For years, Gran Turismo has served as the king of the racing simulation genre. But with the birth of Microsoft’s Forza series, Polyphony Digital encountered a serious competitor. The original Forza might have fallen short of Gran Turismo, but with each iteration, the franchise is coming closer and closer to de-throning the iconic PlayStation racing sim. Indeed, Forza 3 is the best installment in Turn 10 Studio’s series yet.
Graphics may not be the most important aspect of a game, but when it comes to a racing simulator, they’re integral. Forza 3 looks even better than its predecessor; with better lighting, textures, more realistic car models and picturesque courses. However, the game doesn’t look outrageously better than its predecessor. There are improvements, but they appear minor overall. For example, when it comes to vehicle damage, graphically, things haven’t advanced much, which is a little disappointing.
The same can be said about the game as a whole, actually. But that’s really more of a compliment than it is an insult. If you loved Forza and Forza 2, you’re nearly guaranteed to adore Forza 3. It delivers more of the same great racing that its predecessors did – loads and loads more of it. There are over 400 vehicles to choose from in the game, all of which are unlocked from the very beginning (but must be purchased with credits). You’ll find vehicles from BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Infiniti, Porsche, Honda, Nissan and several other manufactures. Like before, the car selection is impressive and will put a smile on the face of any car enthusiast. The same is true of the course selection. When it comes to courses, you’ll find plenty of familiar favorites, not to mention a good selection of new courses to familiarize yourself with.
Forza 3 isn’t a lazy sequel – it does have some notable improvements. One area of Forza 3 that is considerably different than before is the game’s single-player campaign mode: Season Play. It’s flexible, molding itself around whichever car you have selected, so you won’t be forced to race in class races that you have no interest in. Rather, the races that are available to choose from are based on your current car. This is a vast improvement over typical racing sim campaign modes in which you’re forced to play through each class type to progress.
Another addition Forza 3 makes to the series is the much-needed inclusion of an in-car view. Frankly, I’m not sure how you can put out a serious racing sim without an in-cockpit view, but Turn 10 Studios has been doing so from the beginning of the series, and it’s been disappointing. Thankfully, Forza 3 changes that. The view looks great, as expected, and it’s much appreciated.
One of the big problems with racing games — especially with ones like Forza 3, in which the races can be quite lengthy – is holding first-place position up until the end of a race, only to make a silly mistake and lose it all. Forza 3 has addressed this issue by including a rewind feature that lets you rewind the game at any point, letting you recover from any idiotic mistakes. As you can imagine, the feature is incredibly useful. That noted, it does act as a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it saves you from the frustrating experience of racing for several laps only to screw up and have to do it all again. But on the other, it makes the game much, much easier. You’ll rarely lose a race – that is unless you consciously choose not to use the rewind feature.
Once you’ve mastered Season Play – which I suspect few will do, considering just how much of it there is, there’s the online portion of the game to jump into. The Forza online community has always been great, and Forza 3 will likely continue that tradition. There are several modes here, ranging from point-to-point racing to cat-and-mouse. Forza 3’s lasting appeal is huge thanks to its online mode.
For the most part, Forza 3 is great. But there are a couple of issues. The artificial intelligence is lacking, which is a reoccurring problem with racing sims. There are three difficulty settings -easy, normal, hard – for the AI, but the settings don’t change the fact that the computer-controlled opponents feel like just that: computer-controlled. The AI usually drives the same way, as if it’s following an invisible line. Also, the same driver usually offers the most competition or wins the race entirely, while the other drivers offer little challenge to speak of.
Another problem with Forza 3 is that, like in Forza 2, the races towards the end of Season Play become pretty lengthy. You really have to be a pretty passionate car enthusiast to enjoy some of these longer races. For the rest of us, going around the same track for twenty minutes just becomes repetitive.
What’s more, unless you’re an extreme racing fan, if you’ve played the other Forza games (and even the Gran Turismo series), you might find what Forza 3 has to offer a little too familiar. What’s here is excellent, but it’s not exactly fresh or original at this point. Between the Forza and Gran Turismo series, I feel like I’ve driven many of these cars and raced around many of these tracks enough times that it’s just not as exciting as it once was. At this point, it feels like I’m relying on graphical upgrades to really wow me and draw me back in. And, unfortunately, Forza 3 lacks that visual leap forward to accomplish that. This may or may not be an issue for you.
Bottom Line: It may be more of the same, but if you’re into racing sims, you’ll cherish Forza 3. It’s an exceptionally well-made racer – one that will keep you entertained for a long, long time.
Recommendation: Fans of the racing genre and car enthusiasts in general. This is a must-play for any racing fan, really.
Phillip Levin is a freelance video game journalist who has been writing about games for eight years. He lives in Southern California and writes for numerous publications.