Forza Motorsport 3 sees the Forza franchise return to the Xbox 360 for the second time, and the third time in four years on Microsoft platforms. The previous two titles helped it to quickly establish itself as the premiere racing simulator to be found on Microsoft's platforms and with their latest installment, Turn 10 are hoping to further impress gamers. It's no easy task, but with improved physics, even more detailed cars and more community options, the outlook is definitely promising.
To get players instantly in the mood there is a newly remodelled career mode which focuses on seasons. Upon selecting a car, suggested events will appear and players must choose from one of three events. Once selected, they will then race the tournament, and earnings will be given depending on performance. After each of these events, there is then a classification tournament, in which players are limited to using cars underneath a certain Performance Index. As the seasons progress, they become longer, and the classification tournaments get more difficult. It makes the game get gradually more challenging, and makes for a nice feeling of progression.
The season mode can be completely ignored though, as events can actually be selected independently from this mode. It's possible to jump in to the majority of the events the game offers, although the player must of course have a suitable car. It makes the game feel a lot more accessible, and having the two options gives players the choice to play through all the different events how they wish. As well as the standard lap-based racers, Forza Motorsport 3 now actually offers some other types of racers, such as section based (for larger tracks), drift and drag. The latter two options are quite superficial though, and drag especially, is actually quite boring.
As previously mentioned, Performance Index returns, and it serves as a benchmark for ranking cars. It takes into consideration numerous factors, so the higher-end cars aren't all the fastest; handling is just as important as speed. To make things simpler though, there are classifications ranging from F to R3 and they help players get a quick overview of how good a car is. Although if for example, speed is required, it's probably best to look at specifics. Unfortunately, actually browsing through cars can be quite a chore sometimes. It's possible to look through manufacturers, or to show affordable cars. However, it's actually quite tedious to look through from start to finish and while it's possible to sort even further, it just feels like something could have been done to make it much more user friendly.
Picking out a suitable car is where the fun only starts though, as the majority of them are fully customisable. Almost every facet of the car can be changed to some degree, and the in-game system lets players know exactly what the repercussions of the changes will be. Sometimes doing upgrades might actually hinder performance, so there are trade-offs to be had. These usually revolve around aesthetics versus performance though. Speaking of aesthetics, Forza Motorsport 3 again allows cars to have their exteriors completely redesigned. The standard paint jobs are possible, but the vinyl system makes a successful return. This allows players to make their own designs for their cars and the possibilities are literally limitless.Upon getting a car suitable for racing and finding an event worth entering, players then get to experience some of the newly refined gameplay. It's instantly apparent that the physics have been tweaked considerably and everything just feels far more natural now. Even subtle elements, such as the yaw in the road, are now actually quite noticeable and upon selecting the option to view all the physics calculations happening, it actually gets quite mind boggling. It's possible to view pressure on tires and g-force amongst other things, although it's often best to concentrate on the road, as opposed to how the car is performing from a physics perspective.
Damage is included in the game, and it continues to cause cars to degrade in performance should the impact be sufficient. However, there doesn't seem to be much of an improvement. It's now possible to cause cars to flip entirely, but the actual damage seems very superficial sometimes. Just scraping against another car will often cause the entire side of the car to look like it's had an extended bad encounter with a wall and it just doesn't really seem all that accurate. Fortunately, this can all be completely avoided by the use of the new 'rewind' feature. This, along with all of the other driving assists, is completely optional, and it allows players to rewind to previous parts in the race and continue. Its unlimited usage policy essentially means that it's impossible to ever lose, but even the purists would probably be tempted to use it after spinning out on the final corner of a 15 lap race - something which is actually quite likely given the aggressive AI. Don't be surprised to see the AI trying to edge past, and inadvertently end up causing a crash. They will also stand their ground very firmly. It makes for much more heated contests, and sometimes, it makes avoiding damage actually quite challenging.
Graphically, the game is very appealing on the eye. The cars look great, from the curves, to the reflections on the paintwork. The tracks, and there are a lot of them, also look top-notch, although often the background elements, such as trees and spectators look a bit underwhelming upon closer inspection. That shouldn't take anything away from the experience though, and when flying around a track at 200mph, it's barely noticeable. The sound of the cars is pretty sublime, as even things like the VX220's turbo can clearly be heard kicking in.
Forza Motorsport 3 has replaybility in spades. Not only are there over 200 events, but it's also possible to do instant races using any car, on any track variation. There's also split-screen local multiplayer and online multiplayer for those who want to ditch the AI and get a more unpredictable challenge. It doesn't stop there though, as all of the customisation can be taken online too. It's possible to put designs up for other people to download, and even sell cars on the marketplace. Community is where Forza 3 really thrives and to get the full experience, playing online is definitely recommended.
Forza Motorsport 3 raises the bar for racing simulators yet again. It features a considerably improved physics model, vastly improved graphics and host of community based features. Sure, the damage model might not ooze realism, and purists might not like the added driver assists, but these are completely optional and don't detract from the overall experience. They certainly don't stop Forza Motorsport 3 from being a thoroughly enjoyable experience that will cause many hours to simply disappear.