Forza Motorsport 3 – Review

The third installment of Turn 10′s Forza Motorsport franchise brings over 400 cars and 100 to the Xbox 360, aiming to create a new benchmark title in terms of console driving games.

Can the newest Forza give Gran Turismo a run for its money and is the title something sim racer should consider? Read the review to find out.

Back in 1997, Kazunori Yamauchi and Polyphony Digital single-handedly created a new sub-genre of racing games by releasing the first Gran Turismo. Bringing over 170 cars to the Playstation, GT introduced the concept of car collection driving titles, starting an impressive success story.

The recipe for this type of title sounds rather simple. Take lots of cars (three digit number is a must) and tracks, combine them with a very extensive career mode and wrap it in cutting edge graphics that set new standards on the respective platform.

Still, only a few studios have actually taken up the challenge of creating such a title. Due to the big amount of content that needs to be created and the massive licensing costs involved, this type of title requires a serious budget and extensive development time.

After Sega’s failed Sega GT series, only Sony (Polyphony Digital) and Microsoft (Turn 10) remain in this group. Making their debut with Forza Motorsport for Xbox in 2005, Turn 10 took the GT concept to Microsoft’s console, enriching it with fresh ideas.

Forza Motorsport 2 followed two years later, being the first Forza title for the new Xbox 360. Even though the title proved to be a success, many people felt the title was a bit rushed to get it out on the new platform quickly.

Another two years later, Forza Motorsport 3 is here, aiming to make most of the next-gen platform.

The Cars

Forza Motorsport 3 includes over 400 cars, ranging from the smallest street cars to professional racing machinery. If you´re a car enthusiasts, you´ll most likely find your favorite brand in Forza as the title includes pretty much every manufacturer one could ask for – Including the precious Porsches and Ferraris that are missing in many racing titles.

Even though Forza counts every race car livery as a single car, the 400-car number is not very much exaggerated as Forza is not suffering from the GT syndrome of including 25 different Nissan Skylines one experts can tell apart.

The car selection provides a good mix for everyone, including both current cars and all-time classics, little hatchbacks to powerful super cars. Adding to the street cars is a big selection of racing cars, the majority of them being sports or touring cars.

Fans of the American Le Mans Series and similar sports car series will be very pleased as Forza contains a big variety of Le Mans Prototypes and GTs alongside historical racing vehicles and cars from other popular racing series like the Super GT series and the Australian V8 Supercars.

The Tracks

Even though Forza comes with a respectable number of tracks, it does not come close to the advertised 100-track mark. The game counts every track variant and some of the fantasy tracks come with a lot of them, helping to reach the spectacular number.

Still, Forza Motorsport 3 comes with a rich selection of real racing tracks, including some very notable venues. The list includes the Nürburgring Nordschleife, Silverstone, Mugello, Sebring, Road Atlanta, Suzuka and a few other well-known tracks.

Making its Forza debut is the Circuit de la Sarthe, home of the Le Mans 24 Hours that is included both in the 24h layout and the Bugatti layout that hosts the MotoGP. Rounding out the track selection is a heap of fantasy tracks, including tight street tracks and scenic mountain roads like you would expect in such a driving title.

Installation

This may sound like a very weird topic when it comes to a console title but yes, Forza Motorsport 3 actually needs to be installed.

Due to the massive amount of content, the game is shipped on two DVDs, one of which needs to be copied to the console’s hard-drive after the game first starts.

This is very important for those of you who consider getting a Xbox 360 just for Forza. The cheap Arcade-version without a hard-drive is not really suitable for the new title as you´ll only be able to use the content on Disc 1 if the second disc won’t be installed.

Another thing needed to make most of Forza is an Internet connection as well as a membership at Xbox Live to use the rich online features the game offers.

Graphics

Turn 10 announced to vastly improve the graphics compared to Forza 2 and the studio has kept their promise as Forza 3 is easily the best-looking racing game on any platform today,  featuring extremely well-made car models and top notch effects.

Compared to its predecessor, Turn10 has significantly raised the polygon count of all car models and that shows as Forza comes with some of the most beautiful car models ever seen in a racing game.

The developers have not gone down the “next-gen look” route, keeping graphic effects such as bloom and blur to an absolute minimum, using a rather colorful look instead of the washed-out sepia look many modern games sport.

