While I’ve played sim racers since the first Gran Turismo, the genre never really hooked me until Forza 1 on the original Xbox. Unlike GT, it wasn’t just a showroom for beautiful-looking car models, but was also an exciting racing game. With its aggressive AI, in-depth tuning system, innovative driving lines that have since become standard, and amazing car decal creator that still hasn’t been equaled except for entries of this series, where it’s been surpassed, everything about it was top-shelf and it was a gaming mainstay for me until I got the second installment which improved upon the first in every way - but not quite as much as I was hoping for. It reminded me a lot of PGR 3 in that it was an excellent game, but fell a bit short as the first next-gen entry in the series.
Thankfully, Turn 10 has had more time to further improve upon the excellent base, and like PGR 4 was to PGR 2 - this feels like what the first next-gen entry in the series should have been. There are more tracks then ever before, including bonus tracks from both Forza 1 and 2, along with a massive car roster and an improved decal creation tool, along with changes that make this the most user-friendly entry in the series to date.
This series has always been known for having aggressive races, and I’ve found it to have the best racing game AI yet. When one considers that the original’s AI was so advanced that it let you craft an AI clone of yourself based on your driving habits, that shouldn’t be too surprising, but Turn 10 has enhanced things once again. Drivers behave more realistically than before - so not only will they come at you if you nudge them, but now they’ll sometimes crack under pressure, something I’ve never seen before. I had a race early on in the career mode where I kept on a rival’s tail for about half a lap, and then at the start of the second lap, he wound up spinning out in the first turn. It’s pretty amazing to see AI-controlled rivals make huge mistakes like that, and it makes the experience more realistic than ever before.
The career mode is easily the best one in the series and also the most user-friendly. After every advancement in driver level, you’re given a car, which is an awesome reward for excelling as it allows you to build up your garage without having to drain your credits. Instead of just being a seemingly endless grouping of racing events like Forza 1 and 2, Forza 3’s career mode revolves around a calendar of events that you can either do in a linear path or cherry pick and only do events that you want to do. You’re free to tackle any racing series as long as you’ve got a car that can race in it and the freedom offered up here is pretty amazing. Those craving a more linear path can still have their fun with this setup, while those wanting a more open-ended experience can have it as well. Turn 10 found the best of both worlds here, and while it took three games to accomplish that, the wait was worth it.
Like PGR 4, the open-ended career mode is helped by being structured in such a way that you don’t need to play for a long period of time to unlock things. It allows you to get a lot done in very little time by rewarding players frequently, and is the kind of career mode that I can see myself going back to for a long time to come since it is so vast. There are hundreds of racing series to complete over the length of the mode, including a variety of endurance races. Being able to tackle it in bite size chunks helps a lot because if you saw how massive it was and then had to beat a large portion of it in one play session, it would scare people off.
Turn 10 has definitely made things more user-friendly here than in any other Forza entry. Beyond those changes to the career mode, you can also choose to auto-upgrade vehicles instead of manually upgrading everything part-by-part. This certainly makes things much easier for those who don’t want to tinker with their cars, but it comes at a price - you can easily find yourself paying a ton of money for these upgrade packages, and if you just need some minor tweaks to a car, you’ll wind up paying too much to make the changes you need to make just for the convenience of doing it all in one shot.
Those who want more of a challenge can simply turn off assists - having them all on costs you some of your purse anyway, so if you want money quickly to either buy upgrades, cars, or purchase user-made graphics, tuning kits, or cars (via auctions) in the all-new online storefront, it’s best to just turn some assists off and reap more rewards for your races. Plus, when you get online, hosts can select to turn off assists, so if you just play with them on, you can find yourself really outclassed simply due to relying on them. Similarly, if you abuse the flashback feature, you’ll find yourself out of luck online because it can’t be used there. Unlike any other game I can think of that’s used it, in Forza 3, it can be used as much as you need and without any kind of credit penalty, which I think can make things a bit too easy. However, it is ultimately just a crutch, and if you learn to race well without assists, you’ll likely do much better online and against friends in offline play.
