Forza Motorsport 3
You have to admire the enduring popularity of the racing genre. From the earliest beginnings of videogame entertainment, driving games have been omnipresent in the evolution of the medium. As it turns out, they tend to be a rather accurate yardstick when it comes to analysing the more technical accomplishments of modern gaming, and it’s always interesting to see what grand new innovation is coming next – from the open world styling of premier smash-em-up Burnout Paradise to using the race track as a weapon in Black Rock Studio’s upcoming Split/Second, developers are pushing the envelope harder than ever in an effort to achieve success in the market.
Sometimes, however, a game doesn’t need to be as brash nor as bold as the aforementioned in order to win over the populace. For an emerging IP perhaps, given the saturation of choice on offer, it becomes all the more necessary to take risks. The Forza Motorsport franchise no longer finds itself in this quandary but it has an interesting problem in that it was stuck in a bit of a ‘no-mans land’ in respect that, whilst it was a great racer, the previous iteration wasn’t the game it could have been. We recall a very similar situation in the last generation of consoles, where Gran Turismo 3 exploded onto the fledging Playstation 2 with aplomb, a shockwave that Forza 2 couldn’t quite match upon its arrival on Microsoft’s new console.
With the advantage of hindsight it’s easy to observe that this wasn’t Turn 10’s fault per se given the limited development time on new hardware, and the game was an admirable achievement in its own right. With the next Gran Turismo instalment floundering in the seas of its own self-induced hype, gasping for air, there could not be a better time for the Forza brand to steal a march in the race to be the definitive racing game this generation. Whilst we cannot yet predict the final quality of Polyphony Digital’s magnum opus, it’s clear that giving a game of Forza 3’s quality such a head start almost reduces the head-to-head to a non-event, as Turn 10’s latest has set a new standard in simulation racing.
Almost everything you do in Forza Motorsport 3, from racing the many cars to navigating the many menus, is akin to what walking around a car showroom made entirely out of glass would be like. The air would be a gentle cool degree or two under room temperature, with every surface having a reflective sheen, and every sales rep having a voice for radio and a face for television. In short, Turn 10’s latest is irresistibly sharp in terms of its overall aesthetic – from the soothing voiceover gently guiding you through proceedings to the dazzlingly crisp white colour palette. The in-game visuals share a similar trait, with sharp textures and rich colours whilst lacking a more organic feel seen in titles such as Need for Speed Shift or Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. This is particularly apparent when utilising the in-car view, but we have to admire the efforts Turn 10 have made in including such a feature, particularly when there are so many vehicles on offer. Each car is superbly represented with an incredible attention to detail as graphical fidelity has seen a boost, particularly noticeable in tracks returning from the previous game such as New York circuit or Alpine Raceway.
We tended to notice the new licks of paint on the returning vehicles and circuits the most, but that’s probably because we saw far too much of them than what was probably acceptable for such a sequel. Tearing around the Nordschleife in a high-performance car with all of the assists turned off will never get old, but having to endure 8 lap races around stalwarts like Suzuka and Silverstone – again and again – does, and a lot quicker than one would hope and expect. The unfortunate thing here is that Turn 10 have really tried to add some spice to the main single player mode with season play, whereby players can initially choose from 3 events based on their personal preference at the time before doing battle in a world championship.
Its success is relative to the player’s dislike of conventional career progression structures seen in the past, but ultimately it fails in offering a substantial level of variety in terms of tracks on offer, which is bizarre when you consider how many are available. In our opinion the remedy is simple – just tone down the sheer dizzying number of events, or at the very least shave a couple of laps off each race. In fact, racing fanatics may enjoy these long, drawn out tests of skill on familiar roads, but those of you expecting a significant departure from Forza 2’s sultry curves will be left disappointed. Variety in terms of vehicular challenges fare a little better, but spinning 180 degrees from the high performance R3 racing cars decimating Circuit de Cataluña to being back behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta pootling around the winding roads of Amalfi can jar.
With these criticisms in mind, however, it’s also important to note that Forza 3 is so effortlessly malleable – you can have the option of choosing events (but still unable to view tracks within each one) from an enormous grid free from constraints of the racing calendar, whilst opting to turn the braking and steering assists off amongst a plethora of other tweaks and adjustments to suit your needs and preferences. It’s at this point where we can’t help but again see Forza 3 as a metaphorical car showroom, but with so many extra features such as the return of the auction house as well as the extensive decal editor we can’t help but see it as more of an automotive complex, a true autophile’s nirvana. The new Storefront, which is essentially a player’s base of operations in the online space, is a superb function which holds all of your tuning data, auction dealings as well as saved photos and videos. For a game so focused on providing for a strong online community, it’s a fantastic feature.
Forza 3 is, without doubt, a great game. It’s the perfect sequel in that it builds upon the already generous foundations laid down by the previous title. It’s not aiming to revolutionise the genre – a tall order if there ever was one – but to provide the optimum experience for all racing fans the world over. In many respects it succeeds, but we can’t help but feel that it could have exceeded expectations more than what it has done. Perhaps it’s that this corner of the genre is finally starting to show visible marks of the ties that inevitably have to bind it, but Forza 3 is cool and calculated whilst feeling cold and bland all at the same time. There is a wealth of content growling under the proverbial hood, but the game comes perilously close to lacking any real enthusiasm to show us exactly what it is that makes it so special. What is it that makes Silverstone so popular, anyway? Polyphony Digital, it’s over to you.
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