With Need For Speed taking a decidedly more sim based approach earlier this year with SHIFT, and Sony's Gran Turismo 5 still some months away from release, Microsoft and Turn 10 have just made the new Forza Motorsport available to race fans everywhere. Not to be outdone by any racing title available now and even perhaps in the future, Forza 3 is a remarkably complete and fully competent package that deserves your attention whether you're in the niche target audience or not.
Zoom Zoom...for everyone
The line between arcade racer and simulator are starting to blur. There will always be your Burnout and GT games at opposite ends of the spectrum, but I really noticed a convergence with SHIFT earlier this year. I wasn't expecting to see the same out of Forza 3, but I immediately realized that Turn 10 has made a concerted and well played effort to capture more than just the hardcore sim audience with Forza 3. A variety of optional toggles, tweaks, features, and gameplay design make this a racer that anyone can immediately enjoy. Or well, almost immediately -- it's a good idea at first launch to drop in the second disc for a content install that can take up to 3GB of space. In my setup, it only required 1.9GB, but the box suggests it may take up to 3GB, so bear that in mind. That said, the process is painless and only takes about ten minutes; installing this content cuts down on load times which aren't too bad after the content installed. Roughly, from the moment you press to Start Race until the race is ready to begin, you're looking at about thirty seconds.
Once the installation is complete, a questions pops up on screen and asks you to rate your racing game experience: Casual, Regular, or Serious. Without a second thought, I chose Regular, and in doing so, various settings were automatically set for me. Driving Assists are adjustable at any time, and they have a tremendous impact on not only the feel of the game, but also in the amount of Credits awarded for each race in Season mode. For example, if you prefer to leave the Brake Assist, Driving Line, and Traction Control System enabled, the amount of Credit you earn per event is dramatically reduced compared to another player who has all of those options disabled. Other Assists include transmission type, antilock breaks, tire wear, and fuel depletion. What effect these Assists have on your earnings is easily determined in the screen where you toggle these options. Each toggle adds or subtracts a small percentage of your total earnings, with some values only making a 5% difference while others will make a 15% difference.
Having played a lot of racing titles over the years and knowing what I wanted out of my Forza experience, I set my Assists at the start of my career and have yet to look back. The challenge from the AI race-in and race-out is nearly perfect, if not somewhat repetitive, an idea I'll elaborate on later in this article. That said, Credits -- used to purchase new vehicles and available upgrades -- and XP are the key to progressing through the game's library of vehicles and tracks.
There are over 400 licensed vehicles from some fifty worldwide manufacturers including Ford, Alfa Romeo, McClaren, Porsche, Audi, Fiat, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Land Rover, Dodge, Volvo, GM, Lotus -- I could go on, but you get the idea. It's highly unlikely that someone couldn't find at least one, if not two dozen, dream cars from this collection. Granted, it's going to take several hours to start getting those typical dream cars, and several
more to get the top end rides, but the journey is a fun one.
XP is earned along with Credits during races. XP goes towards increasing your Driver and Car Level, and the amount earned is tallied up and displayed at the end of a race. Each new Driver Level nets you a free car from a manufacturer. You never know what the car might be, although usually it's going to be your new "best" vehicle. Generally speaking, the Driver Level represents your skill, experience, and overall record of racing that you've achieved throughout your career. Hardcore Forza players will work their way up to the max Level 50, earning lots of juicy Achievement points -- and all of the amazing cars -- along the way.
Car Level maxes out at level 5, and unlocks additional upgrade options for your vehicle or vehicles. These upgrade options are granted from the manufacturer and allow you to increase the performance of some or several aspects of your car(s). Furthermore, these earned but optional upgrades can often be applied to several of your vehicles if they are made in the same region. Forza minimizes confusion in this respect by clearly stating which vehicles can be upgraded at the time when the new Car Level is awarded.
Not interesting in fine tuning your vehicles? Would you prefer to just select a "Quick Upgrade" option and reap the rewards? Me too, to be honest. While enthusiasts have all of the technical options to tweak tire pressure and differentials and all that good stuff that I respect but don't understand, players can also just Quick Upgrade their vehicles in between races. From the pre-race menu, the Quick Upgrade option brings up a very concise list of changes available for your currently selected car. Upgrades include alterations to car weight, acceleration, horse power, and so forth. If you've got the funds to cover the upgrade and have the desire, a couple of button presses is all you need to boost the performance of your vehicle.
Editor, Online, Offline
Forza 3 also includes a robust customization tool that lets gamers create various art and designs that can be applied to vehicles. I haven't spent a lot of time with the editor as I'm much more interested in racing than creating, but from what I've experienced and read, this isn't a tacked on feature. It's a robust tool that requires some effort to learn, but the reward can be very satisfying.
Designs can be "sold" to the online Forza community and leaderboards show which designers are the most popular It's an impressive utility that ensures you can make your ride stick out online when playing against others, but it may not be for everyone.
