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The Biggest Yet
Simulation racing games have become serious business. A huge amount of work goes into attempts to make all of the virtual cars in driving games feel as realistic as possible. Real cars are put on dynos and tracks to record their sounds and characteristics.
And it doesn't stop there. Ten years ago, racing games had perhaps 10 tracks and 10 cars with one or two racing modes. Forza 3, by contrast, has 400 cars, over a hundred track configurations, and all kinds of game modes including drifting and drag racing.
But with expansion comes risk. Risk that the core values of the game will be devalued. Risk that Forza Motorsport 3 will be a jack of all trades and master of none. Does it still have the magic? Let's take an in-depth look into the Forza 3 racing games franchise to see if this one really lives up to the rest.
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It is instantly clear that the single player career mode of Forza 3 has been dramatically altered from that of Forza 2 racing games. The new career mode involves seasons. In each season, the player goes through various events which are arranged on a calender. Every two weeks on the calender the player is entered into a World Championship race, a longer, more difficult race with no restrictions besides class. Between each championship race the player is given a choice between somewhat random events aimed to give the player options which will encourage learning new cars and tracks.
The new season system is, in some ways, vastly superior to that of Forza 2. There is a better sense of progression to Forza 3, and players can move up through the classes more quickly. The world championships are very rewarding due to their length and challenge. On the other hand, the linear progression sometimes forces the player into places they may not want to be. For example, I'm not that interested the R class cars. I prefer to tear about in a vehicle I will see on the street. The world championships don't make any accommodations for this, however. It is quite annoying, and I occasionally find myself longing for the older format.
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Just as in Forza 2, Forza 3 offers players a huge number of online options. Players can compete in all manner of events. Some events are realistic, such as the racing, drag, and drift modes. Forza 3 also includes just-for-fun modes as well, such as several game modes which are variations on the game of tag. The various game modes go a long way towards making Forza 3 all games to all people, and a good game cat and mouse is just as much fun as a white-knuckle race.
The community features are there, as well, and have been improved upon with a few new options. One big improvement is the vinyl editor. Forza 3 uses layers of shapes, called vinyls, to paint cars. In Forza 2, these could be only be edited on cars, so it was hard to make ones which could be applied generally to any car. Forza 3 fixes that. It also uses a more logical and easier to navigate storefront system with enhanced search features.
Even the multiplayer lobby is more logical and easier to use. The only real flaw is that Forza 3 has shipped without the ability to search for any class of race below A class. This is an odd oversight, as many people like racing the less capable cars, but there are rumors that this will be patched in the future. In any case, it is only a minor flaw in what is otherwise a multiplayer experience easily on par with what Halo 3 offers for shooter fans.
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As good as the single and multiplayer options are in Forza 3, they would be worthless if driving Forza 3's huge number of cars wasn't satisfying. The most important part of any racing simulation is the feel of the virtual rubber meeting the virtual road.
It becomes easily apparent, even after a single lap, that Forza 3 is massively superior to not only Forza 2, but every other console racing simulator ever made. There are two kinds of realism in racing simulators. Physics realism is responsible for making sure the virtual car can't do anything they wouldn't be able to do in real life. Racing simulators have been doing this well for years now.
The other part of realism is reproducing the feel of driving a car. When driving a sports car, the driver feels the weight of the steering, feels the vibration of the engine, feels the suspension reacting to bumps and flaws in the road. This is more difficult to reproduce, but Forza 3 is the best attempt so far. Car control using the normal Xbox 360 controller is so responsive that you might find yourself confused the next time your step into a real car and find a steering wheel in front of you.
If you choose to use an actual racing wheel the immersion borders on insane. Everything is communicated. If the brakes lock, you feel it. If the back end starts to come around, you feel it. If you're accelerating too hard and the wheels can't get grip, you feel it. Its the closest most of us will ever get to racing.
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Graphics and Sound
Forza 3 is a testament to what optimization can do for a game. Forza 3 runs on the exact same hardware as did Forza 2, and on the same basic game engine, but it looks as if it is running on an entirely different console. The cars are incredible - although that really goes without saying for a game of this type. More impressive is the tracks themselves, which are a huge improvement over the barren wastelands found in Forza 2. The general look and feel of the game's interface is also much improved. Unlike Need for Speed: Shift, Forza 3's interface is a beautiful exercise in minimalism.
The sound, on the other hand, leaves me feeling a bit cold. Forza 3's cars sound accurate, but they lack the character found in Need for Speed: Shift. Specifically, cars in Shift burble and cackle, giving them realistic character. The cars in Forza 3 sound clinical and distant by comparison. Music is also an issue in Forza 3. While the simple menu music is soothing to listen to, most of the in-race tracks are absolute trash. This isn't a huge deal, as listening to the music of the cars themselves is often enough, but it makes me wonder why they bothered at all.
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Forza 3 is the best racing simulation ever made for the console. While it isn't as technically realistic as some of the best PC racing simulators, it makes up for it by being more attractive to look at, offering a huge variety of cars and tracks, and outstanding multiplayer gameplay. If you're looking for a new racing game, this is what you want to buy.