Forza Motorsport 3

When _Forza Motorsport_ was released way back in 2005, it appeared to be nothing more than an attempt on Microsoft’s part to get in on the simulation racing action, becoming a direct rival to the critically acclaimed _Gran Turismo_ franchise. After being awarded extremely high review scores, it was clear that Microsoft and the game’s developers, Turn 10 Studios, had put a considerable amount of effort into attempting to make _Forza Motorsport_ the best racing sim on any platform.

While the original was very much a carbon copy of previous games in the _GT_ franchise, its successor, _Forza Motorsport 2_, had a number of features that distinguished it from its arch-nemesis. Taking advantage of the “next generation” of console hardware, namely the addition of an extremely in-depth visual customisation system, improved damage modelling and a range of online community features, the _Forza_ franchise was now in joint first with _Gran Turismo_. Now, with the release of _Forza Motorsport 3_, Turn 10 Studios may well have created the definition of what a racing sim should be.

If you’ve played either of the previous titles, you’ll instantly be familiar with how _Forza 3_ operates. The gameplay as well as in-game progression is somewhat similar and you’ll immediately recognise a number of the tracks; this is definitely more of an iteration of the formula found in the previous games, rather than a complete re-working. This means that the AI is still as engaging as it’s ever been; your opponents don’t mindlessly follow the racing line (à la _Gran Turismo_) but they’ll actively try to overtake you. The game strikes a perfect balance in this respect as, although competitive, they aren’t unrealistically aggressive, this being the major issue I had with the recent _Need for Speed: SHIFT_.

A result of having near perfect AI is that the races become a challenge; you have to weave your way to the front of the pack using all available openings. Usually racing sims become extremely dull once you’re in the lead, this isn’t the case with _Forza 3_. Once at the front you’re continually aware of your opponents behind you, which, combined with the fact that your chosen car isn’t unrealistically fast (say “hello” again _Gran Turismo_), leads to compelling gameplay throughout.

This may sound daunting to anyone who’s not into hardcore simulation racing but luckily _Forza 3_ has made multiple improvements over its predecessor when it comes to customising the difficulty. With the driving line on, all assists enabled, AI difficulty set to easy and even auto-braking, the driving becomes accessible even if you’ve never played a driving game before. At the other end of the scale, turning damage modelling to realistic, removing the driving line and setting the AI to expert causes _Forza 3_ to become a true racing simulation, down to the smallest detail.

Another major addition, that a number of other racing franchises have been implementing recently, is a rewind feature that allows you to correct any mistakes you may make within a race by turning back the clock. This feature removes the frustration found in messing up on the last corner of a race and having to start again, and is vital in any modern racer ( _Need for Speed: SHIFT_ suffered greatly for not having a similar concept). What is strange in _Forza 3’s_ case is that there’s no penalty for, or limit to, using the feature multiple times per race, although this doesn’t negatively impact the experience.

The key to a true racing simulation is in having an impressive physics model; _Forza 3’s_ is perfect. There truly isn’t anything negative I can say about the way in which the cars handle, they are spot on in every aspect. The controls are solid for each vehicle but still unique, instantly giving a sense of weight to the handling and differentiating each car from the next. And the range of vehicles is more than you could ever want, well over 400 is enough for me at least. These range from the brand new Audi R8 to the old-school 1970 Ford Mustang Boss; it’s extremely likely you’ll be able to find the car of your dreams in Forza 3.

The _Forza_ franchise has always been known for its accurate depiction of car handling but, through additions made in _Forza 2_, it has also become renowned for its unbelievable amount of vehicle customisation, both internal performance parts as well as the in-depth visual design system. Both have returned, with the visual component’s user interface having been improved; even before general release, people had already made extremely impressive _Iron Man_ and even _Brütal Legend_ designs for their cars.

Also returning are the comprehensive community features. It’s possible to buy and sell tuning set-ups, paint jobs and customised cars, all of which earn the seller more in-game currency; giving _Forza 3_ its own online economy. Although all of the above was available in _Forza 2_, as with the visual design system, the interface for accessing this online community has been greatly improved, making the experience much more enjoyable. In addition, a new video creation tool has been added, allowing users to make their own in-game car movies which can also be distributed throughout the community. The system is so inclusive that one of the game’s original trailers was made using it alone.

To be honest, _Forza Motorsport 3_ is near perfect but if I had to comment on a possible negative it would have to be the game’s graphics. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good – for example the car models are fantastic – but it’s simply not an overly impressive looking game. This is mainly due to the majority of edges in the game being extremely jaggedy; it’s hard to explain but it just doesn’t look very smooth. The game does run at a very high framerate throughout and with the new addition of in-car cockpits, it’s still fully immersive even with these slight graphical issues.

Although many people hold _Gran Turismo_ close to their hearts, its continued lack of innovation highlights how far the _Forza Motorsport_ series has come in the last few years. Considering that all three _Forza_ games have been released since the last major _Gran Turismo_ instalment, it’s no wonder that the franchise has surpassed its rival in nearly every aspect. _Forza Motorsport 3_ truly is the most enjoyable racing sim I have ever played, not only due to its comprehensive selection of cars and tracks but more importantly because the driving is actually fun; which is more than can be said for my previous experiences with the _GT_ franchise. Combined with its range of online community features and competitive racing, _Forza Motorsport 3_ is the definitive racing sim.


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