Their restraint when it comes to flashy effects also shows when looking at the tracks as none of the real racing venues are spoiled by massive fictional track objects. Nevertheless, the tracks are amazingly detailed, especially the Circuit de la Sarthe which has never looked better in any racing game.

The graphics engine makes great usage of shadows which is extremely well done on the Nürburgring Nordschleife. If you ever wondered what the PC sim versions of the green hell were lacking, it is the almost claustrophobic atmosphere on many parts of the track, created by dense forests on both side of the road that darken the track surface.

Of course, Forza’s graphics engine does have its flaws. There are surprisingly low-resolution textures here and there, the least convincing thing being the car cockpits though. Forza 3 is the first Forza title to include a cockpit view and Turn 10′s first take on them is somewhat disappointing.

While some cockpits are nicely detailed, other’s feel a bit rushed. For example, some of the race car cockpits have working displays while others don’t for no apparent reason. The worst thing about the cockpits are the driver animations which even come without a shifting animation.

Overall, Forza has failed to create the same intense cockpit atmosphere other title’s such as Need for Speed Shift are offering, leaving lots of room for improvement in that department.

Sounds

While console driving titles have always been about state of the art graphics, sounds seemed to be a lower priority in the past as many of these titles had ridiculously wrong or weak sounds.

Fortunately, Forza Motorsport 3 has very much improved in this aspect as the title comes with very convincing sounds for both the street and the race cars. Most of the cars are completely spot on and others have good enough sounds, you won’t find any V8-powered car that sounds like a lawn mower anymore.

Adding to the neat engine sounds is great audio feedback from the tires and nice ambient sounds. You can very well hear your car bottom out in the Nordschleife Carousel or the suspension working when driving over Sebring’s concrete airstrip surface.

The game’s musical soundtrack is decent and can easily be turned off for those who do not like it, leaving not much to be desired in the sound department.

Physics, AI & Damage

Let’s get to the most important part – The driving. Since Forza Motorsport 3 is aimed at a broad audience of gamers, the title comes with all kinds of driving assists. From the usual stuff like ABS, traction control and automatic gearbox, the title even features an auto-braking option for those who don’t like a challenge.

Furthermore, the title has a rewind feature that allows skipping a few seconds back to make up mistakes or crashes. While this is a somewhat ridiculous feature from a sim racing perspective, it can keep the frustration factor down for many casual gamers, especially on long tracks like the Nordschleife.

Once all assists are turned off, Forza Motorsport 3 becomes quite a challenge. It isn’t very noticeable in some of the low-power beginner cars but once you strap into a GT1 car or a Le Mans Prototype, the real fun can begin. The cars will easily spin out on you when not driven carefully enough and driving such a race car on the Nürburgring Nordschleife is no less intense than in any PC simulation.

Of course, Forza won’t come close to the absolute hardcore simulation experience that titles such as iRacing, netKar and few chosen rFactor mods provide. Still, the title can very well keep up with most products that sell as simulation on the PC platform, offering a convincing driving experience.

The base setup for all cars is pretty neutral, giving racers a good start for further setup changes. Using the tuning options, racers can tweak all the usual settings, from gearbox ratios to differentials and suspension settings.

A really cool and somewhat innovative feature is the live telemetry that can be viewed while driving or in replay, giving detailed info on the car’s tire temperatures, suspension values and much more.

Since the title comes with an extensive single-player career mode, good computer opponents are a must to provide a good racing experience. Forza does a decent job in that department as the AI cars are fun to race against, will block and fight you off and won’t crash mindlessly into you at every second corner.

The biggest problem with Forza’s AI is the balancing as the game only offers three AI difficulty modes. While the first two are way too easy for experienced racers, the hardest mode can become a bit frustrating later in the career.

Forza also comes with damage modeling for all cars. While that feature sounds exciting, it is very much limited by the licensing auto makers who don’t want to see their cars getting destroyed in racing games.

The result is a somewhat weak compromise as cars in Forza won’t take much damage other than fallen-off bumpers and scratches. While scratched cars with dents look pretty cool after a long race, it just looks ridiculous to see a car going head on into a well suffering not more than dents and scratches as not even the tires will fall off.

