Reviews: Your chariot awaits
For whatever reason, racing games are on the decline; they're not being made as often, nor are they selling that well (which is probably why they're on the decline, yes). So for die-hard racing aficionados, getting any kind of interesting racing title is a gift ? especially a racing simulation, which the Forza Motorsport franchise has carried the last half-decade while Gran Turismo 5 is in the oven. The second Xbox 360 Forza title, shockingly titled Forza Motorsport 3, is a slick and accessible racing simulation clearly geared towards at least trying to rebuild a genre that's fallen far behind the popular games of the modern era, while also appealing to the hardcore racing crowd that pines for the days when new racers were coming out all the time. With a fancy new front-end, 400 cars, tons of events, and a unique take on the career mode, Forza 3 at least will offer the most racing gameplay for your $60 this year, and you get a really good game to boot. It has a few frustrating elements that make the game drag at times, but the package as a whole is a sharp racing sim that's both accessible and demanding, depending on who is playing it.
Forza 3's core Career mode is actually dubbed Season mode this time around. Spread out over six years ? years that get longer and longer ? the game will select events for you based upon your current inventory, and between those you participate in a World Tour that eventually grows to thirteen races in total. However, the amount of events very much outstrips the Season, so you can also pick through an event list for more races...something you can do in lieu of the seasons, but you can't progress through a calendar year without actually doing the standard Season setup. Like the first two Forza games, you earn experience points and gain levels, and each level nets you a brand new ride so you're always getting something new to drive without costing any money. Each car can also level up to Level 5, which doles out discounts on parts based on the manufacturer. Needless to say you can put hundreds of hours into maxing out cars and earning tons of cash. The game of course has Free Play for single events and robust online features, but the Season mode is the place you'll probably spend much of your time.
As a racing simulation, Forza 3 expects some technical skill ? trying to whip your car around a corner like an arcade racer will result in wall hitting, dirt driving, or at the least, hurt feelings. Turn 10 has gone out of their way to make the game accessible to those turned off by the complicated aspects of racing sims; a wealth of difficulty tuning options, automatic upgrades to get a car fully prepared for top-flight competition within the required class instead of manually doing it (though manual upgrading is still there), and those increasingly nice rewards for leveling up, which eventually give out the kind of cars that blast by competition at every level. The Forza series has always tended to be a bit more forgiving than its competition, in at least giving newbies a chance, but in Forza 3 they really take it to the next level. For the hardcore, their experience isn't really neutered in any way ? those difficulty sliders, which let you set car AI, damage levels, racing line, and various car assists can be turned in their favor to make the game very challenging. So in most ways, Forza 3 really sets out to be a racing sim for everyone without really alienating any group of players.
No matter how you set the difficulty or any options, you get a racer that plays well, especially later. The race cars you unlock are expertly tuned to run as-is; braking on a dime, cornering like they're on rails, and reaching very high speeds. This is actually the problem; when you have to go back and use an older, non-racing car, it's a bit dull and those stock models just don't handle as well. They tend to feel heavy, require much more babying, and are just not as fun to drive. That said, they still control to your commands, and once you adjust to cars that are just a bit more fussy, they're good to go. It's just that strange adjustment period when you do have to return to non-race cars ? and if you want to complete every single event, you're going to have to do just that. This is the kind of thing that probably alienates non-hardcore racing game players; there's little margin for error with the mid-tier rides that are fast enough to feel speedy, but don't seem to match that speed with good handling. Upon downloading the Holiday car pack, the Nissan GT-R was a colossal disappointment; fully stock, it felt like I was cornering with a tank. In short, this game peaks when the powerful hardware becomes affordable.
Other frustrations deal with track selection. With the major increase in events over Forza 2, you'll be seeing the same tracks over and over. The game ?supposedly? offers 100 courses ? but the reality is there's probably about 30 with a couple variations of each course. Three versions of Suzuka, three Silverstones, four Nurburgrings, etc. This is even more difficult to handle when you keep in mind that there are at least a half-dozen original circuits from the original game that have not made the leap to Xbox 360. Why? It doesn't make sense, because those original tracks (such as Japan, Rio, and my favorite, the Pacific Shipyards point-to-point course) were really good. Adding those to the mix would at least give the game a little more variety. How about a course DLC pack with some new events, Turn 10? All this said, you might think the game is a disappointment ? but it's really not. The game is still excellent, and offers a varied, deep, demanding...yet accessible racer that is now Microsoft's core racing series since there's been nothing about a new Project Gotham game. Just be prepared for a slow start and a bit of repetition after putting heavy hours into the game.
On the technical side, Forza 3 looks great, if a little plain in places. The graphics are an improvement over Forza 2, which were decent at best, but because it runs at 60fps, it offers a sense of speed that makes up for the lack of overall ?excitement? in the design. After all, a fast car will keep you busy enough to not really worry about graphic fidelity, and your eyes should be on the road, not in the crowd trying to find imperfections. The car models are outstanding, any because many of them are based on real cars from various Le Mans style races, they're detailed to the exact specifications, whether its colors or sponsors littered about. As you collect damage from whacking other cars or hitting the wall, the vehicles show realistic wear ? smacking another car from behind will knock off bumpers or wings, for instance. The package as a whole is solid, and because the game keeps a steady pace, you'll appreciate it all more. The audio consists of a British dude narrating your career from time to time, the typical sounds of racing, and a licensed soundtrack that was so good...I dropped the music volume to zero. So yeah, not good. Either play it with your own music or let the sounds of racing be your soundtrack.