Review by BloodGod65

"Driving Through Familiar Territory"

Despite several attempts by third party developers, simulation racing fans know there's only one title worth talking about on the Xbox 360 – Forza. Returning for its second iteration of this generation, Forza 3 is a simulation racer filled with events, tracks and cars. Turn 10 hasn't strayed far from their winning formula but they have come up with several tweaks and additions, not all of which are as good as they might have been.

The most noticeable change comes in the form of an altered career structure. Gamers have been clamoring for a more immersive career mode for years and Forza 3 moves a couple of steps closer to that. Rather than have the player pick a tournament from a list and then race through a set of events, the career is now calendar based. When players first delve into season mode, three random tournament choices are presented. After choosing one the game transitions to a calendar view. Each tournament event takes place on one day of the week and after an event is completed, time will progress to the next in the series. Once players get far enough into the career, championships will be unlocked and these take place on weekends. At any given time only two tournaments can be in progress.

I can't say that I'm crazy about this addition. To start off with, it isn't any different from how the career has always worked, just with fewer options and a fancy facade. If anything, it takes away some player freedom because once a tournament is started, it must be completed before competing in something new. For those who don't like the idea of this, it is possible to avoid it altogether by using the traditional event list. This is a complete listing of all the tournaments in the game, color-coded so it's easy to tell what has already been completed and what you can take on with the cars in your garage.

While neither option is likely to blow players away, the career structure is mostly unimportant because the events themselves are where the real action lies. Tournaments are broken down in a variety of ways and require a car with certain characteristics to compete. Some might be based on drivetrain and others may have two particular models competing against each other. However the majority of them are just broken down by car class or power. For instance, a tournament may require an A-class car or a vehicle with less than 400hp. There are simply too many of these and not enough events that have more stringent or interesting requirements, such as cars from a particular region in addition to being of a specific class. Even that minor variation would liven up the career and give players a reason to diversify their garages.

Stemming from this issue is the fact that there are too few limitations on what cars can enter a race. Though you'll start out driving boring cars, money is accumulated at such a rate that it doesn't take long to accrue a stable of high end rides. And once you have them, they can be entered into almost any race, no matter how much they outclass the competitors; provided there isn't some extenuating restriction. For instance, I entered a Dodge Viper into one of the beginner races and my competitors were a bunch of hatchbacks. It just doesn't make any sense to allow players to do this because it hamstrings the challenge. It works the other way around, as well. Some events, such as races that allow any car from a particular make to compete, will have you racing against high-end production cars or even their competition variants, which isn't fair either. Winning should ideally come down to driver skill and not horsepower. All in all, little attention has been paid to keeping the challenge level on an even keel.

There are two new race types in the form of drag races and drifting. However, neither of these is incorporated into the game very well. There is a single group of tournaments that focus on drag racing and drifting isn't incorporated into the career mode at all. In a race you can turn on “drift mode” with the press of a button. This does little more than start a counter for how many points you rack up while sliding around turns. While it's a nice option for people who just want to play around while getting some feedback on their performance, it seems like a wasted opportunity.

It is worth noting that prize cars are no longer awarded. That is, you'll no longer receive a car as a reward for winning a tournament. However, cars are still awarded by increasing your driver level. For those who haven't played a Forza game, there is a light RPG twist to the racing because experience points are awarded as you win. Eventually the player's driver level will increase and when it does, the game awards the player with a new car. These prizes are nothing to sniff at either; the game gives out some really awesome rides even at low levels and by the time your driver level hits level thirty or so, you'll be receiving really expensive specially tuned race cars on a regular basis. Still, it is a bit of a disappointment that you no longer get cars from tournament wins. Cash just doesn't compare to the thrill of getting a cool ride after victory.

While I'm not impressed with some of the decisions Turn 10 made in regards to the career structure and event selection, when it comes to the actual driving there is not much to complain about. Anyone who has followed the Forza series since the beginning will know that each iteration has seen a tightening of the physics engine. The first game had quite a few issues, the most obvious being a tendency for cars to behave very erratically and lose traction without warning, even when not being driven to their limit. The second game ironed out the vast majority of these problems but there were still a few inconsistencies and quirks players had to account for. Now, even those minor rough spots have been patched up.

Turn 10 has also paid very close attention to the nuances of different cars and their layouts, both minute and obvious. True to life, front wheel drive cars are easiest to drive due to their slavish obedience to the driver. RWD cars are best for racing but take a careful touch in order to keep them on the track, and AWD cars speed through the curves like nobody's business. Driving the race cars is another matter entirely, and learning how to drive fast enough for the aerodynamics to take effect without sliding through every corner is a real challenge.