Gameplay

Cornerstone of Forza Motorsport 3 is the single-player career mode that will take you from driving small hatchbacks to competing in challenging race car championships. Unlike in the GT series, there are no license tests to pass, the game will update your driver level and reward you with new cars as you progress in the career.

The main motivation to complete the career are the credits you´ll get in reward – Credits that are needed to buy cars, tuning parts and new liveries online.

Players who don’t want to bother completing the career can drive any car on any track right away though as Forza comes with an extensive free-play mode. Races in Forza 3 always consist of 8 cars per race, there is no practice or qualifying as races always start right away. Length of the events varies, the first races in the career are short 2-lap events that later become real endurance events over hundreds of kilometers.

One of the most interesting features in Forza is the car tuning that allows extensive technical modification of the vehicles. From brakes to suspension, weight reduction to tires and detailed engine-tweaks – Forza’s tuning mode is certainly one of the most detailed found in any game these days.

The game even offers very advanced changes to vehicles. Have you ever dreamt about turning your favorite hatchback from FWD to RWD drive? Or fantasized about installing a race car engine in a regular road car? Forza makes this and more happen, leaving room for some very interesting car-experiments.

On top of the single player experience, Forza offers a top-notch online integration. A Xbox Live account provided, the game offers online racing events that can be customized to the smallest detail, allowing very unique events.

Other online features include automatically updated leader boards for any track, allowing every driver to instantly see where they stack up against the community. Forza’s auction house allows you to sell not used cars in an eBay-manner while the storefront allows players to buy and sell self-made paint jobs, logos, photos and videos, giving creative users another way to earn credits.

Conclusion

If you like console driving games, Forza Motorsport 3 can be recommended without a doubt. Turn 10 has delivered an excellent title that will give Polypony Digital a lot to worry about as Forza is certainly the new genre benchmark.

Even if you don’t own an Xbox yet, Forza may just be the reason to get one as the massive amount of content, the very extensive career mode and the online features will keep any racing fan entertained for months to come.

But even hardcore sim racers who usually don’t care about titles like this should pay a closer look. Yes, 8 cars per race is ridiculous from a PC simulation perspective and missing practice and qualifying options don’t help either.

But Forza’s driving model is challenging enough to provide a enjoyable break from hardcore simulations and almost everyone will find several favorite cars in the game’s lineup. Paired up with the stunning graphics and the great sounds, Forza Motorsport 3 is a great package for car enthusiasts who want to enjoy a very polished and appealing product now and then.

Screenshots

GTOmegaRacing.com

  • DeadStar

    I hate the Xbox 360 or any console but I was forced to buy a 2nd hand Xbox 360 just for Forza 3 and I bought a Forza 3 Limited Edition for the 5 exclusive VIP cars including my favorite the Ferrari 430 Scuderia.

    Forza 3 is definitely million miles ahead of Gran Turismo 4 which I always thought was an overated car collection game with bumper car physics but it looks like Gran Turismo 5 will be great and I think I will need to buy a 2nd hand PS3 when Gran Turismo 5 gets released.

    I wish PC had an answer to these Console only Sims in terms of game shipping content.

  • GregP

    Great review, thanks. The one comment I’d take issue with – and very strongly – is “Forza 3 is easily the best-looking racing game on any platform today”. Are we playing the same game here? Sure, it looks much better than Forza2, but what I’m seeing is lots of aliasing, no anisotropic filtering whatsoever (the track ahead of you is completely blurred out until you’re just about right over it), and generally low-res textures … yes, the car models are nice, but otherwise, to me Forza3 doesn’t even come close to the graphics of Shift, or even GTR2 for that matter, in terms of sharpness. Everything just seems blurry and fuzzy.

  • http://www.virtualr.net Montoya

    I agree that the focus definetely is on the car models, still the tracks look very nice if you ask me. Aliasing seems a rather common issue on consoles, you´re right about that.

    I don’t think the graphics compare to GTR2 at all. If you look at the lighting, shadows and everything, that’s way ahead of what gMotor 2 (GTR2′s graphics engine) offers.

    The comparison to Shift is interesting, personally I just don’t like the effect-loaded look they have been going for. It can be fixed on the PC but console users are stuck with the standard stuff, including the overload of fictional objects.

