I haven’t gotten a speeding ticket in over eight years, my car is more than sixteen years old and I’ve been accused of driving like an old lady on more than one occasion. Call me boring, but I prefer to do most of my crazy driving inside the virtual world where my insurance agent can’t find me. The problem is that it’s been a long time since I’ve played a racing game that I could seriously get into. I’ve done at least a few laps in most of the major titles in the genre, but always found myself pushed away by unrelenting difficulty, wonky physics or any of a number of other issues. Forza Motorsport 3 came along just in time to restore my faith in racing games.
The last racing game that I really remember enjoying was Gran Turismo 2 on my original Playstation back in the day. Instead of just being handed some super car and being expected to drive it, you had to work your way up from some used piece of junk that you started the game with. More impatient gamers might be annoyed by this, but racing enthusiasts realize that working your way up through the ranks is how you ease yourself into these types of games. The ability to purchase and upgrade a wide variety of real life cars was the icing on the cake, and I spent hours filling up my garage with all sorts of exotic vehicles. Forza 3 is the first current generation racing title to give me that same sense that I’m buying and racing a fleet of cars I don’t have a dream of ever getting my hands on in real life.
I’ve played the predecessor to Forza 3, but it never quite got the job done for me. Because of that I was skeptical of what I might find in this latest iteration. Forza 2 was widely considered to be a solid racing simulator, and the third game in the series adds major improvements pretty much across the board. There’s an attention to detail here that you don’t find in many games. Everything from including factory paint colors for each car to the ridiculous number of upgrades and customization options that you’re given shows that developer Turn 10 hasn’t been asleep at the wheel. There are 52 different manufacturers in Forza 3 just for rims. It seems obvious that the developers have a passion for the subject matter.
Those that aren’t familiar with the Forza Motorsport series need to understand that this isn’t a Need For Speed game. Depending on your difficulty settings, Forza 3 can be pretty unforgiving. Hitting a wall at a hundred miles per hour will damage your car, often times to the point that it’s impossible to continue. Repairs don’t come cheap, either. If you make a mistake, an incredibly useful rewind feature lets you learn your lesson without having to restart the entire race. Cars behave with almost uncanny realism and are governed by a complex physics system. It takes into account the weight of your car, the deformation of the tires under differing conditions, road surface type, G forces, drag coefficient and countless other details that you’d need a physicist to fully explain. Apply a simulation like that to a list of more than four hundred real world cars that actually look, sound and feel different from each other and you’ll begin to grasp the scope and depth of the game.
Part of what makes Forza 3 feel so real is a heavily upgraded graphics engine. The title boasts car models that are built using ten times the number of polygons from Forza 2, and from the look of things I don’t doubt that number one bit. Every vehicle is modeled in excruciating detail. On top of that, the dozens of upgrades that are available for each of them tweak the car’s looks, too. Add a roll cage and you can see it inside the car. Perform a weight reduction and you’ll notice little extras from the car have been removed. These upgrades tie into the game’s excellent audio as well, and adding a turbo or swapping out your car’s engine results in the appropriate changes to the way it sounds.
With so many cars to choose from, it’d be disastrous if there weren’t enough tracks to keep things interesting. There’s nothing worse than offering hundreds of cars but then boring players to death by sticking them on minor variations of the same tracks over and over. Luckily Forza 3 offers 100 different racecourses, and supports everything from road and oval tracks to drag, drifting and downhill events too. Each of these courses looks and feels great, and the various event types keep things interesting by constantly testing your driving skills in new ways. They also act as an incentive to spend the in-game credits you’ll earn from completing races, as it’s nice to keep a selection of cars in your garage. Outfitting a turbo charged super car for a high-speed oval track is much different than setting up a smaller car capable of taking steep downhill sections or the tight turns of a road rally track.
Forza 3’s online capabilities have also been expanded, but they suffer from the same annoyances found in many online console games. It’s hard to enjoy a racing simulation when many of the people playing it seem interested in nothing more than turning things into a demolition derby. A nice selection of options allows you to customize your multiplayer experience, including disabling the collision detection to prevent this sort of thing from ruining your race. Other online features include a storefront that lets you auction off cars, sell paint and vinyl designs (created via the powerful in-game editor) as well as browse through the content that other players have put online. Leader boards keep you up to date on all sorts of stats, and there are even listings for the highest ranked in-game photographers and moviemakers.
In all honesty, this is one of the best racing games I’ve ever played. I had the opportunity to put in a few laps using a friend’s home built force feedback cockpit setup, and Forza 3 gave me the most immersive and convincing driving experience I’ve had outside of a real car. There’s a little something here for racing fans of all types, and you shouldn’t hesitate to check it out.
Title: Forza Motorsport 3
Platform: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone