Forza 3 has a lot to live up to- and a lot to prove. It's Microsoft's answer to Sony's ever-looming Gran Turismo series and needs to demonstrate that the Xbox 360 can handle straight racing with flair and panache whilst bettering its capable predecessor in every respect.
First and foremost, a great racing game needs to deliver a veritable cornucopia of cars and tracks. Forza 3 manages to pack in over 400 licensed drivable vehicles (spanning classic bangers to modern supercars) and 100 race track variants- providing a familiar mix of the famous venues that we're used to drifting around with merry abandon. Just in case the car roster isn't comprehensive enough, players can tune and tweak almost every aspect of their chariots to create the desired balance between raw horsepower, weight and torque.
Driving mechanics are absolutely spot-on, providing distinct and nuanced control for each vehicle. However, Turn 10 have avoided the problem of alienating arcade racers and newcomers by implementing a bevy of scalable driving assists that can be activated depending on your ability. Need a visible racing line? Fancy a hand with braking or gears? No problem. Forza 3 lets you toggle them on or off, providing a driving experience that's as arcadey or as realistic as you want. Further to these concessions, a nifty rewind mechanic allows players to correct poorly-taken corners without having to start the entire race over again. You don't have to use it. But you will.
Let's talk graphics for a minute. Forza 3 is absolutely eyepopping; boasting a genuine sense of speed as well as gorgeous crisp backgrounds and vistas. The cars themselves are beautifully rendered, with real time reflections even visible on the alloy wheels. Admittedly there's a world of crisp difference between 1080i and 1080p, so Elite owners with an HDMI cable and a pricey TV will be able to reap the benefits. Vehicle damage is fairly inconsistent (depending, of course, on whether you've enabled it), but if you crash and burn, there's a good chance that your bonnet will fly off. That's all I'm really looking for.
The singleplayer career is based around a calendar of racing events that lead up to a full season competition- and is nothing less than a work of demented genius. Forza 3 intelligently suggests events that tie in with the player's roster of cars, and rewards performance with both credits and persistent experience points that allow them to rank up and participate in bigger and better races. Not only does the player's driver level increase, but each car can earn experience to unlock new components for use in the tuning garage. It's ruthlessly addictive. In fact, the singleplayer campaign feels more like an epic driving RPG, with new upgrades and components being doled out for sticking with particular vehicles over the duration. The better you get and the more driving assists you disable, the more cash you'll make.
Forza 3 contains the competitive multiplayer racing that you'd expect, with slightly quirky netcode that's bound to be smoothed out in subsequent updates. You'll all race, net persistent points and gain a reputation if that's your bag. However, the online functionality provides far more than just straight racing. Each player has their own persistent online garage that functions as a showcase for their best replays, paint jobs and car tuning files... all of which can be accessed, rated and shared by anyone else. Canny entrepreneurs can even put their items on sale to be auctioned off for in-game credits, providing an incredibly deep metagame that will likely ravage what's left of your free time.
On the other hand, it's worth noting that local multiplayer has been shafted. A maximum of two human and two AI racers can race simultaneously, providing sterile and one-sided affairs that will bore you silly even after a few beers.
Forza 3's mammoth amount of content comes at a steep price. Loading screens are long and frequent- especially if your hard drive is knackered after years of abuse- and exacerbated by the need to install several gigabytes of content before the you get started. You'll spend a significant portion of your time staring at the same old loading screens, which starts as a minor irritation that soon turns into a major bugbear.
- Loads of cars, tracks, tuning options and driving assists
- Horribly addictive singleplayer campaign
- Great vehicle handling and graphics
- Loads and loads of loading
- Small-scale races (8 car max)
- Limited local multiplayer
The Short Version: Forza 3 is the definitive racing game on the Xbox 360. Eyepopping graphics, scaleable gameplay and a ridiculously addictive career mode make Turn 10's latest effort nothing less than an essential purchase. Want to race cars around a track? Own a 360? Buy Forza 3.