Forza 3: Leaving A Delayed GT 5 In The Pits

You know, all the time I was playing Gran Turismo PSP for the review (8/10) I was thinking “I can’t wait until GT 5 is out so I can start porting over these cars” – Gran Turismo PSP’s a great game but without that all important ‘career mode’ it’s destined for nothing more than dip in and out gameplay as one of its main selling points for me is the ability to act as a portable garage for its big brother.  But as we all know, GT 5 isn’t out until March 2010 in Japan (and chances are a European release will be some time after) and whilst that didn’t please everyone, it has given Turn 10, developers of the Forza series on Xbox 360, one hell of a head start.

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Part of Sony’s reluctance to issue a release date until last week was presumably in an attempt to ensure Turn 10 didn’t have any idea when Polyphony Digital’s competing title would release.  If they’ve had said March 2010 six months ago Microsoft would have had the whole exclusive-racer genre to themselves and they’d have milked it for all it was worth.  As it stands, with the game out in under a month now, Microsoft need to start the television adverts rolling and ensure that everyone without an Xbox 360 knows that GT won’t be out for at least six months and that they should buy their game instead.

Of course, Turn 10 have been bullish from the start – Forza Game Director Dan Greenwalt is on record saying that they “have taken the genre to new levels and [Polyphony] have stopped evolving the genre…  I’d say the differentiator is they’re old school,” backing that up with the sentiment that “no game competes [with] us right now.”  Regardless of visual fidelity or willy waving amounts of cars, he’s now absolutely right – if you want an in-depth racing simulation on a console this side of next Spring you’re going to have to plump for an Xbox 360 and a copy of Forza 3, which has played so nicely in the hands of Microsoft it’s like a dream come true.

But how’s the game?  Well, without sight of the full thing all we’ve got is the playable demo.  Jokes regarding the ‘Prologue’ in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue aside, Polyphony’s title offered (ultimately) six tracks and a decent smattering of vehicles, but then it wasn’t free, packaged as a £20 ‘introduction’ to Gran Turismo 5 in order to appease inpatient fans of the series.  The demo of Forza 3 is free, and pretends to be nothing more than a playable demo of the final game, with one track (Camino Viejo) and five cars giving a taste of a decent range of machines from the John Cooper Works version of the Mini through to the race-spec Porsche 911 GT3-RSR, with the odd Ferrari and Evo X in there for good measure.

If you’re used to Forza 2 then you’ll not be surprised to learn that the physics are definitely cast from the same die – there’s the same slight understeer to everything (although the Mini has grip of plenty, as you’d expect) but the damage modeling is outstanding and way above Polyphony’s efforts so far – and this is twofold: firstly, visible damage is a notch above the rest, with dispatchable and dentable body parts, clipable mirrors, breakable windows and some great paint scratching, but the main surprise was the actual effect your driving has on the car – over-rev and your engine will suffer, changing gears like a learner driver will trash your gearbox and all that visible damage has a detrimental effect on your handling, too.

And if you’re worried about the ‘racing line’ that GT’s drivers have stuck too since the game first appeared on the original PlayStation rest assured that Forza’s Xbox-controlled drivers are smart – not only are they seemingly well aware of where you are but they’re also fully aware of where each other is too – smash into an opponent and the other racers will deftly try to avoid the crash in their own individual ways whilst trying to avoid hitting the other cars around them – truly impressive to see and a great way to pass the time once you’re a little bored with the demo.  GT 5 Prologue might have made some inroad into better driver AI, but Turn 10 have obviously spend some time on this.

And the driving?  Well, Forza 3 isn’t a hardcore racing sim – it’s a supremely balanced, fair sim with elements of arcade sensibilities.  Greenwalt sums it up best: “I think the problem with simulation in general is it’s gotten this reputation – a well-deserved reputation, I might add – for being overly punishing,” he says, and we’d agree.  Forza’s still a simulator, you need to anticipate the corners, adjust your line, balance the brakes, but if you don’t, there’s always the new ‘rewind’ feature, something that a lot of people didn’t like the sound of but in principle works perfectly well.  “You still have to earn all of your victories,” agrees Greenwalt. “[You can] redo the corner, but you still have to do the corner.”

And then there’s the livery editor, one of the most advanced such tools available on consoles, and one that Gran Turismo hasn’t even attempted to emulate.  True, it’s not in the demo but even if it’s at the same stage as the feature in Forza 2 it’s still going to be streets ahead of anything else.  Of course, Forza 3 plays true to the whole ‘Marketplace’ experience, too – you can buy and sell cars seamlessly (with or without your own designs and tuning modifications) and the built in video editor will give endless fun to those creative enough to get behind the camera.  Sure, GT 5’s feature list is impressive in terms of numbers, but it simply won’t offer the same advanced level of community features.

Forza 3 might not quite boast the same visual refinement as the forthcoming Gran Turismo title, but one thing’s for true: it’s already out there.  Turn 10 have stuck firmly to a release window, have interacted well with their fanbase (despite offering up some ‘interesting‘ diversions along the way) and have got their game out in time for Christmas.  Naturally, we’ve only got the demo to judge the game itself from, but after sampling it last week I’m now downloading the 1.25GB taster again to get back into it for myself – and that’s saying something when you’ve got a broadband limit capped at around 8GB.

October 23rd can’t come soon enough, and Sony must be kicking themselves.

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