There is something comforting about Forza Motorsport 3 (Forza 3). No, itís not the soothing narrator that explains the install process, menu layout, and calendar system; itís knowing that Iím about to delve into a racing sim and not have my pride immediately handed back to me, battered and bruised. Turn 10 knows how to make an inviting racer, but better yet, they know how to make one that is feature rich, providing the wealth of cars, information, and tweaks that players want.
The Forza series has struck a seamless balance between user friendliness and sim-oriented driving since its inception. For the past three releases and four years, the series has continued to find ways to expand upon the originalís formula without veering too far towards arcade or sim while also refining its approach to presenting information in an easily digestible format. Aside from the mechanics themselves, much of the seriesí success has been the result of a high level of customization that has continued to open the series up to newcomers while also providing even more facets for fans to explore.
Forza 3 continues the seriesí tradition of packing in more while refining the delivery system by having sleek, attractive, and informative menus that convey information by means of iconography and text. Itís a brilliant system that few other series have yet to match; though, to be fair, it would have to be to compensate for such a light manual. In addition, the aforementioned narrator does a fantastic job in easing newcomers and returning fans to the basics without bogging them down in text. The gameís second disc, an optional 1.9 GB full or segmented install that allows access to an additional 104 cars and 29 tracks, is one of the first items mentioned, before brief introductions to navigating the menu and the explanation of the calendar-based racing season. If youíve ever played other sims, than you know how daunting it can be to wrap your head around all of the necessary information, which makes Forza 3ís approach all the more noteworthy.
Itís as easy to get the hang of driving as it is navigating the menus. One of Forzaís most interesting features is its renowned collection of driving aids. The default setting will display a break line Ė a line turning from green to red, depending on urgency Ė that presents a solid course around a track, in addition to a number of other optional aids, such as anti-lock brakes, stability control, and shifting method. Many go beyond being turned on or off as well and allow for further adjustments, like being able to choose from automatic shifting, manual shifting, and manual shifting with clutch. Aids come at the cost of credits earned per race, with the expanded options taking off more or less, depending on what is chosen; for example, leaving damage, fuel, and tire wear on Ďcosmeticí will net you a 0% bonus while bumping it up to Ďsimulationí will earn you an additional 15%. Itís a satisfying feeling to gradually remove the assists and realize you can still hold your own while not feeling as if youíre being cheated out of the experience.
The newest, and ultimate, assist is the ability to rewind time. The feature isnít new, and was seen most recently in Codemasterís racer Race Driver: Grid, but that doesnít mean that it isnít a great fit for Forza 3; in fact, itís exactly the kind of addition I would have expected. Rewinding is as easy as hitting ďbackĒ to go five seconds back in time to avoid being run off the road, spinning out, or running into an opponent. You can rewind as much as you like, and while it might put some people off, it is handled well by being optional, not available in online play, and its usage is reflected on leaderboards by being below times of racers who didnít rewind. Aside from being handy for newcomers, itís also nice save yourself some time by recovering from a serious mistake on one of the longer courses Ė and they can get long Ė by flubbing up at the end. The customizable aid system does a great job in tailoring the experience to your preferred style of play, whatever end of the spectrum it may be.
You will surely find yourself slowly opting out of many assists as grow more confident in your abilities while progressing in Season Play. Your skill is also exemplified in your Driver and Car Level. Completing a season, event, or race results in experience points based on your performance, with a new Driver Level being gained whenever a milestone is hit. Attaining a new level not only results in manufacturers giving you new vehicles, but it also determines what kind you can buy. Your performance is also judged by the vehicle used with a new Car Level being attained whenever you have placed on the podium enough times to build up sufficient points, resulting in manufacturer discounts and sponsorships. With 50 Driver Levels and 5 Car Levels, there is quite a bit to go through. Then again, you will have plenty of opportunities to reach the caps.
