November 17, 2009

Forza Motorsport 3 - Xbox 360

Overall Rating: 9.3
Author: The Outcast
Genre: Racing
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone

Microsoft’s Forza series has become one of the premier driving simulators in a very short time. Having started its life on the original Xbox, I remember playing the first iteration of this driving game for many, many hours. Since that time the series has progressed into one great driving-sim and Microsoft has recently released the third chapter of the Forza franchise. I have been playing the game for about a week or so and I have to say that I am duly impressed with what developer Turn 10 has done with the series, as they once again have upped the bar in this genre.

Presentation (9)

Visually, I would have to say that Forza 3 is definitely a looker. The two areas that are most important in a racing game are the cars and the tracks. The cars have been stunningly recreated, right down to each interior. For each one there are your typical racing views including behind the car, bumper, hood and cockpit cam. The latter is new to Forza 3 and it is sharp looking. All the gauges work and there is an amazing amount of detail in all the knobs, buttons, and dash features specific to each car. I know that there are a few videos online showing how much work goes into recreating the vehicles (e.g. Bugatti Veyron video comes to mind) and the final results show. Even more surprising is that the details can even be found in the drivers for each car too. This was very evident to me as I was watching fellow staffer Shad F race. He wanted to tap and spin one of the cars in front of him, and as he did I watched in amazement as the AI driver tried to correct the spin and you could see that he was actually moving the steering wheel in such a way that you could tell he was trying to correct what was happening. It was pretty neat.

As for the tracks, they too are amazing. All 24 environments are solid looking. Personally I was looking forward to seeing the tracks that were new to the Forza franchise, but surprisingly enough I was also caught off guard with how the tracks that had already been featured in previous versions looked so good too. I can’t explain what is different, but when I was racing such well known Forza tracks as Laguna Seca or Road Atlanta, there was just something different about them that made them look enhanced over Forza 2’s versions. I know that the track surfaces themselves were different, and even more realistic, but the rest of these familiar tracks seemed to look better as well. It was nice to see such things as the Ferris Wheel at Suzuka Circuit in Japan actually move this time around. Regardless of what it is, the all the environments look great for old tracks, and new, and the work that went into them really pays off.

Technically speaking Forza 3 is a beast. The framerate is locked in at 60 frames per second and all the cars move silky smooth, no matter what view you play in. There are seven other cars on the track with you and each one moves and reacts to the bumping, grinding, and the corners with individuality. There were no graphic anomalies that I could pick up on either. The collision detection was solid and I did not find any clipping or framerate issues that affected my gameplay experience. Heck, even a pet peeve of mine seems to be gone. The track view in the rearview mirror does not just ‘pop-out’ of view as you race down a long straightaway; in other racing games it does. Overall the use of lighting, shadows and reflections (e.g. off the hood) was impressive and much improved over the Forza 2. This game really does shine in visual department.

As with the visuals, the detail in the sound for the cars and environments is impressive. Each car has its own distinct resonance and you can tell that Team 10 spent a lot of time and care making sure the sound for each vehicle was as accurate as possible. Again, I know that there are videos all over the internet showing what went into recreating the vehicle sounds, and in the end it really does pay off for each and every car. A mid-engine car’s sound is very different from a traditional front engine car. It was nice to hear that the sound of the latter was in the front speakers where as the mid-engine car has the sound from behind the driver. It sounds simple to do, but when done right the effect is immersive.

As for the environments, they too have their own distinct sounds. For example, when I was racing on a particular section of Fujimi Kaido in Japan I passed a large waterfall. As I did the sound of the water crashing to the ground was evident, but as I moved down the track the sound travelled through the various speakers and slowly diminished as I got further away. Interestingly enough, the water from said waterfall flowed down the track as a river and the sound of the running water was heard as I approached the finish line. This is just one specific example of how the environments of each track sound great. From the crowds to the other cars on track, each environment is brought to life and adds to the racing excitement.

Gameplay (9.5)

Forza 3 comes to the table riding the success of the previous release two years ago. As development started on the third version of this series I really wondered where the game’s direction would go. Forza 2 was enough of an improvement over the first in terms of physics and customization, I didn’t think that there was much more wiggle room for enhancement; however I can honestly say that I was wrong.

At E3 in June of this year I got to sit in on a Forza 3 presentation where I was first introduced to some of the details of what was being offered. During that time it was clear to me that Turn 10 was attempting to make a driving simulator that was not only for the hardcore, but for the casual race fan as well. Well, after playing with the game over the past week or so I have to say that Forza 3 does indeed offer the chance for so many different levels of racing fans to play.

