When it comes to games, racing can be broken into three basic sub-genres. There’s arcade style – which is the most unrealistic of all. You could put games like Burnout into this category. Then there’s a middle category that really can’t be named. It’s more realistic, but it isn’t what you would consider true to life. Parts of it may be realistic, but others aren’t. A good example of this is Project Gotham. And finally, there’s simulation. These are games that take everything to the limit to make racing as realistic as is possible on a gaming machine. Forza and Gran Turismo are examples of this style.
Forza Motorsport 3 is none of these.
Before I get started, I should mention that I have never played any of the other games in the Forza series. In fact, I have almost no experience with Simulation style games at all. I tend to prefer the middle of the road – Project Gotham being my favorite.
You may now be wondering why I even bought the game. Well, there are two reasons, one is silly, the other isn’t.
As you may know, I have what some may call an obsession with Collector/Limited editions. It’d be easier for me to tell you which ones I don’t have versus which I do. Off the top of my head, I’m only missing about 5. So the news that Forza 3 was getting one was the first step towards purchasing it.
But it goes slightly beyond that. My decision wasn’t final because of the LE. After all, I’m not exactly a fan of simulation racers. I wasn’t about to go spend money on a game that I had no desire to play. But then the demo came out. And there was enough there to wet my appetite and get me really interested. I could see the potential, and decided that it was worth the purchase.
So that brings us to this review. As I boldly said above – this isn’t like like any racing game that’s been released before. In fact, it’s not a racing game at all. At first, I wanted to call this a Racing Simulator, but I realized that isn’t quite accurate. This game is so deep into every aspect of motorsports that I have decided to call it a Car Simulator.
It doesn’t sound very catchy, but it encompasses this “game” in every way. You don’t just race cars. You build cars, tune cars, and paint cars in addition to racing them. Even though I’ve never played another Turn10 game, it is very obvious that these guys love cars.
Sure, if all you want to do is race, then that’s fine – you can do that. But if those standard paint jobs aren’t cool enough, then you can make you own. The tools, while somewhat primitive, are also incredibly advanced. Much like advanced graphics programs, you can work in layers which allows untold creativity.
But it doesn’t end there. Maybe art isn’t you thing, and you prefer to tinker with all those neat parts under the hood – then you will feel right at home as well. You can switch out everything from the rims, up to entire engines – all with instant gratification. No nuts and bolts to worry about – no long labor times. Just choose the desired upgrades and they are applied instantly – and it even gives you a real-time analysis of the performance difference.
Which brings me back to the whole “simulation” thing. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to drive a hundred thousand dollar sports car without breaking the bank – then this is definitely the best route. Instead of just being a hunk of metal that you steer around, every single little aspect of the car itself is important. Cars have weight, and aerodynamics, and a real sense of power – and all of it can be changed to fit your style. For example, a car bought from the manufacturer has a lot of extra weight in the form of seats, and electronics. With an in-game weight reduction, these extras can be removed. This not only reduces the overall weight of the car, but it can also shift the balance as well. And the best part is that you can feel it – even though you’re only holding a plastic controller. And it still goes further. Adding and removing parts is fine, but you can also tweak your current hardware. Things like tire air pressure, brake sensitivity, all the way up to the alignment of the wheels – all are completely adjustable. And even though most of these changes have no cosmetic difference, they can be felt while driving – which is a testiment to this game as a simulation.
So how does it play? Well, to be completely honest… amazing. As a full simulation, this game is likely second to none. Every single aspect is so polished and refined – Turn10 are obviously devoted to doing something very well. But of all that simulation stuff is too much, then there are some ways to make it more accessible – called assists. These assists help you with a certain aspect of the car – taking away some of the added difficulty you get. For example – anti-lock brakes, while standard on pretty much any car – are not considered part of a true simulation, so you have the option to turn them back on. There is also a traction control system, which helps keep your tires gripping the road – which can be truly difficult when it comes to higher end cars in the game. Finally, there is steering assist, which helps you control your steering since the transition from steering wheel to control isn’t exactly easy. And for those crazy drivers out there that don’t know what a brake pedal is, there is braking assist, which slows your car around turns if you are going too fast.