Though some cars are naturally more difficult to drive than others, the numerous assistance options in the game should ensure that even the most incompetent driver looks like a champ. Forza's signature racing line returns and can be turned off or toned down to only appear when braking is required. There are also the other options such as ABS, traction control, damage and even auto-braking. As always, turning off assists gives the player bonus cash for each race win, which is a nice way of tempting players to continually hone their skills for that extra money. If you fancy yourself the next Michael Schumacher you can turn everything off and get close to a 100 percent increase on race rewards.

However many players will probably be tempted to turn everything off much sooner than in previous games due to another addition to Forza 3 – the rewind. This feature, which made its first appearance in Codemaster's GRID, basically allows the player to rewind time whenever they make a mistake. While I loved this in GRID, I'm much less enthusiastic about it here. First and foremost, Forza is a simulation so it just feels out of place. But in all honesty that's not really the issue. In fact, despite my not liking it I can't deny its usefulness when the proverbial poopy hits the fan and a quick rewind keeps you from restarting the entire race. The real problem is the poor implementation of the feature.

There are so many issues with how Turn 10 decided to incorporate the rewind, it's hard to find a place to start. Of course, the way the whole thing works is just as good a place as any. Rather than hold a button to watch time rewind to the point you want, you instead press a button and it rewinds a set amount of time that has no relation to when you screwed up. It seems to change from use to use, so you'll never know just how far back it will take you. But that's a small criticism compared to the extent it breaks what little challenge there is in the game. Unlike GRID, Turn 10 has created no restrictions on the feature. While there is a limit to how far back you can rewind at any given time, there's no limit to how many times you can use it in a single race. It would have made a lot more sense to create a limit on the number of times it could be used or at the very least a deduction to the number of credits received for finishing a race.

Thankfully not all the new stuff in Forza 3 is so annoying. One of my main complaints about the previous game was its lack of tracks. While the game in and of itself was awesome, there just weren't enough tracks to keep boredom at bay and I eventually quit playing because I was tired of racing the same circuits. This problem has been totally rectified as there are a total of 22 circuits that have 92 possible configurations (including reverse tracks). These include a good mix of real world and fictional tracks such as Laguna Seca, Road America, and Le Mans along with old Forza standbys like Maple Valley and New York.

Naturally the car list has received a sizeable boost as well. With 53 manufacturers, ranging from Acura to Volvo, and a total of 410 cars, there are plenty of awesome rides to choose from. While it isn't as comprehensive as, say, Gran Turismo, you won't have to agonize over what trim level you want your Honda Civic to have… Even without that anal all-inclusive nature, there are still so many that the game had to ship on two discs. If you want access to the cars on the second disc (and you do… trust me) you'll need a hard drive with three gigabytes of space. That's a whopper of a memory investment and it's unfortunate that it couldn't all have been packed onto one disc. For the luckless few who don't possess a hard drive, it might be best just to stay away from the game altogether as the car list is practically neutered.

Numbers can only tell so much and there are quite a few interesting vehicles on the roster. Players can buy a blank NASCAR style stock car and decorate it with the vinyl editor (more on that later) and there are several SUV's and trucks, which, tuned properly, can be every bit as fun to drive as a regular car. It's also worth noting that Turn 10 had the common sense to license more of the cars that people want to drive rather than lackluster four-doors. Because of this, the car list has a definite emphasis on exotics and sports cars.

Unfortunately I've got to make a few points regarding questionable decisions. I admit that I feel like a jerk to point out what's missing when there's so much here but, for the sake of being informative, I must. While the car list is huge there are plenty of very obvious omissions, the most glaring of which is the new Nissan GTR (for me at least). Doubtless Turn 10 is withholding many of them for the sake of DLC later on. Speaking of DLC, the developers have pulled a dirty stunt befitting EA as there are five cars included in the game that are locked until you pony up the money for the “VIP package”. Though these cars are locked to the player, you'll see the computer driving them. Even so, I'm not too worked up about this because all of them are performance versions of cars that already appear in the game (such as the Gallardo Superleggera and Aston Martin DBS).

One of the really cool things about Forza has always been the ability to upgrade and customize your cars and this has gotten a few additions. In previous games, tuning a car could be a daunting task for anyone who didn't already have a handle on the underlying real-world mechanics. However Turn 10 has added a quick upgrade option that allows the player to choose what class they want a car to be in and let the computer handle the rest. On the customization front, the vinyl editor remains as in-depth as always. There is a large selection of vinyl pieces and anyone with sufficient time and patience can really come up with some stunning designs. There has been one major tweak, which the hardcore community artists will no doubt love, in the form of piece grouping. By selecting the pieces you want and grouping them, those pieces will then act like a single piece. So if you've got a complicated scheme and you need to adjust one tiny thing but would have to readjust everything, you can group it and move it as a single piece. This also works great for changing the color of numerous pieces at a time.

