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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.