Forza MotorSport 3 Review

forza box artForza MotorSport 3 [Available on Xbox 360]
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1 to 8
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Turn 10
Release Date: October 27th, 2009
Xbox Live – Multiplayer/DLC

Let me establish something, Justin Simson is COE’s go-to guy for racing games.  He’s played virtually every one released over the past couple generations: the entire Gran Turismo series, Forza, GRID, DiRT, and everything in-between.   I count on him to deliver these reviews quickly.  So with his writing knack, and especially his knowledge of the genre, why in the blue blazes did I write this?  It’s an honest question.  I wasn’t supposed to, but c’est la vie.  I managed to score Forza 3 a full week before the official release.  As a result, we were able to publish this review.  That’s always a major deal with a site like COE.  So, how does Forza 3 stack up to the competition?

Simply put, it doesn’tF3 surpasses it.  The reason is because of one key element: accessibility.  Forza 3 is as complex or as simple as you make it. Do you just love looking at cars?  Then this is game for you.  It can be so easy that winning races requires little effort.  Do you pine for the ultimate simulation experience, where you spend endless honing your skills?  Then this is for you too.  Without driving assists, and the fierce AI system, completing an event takes everything you have and then some.  This accessibility makes F3 better than virtually every other simulation racer created.  In almost every aspect Forza 3 excels.  If you enjoy racing games in the least, stop reading and buy the game.  End of story.

My first car *tear*
My first car *tear*

If you’d like more detail, let’s start with that accessibility.  If you’ve never played a racing sim, it’s time.  Not only are you spoiled with driving assists, but the rewind mechanic is wicked!  While other racers have implemented that feature, it’s never been used so freely in a sim before.  At any moment, you can stop the action and rewind a few seconds.  This can be done three times in a row.  Use it as often as you’d like, such as during an over ten-minute race where you mess up on the last corner.  Press the back button, and presto, you’re saved.   Justin says this was ultra-useful in GRID and DiRT 2, but it feels so revolutionary here.  For a veteran, rewinding seems like cheating, but it can slowly ease newcomers into the gameplay mechanics.  It should be noted that the rewind isn’t directly tied to the assists, and thus can’t be deactivated, unless someone knows how and I don’t.  After a few hours, I simply didn’t use it unless truly necessary.  But that’s the thing, I did.

Rewind isn’t the only help for novices.  The other assists (driving lines, traction controls, ABS, etc.) work together to ensure a fun time for everyone.  Though naturally if you head online, it’s all about skill.  The playing field is completely level, but I’ll jump into that shortly.  Before you send me hate mail about how these assists ruin the game, realize how many casuals are out there.  If a game can appeal to both, I think it’s done a fine job.  While they help players of all skill levels, it’s the way Turn 10 (the developer) implemented incentives for you not to use them that stands out.  Assists aren’t particular new, but it feels so because of the overall package.  Say you start with all the assists on and the opponent AI on easy.  Winning a race pockets you 2,000 credits.  Credits are redeemed for cars, paint jobs, parts, and much more.  Turn the assists off though, and you earn a percentage bonus.  Disabled traction, driving line, auto-braking, etc, and those numbers reach 30%, 45%, etc.  Shut everything off and race tougher AI, and you can actually score a 100% bonus.  All of a sudden those 2,000 credits become 200,000 credits.  Not too shabby eh?

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Turn 10’s design allows casuals to learn the basics, but maintains the incentive to gradually turn off assists to more quickly earn greater credits.  You need credits if you want more cars, amongst other things of course, but new rides are Forza 3’s draw.  From the get-go over 400 cars are available, and there’s nothing to unlock.  Naturally you can’t buy the high-end cars right away, but if you earn enough money quickly, those luxury sports cars are happily within fingers’ reach.  Another note here is that Forza 3 ships on two discs.  The second contains the majority of the cars, and you must download them to your HDD so they can be unlocked.  I have the 120GB, so the missing gigabyte is hardly noticeable, but this is something to consider for those with the more common 20GB model.

