Review: Forza Motorsport 3

forzareviewheader Forza Motorsport 3 is just about everything you would want from a sequel. While it doesn't bring any revolutionary changes to the formula established by Turn 10 Studios with Forza 1 and 2, the game adds plenty of new features and improves on almost every feature from Forza 2.

The physics engine in Forza Motorsport 3 make driving most any car a treat, but turn certain cars - like this Ferrari Challenge Stradale - really shine.

At the heart of the Forza 3 racing experience is a very good physics engine. While there may be more accurate and realistic racing simulators out there on PC, no other console game blends authenticity with fun like Forza...and this includes, yes, Gran Turismo (GT4 is notorious for ignoring the existence of brakes that could lock up completely, and of oversteer.) It's accurate enough to reward realistic driving, but not as demanding as games like iRacing, rFactor, or the classic Grand Prix Legends. More importantly, the game engine is flexible with layers of assists like ABS, traction control, racing line assist and (new for Forza 3) a brake assist that allows just about anybody to pick up the controller and race.

The improvements to accessibility are not limited to the in-game racing in Forza 3, though. A common complaint with the previous Forza games and the Gran Turismo series is that the single-player career mode is not a guided enough experience; while it's nice to pick and choose the races you want to compete in, it's almost too much choice. While Forza 3 does not move to a strictly on-rails, guided experience, it does have "seasons" that are built around a marquee racing series, with shorter ones filling in the gap. The game suggests which of these elective series you should do based on three conditions: using your current car, trying a new car, or going to new race tracks. Every time you complete a series, the game prompts you to choose again, and the cycle continues. A traditional event matrix is also available, but playing within the season framework provides a fun, different experience compared to past racing sims.

Damn right that's an Oregon license plate.

That change to the single player structure is a good example of the evolutionary changes Turn 10 implemented in Forza 3. Another one of those is the rewind, which brings Prince of Persia-style time manipulation to a racing sim. Pressing the "back" button rewinds the action a few seconds, allowing you to erase a bad racing mistake with almost no cost. Compared to previous games, where a mistake (or, more likely, a moment of AI madness) meant re-starting the race, the rewind button is a heaven-sent instrument of frustration reduction.

A tradition of the console sim-racing genre — customizing cars with different performance parts — continues in Forza 3 and, as in the previous Forza games, so does customizing paint schemes. It's even better in Forza 3; Forza 2 ushered in an online storefront in the game in the form of an auction house for buying and selling cars, and that has moved into the paint scheme realm for the new game. Between individual vinyl groups (think stickers) and full designs for cars, there are plenty of options to customize how your ride looks. Best part? It all is available for in-game credits, so you have another option to spend your hard-earned race winnings on. As a real-life auto racing geek, I've seen a lot of accurately recreated racing paint schemes in the game, and that's just within a month of release. The opportunities are almost limitless.

That feeds directly into the online experience, which is rich, flexible, and will provide gamers with a four-wheel playground for a long time to come. In custom games, hosts can fine-tune almost everything — from given options like lap totals and number of players, to car classes and other more in-depth parameters.

The racing game nerd in me really loves Forza 3's version of the famous Nurburgring race circuit in Germany — it feels "right," and is an appropriately monumental challenge for racers.

However, you had better have friends to race with, because the public racing setup changed from Forza 2 to Forza 3. Forza 3 now makes use of public lobbies that act as Halo 3-style hoppers, where players join races by class or game type...and that's it. Custom public lobbies have been taken away since Forza 2, and while the hopper system could be solid, this depends on Turn 10 making routine changes. They've promised it will happen, but that remains to be seen. Additionally, the public racing option requires you to race with the unwashed masses of Xbox Live, which can be a similar experience to games like Halo or Call of Duty. So much for getting a good, clean race in when pubbies decide to cause massive pile-ups in the first corner. Your humble reviewer is a member of two different communities where online games can and will be organized on forums, but unless you're already a part of one of these (or willing to join one), the online play can be a bit limited. It appears that the Turn 10 forums are becoming a solid community of racers, though, so that's at least an option.

The end result is one of the best console racing games in a long time, and easily the best simulation-style racer of this console generation. It's more of the same, but refined in ways that fans actively clamored for — like the graphics, online customization, more cars, etc. — and also in ways they didn't know they wanted and needed, like with the rewind button. If Turn 10 supports Forza 3 with DLC, it could be an excellent slow-burn game that provides tons of fun for diehards and newcomers alike — you just better find some friends to play with online to get the most out of the experience.

Forza Motorsport 3 is available for $59.99 for Xbox 360.

Recommended for:

  • Fans of Forza Motorsport 2 or other simulation console racers like Gran Turismo
  • Gamers who only have access to an Xbox 360
  • Lovers of good graphics — Forza 3 is a very, very pretty game, locked in at 60 FPS and stunning in the replay and photo modes
  • Racers part of an online community who can take to the forums to organize racing nights with friends
  • Anybody interested in learning about and racing cars — the layers of accessibility can peel away with experience

Not Recommended for:

  • Gamers whose idea of racing games begins and ends with Burnout: Paradise and see the "brake" button as just a suggestion
  • Fans not looking to get into a ton of online racing — there's a lot of single-player content here, but it feels like only half a game
  • Sony and Polyphony Digital fanboys — there's not enough here to convince them to add an Xbox 360 to their gaming setup.

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