First Level: Forza Motorsport 3

From the off, Forza Motorsport 3 is like a breath of fresh air. Your first pedal-to-the-metal moment is behind the wheel of an Audi R8, a supremely powerful road car with great handling, and the perfect introduction to Turn 10’s magnificent simulation. You’ll win your first race, of course, especially if you’ve played the demo (it’s the same track) and from there Forza 3 starts to ease you in to how the game’s lengthy career mode really works via a great set of voice overs and introductory meets – and of course, that R8’s no longer yours to drive – you’ll have to earn your way back up to that sort of level.

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But don’t fear, whether you’re playing from the cockpit view or not, even the first choice of cars feel spritely and enthusiastic – I opted for the Fiesta Zetec S and I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun even the starter cars are to drive, getting into some pitched battles with a Renault Sport Twingo, a car I’ve driven in real life and one I’m rather fond of. It’s clear that Turn 10 know how to craft a learning curve – the tracks start off small, the curves rather more gentle and the opponents a little more forgiving, but crank up the difficult settings and switch off some assists and the game springs into life.

Forza 3, then, is as challenging as you want it to be. It manages to remain confident enough in its own abilities to never labour anything it doesn’t need to – the choices open up rather quickly and the amount of challenges you can enter scales up as you progress, all the while the game rewarding you with points, cars and Achievements as you level your driver and vehicles. It’s a powerfully engaging way to manage an otherwise set of arbitrary races linked only by a set of rules and characteristics – everything you do seems to bring you goodies, even if it’s only a discount on some of the masses of tuning options.

The Forza series has always been strong on tuning, far surpassing the likes of Gran Turismo not only with the sheer amount of engine, drivechain and braking extras, adjustments and options but especially with respect to the visual modifications – and Forza 3 goes beyond previous games in the series with aplomb. The livery editor is absolutely the pinnacle of what’s possible on a console (we’ll come to that in a later article) and whilst the various aero parts might not be plentiful they all have on the track implications that are carefully spelled out to you beyond you make the changes.

Visually, too, Turn 10 have crafted something rather special. Sure, the over-saturated colours might look like the developers have been taking cues from Sumo Digital but the rich blue skies and deep primary shades almost burst out of the screen giving the game a distinct, individual look that only takes one lap to adjust to and then seems to make every other game look dull and drab – and the locked 60fps update really shines, too. In addition, engine sounds have been taken up a notch, deep, multi-note and massively satisfying and despite not being quite as loud as those in Shift are certainly powerful enough.

I’ve already talked at length about the game’s Rewind function – it’s a welcome (but entirely optional) feature that fits Forza 3 perfectly, allowing perfect replays (the game has a replay to video encoder in addition to a great photomode) and the ability to correct and get right as much of a race as you want. Yes, the leaderboards are split into ‘rewinders’ and not, but for the less able gamer it’s a brave but ultimately rather potent choice – don’t be surprised to see more racers pick up on this in the future.

I don’t want to say any more before the full review – our preview copy only arrived this week and it wouldn’t be fair to throw in a score at this stage of the career, especially without fully testing out multiplayer.  However, if Forza 3 manages to keep the same level of excitement throughout its already extensive single player mode then I’m sure that, for Xbox 360 owners, this is the only racing game you’ll need to buy.  And whilst Forza 3 has already beaten Gran Turismo 5 to the start line the big question, of course, is whether it’ll still be in pole position at the finish.  ..

Stay tuned to TheSixthAxis.

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