Forza Motorsport 3 is a beast that is both beautiful and frustrating at the same time, one with different faces dancing between the sublime and the ridiculous. As a veteran of racing sims, I held high hopes for Turn 10’s third foray into the cutthroat world formerly dominated by Gran Turismo and Project Gotham Racing. On paper, Forza 3 appears to have the weaponry required to gun the opposition down, packing nearly 400 fully customizable cars and over 100 different track variants.
The game’s career mode is divided into car classes, and you need to complete a certain number of races to climb the class ladder and eventually land in the world championship. In other words, don’t expect to hop into a Ferrari until you’ve worked your way up to it. Cars are awarded as prizes as you gain driving experience, and can also be purchased from the in-game or online store. Each race is restricted to a certain class to keep everything fair for all involved.
Forza 3 features an absolutely cracking customization system. If you want to get your hands dirty in the world of shock absorbers and brake pads, feel free. However, if you simply want to tune your car so that it’ll be competitive in a specific event, a quick upgrade option does the trick for the less mechanically minded. The ability to get through the game with fewer cars by constantly upgrading makes the whole experience all the more accessible.
Car handling has been given some much needed attention in this model, as all of the vehicles have considerable weight to them. Like other sim-racers, when you’re taking corners at a brisk speed, the back end feels twitchy and every ounce of your concentration is fully involved in stopping the vehicle before it spins off of the tarmac. The handling is great overall, but is also the point at which we begin to see the cracks bust their way through Forza 3’s shiny coat of paint.
As soon as you boot up the game, you are required to go through a test race that determines your innate driving ability. Given that I have a fair bit of experience in simulation racers, Forza 3 set me on medium. This setting illuminates a continuous racing line on the track (which showed me when to turn, speed up, and slow down) and also offers heavy braking assistance to keep me from crashing. By doing this, the game essentially becomes an exercise in keeping your finger on the gas and aiming the car in the right general direction, as most of the challenge is completely removed. On top of that, the developers have added rewind function that allows you to pull back time and correct any misjudged corners or messy collisions that occurred, and enforces no penalty for doing so. While it’s possible to tweak these assists and make the game trickier, the increased difficulty isn’t at all proportionate to the rewards offered. Forza 3 seems to actively want to help you in any way that it can. While this is great for inexperienced or younger players, it leads to an exceptionally stifling environment for the racing veterans among us, as there is zero penalty for utilizing all of these assists.
Racers of the past have shied away from damage modeling, mainly because car manufacturers worry about letting players see dented and scarred representations of their pride and joys. Forza 3 shows us exactly why these cars should have stayed damage-proof, as the vehicle degredation is poorly implemented and never feels convincing or true in any way. You can get away with quite a lot of bumper car action without any real need to worry about losing control of your ride, and the financial penalties for doing so are minimal enough to be ignored.
While Turn 10 may have had a rough time balancing the driving aspects of the game, they were clearly up to the challenge of improving the stunning visual presentation of their previous jaw-dropping racers. The car models are detailed to a degree that has simply not been seen in any other racer. This is especially appreciated when switching between camera angles, as everything from the smallest switch or dashboard knob to the design of the radiator grill and exhaust are clearly defined. This slavish devotion to detail carries on with the tracks, all of which are simply glorious to look at. From the autumnal red of the trees at Maple Raceway to the banked hell of the Nurburgring’s Carousel, courses feel accurate and precise. Considerable effort is required to avoid being distracted by the landscapes zooming by.
What we are left with in Forza 3 is a game that I think a lot of people will love (especially those looking for “my first racer”), but also one that will disappoint hardcore sim fans like myself. There is a lot to praise here, but the contiuous hand-holding and clinical presentation stand in stark opposition to the delightful handling and dazzling visuals. As such, I feel rather disappointed to be awarding this game…