The Forza series has had a unique situation that not many other series has. It was Microsoft's answer to the well respected Gran Turismo series, which has been the undisputed king of simulation type racing games on consoles. However, due to Gran Turismo's absurdly long development cycle between iterations, the Forza series has been creeping its way up. Their latest iteration was one of the most anticipated and have caused quite a stir in the racing sim community with several tweaks and gameplay additions. From the finished results though, it is prevalent that the driving sim king no longer stands alone at the top.
Forza's strongest assets are its different gameplay offerings: over 80 tracks, a 400+ car selection, each with upgrades available and the option to fully tune and customize each of them. This game proves to have the biggest car selection in the Forza series yet, even up to the point where it requires a second disc (Which only requires a onetime install to put in the extra content). While 400 may pale in comparison to Gran Turismo's 600+, there are very few copies in comparison, along with an exclusive license with Porsche. It may not have as many classic or concept cars as GT, and one glaring omission is the Stock Nissan GT-R (which is somewhat expected, due to GT's Developers having a hand in the car's design. However, the racing versions are available) but what is offered is substantial, especially with its redone physics system, which provides the most satisfying driving experience I've played in recent years. Putting on the real time telemetry really shows how powerful and robust the game is.
Being an excellent driving sim isn't the only option Forza 3 and one of the most popular features is its livery editor, which has been improved even further. The designs that come out of this editor is nothing short of mind-blowing. Thanks to its new Storefront mode, it's become a lot easier to see said designs. The storefront allows users to view and purchase anything from designs, photos, videos, tuning setups, to complete car liveries. All of this can be searched through thanks to its robust search option and the ability to favorite specific users, allowing the player to immediately go to their storefront to check out their latest wares. There are also leaderboards specific to the different storefronts, letting players know which users are the most popular and helps provide some motivation to put out a better product.
Comparing this game to Forza 2 graphically shows how far Turn 10, the developers of the series, have come with utilizing the hardware. Its most noticeable improvement is the lighting and color direction, which really elevate this game to one of the best looking games out there. Other improvements include a higher poly count on their models, which allows car interiors in all of its cars for the first time in the series. While not as impressive in a purely technical level as GT's latest, Forza's bright color gives its a visually pleasing, if slightly arcadey for some fans. The game's damage modeling is still quite good, though it's starting to show its age.
It shows off light damage and car scratches very well, but there is no real deformation of cars and parts which sticks out like a sore thumb sometimes, especially during flips. The game also uses 2 sets of car models, one during real-time racing, and higher quality ones during replays, pictures, and painting. This doesn't come off as a major complaint, as the framerate doesn't drop under 60fps, higher than 3rd party games like Dirt 2 and Need for Speed: Shift, so the trade off is a worthwhile one. One complaint I do have is with its interiors. While it is impressive that they have interiors in all their cars, the coloring inside isn't as good as I hoped, with a lot of the colors looking very muted and plain. An adjustable camera view inside the interior would also be helpful, as items such as the rearview mirror and speedometer in some cars is obscured. The tracks overall are good, with its non circuit tracks like Amafi Coast and Fujimi Kaido are spectacular. The Nurburgring is also its most accurate model yet, capturing all the small drops and crevices with the chalk and skid marks on the tracks. Many tracks from the 2nd game haven't received the same attention to detail, but the improved lighting makes up for it.
Sound effects like tire screeches, the different sounds of different engines, and hearing your transmission suffer from a bad shift really makes this game a treat from that aspect. One complaint I had about the GT series is that a lot of the cars sound the same and just don't sound that powerful. In Forza 3, you can hear the difference between a Corvette and a SLR. Driving a v12 in a tunnel revving up just sounds amazing and really shows off how great the sound is in this game. New to the series is a soundtrack that is played during races instead of just in the menus. The tracks are solid, if a bit forgettable and seem to repeat quite often to my liking. Thankfully, custom soundtrack support is in the game so players inclined to listen to their own beats can do so without problem.
Designers of the series have given a lot of effort in making Forza 3 the most accessible and easy to navigate experience for players of various interest and skill levels, from the Car Fanatic to an arcade racer who wants to try something different. On top of its excellent racing line are various settings and tools designed to allow as many players to get an enjoyable experience as possible. Traction Control, Stability Control, Brakes, and Difficulty can be adjusted. The brakes option specifically offers an auto brake mode, which will slow down cars for a corner automatically. Another major addition is rewind mode, made famous by Codemasters' GRID. Forza functions differently in that it rewinds to any point in the race a user desires, as well as the ability to be used as many times as wanted with little consequence. While a option to turn it off would be greatly appreciated, ultimately it serves a powerful tool that players of all levels can utilize. Being able to practice taking a corner as many times as I want or fixing a mistake after a wildly long race helps alleviate frustration, sometimes too much. In the end, it allows all players to have a shot of finishing the race so its pros outweigh the cons. It's also worth noting that lap times where rewind is used will be considered a dirty lap, and you can't rewind during online play either.
The career mode has also been restructured, now offering a season mode which will automatically structure a calendar with events of your choosing between 3 choices, Trying out a new car you just bought or unlocked, trying out a new location, or sticking with the car you're already in. This helps provide a sense of progress along with its driver experience bar, which rewards you with a new car after every level. It makes a satisfying single player mode, and also gives the option to the player to directly play one of the game's 200 events. Other refinements and additions is a quick tune option, which picks the right upgrades to have your car reach the top of the performance index without individually picking them out. Real time tuning allows players to test and modify their tuning setups by simply hitting pause while test driving their car around the track. The design of the interface has gone for a clean minimalist set up, and really gives the game a sense of refinement lacking in previous games. The multiplayer is also quite robust, offering all kinds of races along with the ability to customize the rules from allowing only specific cars, manufacturers, to different objects such as cat and mouse.
What Forza 3 does best is progress the design of racing simulators with its accessibility, excellent physics mechanics, and focus on community contribution among other things. The result is one of the best and most important games in the genre today. Whatever feelings you may have about the series in comparison to its Playstation competitor, you owe it to yourself to give the game a chance if you're a fan of driving and cars in general. When competition is good, the customers win, and the only thing better than one excellent console driving simulator is two.
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