Turn 10 Studios made some rather bold promises at E3 this year, and presented Forza Motorsport 3 as the Bugatti Veyron of racing games, further upping the ante by including the actual car. After the demo came and went it seemed like an absolute epic disaster would have to befall Turn 10 to prevent them from delivering what was looking to be the most polished and beautiful racing game since the Gran Turismo burst on to the scene. Forza 3 has landed in my eager hands and after so many trips around “The Ring” I've got to say that I didn't think Turn 10 could improve much from Forza 2, but the new courses, cars, options and robust online options make Forza 3 one of the best racing games ever made and may even topple my all-time favorite racing game, Ridge Racer 4.
Now I know the differences between a racing game like Ridge Racer and Forza 3 are clear as night and day, but hear me out. For everything that Ridge Racer did right back in 1999, Forza 3 does 2009 and then some. The track design of the new Forza courses like Camino de Viejo alone are on par with the track design of Heaven and Hell from Ridge Racer, and of course show off the amazing visuals that Turn 10 was able to push out of the 360. Fans of the previous Forza games will also find a few tracks missing from Forza 2 make a rather triumphant return, like Fujimi Kaido, an uphill and downhill mountain battle that even fans of Initial D will be hard pressed to find faults with. It also makes the perfect course for the new drifting battles that you'll find many people running online in cars tuned to make the user out to be the next DK.
A racing game is typically only as strong as the cars it makes use of. Turn 10 went out and secured 400 cars for this game, with a good variety of muscle, tuners, and old classics that I personally could never hope to drive, but Forza 3 will make a fine substitute. The options available for all of these cars is downright staggering. Personally I am a front-wheel drive fan, so when I see the option to switch up the drive train and make a rear-wheel drive into a front-wheel or even all-wheel you can imagine I am pretty damn excited for the possibilities. There are also a great deal of customizations to the actual performance capabilities of the car, and the newest inclusion this time is roll-cages for better handling. You can also alter the tire sizes of the front and rear tires differently to further affect your ride. Once you've got the parts in place you can go in and adjust individual components like the ride height, gear ratios, downforce, brake pressure and many many more, allowing you to outfit a car specifically for drag racing, or drifting, or just to put some old fashioned rubber to the road for credits and experience.
Once you think you've got the performance of the car figured out, it's high time to make it look nice. This time around Turn 10 opted for a more community geared aspect for getting your car to look as unique as you envision it. With the new store front every person with a copy of Forza can create and sell vinyl groups to be placed on to cars and can make in-game profits with each sale, or if they are feeling generous they can just throw it up there for the whole world to download for free. You can also pick up tuning setups and even full blown car designs where everything is made to specification, right down to the paint job. I haven't sold much with the stuff that I've uploaded, but it sure does feel good to see someone online who downloaded my setup. Though the amount of money I've made versus what I've spent on vinyl designs still keeps me out of affording some high end cars.
This time around Turn 10 was really good on awarding cars that actually felt like they were intended to help you progress through the game and the money you get should only be spent on fixing up the cars. I really only went out of my way to buy cars I wanted to drive, but I've got to say I was a little bit disappointed that the money I spent on buying the Collector's Edition of the game didn't give me the cars it advertised initially. Sure the cars were present in the game, but some of them were are prohibitively high prices. But the cars I've been awarded so far have helped me sail through the game. Some of the cars they hand out become ridiculously over-powered, like the Mine's R34 Skyline, that car will beast through any R3 or R2 tier races with ease, provided you can handle it.
Turn 10 has also done a surprising job of appealing to a more casual crowd with some difficulty options that will really help newbies get in to the game. In particular an auto-brake feature has been implemented that will prevent a player from flying off course. There is also a rewind function which is great for those who run a flawless race and then zone out on the last turn only to wreck their ride. Now a restart is only necessary if the computer AI gets a little too aggressive off the line and damages your car. Forza 3 also offers you more rewards for those willing to go through a bit of an extra challenge by turning off the Stability Control, or Auto Brake, giving you a greater experience and cash reward at the end of races. One of the better aspects of game progression is the new method of how the races are presented. A cycle of the game consists of five years, and a year is complete after finishing a major series of races that happen every two calender weeks in game. In between each major race you are offered three different series in which to participate. The money and experience gained will differ for each series, so if you wanted to blow through the game as quickly as possible you'd be inclined to take on a series with only three races. Once you've finished the game you'll see that you have a huge list of races that haven't been completed, and once you see how massive the list is you'll be playing this game for months to come.
Forza 2 was no slouch in the visuals department, so it's quite impressive to see that Turn 10 really took the game to the next level in visual fidelity. First off, the game now runs at 60 frames per second, and doesn't take a hit unless the most extreme of circumstances takes place (like rolling a car in to the dirt off to the side of a road, or plowing in to another car headlong in an online race). In upping the frame-rate the courses also got a bit of visual polish here and there. Fujimi Kaido obviously benefited from the hardware improvements over the original title, but there are also a bunch of little visual touches that really sell the courses, for example the walls of the Sebring pit now look like individual cinder blocks. These minor details really help show the amount of polish that went in to Forza 3. The only hindrance overall, random bits of pop-in that occur on some of the larger tracks. Audio for the most part remains unchanged from Forza 2. There are new audio tracks that play during races now which can be turned off for those who prefer to listen to engine noise, which surprisingly sounds better than before. I'm also really happy that my Vauxhall Astra still sounds like an angry pack of bees. Again, little touches really sell it home, like the crowd/announcer chatter you can hear at the start of a race on Sedona or Sunset Peninsula.
Next to good track design, control makes or breaks a racing game. I've got to say one of the things I hated about Forza 2 was that heavier cars really felt like you were steering boats. Thankfully as a whole the cars of Forza 3 feel lighter, more nimble, and agile, and the controls feel even better than before. I especially like how the oversteer and understeer of cars feels a lot more manageable, I'm no longer flying off course like I would in Forza 2, instead I am flying through S-curves and managing hairpin turns much better than ever before. The only downside is that my co-workers are picking up on this as well so now our Forza league is more competitive than the last few inter-office seasons that we've run.
So if you're at this point in the review and you need to hear the magic words on whether or not you want to buy Forza Motorsport 3, here they are. You want to buy this game. It works with any skill level and has a great learning curve so it's perfect if you're not too heavy on committing time to learning the curves of the Amalfi Coast. It's great to look at, especially when you get just the right shot when attempting to take photos of your precious ride. And I think most importantly, it's an absolute blast to play, I can't put it down, and it unfortunately affected the timeliness of this review. Gran Turismo 5 may be hitting the PS3 soon, but who cares, Forza Motorsport 3 is available now, and is looking to overthrow Polyphany Digital's race king.
Polyphony Digital doesn't seem to concerned with Forza usurping their crown, but I think maybe they need to take a second look. Seriously this is the best racing game of the current console generation.