    All in all, I just like Forza’s graphics better…but that may very well be personal preference :grin:

  • DeadStar

    The Fictional Layouts Amalfi (Italy) & Montserrat (Spain) in Forza 3 are abolutely breathtakingly gorgeous :eek:

  • GregP

    Montoya,

    All good points, and I agree. I guess what bugs me the most – something I’ve just never been able to get over with consoles – is the complete lack of sharpness. I’ve just gotten so used to seeing razor-sharp, antialiased PC graphics that going back to the significantly lower standard of consoles always feel so extreme.

    I think part of why this bothers me so much is that, for example, the screenshots posted above, are lightyears ahead of what you’ll actually see in the game … it is just quite simply not possible to have anything approaching that level of sharpness in-game. Feels like false advertising to me.

  • http://www.virtualr.net Montoya

    True, those screenshots are photo-mode shots, not taken from the game itself.

    Photo mode applies some kind of post-processing that makes those screens look that good, I agree that it can be misleading but most people know that photo mode produces enhanced pics.

    It was much more extreme with Gran Turismo 4 on the Playstation 2 where the photo mode shots had almost nothing to do with the in-game graphics. If I remember correctly, they even had higher-resolution models just for the photo mode.

    It isn’t that extreme with Forza as the photo mode shots aren’t completely different to what you get in-game, still they are enhanced indeed.

  • Mr. A

    I also don’t see what’s so impressive about the graphics, it looks good but it’s nothing special. To me it doesn’t look that different from Forza 2, a bit more contrast perhaps. The car models in game doesn’t really seem to be any more detailed than F2. They use higher detail models in the menus and in the race intros, but they get switched to lower detail models when the race starts. And as GregP wrote, the absence of anisotropic filtering makes it look very blurred. I might be that most of my complaints about the graphics would not have been if the game was released for PC so I could use lots of AA and AF. Because I also don’t like when racing games overuse a lot of fancy useless graphic effects.

    Anyway, enough about graphics. While I enjoy a lot of the different aspects of the game, the racing part is the one I’m mainly interested in. The maximum of 8 cars in a race makes a lot of the races on the bigger GP tracks a bit boring, I enjoy races on the smaller club courses more. I would gladly have sacrificed the 60fps framerate to accommodate bigger fields of cars. The pit stops are also very basic and there are no flag rules.

    The cockpit view is not very immersive compared to most PC racing games, it feels very calm in the cockpit. Not much shaking and stuff going on (might be because there ain’t a lot of bumps and stuff modelled in the tracks perhaps?). The way the driver holds the steering wheel also looks a bit odd. You can change the FOV in the cockpit, by enabling multi screen (you don’t need more screens for this).

    I feel they haven’t really added much to the racing part of the game other than the cockpit view and clutch support. The new storefront is great though if you enjoy making liveries and stuff and like to share with others.

    Oh well, now it might seem like I hate the game. I don’t, I just hope they would add some more features to the racing because some of the longer races makes me sleepy. :sd:

  • Mr. A

    Btw, the photos you can take in photomode won’t look as good as those screenshots either. Because the pics you take are limited to something like 100KB each, so unfortunately they look quite compressed.

  • steve30x

    DeadStar: I hate the Xbox 360 or any console but I was forced to buy a 2nd hand Xbox 360 just for Forza 3

    Who held a gun to your head and forced you to buy an Xbox 360?

  • steve30x

    Anyway. I bought Forza 3 and even though it does look good its not much better looking than Forza 2. Also theres too much contrast in thegame making it too dark in a lot of areas. Also I realy dont like the way the game selects what races I should play or I dont like the calendar view of how to select races. I much rather the traditional Forza 1 and Forza 2 way of selecting races. Its a good game but if GT5 remains the same as GT5 P in race selection and graphics then GT5 will be better than Forza 3 in graphics , race selection and physics.

  • mikem

    In the grpahics department- besides the missing display in the car the I actually bought the game for: the Rahal/Letterman M3 GT2- in reality it’s quite a simple display just black on white (grey) LCD display unlike Motec’s where you also get the tachometer bar, this one it’s just numbers- and besides the lack of shifting animation which really doesn’t bother me as much but seeing that the cover car for this game is the Audi R8 V10, it’s quite dreadful that Turn 10 still haven’t implemeted active aero in this third iteration. Still, it is a good game but graphic-wise: 8 cars with no wet races or night driving, not so good.