Despite not having to unlock cars, car manufacturers still reward you for winning class races and events.  I received a nice bonus finishing my first E class.  But you really don’t need the expensive vehicles to enjoy Forza.  Even the cheapest drive great thanks to revised mechanics and the overall physics system.  F3’s physics are some of the best, which is saying something with all the competition out there.  Racing is one of the most crowded genres, so playing something that feels so natural and fluid, and frankly better-than-expected, is a real surprise.  The physics are so deep that you’re able to see tire damage in real-time and feel it with assists turned off.  Again, this isn’t new, but Forza 3 just does it so well.  Every car handles completely unique.  While I can’t say the same for the tracks, the cars are satisfying enough.  Longer races are especially challenging because your car feels different between the start and when you cross the finish line for the final time.  It’s really something.

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The physics aren’t solely responsible though; the controls are also superb.  While I don’t own a racing wheel, the controller is more than adequate.  No longer do I believe that Forza is inferior to Gran Turismo.  I can’t properly explain in words, but somehow Turn 10 makes the controller feel like an extension of the car. The pressure-sensitive triggers affect your gas, braking, and even the clutch if you’re a manual driver.  It all comes together in a way that feels more refined than ever for Forza.

The same applies to user customization.  Like Forza 2, players can create logos, decals and what have you, and place them anywhere and everywhere on their dream cars.  Creations can even be pimped on the Storefront, the online shopping mall, along with photos and movies you make (remember E3 2009?).  The best is showing off your artistic talents.  Let’s say you design the world’s worst-looking Triforce, and want to sell it online.  With just a few button presses, you can create it, set the price, how many are in stock, and upload it.  The store uses in-game credits and is a real joy to peruse.  I have a few Triforce decals up now that sell for 1,000 credits.  Should you buy any, you may hate me, because they are horrible.  I only wanted to test the system, but hey, maybe someone out there won’t notice my two-year-old design skills.

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User can also rate others’ work, add favourites and much more.  The community isn’t just for artists though; it’s for grease monkeys too.  If you tune a car to perfection, you can easily snag 30 million credits selling it.  Some people are bound to create products of genius.  Speaking of tuning, it’s been enhanced to the point of lunacy.  I know a thing or two about cars, but the tweaking you can do is well beyond my aptitude.  If you know nothing about this, you could very well make a car handle like crap.  Thankfully an auto-tune feature does the more advanced work for you.  It kicks in before you start racing and allows you to customize your car for the race type and the track.  A few button presses later, and your car is tricked out.  New parts costs credits, but that’s life isn’t it?

I haven’t even talked about the core game yet!  Like any quality racing sim, you can expect a well-rounded career mode, which lasts six seasons here, but you can play for ages beyond that.  There’s a Sunday championship every two weeks.  In the meantime, you head into the real action, events.  These range from three races to about double that.  It’s especially cool that they completely changed based on your total time played, your owned cars, and other factors.  This is relevant because you race 55 different events through the career.  Ready for the twist?  That’s only about a third of what Forza 3 offers!  You might not master the game even months after starting.  Events can be replayed to master specific ones, or just to enjoy a favourite track.  This dynamic infrastructure puts Forza 3 into a league of its own.

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Not all is grand though; I wasn’t as impressed with the AI.  Before I say why, I have a few extra details.  While Forza 2 had the ‘learn from the player’ mechanics, the new system feels alive.  If you’re driving along and hit an aggressive opponent, you may be sent off the road.  They make some big mistakes too however.  Once I was in second place, when suddenly the leader missed a turn and smashed into a wall.  Bam, I won the race.  This doesn’t happen often, but it’s nice to see opponents behave like you occasionally.  That’s great, but lends to a problem, the overall difficulty.  Even with assists on or off, there are only three difficulty levels: easy, medium and hard.  Easy and medium are a cakewalk for the experienced, especially with assists, but hard is ridiculous.  Easy and medium don’t differentiate very well.  Perhaps a little tweaking or another setting would have helped.  This may put off some players.

