Playing Forza Motorsport 3 brought to mind a question I raised while reviewing a previous entry into the genre of realism-based simulation racing games, Superstars V8 Racing: is the racing simulation genre a ‘solved problem’?
Only now the question becomes even more vehement as Forza Motorsport 3 enters the market. With a wealth of features, content and improvements over the last instalment, as well as an overall theme of customisability that extends to virtually every aspect of the experience to ensure players of all skill levels can play, is Forza Motorsport 3 the ultimate racing simulator?
Just judging by the extensive, rich features and overwhelming amount of content alone, you would be well on the way to thinking such a thing could be true.
With over 400 cars (including every car type in the spectrum, from sporty to hatchback to muscle to utility vehicles), over two dozen tracks (ranging from beautifully recreated real-world locations, colourful and detailed developer imagined courses and hardly noticeable reversed tracks), hundreds of events in career mode (split up over a calendar year with special class- and manufacturer-based races during the week, and championship races over the weekend), a fully-featured multiplayer mode (both split-screen and online) and a free play option (to test out loads of the cars and tracks on offer), all squeezed onto two DVDs filled to the brim, Forza 3 definitely meets (and exceeds) the minimum requirements as far as content is concerned.
As for features, Forza 3 includes everything other racers in its class (both realism- and arcade-based) have on offer, such as a levelling system that sees you gain experience points based on your in-game achievements, increasing your levels for not only your profile, but individual cars as well, earning new cars from manufacturers and monetary discounts on parts when you decide to upgrade those cars.
The upgrade system in Forza 3 exemplifies the overall theme of customisability and approachability present in the game. For the motor heads, you’re able to pick and choose individual parts to buy and upgrade (with money earned during racing) to improve your vehicle’s performance and change its class in order to enter different race events, as well as change and tweak individual settings for each part to your heart’s content and eke out every last drop of performance from those parts.
For the casual racing enthusiast, or those of use not au fait with the inner workings of real life motor vehicles, you’re able to simply select the ‘auto upgrade’ option and let the game choose the optimum parts and settings for your car. While this makes it a lot easier to get down to the act of racing, it does cut out the countless hours of tweaking that racing enthusiasts enjoy, but is a simple necessity to actively invite non-hardcore racing gamers into the experience.
To further invite players into the game, and provide a softer introduction to the experience, Forza 3 includes a ‘rewind’ feature (as seen in some of Codemaster’s games, such as Racer Driver: GRID and Colin McRae: DiRT 2) which allows you to correct moment-to-moment mistakes made while racing by rewinding a few seconds into the action, and then continuing on with the knowledge of your mistake, this time making sure to take the next corner more slowly, or beware of an opponent trying to make dangerous overtaking manoeuvres.
This rewind feature, while a welcome addition, isn’t limited in any way, which can lead to a bit of abuse, with the temptation of rewinding every time the slightest mistake is made becoming ever-present. In Colin McRae: DiRT 2, for example, the ability to rewind was limited in the number of times you could use it, which introduced a bit of strategy and back-of-the-mind thought processes to proceedings as you actively summed up the extent of your mistake (or crash) and decided whether it was worth using one of your limited rewinds, or continuing on with the race. Forza 3 could have used a bit of this limitation, but as it stands, it’s up to players to decide when, where and how it’s utilised.
Continuing the theme of improved accessibility and customisation of your personal racing experience, Forza 3 allows players to toggle all kinds of racing aids, such as braking assists, showing the optimum racing line, difficulty settings, and more, to tailor the level of challenge that you’re comfortable with. What’s great about Forza 3’s implementation of this system is that the more racing aids you turn off, the more cash you earn per race, effectively rewarding players to challenge themselves, while simultaneously ensuring less skilled players don’t feel overtly punished for taking advantage of the game’s built-in help systems.
If these new innovations and customisation options weren’t enough to edge Forza 3 in front of its competitors, the game includes one of the most comprehensive skin (or ‘vinyl’) editors available in any game yet released, racer or not. Forza 3 allows you to create your own custom decals to slap on your cars, or just use the enormous amount of included decals to splash a bit of colour onto the body. With a little time and patience, you have the opportunity to create almost any image you can think of with which to adorn your vehicle of choice.
If you think your vinyl creation is something of a masterpiece, you’re able to sell your creation on Forza 3’s built-in online store (for in-game credits, not real money), or if you think you’ve tuned a particular car to optimum performance, you can choose to sell that, too. The store also serves as a place to show off race replays you may have saved, or photos you’ve taken in the game that you think have captured a noteworthy event, providing players with a number of opportunities to show off their artistic and racing talent.
To top everything off, Forza 3’s actual racing gameplay (you know, what you’ll be doing 90 per cent of the time) is at the top of its class, with realistically handling cars and differentiation between vehicles manifesting in the way they each feel and sound drastically different from one another, while each car is exquisitely detailed, down to the last curve.
If there were any nitpicks to point out, there are a few issues with Forza 3’s artificial intelligence (AI) powering your your opponents in career mode – they tend to stick a little too rigidly to the racing line, and while they do make mistakes, it can be a little eerie watching the other cars drive in synchronised harmony around the track, with patches of uncharacteristic aggression showing up as they dangerously veer left and right in an attempt to knock you off the road.
The damage model in Forza 3 is also a little limited, with no real deformation of the cars appearing after a particularly nasty crash. The paint scratches and fender breakage is a good trade-off for what must be a complicated and processor-heavy feature (and perhaps a result of the car manufacturers’ reluctance to show their products in a state of disrepair), but it’s probably on the developer’s ‘to-do’ list for next time.
Even though I was a little dubious about how much more developers of realistic racing games (and racing games in general) can squeeze into their games, they probably have a long laundry list of items they would like to improve and tweak, and probably wish to accurately simulate every single part of the car down to how tightly the nuts and bolts are screwed on, the realistic fluctuations of a car’s liquid temperatures, wear and tear on a vehicle’s various parts, and absolutely realistic car crashes.
Until those features become a reality, though, Forza Motorsport 3’s deep features, rich content and customisation options easily make it the ultimate racing simulator, providing the most comprehensive realism-based racing game available on the market.