The McDreamy of racing sims.
The Forza Motorsport series is like the geeky hero of a teen comedy. If Forza 1 and 2 were the opening acts of the movie where we witness the hero’s earnest—but awkward—behavior, Forza 3 is the startling makeover into a preppy hunk. The first two games worked hard and impressed everyone, but never were as stylish or bulky as their peers. Exit the dweeb wearing glasses and enter the wholesome heartthrob wearing contacts.
[image1]Despite its flashy exterior, Forza Motorsport 3 is still the same game beneath its new upscale clothing. You’ll find many of the same cars and courses, and in the same vast numbers. You’ll still be increasing your driver level via experience points. The Auction House, now called the Storefront, is still open for business. Multiplayer functionality is nearly identical. Car models and track environments look indistinguishable from those in Forza 2. Almost every feature that existed in Forza 2 has survived the transition intact, but it’s now all presented in a slicker, cleaner interface.
While the new duds are a nice treat for returning fans, they’ve clearly been donned for the sake of improving accessibility to those new to the franchise. The single-player career now employs a simplified menu structure. Free play and online play include the entire collection of cars from the get-go with no need to unlock anything. Upgrades can be done automatically with no need to tinker and fine tune. Driving assists keep everyone on even footing. You can even hire drivers to race for you. Everything’s been streamlined and pared down to make hopping into Forza 3 as gentle and welcoming an experience as possible.
The physics modeling has also undergone an overhaul for the benefit of newcomers. Turn 10 has filtered out most of the bad behavior from their vehicles while retaining all of their friendlier qualities. Individual cars still feel like themselves with all of their weight characteristics but have few of their expected quirks. Even with all of the assists turned off, tires have a bit too much grip, and acceleration is too consistent. Nonetheless, Forza 3’s physics are convincing. It might not be driving in its purest form, but it still manages to be technically demanding.
If the more forgiving physics don’t keep you out of the gravel, the new rewind feature will. Unlike rewind in Grid and Dirt 2, you can use Forza 3’s rewind button as much as you want and go as far back in the race as you want without consequence. You lose nothing by rewinding and can use it as often as you please. It’s nice to have and takes nothing away from the challenge.
[image2]The in-game graphics don’t substantially improve what was in the prior entry, and so they've been outpaced by the visuals of almost every current gen racer out there. Damage modeling isn’t dynamic or realistic, and the cockpit view brings nothing to the driving experience; both features are obviously just paying lip-service to fan demand. But make no mistake, Forza 3 does look good and runs at a silky smooth 60fps, but so did Forza 2 when it was released over two years ago.
Aurally, Forza 3 fares even worse. Sound is key in a racing game, but here it’s an afterthought. Compared to the stunning sound design in Need for Speed: Shift which layered engine sound, tire sound, and opponent car sounds beautifully, Forza 3 sounds flat and dull. You’ll recognize distinct engine sounds, but with none of the visceral force that translates the horsepower of your vehicle. Since you can’t feel the road in a sim racer, your tires should constantly be communicating to you through the sounds they make, but they’re mostly silent in every vehicle.
Obnoxiously, Turn 10 has also chosen to show you the VIP content you can’t access unless you purchased one of the limited editions. This means that in the lists of cars, you’ll see a big padlock symbol over five of the cars. There’s no word as to whether these will ever be made available to others via DLC in the future, so in the meantime you’ll have to stare at those vehicles longingly with little hope of ever acquiring them. It’s a small gripe, but for those with the collection bug, it’ll pain you to no end.
Despite these shortcomings, the Forza series continues to impress with its wealth of multiplayer offerings. This has always been one of its strengths against their competitors, and it’s the case again in Forza 3. There are multiple pages’ worth of customizations and conditions to set for a single race, a half a dozen different race types, and multiple classes in each type. Matchmaking is a breeze, split-screen is available, and you have the option to spectate while you wait in a lobby for the next race.
[image3]Problematically, however, there’s no disincentive to ram other players off the road in multiplayer. The beginning of nearly every race is a chaotic mess of sideswipes and T-bones. If you survive the chaos, you’ll end up in the lead for the rest of the race. If you don’t, you’ll be playing constant catch-up. Collision has been a thorn in the side of online racing sims for years, but other games have at least attempted to implement solutions. Without any penalty system in place, there’s no reason not to resort to bumper car tactics.
Like Forza 2’s Auction House before it, the Storefront is the flesh and blood of the Forza 3 community. This is where you can use in-game credits to buy and sell custom liveries. You’ll also be able to buy and sell tuning setups, photos, and replay videos. The content depends entirely on the community, so this will certainly evolve and improve over time. More than any other feature, the Auction House is what kept Forza 2 alive and kicking for so long. It’s inevitable that the same will hold true for Forza 3’s more feature-rich Storefront.
Like a racer from Stepford, Forza Motorsport 3 is clean, well-manicured, friendly, does everything you want it to, and yet it all seems a bit… eerily familiar. Beneath the handful of smart accessibility improvements and slick menus, it’s still the same game as Forza 2. That’s not a bad thing since the series is among the best; it’s just not anything new. Regardless, the gentle physics and sexy presentation ensure that the community will continue to grow, and the custom livery folks are sure to find plenty of eager customers. Even if Forza 3 doesn’t push the envelope, the sheer wealth of content makes this a must for both serious and casual racing fans.