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Forza Motorsport 3

Forza

Forza Motorsport games are regarded by most as “serious” racers, about as close to a full-on simulator as a mainstream console is ever going to get. Undoubtedly intended as Xbox’s answer to Gran Turismo on PlayStation, Forza is viewed by many as a solid competitor to Sony’s seminal racer, but there are few who truly believed Microsoft first-party developers Turn 10 could surpass GT’s achievements. Until now…

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To be perfectly frank, the next Gran Turismo is going to have to be absolutely phenomenal to outshine Forza Motorsport 3. It is, quite simply, the finest racing game I’ve ever played. In almost every department it speeds ahead of the pack and leaves its competition eating dust. Project Gotham, Need For Speed, Gran Turismo, insert your favourite racer here, it outstrips them all.

That’s not to say it beats them all in every category. Firstly, there is a distinct lack of variation in the single-player game. Season Play (career mode) only really offers lap-based circuits interspersed with a few point-to-point races, so those looking for drift contests and drag strips are best to search out some online competition in the game’s staggeringly customisable multiplayer. Those with short attention spans (or who simply aren’t racing fanatics) may also find their concentration wandering as they advance to races with nine or more laps.

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“Upon booting the game up, you may hear a loud clunking sound. This is your jaw hitting the floor, and you may as well not bother picking it up for a few hours”

There are also some issues with the A.I. balancing. Those who have been around the block a few times with racers but wouldn’t consider themselves experts may find themselves in something of a quandary when choosing the A.I. level. On medium you may find yourself frequently winning by a ten to twenty second margin on longer races, while on hard you’ll often end up finishing in the middle of the pack. That’s a pretty huge discrepancy, and a skill level somewhere between the two might lead to a few more nail-biting photo-finishes.

These are the only major annoyances to speak of, and they are easy to see past when there’s so much quality on display. And initially, you may not even spot these flaws thanks FM3’s utterly astonishing visuals. Immediately upon booting the game up, you may hear a loud clunking sound. This is your jaw hitting the floor, and you may as well not bother picking it up for a few hours.

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By the time you reach the some of the more scenic stages you’ll already be blown away by FM3’s graphical chops, but it still manages to find an extra gear (the Japan-based tracks are a particular highlight). Simply put, this is the benchmark by which other game’s visuals will be measured, and not necessarily just racers. The sheer attention to detail is incredible, and you may well find minutes of your life speeding past while you gape at menu screens. It is that good. In-game this graphical fidelity is maintained at 60 frames per second without sacrifice, as there is not a hint of slow-down and the draw distance is arguably the best yet seen on a home console. FM3 is as close to photo-realistic as we’ve yet seen, and makes an impressive case to be the best-looking game of all time.

The attention to detail doesn’t stop at the graphics, with Turn 10’s love of all things automotive shining through in myriad ways. From multiple sound recordings for various vehicles on different terrain and road cambers, to the use of real racing drivers’ experience to ensure each track is as accurate as possible, it seems as if no stone has been left unturned in order to ensure everything is as precise as technology will allow. It’s clear that every cent has been rinsed out of the not-inconsiderable budget available to Microsoft’s first-party developers.

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Auto-obsessive

See our upcoming interviews with game director Dan Greenawalt and female Formula 2 driver Natacha Gachnang (the face of FM3 in Europe) for more information on how real drivers influenced the game, and some of the extreme lengths the developers went to to ensure authenticity.

No amount of visual show-offery would suffice if there were no guts under the hood, and thankfully FM3 is an extremely playable racer. Almost every aspect has been enhanced since Forza 2, and the gameplay itself is no exception. Nothing has been dramatically altered, just honed to near-perfection, and it is testament to how balanced a game Turn 10 have created that it’s as much fun trundling along in a Mini as it is screaming round corners in a McLaren F1. There are additional assists such as auto-braking for novices, and it’s clear the developers have tried to create something that appeals to all categories of gamer, rather than just the racing die-hards and petrol-heads that would buy this regardless.

In keeping with this, FM3 “borrows” the rewind feature that is fast becoming de rigueur for any racing game of note (for the uninitiated, think Prince of Persia in a gas-guzzling American muscle car). While some may turn their noses up at this sort of hand-holding in a racing sim, anyone who has ever been in first place throughout a thirty minute endurance race, only to spin out on the final corner and finish last, will surely be thankful for its inclusion. Use it in moderation and you won’t even feel like a low-down, dirty cheat.

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“It’s clear the developers have tried to create something that appeals to all categories of gamer, rather than just the racing die-hards”

FM3 somehow feels a lot less sterile than its predecessors (despite the clinical white menus), and its massive variety of online race types and engrossingly flexible design mode should help to create an even stronger feeling of community this time around. Making and sharing your wacky creations with others is an addictive pastime in its own right, especially when any item you sell contributes credits to your career mode. Earning XP from multiplayer races also helps to create a cohesive package.

With a second installable disc full of additional cars and tracks, there is more than enough content on offer to keep even the most ardent auto-aficionado happy until the promised downloadable content materialises. With over four hundred lovingly realised vehicles to win, buy, trade, customise, tune and race, there’s enough here to glue Jeremy Clarkson to his sofa for months (for which we would all be thankful).

All this just skims the surface, as there are a wealth of new features and multiplayer modes that we’ve barely even touched upon here. If you own an Xbox 360 and have even a passing interest in racing games, this is a no-brainer. If you own a 360 and have zero interest in racers, but love games in general, this is still a title that needs to be seen to be believed. If you don’t own a 360, Forza Motorsport 3 might just be enough to make you buy one, it really is that good. And all this from someone who doesn’t drive, isn’t interested in cars, and is not particularly a fan of racing games…

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in January 2009.

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