Online play as a whole is fantastic - it supports up to eight players at once and I never had any issues with lag. I did, however, run into folks who would just set out to ruin other players’ fun by driving backwards suddenly to knock them off the road - this isn’t just an issue with this game, it’s a common one with online racers, and never ceases to be incredibly annoying. Thankfully, if you’re able to just play with friends, you’ll be in heaven as you won’t have to worry about that garbage and you’ll be in for a lag-free time as well.
While I have some issues with the implementation of the flashback feature, I do like that it’s there because it does open up the game to a much broader audience. Sim racers can be quiet daunting, and anything that can be done to make this one even more popular is something that I can get behind because this is my favorite sim racing series yet and I’d like to see it continue and keep getting better with each new installment. What Turn 10 has done is open the game up for those new to the series but still make those user-friendly gameplay elements completely optional so that those wishing for a hardcore sim game can have one with realistic damage and assists turned off, and simply avoid using the flashback feature.
Conversely, those wanting a more forgiving experience can have one, and not just go from one extreme to the other since you can pick and choose which assists you want on or off to ease yourself from say an all-assists on play style to one that only has a few assists on, and then possibly none at all. The freedom to choose how you want to play the game is there no matter what, and that’s a key for making this game fun - it’s one of the things that drew me to the series in the first place alongside the hard-nosed AI, excellent racing engine, and the awesome decal creator.
That legendary feature gained prominence with the Xbox original series entry, where massive galleries were posted online within weeks of players’ best creations. While mine never came close to stuff that had many in awe, I did love my Sonic the Hedgehog, Lupin III, and pro wrestling-themed vehicles that came to life with the seemingly-simple shape-based drawing tools, while Forza 2 added more shapes and shading tools, along with text that you didn’t have to make piece-by-piece.
Forza 3 expands upon it by adding more color choices, more fonts, and a lot more designs, but kind of falls victim to the same thing Forza 2 did - the first game did this feature so well the first time out that successive incarnations can’t help but fall flat. Fortunately, Forza 3 is aided by being able to purchase designs online, so if you have a great idea in your head but can’t figure out how to implement it yourself with the in-game tools, you can simply do a search for it and probably buy just what you’re looking for. If you’re feeling particularly creative, and brave enough to pit your works against those of others online, you can make your own online storefront and sell your designs for in-game credits. It’s an awesome way to further extend the game’s replay value, and reward players for excelling at the creation tools at the same time.
The Forza series has been top-shelf visually since its inception, and Forza 3 continues that tradition by offering up the most detailed car models that I can ever remember seeing. You’re able to spot every small detail on the car - including the inside of the head and tail lights. Reflection effects are also outstanding, and show up beautifully on any color car - as opposed to just black or silver cars that reflection effects traditionally excel with. You’ll also see each individual color reflect off of the car accurately, so if you’re in an area with a lot of trees around, you’ll notice how each color of leaf on the tree looks as it reflects off of your car. It’s a striking effect, and adds another realistic touch to the action. Collisions have just the right amount of impact due to a combination of the sight of the paint chipping, parts crumpling or being otherwise destroyed, and the violent shake that occurs when your car is involved in a collision.
Unfortunately, like NFS: Shift, it appears that the amazing visuals have come at the expense of long loading times. Pre-race loading times clock in at least 45 seconds, and some take about a minute, and that‘s not just before each series - but before each race. While they are reduced when you load the game onto the hard drive, they still clock in at about 30 seconds long - certainly much shorter, but still an annoyance. Beyond that, the only issue I have with the visuals are shadows sometimes flickering a bit. Forza 3’s audio is a mixed bag. The soundtrack is full of techno that doesn’t do much for me, but the sound effects are amazing, and mesh perfectly with the visuals to make crashes seem more devastating.
In the end, Forza Motorsport 3 succeeds at offering up the best entry in the series to date. It should please everyone who plays it and beyond just making sim racing fans happy, the increased emphasis on user-friendly gameplay makes it an easy recommendation for anyone who is usually intimidated by sim racers. There’s a lot to do here, much of it is quite awesome, and this is definitely a game worth playing for racing game fans of any experience level.