Speaking of online/multiplayer, you can hit the track with up to seven other racers over Live, and with a friend in local splitscreen action. A variety of options is available to customize your race type from elimination to circuit to drag racing and others, and in play testing to this point, everything has ran smoothly for the most part. I've spent the vast majority of my time in the Season mode, and I'm not familiar with the online history of Forza to this point. From what I've gathered on several forums and comments online, long time Forza afficandos aren't liking the multiplayer of Forza 3 compared to the two previous Forza titles. Your mileage may very (no pun intended), but it's worth noting. Despite some grumbles, there's little doubt that a very strong online community will grow which means there will be plenty of competition out there for a long time to come.
That said, the single player mode has more than enough going on to keep you busy. A Free Play and Events mode lets you dabble with different tracks and cars, but the most rewarding and fleshed out mode is Season. In Season, you begin your career with an E class car -- for me, it was a Scion hatchback, although I had the option of about a dozen other similarly humble vehicles. It's a good idea to save up your Credits until at least a Class D vehicle is earned, which doesn't take very long to get. Upgrading lower end cars isn't very useful in that you don't use those lower end cars much after the first couple of hours. Anyway, Season is made up of Events and Championship races, and is based off of a calendar system in which players choose Events to fill up their weekdays and then engage in Championship Series on Sundays.
Events include a wide variety of types and restrictions and take place across more than 100 real world race tracks. Most Events take several days of your virtual calendar to complete and include three or four races each. Event types include circuit, oval, drag, drift, and timed, and the restrictions on different Events keep things interesting. Restrictions include criteria where only certain class or certain types or models of cars can participate, for example.
Playing through the lengthy season does get somewhat monotonous, although while its noticeable from time to time, it certainly isn't a constant. What made the Events seem monotonous to me was the track design and the way most races simply flowed. While there are a wide variety of tracks, most feel pretty darn similar, ultimately. Keep in mind I'm coming from a more arcade, open world racing background where the environment is a big part of the presentation, whereas in sim racing its more about vehicle performance. As far as the AI, I couldn't help but notice that an awful lot of my races boiled down to a battle between the top three spots. Like most racing titles, each race had me starting off in the last position, eight of eight, but within seconds of launch, I was up to position three or four. For the rest of the race, it was basically me and two other AI racers while the rest of the pack stayed largely out of sight. Commit any significant mistake however, and the AI will pounce on the opportunity to pass you like a donkey eating a waffle.
Making a mistake in a sim racer isn't very hard to do, but the results could be irreparable, rendering a placing finish impossible. Turn 10 recognizes this fact and offers players a Rewind feature that we've seen in a handful of other racers over the years including the recent Dirt 2 and older Need For Speed titles, like Most Wanted. The Rewind function is available at any time, and players can rewind the race as far back as they desire. To Rewind, simply press the Back button and the game will seamlessly rewind the action back a few seconds at a time. I noticed that the game was smart enough to know when I was rewinding out of a bad turn, so it rewound further than it might if I just got bumped in a straight away, which I thought was cool. Rewinding may seem cheap, and for purely competitive purposes it is, but for a more casual/regular racing gamer like me, it's an excellent feature. I realize that I'm going to make a mistake, often an unrecoverable mistake, and rather than having to deal with a loss or restart the race from scratch, I appreciate that option to fix my mistake if I choose. The hardcore crowd may not agree, but they'll be happy to know that the Rewind function is completely optional and that online leaderboards make note of what Assists (including Rewind) were used for posted scores.
There's a lot going on in Forza 3, but the entire package is encapsulated in three very important wrappers: solid gameplay, great controls, and an excellent presentation. Keeping in mind the changes that Assists can make to the experience, driving in Forza feels great. Different cars look, sound, and behave differently. Differences are noted in the car's Performance Index, an easy to read stat sheet, but more importantly, you can really feel the difference behind the wheel. I was also impressed with the damage models and how they altered the game. I recall one particular event where I literally busted a Ford Focus engine due to my less than optimal manual gear shifting. A visual indicator popped up on my HUD to tell me that that damage was being sustained to the transmission, and sure enough, during the last lap, the engine gave out. Black smoke poured out, and I could only get 47MPH out of the once proud Focus.
Button mappings are pretty standard with Accelerate mapped to the Right Trigger, Braking set to Left Trigger, handbrake to A, camera toggle to the Right Bumper, Look Behind to Y, and slightly unusual are Gear Up to B and
Gear Down to X. As someone who likes to (think they can) drive a manual transmission, it took me several races to get used to the Gear Up/Down button placement.
In terms of presentation, Forza looks great. I liked the clean, simple, and functional menus that permeate every part of the game. The in-game visuals are fluid and gorgeous. Car models are just a little bit glossy, i.e., too shiny, but they look great otherwise. You can tell a tremendous amount of effort went into the detail of making the cockpits realistic and true to life, although admittedly I chose the Close Chase camera view over the cockpit view. Outside of the forgettable soundtrack, Forza's audio is also excellent. The soundtrack is comprised of a variety of modern day artists, but you know what? You're going to hear, and enjoy, the roar of the engines much more than the music. Other effects -- cars trading paint, tires squealing, and so forth -- are nicely done.
Nicely done just about sums it up...speaking of which, lets get to that summary...