Forza Motorsport 3’s a no-brainer – if you’ve got the faintest interest in racing games then you’ll either have this on pre-order or you’ll be wondering around your house looking for things to sell in order to buy yourself an Xbox 360 just to play it on, such is the weight and gravitas of what Turn 10 have managed to achieve as we surely reach the zenith of the console’s technical and visual grunt. Of course, the delay of Gran Turismo 5 hasn’t done Microsoft any harm but Forza 3 didn’t need any feigned assistance – the game is a breathtakingly complete simulation packed with more tracks and cars than any other current-gen console title and absolutely deserves every sale it gets. But there’s been a raft of racing games this year and they’ve all scored highly on TheSixthAxis – thankfully Forza 3 still manages to stand tall amongst the crowd and, if you’ll permit me this morning, I’ll tell you why.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the game manages to convey a real sense of drama and speed without resorting to flashy motion blur or ridiculous depth of field effects, and coupled with a convincing but never intimidating physics model the game’s handling crucially sits comfortably among the best in its genre. Steering is precise without feeling arcade-like and the sheer amount of behind the scenes calculations that accurately model exactly what each wheel is doing gives the suspension and traction real grounding. Indeed, a tap of the d-pad brings up on-screen telemetry which goes into minute detail as if just to prove a point – it doesn’t need to, you can feel the road beneath you and driving, from the F class starter cars to the race class monsters is as good as we’ve ever had it.
Naturally, thousands of physics calculations per second don’t make a good box art, that’s normally down the game’s graphics and here Turn 10 have managed to wring what I assume is pretty much every last ounce out of the 360. Not only does Forza 3 run at a constant sixty frames per second but that luxurious refresh rate also carries over into the real time reflections in the paint and the proper working mirrors – it might sound inconsequential but racing games normally halve the frame rate or lower the detail – not here. And likewise, although the car’s themselves might not stand up to the insane modeling promised from Polyphony they’re among the best I’ve seen and despite clear level of detail changes as your opponents pull away on the straights the sheer attention to every last inch of metal is astounding up close. Yes, the game substitutes a maxed out version when there’s only your car on screen (such as the menus, and in photo mode) but on the track we’ve no complaints.
And then there’s the damage – that’s visual and mechanical damage on all cars, and if you set the modeling to simulation then you’ll need to watch your shift changes and engine heat as well as keeping off the barriers and away from the rear bumpers of other cars. Each major part of your car’s internals can be affected by your driving style, with yellow indicating superficial damage through to red signifying significant operation issues such as loss of gears or aerodynamic problems. Visual damage looks great, with scratches and dents making way for body parts actually breaking free and being part of the track debris for the next lap. The tracks themselves are a delight too. It’s certainly a question of taste: the colours are vivid and rich and some of the courses look like they’d fit right in with some Sega banners at every corner but this isn’t a criticism – the style really works for Forza and the strong contrasts and deep blacks give the game a unique aesthetic, especially against the minimalistic white menus, too.
Equally impressive for this third Forza title is the painting and livery options that, whilst technically outstanding in the previous two games have now been ramped up to insane levels of customisation. Seriously, no other game offers you the chance to put down 1000 different building blocks of whatever visuals you choose to create on each section of a car. Sure, the various bits you actually stick down are primitive but you can twist, turn and stretch every single section, changing the colour and transparency at will and with that much flexibility it’s possible to create anything. Anything. Marry this with the ridiculous amount of mechanical and aerodynamic tuning options and you can change a standard stock car into something that looks amazing and does a specific job on the track – useful for Forza’s new interest in drifting, for sure – tweaking the hell out of a 350Z for hours has been commonplace in my house this week, one notch at a time to create the perfect machine for the downhill course.
Which then brings me onto the Storefront. Created something you’re proud of? Perhaps a nice logo (you can build Vinyl Groups which can be reused) or a picture of your favourite video game character? Tuned a Supra to 800hp and still made it drivable? Sell it. Forza 3’s Storefront offers you the chance to put up, for free or for in-game credits, practically anything you create in the game, and that even includes photographs you’ve taken using the in-game photo mode. You can even auction off complete cars, with tuning, aero parts, engine swaps and custom graphics in an eBay-esque online portal from within the game (and soon, from the Forza website). Seriously, this is so far beyond what anyone else has done you’ll spend the first few hours just browsing the various Storefronts before you even get behind the wheel of your starter car.
The career mode is solid, thankfully – each season is split into weeks and days and when you’re not competing in a major competition you’re free to pick and choose from a number of smaller event series usually tailored to the sort of cars you’re currently driving. For example, I tended to select Asian races from the choices each week, but you’re free to dip in and out of whatever styles you want and because the game awards you cars at every driver level (there’re 50 levels) you’ll always have a suitable vehicle whether that’s some F-class hatchback or some massive American muscle car. And if you don’t, there’s the car showrooms where, assuming you’ve installed the second disk (1.9GB’s worth – takes about 5 minutes), you’ll be able to browse upwards of 400 vehicles from all the major manufacturers, including the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini – Turn 10 have left no stone unturned in the pursuit of signing every major car firm, even my Coupe’s in there.
There’s literally nothing I don’t like about Forza 3 – it plays like a dream, looks stunning, has oodles of online features and modes, the rewind feature is wicked, there’s two player split screen, multiple monitor support and, thankfully, also offers a massive amount of single player gameplay and with the developers sure to bolt on future DLC down the line the stream of vehicles and both city and track based courses will never dry up – indeed, Turn 10’s generous ‘day one‘ DLC is a treat, too – two new tracks and a hand picked bundle of classic motorsport legends await your bandwidth when you get the game next Friday. Do what I did last week – install both disks (for a total of about 8GB), close the curtains, invest in a steering wheel and ring in for pizza – Forza 3 is now only a week away and if you haven’t yet bought an Xbox 360 you no longer have any excuse.
The ultimate driving game is here, now.
Graphics: The cars look incredible, the tracks sumptuous and the frame rate’s locked at 60. Sure, Forza’s lacking the visual styling of DiRT or Shift, but it’s easily the best looking simulation available: 9/10
Sound: Some of the cars sound real – the engines are frequently pitch perfect – but the overall effect is dampened by weak collision noises: 8/10
Gameplay: Forza 3’s great fun to drive (at all levels) and offers a real challenge backed up with solid online play – there’s a solid game here and it’s enjoyable from start to finish: 9/10
Overall: Probably the best racing game I’ve ever played. It’s not perfect, but it’s so good anything less than our highest available score just wouldn’t be fitting. An absolute treat.
At the time of writing the Forza 3 website didn’t have the ability to download our own photographs, so we’ve used press screenshots.