Forza Motorsport 3 Review
I've always had a hard time getting into realistic racing games. It's not that I can't learn how to get through the apex just right of figure out the perfect way to brake through a hairpin turn, it's just that I never had fun doing it. From the PC sims to Gran Turismo to even the earlier Forza games, I loved their attention to detail and immense realism but never actually enjoyed playing them for more than five minutes.
With Forza Motorsport 3, all that has changed. It's got a fantastic selection of over 400 highly-detailed cars to drive, amazing-looking tracks to drive on, a blazing-fast game engine that runs at 60fps (even in split-screen races), a rewind system that lets you fix mistakes, and a focus on configuring the difficulty and level of detail that allows a vast range of players of different interests and skill levels to have fun. All they need is a love of driving.
The developers at Turn 10 Studios have learned a lot from the Gran Turismo series and put much of it into Forza Motorsport 3. The super-slick, sterile interface is backed up with voice work from smooth British actor Peter Egan, and it really helps add some class to the whole experience. This isn't Need for Speed or Burnout, and we don't need a bunch of loud rock music and busy graphics when browsing through cars, upgrading parts, checking your career-mode schedule, and picking events to race on.
Once you get behind the wheel, though, you'll quickly find that this is no minimalist endeavor - Forza 3 just smartly put all their effort into giving you one of the smoothest, most polished racing experiences you'll get on a game console. From the way the cars all handle in slightly different ways (which is obvious even if you're using a gamepad) to the massive increase in power you can get by upgrading a car up to a new class, you'll really get the feel like each car has its own personality and quirks. A well-created cockpit view helps support that, although you don't get to use it in the split-screen modes.
Throughout your racing career you'll have to race in a bunch of different types of events with specific cars, and will earn money to put together your own armada of vehicles for any event you like. The simple joy of racing a huge variety of cars against their peers is excellent, but the game also helps you automatically buy the right parts for a car to maximize its potential in each of the game's nine classes (in order: F, D, C, B, A, S, R3, R2, R1). So while you might buy a car that's class C, with the tap of a button the game can buy and/or install the parts for you that make it as good in class C as possible, or take it up to B or even A. Obviously, the higher-end parts will cost a lot more, but the nice part is that if you really love just a few cars, you'll get to race them more than if they were locked into a specific class.
The ease of use doesn't end there, though, because the difficulty settings allow you to make this game as easy as a casual racer or as detailed as Gran Turismo or some PC sims. As you get better, you can start turning the assists off and the difficulty up, and I think you'll find that this goes much more smoothly than it does in other sims. Upgrading from a controller to Microsoft's wireless racing wheel (which costs $100 and is pretty good value if you also get the adapter to play some PC games with it as well) was a smooth transition for me, and I quickly found a huge jump in realism and fun once I got used to it.
The Rewind button is one of the best features in Forza 3. First seen in Sega's action-packed Full Auto from a few years back, it's also been used in Codemasters' racing games - but this is the first serious road-racing simulation that has it. What it means is that in the single player mode you'll get to rewind with the Back button and get an unlimited amount of attempts during a race to get that corner just right, or to pass someone in just the right way that screws them over as well. Purists may hate it, and the leaderboards do mark people who use the Rewind button, but for everyone else it's a godsend. The game still forces you to do the corners just right, and the developers were able to turn up the difficulty since now you won't blow the whole race just for one mistake. What it does is it helps you become a better driver, and that does make a difference when you decide to get serious and start racing online.
Speaking of going online, Forza 3 is a dream for people who want to take their Serious Business Racing onto the internet. There's an auction house to sell and buy cars to and from other players - use this to dump the ones you don't like, get a bargain on someone else's cast-offs, or buy and sell cars with custom paint jobs at a profit. You can use the livery editor to create some extremely detailed graphics for your cars and then make in-game money off them, and you can of course do online races with a wide range of rules and options. But the fun part is not in just trying to go as fast as possible around a track, but to create challenges with a specific make and model of a car that everyone's got to drive - the funny thing is that, much like in the TV show Top Gear, the best challenges often involve some of the worst cars. Beyond that, there's also a lot of highly-detailed custom tuning you can do to each car to try and eke out the best times on the leaderboards, so serious petrolheads have some meat to chew on here as well.
So what does Forza 3 do that no other game like it has ever really done? It's hard to explain, but for me it's a combination of the slick interface, extremely solid racing without a ton of special effects to complicate the experience, the ability to rewind in the single player mode, and amazing-looking cars that all adds up to one of the best racing experiences I've ever had on a TV screen. I may not be the most advanced of players, but this game is getting me there much more easily than anything else I've played. Forza 3 is missing a few notable things like night driving, weather effects, and offroad racing, but what it does, it does marvelously - and I can't wait to pull my racing wheel back out and jump right back into it.