While PlayStation 3 owners have their patience tested to the limit by the continual non-arrival of Gran Turismo 5 (confirmed arrival in Japan is now March 2010), it’s given Microsoft a window of opportunity to sneak its Forza franchise into the lead. And Forza 3 is some piece of work, a glorious-looking racing game that works hard to appeal to gamers of all ability levels.
The game arrives on two discs, the second of which contains optional bonus content. You need to install this to your 360′s hard drive, and it’ll eat up 1.9GB of space. In return, you get far more cars to choose from, so if you’ve got the room and don’t mind waiting five minutes or so for it all to load up, it’s hard to grumble.
Once you’re in, you’re asked to choose your degree of racing game experience (casual, regular and serious are offered), and that then filters just how tricky the game itself will be, and how much help you will get. The help arrives in the form of on-screen assists, such as an ideal driving line and colour coding to alert you when to break, and these do perhaps simplify things a little too much at times. Long term, it’s not a good idea to keep them switched on.
That said, Burnout-esque tactics aren’t welcome in Forza, and while the earlier races you tackle allow you to get away with many rough edges around your driving technique, the game soon looks for a more disciplined drive if you want to finish first and bring home valuable funds for upgrades.
The game boasts 400 fully upgradeable cars, and it’s the vehicles in your garage that determine which races you’ll be eligible for. Coupled with over 100 tracks, there’s a mountainous challenge to battle through, and no quibbles whatsoever over the lifespan of the game, or the value for money you’ll be getting.
The astounding number of variables that Forza offers you is simply incredible. Every car can be minutely tuned and the upgrades you can buy allow you to transform, over time, even the most sluggish of beasts. And car handling is pronounced through the game, as you move between different types of vehicles. Granted, that’s commonplace in many racing games today, but few have Forza’s polish. And few rewarding the tinkering that Forza positively encourages quite so well.
Then there’s the visuals. We fully expect Gran Turismo to fire back with some stunning high definition graphics of its own, but right now, Forza 3 is surely the best looking racing game on the planet. At times it simply looks outright staggering, with only a very slight judder here and there even hinting that it’s giving the frame-rate any trouble.
What’s ultimately the crowning triumph of Forza Motorsport 3, though, is how good it makes on its promise to offer something for everyone. There are enough assists here to make sure that no driver feels out of their depth and, refreshingly, this is done without compromise to the challenge at the top end of the game.
Granted, when it comes to the racing itself you won’t be witnessing many fresh innovations, and you can debate just how much of a leap forward it is over Forza 2. But the fact remains that Forza Motorsport 3 is an excellent console racing game, and one that’s set to keep gamers gripped to their 360 for a long time to come.