All of these assists are optional, and most importantly, there’s no negative impact for using them. Instead, you are given bonus money for having more of them disabled.
In addition to these assists, you can also disable things like tire wear and fuel consumption if you’d prefer to just worry about the driving portion. There’s also a rewind feature, which allows to rewind the race to a previous point if you screw up. You don’t have to use it, but if you are 45 miles into a 50 mile endurance race, one single screw up could lead to a lot of lost time.
The best part is that unlike other racing games where you simply have to master the cars, this game makes you master yourself. As a newcomer to the series, I found full simulation to be way too difficult, so enabled some of the assists. I didn’t feel like I was cheating by enabling these – they made what would have been just an absolutely brutal game a bit easier, so I could work my way into it. And over time, I began to understand more completely what these assists were doing, and more importantly what I was doing wrong to cause them to be needed. With time, you can turn these assists off and get a more realistic, and a more gratifying experience. And that’s what I love most about Forza 3. It took a style that I absolutely loathed because of it’s learning curve, and let me ease into it. All those things I had once hated, I now began finding fun.
As an aside, while most racing games tend to give you limited cars and tracks to start with, and force you to play untold amounts of time to gain access to more stuff, Forza 3 gives you the ability to play on any track, and drive any car in the game right from the start. It’s such a simple concept but I have to commend Turn10 for doing it.
Unfortunately, like everything else in this world – Forza 3 isn’t perfect.
My first complaint is the graphics. Forza 3 is a mixed bag. While the cars and tracks are drop-dead gorgeous, things like people and some of the scenery are just downright ugly. And while some of these things aren’t important when you are flying by them at 150 mph, the montage before you start each race tends to highlight some of the sore thumbs. Things like road signs, and banners are just terrible looking, and it really subtracts from the cars.
In addition to some scattered bad graphics, there’s also a good amount of pop-in especially with regards to reflections and shadows. While it is neat to see real-time reflections on the hood or roof of your car, they don’t always show up immediately, and instead take a few seconds to pop in. A minor detail, but when you are so focuses on watching your car and the track – it can be quite distracting when it happens.
Aside from these small details, the cars are just stunning to look at. The attention to detail is just mind blowing. Everything – all the way down to the gauges is accurately reproduced on every single car. It’s a real treat to feel like you are actually in the drivers seat of a supercar that you’ll never be able to afford.
The audio is also excellent. All of the cars have their own unique whines and growls and change as you make modifications. The rumble of a V8 engine with good speakers is almost enough to make you wet yourself. And it’s all location based as well, so if the engine is in the back of the car – that’s where you’ll hear it from if you drive in cockpit view.
All of this, and I haven’t even touched the multiplayer or community aspects of the game. While I haven’t even had a chance to try multiplayer, the community features are icing on the cake. If you are a good artist, then sell your creations to the rest of the world – and make some in-game cash in the process. Or the flip side, if you aren’t artistically gifted, then go out and buy whatever you want – the number of creators out there is enormous, and some of the stuff they put out is just amazing. The same can also be said of tuning/modification. If you aren’t particularly good at it, chances are you can find a specific tuning file for your car that is designed with a certain track and goal in mind.
So for the final breakdown
+ Realistic and fun recreation of all the aspects of a car
+ Mostly gorgeous graphics
+ Great audio
+ Assists for newcomers
-A few really bad graphics
– Noticeable and distracting pop-in
– Somewhat long load times
– An excellent game that gleams with polish, with only some minor technical issues standing out. If you liked the first two, then you’ve probably already bought it. If you are a newcomer like me, give the demo a try, maybe it will grab you like it did to me.