a more positive note though, that’s about everything that really bugged me about the game, the rest from here on out is plain sailing... nearly.

Some of the environments are breathtaking.

The majority of your offline playing time will be spent in the game’s monstrous career mode. There are quick races and hot laps to have a dabble with, but they are mere distractions. To access a good portion of the Forza 3 cars and some of the tracks though, it’s worth mentioning you’ll have to insert the second disc and install a 1.9 GB update, so get clearing that HD space now. Once installed, that will give you access to all 400 cars from 53 manufacturers and all 100 plus diverse and varying tracks.

Forza 3 offers the resident racer a ton of content to check out in its career mode that spans 220 events, including standard circuit races, drag races, A-to-B’s, drift races and endurance races. Whilst you do start out in an Audi R8 in a two lap race, it will be a while before you’re racing your own decent car... for instance, I spent the first hour racing around in a Ford Fiesta Zetec which was hardly enthralling. However, because nothing is locked from the off, it’s only a matter of saving the cash you win to buy the car you want, which was a relief, for sure. Once you start winning races though and levelling up with the career experience, you will be gifted cars  regularly as rewards. It may be worth mentioning that the load times in our build of the game were horrendous, but I’ll state now that our build is not fully optimised and they may be different in the final retail build. Well, I hope they are, but we won’t judge the game on that.

The structure of the 220 event career mode is built so that you’re never more than a handful of clicks away from a race. Rather than giving you 220 events and overwhelming the player, the career chooses three events for the player to work through. Each of the three events targets a different mentality, be it a new course, an event tied to the car you’re currently in, and an event that is based around racing a new car. If you want, you can stick with the same car and after more than a few hours in your choice car, you start to realise you could effectively race in it for hours without being forced out of it. You can even tune it up – and down – to make sure it fits in a specific class that is required for a specific race.

The career is broken up into seasons and race dates are displayed on a calendar. Throughout each season you will have a main event that takes place every weekend, which consists of longer, more intense races, with weekday events offering you more choice in between. The beauty of the career mode - apart from the fact that the harder you make it, the more experience you get – is that now Forza 3 has introduced a rewind function so you won’t be scared to knock it up a few levels and take off a few assists. Unlike previous racers that limited the rewind function - GRID and Dirt - Turn 10 chose not to limit how many times you can use it per race. On more than one occasion I was comfortable to up the difficulty and lose a few assists to try and get more experience. While it stands to reason that a rewind function in a simulation game seems to defeat the object of simulation, it does add the fun back into the title as you can now race flat out from the first to the last lap without the fear of losing the last 20 minutes of work because of a slight mishap on the last corner.

The career on the surface might feel fairly linear, but at any time, you can trek off the dusty path and choose whatever the hell you want to do. You can choose to tune your cars yourself – that’s as well as auto tune/upgrade, test drive them, buy a car, customise the look of it, check out your profile stats and even head into the storefront, which is where the community magic is made. Simply put, Forza 3 offers a ton of content and I could literally sit here for hours just talking about it all. From my perspective, it’s all about the racing, but the tools are there to create unbelievable vinyls for the car, fantastic videos, sexual photos, and then they can all be shared with the community. Not only can they be shared, but they can be sold, pimped out, auctioned, whatever you want to do with them. They’ve taken everything they did with Forza 2 and streamlined it into a much neater package with more options.

Forza 3 is also a massive step up visually from its predecessor, although the shadows seem to be a little pixelated at best and some of the stickers on the windscreen whilst in the cockpit view are far from HD. Yes, I said cockpit view, that wasn’t a typo and experiencing Forza from the cockpit is a whole new gratifying experience. Other than those slight few oversights though, Forza 3 is a visual masterpiece, albeit a little bit shiny and fake at times. From the HDR lighting and reflections in the car’s bodywork, to the lighting and picturesque environments; everything screams high production values. The same could be said for the game’s audio as well, which features some roaring engine noises that can really rip through the house, and not only do the cars sound different from one another, but there is a very fitting drum n’ bass and gritty indie soundtrack to accompany it... that’s if you can hear it over the engine noises though. I couldn’t.

So this is what the inside of a car looks like in Forza.

Forza 3 offers a lot for the online racers as well and whilst the servers are currently empty – couldn’t even find a fellow journo to race against – everything is all present and correct. The standard modes filter in from the single player career like drag, drift, circuit races and A-to-B’s, but it also includes modes like tag, elimination and cat & mouse to help offer something a little more fun and manic to the proceedings.

The achievements in Forza 3 are frankly quite boring. Easy, but super boring. Turn 10 does well to reward players for testing out the community features – like buy something, take a photo, make a video, etc, but the vast majority of points are simply tacked on to the levelling system and progressing through the career. This won’t be a quick 1,000 however, as Turn 10 have slapped an 80 point achievement on winning all 220 career events. Effectively though, you’re looking at around 750 points tied into the career, which I suspect will start to grind towards the end. All in all, a pretty bland and uninspiring list... sentiments that I’m getting sick of spouting week in week out.

In my experience, you can judge how good a simulation racer is, on how long you can sit down for at any one time, before sacking it off and doing something else. The longer the better of course, and Forza does a lot of things right in this respect. The simplistic but in-depth career mode is structured in a way that makes you feel comfortable just picking out of three events. It does help that the handling is top notch, the game looks stunning and the music is suitably fitting. On the whole, Turn 10 have done a fine job with Forza 3 despite a few hiccups like a pretty unrealistic damage system and some sporadic AI. That being said, Forza 3 is a must buy for any racing fan of any ilk and has quality in abundance.

Great diversity and range of engine sounds and a fitting drum n’ bass and indie influenced soundtrack. Doesn’t seem to be that many songs though and you can barely hear it anyway.

If it wasn’t for the fairly fake, over shiny initial look and pixelated shadows, Forza 3 would have scored higher because the HDR lighting and impressive backdrops offer some pretty sexual eye candy.

A stunning simulation racer is let down by some dodgy off track effects, sporadic AI and an unrealistic damage system. Otherwise, excellent.

The career mode is superbly delivered and rarely overwhelms. Don’t get us wrong, there are hundreds of hours of content here, but it’s not all thrown at you at once. Mix in a ton of community features and Forza 3 appeals to more than just racing sim fans.

Boring, boring, boring, boring. Did I mention they were boring? They don’t do anything wrong per se, but they show little imagination.

Forza 3 is easily the best simulator on consoles and is a simulation game that racing fans around the world can welcome with open arms. I mean everyone, whether you want to race with all the assists off and get the true simulation experience, or whether you want to experience fast cars and beautiful tracks but don’t know your clutch from your cam belt. Plenty of content, lush visuals, and great delivery. A few minor hiccups, but even Shakespeare despite his brilliance had his drawbacks.

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