What was prominent when first starting is that there is a bevy of options to allow the most novice of driving game fans to have fun. Most notably there is a new assist found called Autobrake. This is exactly what it says as it automatically brakes for you as you drive around. Now this may sound silly to the hardcore racing fan, but for those who don’t know how to find that perfect entry into a tight hairpin turn, this is even more helpful than the well recognized driving line that you can use any Forza title. This Autobrake feature can be considered the ultimate set of training wheels, and they can be turned off when one is comfortable with what they are doing. And like the Autobrake feature, and something most Forza fans already know, you can turn off or leave on other types of assists, as well as turn on some other features, to make this a true driving game (e.g. ABS, Traction Control, Realistic Damage, etc.). Overall Forza 3 brings to the table many different options to make this game as hard or as easy as you like.

Control in Forza 3 is also noteworthy. Racing fans are a fickle bunch and they can be broken up into two camps: controller or racing wheel. Although I cannot comment on the latter I can say that I found Forza 3 very playable using a standard Xbox 360 controller. I found I was able to be take cars through the various tracks with great results. At no time did I find myself cursing at the screen while blaming the control of the game for my fate. Cars controlled very smoothly and I could tell the difference between the various cars as I progressed deeper into the game. Overall I have to commend Turn 10 for developing a racing game that plays so well using a controller as I know a lot of people don’t have the ability (e.g. room) to play with a racing wheel.

Should you find that you can’t keep your car going where you want too, Team 10 has added a new feature in the form of a rewind button. Just hit the back button on the controller and you can rewind from where you messed up. This is a purists nightmare, but a casual racers dream. Purists believe that you shouldn’t be able to rewind as you can't do this in real life; however casual fans enjoy this feature as it can be helpful to someone who does not race that much, virtually speaking. In the end this feature is a nice addition and it is up to you if you want to use it or not.

Something else that is worth commenting on is that the majority of the 400 plus cars that are to be found in this game are available from the start. You heard me right; the majority of the cars are available right from the get-go. That being said, you’ll need to earn in-game credits to buy the really fast cars, but in the end you can buy them when you have the money. I was somewhat amazed how only four hours or so into my career I was able to buy the Audi R8 FSI V10 Quattro, which is a signature car that is also on the cover of the game. If memory serves me right, this car is a bonus for those who pre-ordered the game as well. Anyhow, what I am trying to get at here is that there is no more having to log through hours and hours of gameplay just to get that one particular car you may be looking for. Once again, Turn 10 shows that they have made Forza 3 an accessible game for all those who play it.

There are 24 different track locations such as Spain, Italy, Japan, France as well various settings in the good old US of A. In total there are around 136 total tracks. This total is made of up the various tracks in the game with many of them being found in different configurations. Tracks range from some those in previous Forza games such as New York Circuit, Nurburgring, Road Atlanta, Maple Valley, Mugello or Laguna Seca, to the addition of new ones such as Amalfi Coast (Italy), Camino Viejo de Montserat (Spain), Sedona Raceway (USA), and Iberian International Circuit (Spain). Overall the track selection is staggering. You have access to these right off the get go in the ‘Free Play’ mode found in the main menu.

As with most racing games the Career mode is the meat of Forza 3, and here Turn 10 have made changes for what I believe is the better. The career mode lasts for six seasons with each season getting progressively longer to complete. During each season you are not forced to race a specific series with a specific class of car. Each season does have a class specific bi-weekly championship that takes place each weekend, but in between these championships is the opportunity to race one of three different series of races depending on what you feel like. These three different series actually have a purpose. As you look at each series you will see that you can either race in the car you already are in, you can experience new tracks, or you can experience new cars. With this in mind you control your Forza 3 experience. It is so simple but yet so effective. It adds variety into the game while allowing you to choose your own path. And for those who worry that once you complete your career it is all over, well it is not, as there are over 200 events to compete in and I highly doubt you’ll do all of them first time through. There is some longevity in this area for sure.

The computer AI found in the game is very competent. You will face off against seven other opponents in each series you race. Turn 10 one again employs the “Drivatar” system which has been said to teach the AI to race against your specific racing style, as such it is a different AI for each player who picks up and plays this game. Now I cannot comment on the complexities of such a claim, but what I can comment on is what I faced. The AI was a definite notable presence during the game. At times they would impede my progress as they either found the same line I did or they just didn’t want me to get by. On the other hand, there were times when they were prone to making mistakes too such as going into a corner too fast or making an error when trying to pass. It was pretty neat to watch an AI car in front of me spin out in the grass allowing me to drive on by. Overall the computer AI does have a realistic feel to it, as I have raced friends online in other racing games that act out in the same manner. Of course changing the skill level of the game affects how the AI drivers drive.