  • mikem

    Oh yeah- there’s no smoke coming off the tires. Makes me wonder whoever did the review actually… well never mind.

  • felipe

    Totally agree! Montoya tells us the truth did you really do this review or was it mailed to you by some company in Seattle? No need to lie :wink:

    Basically Montaya says: “ok this isn’t a sim like real sims, but common let’s give them a big applause and buy this game. Ju ju just do don don’t ask me why! Yeh I know it’s not a sim but still ju just buy it and end of story!”

    This is definately getting weird! BTW Montoya Gran Turismo 5 prologue i.e. a demo has much better graphics than Forza 2.1! p.s. I hate GT5p!

    mikem: Oh yeah- there’s no smoke coming off the tires.Makes me wonder whoever did the review actually… well never mind.

  • Hexcaliber

    Having also bought an Xbox for this game I was actually enjoying it, for what it offered, until I hit the god awful fantasy tracks. They look great, but whoever designed them has no idea what a racing circuit is about. You spend the entire race stuck in second/ third, with some so bad the ai cannot get around them without major damage to all their cars. They are completely overdone, with drop-offs a hang glider pilot would smile at, and an endless series of turns so tight some of the larger vehicles simply cannot get round. In one race the second place ai car got stuck and everything behind tried to force it’s way through with the result everything ground to a halt.

    There also seems to be a bias with respect to the performance of a certain countries cars with the viper 08 dominating the leader boards at most circuits in a number of classes, and muscle cars in general can be overloaded with bhp and torque and just thrown around corners, beating the likes of Bugati, Ferrari, Audi, et al :eek: .

  • vik15

    I also not so impressed with the graphics. They even don’t dare to post a screen without being blurred. Unfortunately with so few memory in consoles I afraid we would never see anything hi-res.
    The lighting looks overdone in many cases. Shadows sometimes are too dark and overall contrast is too strong that kills halftones and makes a bit cartoony appearance imho.

    What I am agree with is mostly good colors. I am so sick already with all that “nextgen” coloring. Abandoned the last Fallout because of its annoying totally green, blue or brown look. It’s nice to see a game that do try to render not “cinematic” but rather realistic view.

  • http://www.virtualr.net Montoya

    felipe
    Basically Montaya says: “ok this isn’t a sim like real sims, but common let’s give them a big applause and buy this game. Ju ju just do don don’t ask me why! Yeh I know it’s not a sim but still ju just buy it and end of story!”

    No that’s not what I´m saying. I pointed out that it is no traditional sim but still fun for people who like this type of game. If driving games in general are a turnoff for you, you shouldn’t be buying it.

    I bought a Xbox specifically for Forza and I enjoy it very much as it’s a nice diversion to more serious simualtions.

  • GregP

    Y’know, guys, playing Forza 3 over the past two nights has actually given me a better appreciation for Shift!

    Don’t get me wrong – Forza 3 is fun … but comparing the driving model between Forza and Shift (keeping in mind I’m talking about ‘feel’ here, and not ‘realism’, since the latter is so subjective), in flight sim terms Forza is Falcon 4.0 and Shift is Lock On, i.e. Forza feels like you’re driving on rails (very very grippy and braking is really strong, making it almost impossible to brake too late) while Shift feels much more fluid, with the car slipping and sliding around the track.

    Last night I went back to Shift and suddenly, after a few weeks of half-fun, half-frustration with the game, I just got it. Suddenly, I was driving more aggressively and also somehow keeping it more under control. And, of course, the nice crisp sharpness of the graphics was gorgeous.

    I’ll keep going with Forza 3, of course, but its letdowns have given me a whole new appreciation for the things that Shift gets right.

  • mattabater

    I agree with montoya great graphics imo best console driving sim whatever they call them console racer to date by far even get a good old type r civic or fd3 rx7 drive them around a bit and tell me thats not sexy even if you dont like jap crap so to speak, the sound graphics are very well done there great, its alot of fun to drive its immersive, i just dont agree with SRT that porsche being above the top sims cars from rfactor iracing etc and even gtr2.

Back to top