To counter this, Turn 10 developed something to keep your focus on just playing.  There’s a very nice car and driver level system in place.  Winning races attributes experience to your car and driver.  Leveling up unlocks a brand-new car.  The rewards are the same for everyone, but it’s a great way to keep you racing.  Certain events are only accessible at certain levels.  This makes Forza 3 that much more enjoyable, but even die-hards will need endurance to complete the career.  The seasons grow longer the more you play.  Even unlocking cars can’t keep you glued to your TV like that.  Nonetheless, I’ve always enjoyed this formula and am accustomed to it, but it may be a little too demanding for casuals.

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What isn’t overly demanding is the online multiplayer.  The settings for a race can be adjusted to your heart’s content.  Not only can you customize the qualifications for entering and winning, but the type can also be chosen.  Single, elimination, cat and mouse, multi-class, drift, timed races, and more are available.  Every aspect to these templates is completely customizable.  You can have US versus European cars, Japanese versus US, etc.  Forza 3 has the most robust online support of any racing game I’ve ever played.  I’m not COE’s racing guru, but the sheer number of options makes me confidently say that Forza 3 takes the crown from the online experience of games in other genres.  It’s that deep.  A brand-new fan can have as much fun online as an experienced gamer, and that’s not something we can often say.  Oh and before I forget to make mention, the game supports two-player split-screen and up to eight online.

Visually, Forza 3 is a beautiful racer, but not without a few issues.  I’ll start with the good: the car models are amazing.  I won’t spout technical mumbo jumbo, but they clearly sport more polygons than in Forza 2.  But because of user-created decals, I’m not particularly surprised about the few glitches with the damage system.  When you smash into another vehicle, it’s amazing to see little chunks of yours rip apart, paint scrape, and more.  That stuff looks wicked.  Things become a bit choppy with decals though.  These hitches aren’t blatantly noticeable, but are there.  If the side of your car has a decal and you slide along a guardrail, sometimes that decoration flickers in-between the damaged portion of the door.  Little glitches like this are almost impossible to overcome.  The same issues are more prevalent while in the dashboard view.  I was also underwhelmed by some of the car interiors, but until you play the game on an HDTV, you really have no idea just how detailed everything is.  The environments, damage system and sheer power every car has come together to make Forza 3 one of the sexiest racing games out there.  Oh, and everything runs at a blistering 60 frames per second.

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Music-wise, I’ve never loved a racing game’s soundtrack.  I typically like a handful of tracks and that’s it.  Thankfully we now have the option to implement our own songs.  That makes the soundtrack a moot point.  The same is true here.  Some tracks are great; others are bland.  I do however, love me some engines.  Turn 10 returned to the drawing board in this respect and re-recorded every car engine featured.  This is what gives a racing game its audio power.  With wimpy engines, you can’t possibly feel revved up.  Well prepare to be blown away.  Every vehicle sounds lifelike, and the teaser intro to every race is a great way to show that off.  My only disappointment is with the lacklustre crashes.  Turn 10 dropped the ball there.  Perhaps next time the presentation will be completely mastered, but they’re at least really close.  Forza 3 is one of the best-sounding and looking racing games available.

Forza MotorSport 3 is a phenomenal racer that deserves to be on everyone’s gaming shelf.  If you’ve always been scared of racing sims, now’s the time to reconsider.  There’s something for you, trust me.  If you’re a hardcore fan, this review wasn’t necessary.  I’ve never played a racer that can so easily please the casual and hardcore.  Most of Forza 3 isn’t new, but the complete package really breaks the mould.  I’ve never felt so satisfied by a racer’s every element.  There’s still room for improvement of course, but Turn 10 has raised the bar.  Polyphony Digital has their work cut out when Gran Turismo 5 comes early next year.  As they say, the race is on!

Scoreboard:

Story: **/10

Gameplay: 9.5/10

Controls: 10/10

Graphics: 9/10

Sound: 8.5/10

Value: 10/10

Overall: 9.3

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