As you progress through your career you are rewarded in different ways. The most obvious is in-game credits. These credits can be used to buy new cars as well as upgrades to your existing ones. You are also rewarded with experience points for each race, and as you climb towards the ultimate goal of level 50 you are ‘gifted’ a car each time you level up. These cars are usually one of the more desirable ones found in the game and it is an incentive for you to race one more race in an effort to reach the next level and see what car you maybe gifted next.

Along with the strong single player comes some great multiplayer modes as well. Forza 3 can be played split screen with another player, or you can head onto Xbox LIVE for some true multiplayer action for 2-8 players. I will be focusing on the online play given that is what so many people do nowadays. There are your standard lap races to be found along with elimination types for online play. There are also more specialized race modes such as Cat and Mouse, Timed Races, Point-to-Point, Drift, and Tag. Each of these modes allows the host to set up various features in an effort to fine tune the experience. Of course you can set up your own distinct game types as well allowing you to add AI drivers if there are not enough humans, choose the track, set the teams, type of damage, rewards, etc. There are basic levels of customization for you to choose and you can then dig even deeper into the ‘advanced’ rules allowing you to choose even more options such as starting grid, head starts or locking the types of cars for players to use. Overall the customization in the multiplayer modes is impressive.

As with most driving simulators, Forza 3 offers up a lot of customization options. Of course you can tune your car to your heart’s content. From simple things like swapping out an air filter or set of sparkplugs to adjusting your timing or changing the camber of your suspension, all is present and waiting for the virtual mechanic to weave their magic. Should you be somewhat intimidated in this aspect of Forza 3, there are a couple of different options available to you. The first is the auto-upgrade feature. Here the game offers you a chance to just press the A button for this option before a race and the game will automatically upgrade your car in specific areas to make it the best it can be in for the class you are about to race in. Of course this is not as finely detailed as manually changing specific settings, but this does add parts to your car that you may not have considered that do improve its performance. The other option available to you is the ability to go to the Forza 3 Storefront and purchase tuning set-ups that other Forza 3 owners have put up for sale. Shopping the Storefront in this area may help you find that one tuning set-up for a specific style of track (e.g. test ring or winding road with lots of sharp turns). Be prepared to use your in-game credit though as nothing is for free in the Storefront area. Regardless of how you tune your car, there are different options to allow you to do so, and each of these makes the game more, dare I say, accessible to different levels of gamers.

Returning to Forza 3 is the ability to create custom paintjobs and liveries to give the vehicles in the game some added class or individuality. Of course the tools to do so are back, and in my humble opinion seem the same. That being said, if people purchase the Special Edition of Forza 3 there is supposed to be some added feature sets for those who love to create custom cars. Unfortunately I cannot comment on this as we only received the standard copy of Forza 3 to review. Regardless, there were some great designed cars in Forza 2 so I can only just wait and see what will be done this latest version of the game.

Of course one of the most innovative and well used features of Forza 2 was the auction house. Here the Forza community was introduced to the ability to go and bid on cars. One of the biggest reasons to do this was to get the aforementioned paintjobs and liveries that can be created. Well this year the new Storefront looks to improve on this feature. Instead of having to bid on a whole car, Forza 3 fans will now be able to enter the Storefront and find decals and paintjobs that can be sold just as is. Once purchased you can put these liveries on any car in your own garage. Of course once purchased they are yours and yours only to use. You can also search for designs and other stuff using keywords or by flagging designers who you think are good. All in all this area has also been improved upon.

Recreational Rating (9.5)

I for one found that I enjoyed the Career mode a lot more than I did in Forza 2. The combination of the variety, the freedom to decide my own path, and the whole “what is next” feeling, really did make it a much better experience. It was not as much as a grind this time around. That being said, you will still find that there are times when you will feel like you are plodding along, but this is because the races will get so long that a lot of time will get eaten up finishing them. I think a lot of people will find the career something they will do in chunks, and that this game will last longer because of this as you can’t just race through it (editor’s note: pun not intended).

I did not get a chance to play online nearly as much as I hoped given that the game was not in stores during the time of my reviewing the title, and I really hate going into public rooms with people I do not know. That being said, the few games I did play online were as smooth as silk even prior to the release to the public. I look forward to playing with my online friends in the next few days, and should I encounter any negative aspects online I will add it here, but I do not foresee any issues in this area.

Buy It – Try It – Forget It

Forza 3 is by far one of the most accessible racing simulators ever released onto the masses. The amount of assist options available makes this game playable for any level of racing fan, from those who don’t play at all to those who play too much. The improvements to the career mode are also noticeable too as they allow you to feel like you have some control in your progression. Turn 10 has done a great job of improving on an already great product and I have no problem telling all of you out there to head down to your local videogame store and pick this game up as you won’t be disappointed at all.

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