Each Season Playís career calendar is unique and consists of a whopping 220 events. The events are spread across several category types, starting with an introductory Testing category and branching out to Amateur, Manufacturer, Semi Pro, Professional, Speedway, Drag Race, Closed Course, Endurance, and Championship. There is even an Event List option that allows you to forego the calendar and compete in whatever event youíre qualified for. Credits are earned with each podium position placed, with the modifiers taken into account as well as credits removed based on the cost of repairing damages. Earned credits are then used to purchase parts to upgrade your current stable of rides or to purchase a new vehicle. While you can leave the assists on and still get by, turning them off to earn the bonuses is what will get you the really nice rides.
At a 400-plus-car count Ė if all of disc two is installed Ė youíre looking at a lot of options. Thankfully, there is a quick upgrade option which lets the computer make the purchasing decisions for you; upgrades will automatically be chosen, purchased, and implemented without you having to do a thing. The computer makes some really intelligent choices, and I had no problems trusting its decision. If you find yourself shut out of an event because of too many or few upgrades, the game remove parts or perform a quick upgrade to so that you can compete; you will also be directed as to what to buy next, if you lack a car that meets an eventís requirements. If you do choose to purchase a part or car without any assistance, you will find a plethora of stats and figures presented in a number of ways that make the information understandable to novices and pros.
Despite its numerous modes, features, and perks, Forza 3 truly shines on the racetrack. The cars all feel unique and handle as you would expect when considering class, manufacturer, and upgrades. The AI is also very solid; aside from the random head-scratcher, your competitors will be aggressive, fight for position, and even give you a bump or two back if you test them too much. Your opponentsí abilities will also increase nearly parallel to your progression, with an easier, less aggressive set of drivers in the beginning getting a bit of an edge as you start to climb the ranks. I wouldíve liked for more than seven opponents on the track, but those seven can put up a good fight a few events in.
As great as the single-player career is, Turn 10 also put together a fantastic multiplayer component. In addition to two-player split-screen and eight-player online racing, there are also several community aspects that allow for everything from cars to be traded to custom paint jobs to be downloaded. The standard public or private racing mode is only one several race types to be found with the others including elimination, tag, and cat and mouse. Several rule sets can be tweaked as well, to tailor a race to the hostís specific requirements. Credits can also be spent on custom paint jobs, decals, tuning setups, and vehicles. If you think that you created a particularly stylish decal or eye-catching paint job, you can try your hand at selling them in your own storefront or selling the whole shebang in the vehicle auction house. Videos, photos, and replays taken by you and others can be viewed, and there is also a profile section that details your progress and sorts your created content.
Forza 3 also sports a clean look, with sleek car models and tracks. As before, damage is modeled accordingly, save for a few instances when I rear-ended another vehicle and their back seemed to suddenly all smash at once; however, Iíve read that a fix is coming for that. New to the series, and a first for many console racers, is the ability to rollover during a race. Cars can now rollover, complete with modeled undercarriage, sending parts flying about. Rollovers havenít been common in my experience, but they are pretty spectacular when you get into a grade-a screw-up. Cockpits and interiors have also been introduced, which look great, in addition to the introduction of SUVs. As expected, the graphics arenít a massive leap up from Forza 2, but on closer inspection there is quite a bit more detail Ė crowds, skid marks, and foliage look more natural. The effects are absolutely fantastic, but the music tends to be on the rock side and pretty generic. I rarely heard the soundtrack while using the cockpit or no dash view, only the random note here and there; instead, the roar of my engine and the cars around me were what dominated my speakers, and that provided for a much more tense race. The biggest downside would have to be the frequent load times, which tend to be short but pop up all over the place. A small price to pay.
Forza 3 is a phenomenal racer that will satisfy both the sim and arcade crowd. The ability to customize so much of the game to fit with your preferred play style continues to stand out as not only a hallmark of the series, but one of the best things to happen to the genre. Turn 10 is this generationís Papyrus, and unless youíre looking for a Midway-style arcade racer or a substitute for iRacing.com, you would be well to check out one of the finest racers of the last decade.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)