When Forza 2 came out there were some fans who were unimpressed with the graphical quality of the game. There should be no such complaining this time around as the game looks fantastic. The track locations are varied and detailed in the extreme. One of my favorite tracks in the game is set in the midst of a rolling Spanish mountainside and its twists and turns showcase some stunning views over sheer cliffs and lush green meadows. However that particular track pales in comparison to Fujimi Kaido, a Japanese track that makes the Nurburgring look like a learners track. The twisted track takes players on an amazing tour up and down the side of a massive mountain while driving through tunnels, over bridges. There are several areas of the track that are so beautiful you might take your eyes off the road for a second too long, one of these being a large waterfall that appears just after a tight hairpin corner. However the defining moment to the whole track is emerging onto the massive straight on the back end and seeing the steep drop to one side and the sparkling lake nestled in the valley.

While the cars are sometimes outshined by the environments (no small feat for a game that contains most of the Ferrari catalog), they look excellent as well. This is the first time Forza has had an in car camera, which is pretty cool. But after playing Need for Speed Shift, I'm actually underwhelmed by it. The whole thing is very Spartan and the view is very restricted, so much so that the rear view mirror is invisible in most cars. The details are also less impressive, but that's the price of having four hundred cars compared to fifty. While the in-car camera isn't stunning, it is much preferable to any of the traditional camera views. All of the behind the car cams sit too high off the ground and for some reason the cars feel much looser and floaty when you're looking at the back end.

Damage, a persistent series feature, is probably the one really bad about the graphics. Even with the option set to “simulation”, damage is totally unrealistic as most it looks more like paint being scratched off than actual damage to the car. A head-on collision with a wall at over one hundred miles an hour often does little more than just remove the paint from the front end of the car and did almost nothing to the body. At one point I did this in an Enzo and the pointed piece of the front end wasn't even bent or crushed. Getting body parts to actually come off is a Herculean task because damage seems to be applied randomly (and often not at all). The worst thing I ever managed to achieve was a slightly crumpled hood. The effects of damage can potentially affect performance in a number of ways, but getting a car to that point takes some serious work or a monumental screw up. Either way, the fact that most people are going to hit rewind probably explains why Turn 10 didn't put more effort into this.

While Forza 3 generally looks great, there are still several related issues. For one, all this eye candy results in some very long load times before a race. This problem is partially offset by the almost endless stream of automotive trivia that appears onscreen, which will delight gearheads. More troublesome than the load times are Turn 10's oversights. I admit most of these things are trivial in the extreme but the entire simulation genre revolves around attention to the most inane of details. That's not to mention those of us who like this sort of game are very anal when it comes to getting things right. This is why it's so infuriating when the driver never actually shifts gears in first person mode. Equally annoying oversights include the fact that in the Lamborghini Murcialago the rear air vents don't rise, nor does the rear spoiler of the Veyron rise and adjust at speed and when braking. A developer might get away with missing these things in another racing game, but not in a sim.

The audio is very good and while I can't make a judgment call on the accuracy of the engine sounds, nothing seems out of place. On a different note, this is the first Forza to use an actual soundtrack that plays during races instead of using remixed classic rock songs (which is how the franchise has traditional done it). The music is mostly electronica and indie rock but I was surprised to find most of it to suit my tastes. But even if you do like it, the music quickly becomes tiresome because there are only a handful of songs in the whole game. There is an equally annoying sound bug that crops up with some regularity. While driving, the engine noise locks up and repeats the same sound byte over and over, even if you decelerate or change gears. This problem usually rectifies itself in a few seconds but the effect is quite jarring.

Though Forza is only on its third entry, I already feel that the series is starting to go in circles. Despite obvious improvements, such as the tightening of the physics engine and the inclusion of more cars and tracks, most of the changes don't add much to the game as a whole. If Turn 10 wants the series to stay fresh they need to do more than just add new cars and tracks. It was innovation that allowed Forza to burst onto the scene in the first place and woo many Gran Turismo fans with mechanics and features unseen in that series, such as damage and customization. A radical shakeup isn't necessary but a few (properly implemented) twists would be appreciated but would go a long way towards keeping a great franchise fresh. Something as simple as having races take place at different times of day would be cool and having realistic weather effects that impacted driving conditions would be totally awesome.

I realize this review has focused more on the negative aspects of the game, but I feel these that these are issues Turn 10 needs to address in order to keep this series at the top of the heap. Regardless of my numerous gripes and a pervasive feeling of familiarity, there are really only three things fans need to keep in mind: the racing engine is tighter than ever, the car list is filled with fantastic rides and the event list is large enough to keep the hardcore set busy for months. In the end, Forza 3 is a game any racing fan would do well to pick up.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 02/11/10, Updated 04/26/10

Game Release: Forza Motorsport 3 (US, 10/27/09)

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