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Forza 3 on 360 claims that anyone can pick it up and play in minutes, but the problem is more the putting down than the picking up thing. Racing fans put off by the hand holding aspect of Forza 3 can rest assured that there is enough of a Xbox 360 challenge here to keep them playing for months.
Bearing in mind that everyone in my house likes a bit of driving action, the first two people to play Forza 3 were my wife and my son. And given that with Forza 3 you have the option to set the difficulty level anywhere from so easy you can play it with just one finger and one thumb to so hard you need to fit a roll cage to your sofa, I was expecting at least one of them to do considerably well.
But that's not taking into account the fact that my wife went straight for Freeplay, which allows you to chose whatever car you want to, and selected a flashy looking Ferrari for her first race. In easy mode all you need to do is keep the car on the racing line provided and your finger pressed firmly on the accelerator button, and the game will do all the braking for you. Sounds simple? It would be if you were driving something a little more sedate like a Toyota Yaris. But jumping behind the wheel of a racing beast like the funky 70s Ferrari my wife fell for and trying to keep it on the snaking racing line of the Amalfi Coast track is nigh on impossible. Which kind of destroys the maker's claim that anyone can play Forza 3, no matter what their level of proficiency be. Either that or my wife is so bad at videogames they need to create a completely separate difficulty level. Otherwise known as Demo mode…
I was expecting to really loathe this game since the scope for being an anal, car-loving nutcase about it is enormous.
Compared to my two-year-old son, however, she is Schumaker in a skirt. His idea of a good time in a racing game is smashing his car into walls and revving the engine up till he's driven the entire household mad with it. As far as he's concerned, Forza 3 is another racing game triumph - hundreds of cars, hundreds of tracks, thousands of opportunities to crash. But he looks at these games differently to you and I; he thinks all the other cars on the track are friends of his own battered road hog.
Once they'd had their fun it was over to me to do things properly. I was expecting to really loathe this game since the scope for being an anal, car-loving nutcase about it is enormous. But the fact is you don't need to approach it that way at all. As with the difficulty setting, you can ignore all of the technical mumbo jumbo about optimising your car's performance and let the game do it all for you at the touch of a button. Which means instead of wondering what you're meant to do with the gear ratios in a Ford Focus on a short, bendy track, you can hit quick upgrade, pay your money and head straight out there.
Before I started to play this I knew that Forza 3 involved a fair amount of hand holding, and that kind of put me off for reasons I can't explain. But that was before I'd had a go. I kicked things off in easy mode, but quickly switched up to hard mode since easy was so easy it was boring and medium had absolutely no challenge factor either. Hard mode, which strangely has the AI set on medium, gets closer to a challenging racing game without being so hard that you need to lay down a series of perfect laps to win. With the AI set to hard, it becomes a traditional racer where unless you want to have a mediocre season, you'll need to restart every race until you've learned them off by heart. And with a game as big as this, that would mean dedicating months of your life to it. So I stuck with medium AI, and by the time I got up to driver level seven, things had become tough.
Compared to my two-year-old son, however, she is Schumaker in a skirt.
Without the excellent rewind feature - if you mess up you can rewind the race back to a point where everything was going well and start again - I'd certainly be losing every race. But with it, I can mess up a corner time and time again until I've got it nailed. What's more, using the rewind feature doesn't mean you lose points, so you can use it willy-nilly without consequence. It might sound like it ruins a perfectly good racing game but in fact it means you can actually learn how to race these games properly. Getting an entire lap right, breaking at the right time, turning into corners at the right moment, feels fantastic. It also means that instead of smashing your way through the field at the start of each race, you can be all pro-racer and pick them off one by one without needing to resort to police pursuit tactics.
So up to a point, Forza 3 can be played and enjoyed by almost everyone, but there comes a point when you've really got to be on your toes to get anywhere. For me, that happened when I climbed into the Ford Mustang. From that point on it was no longer a question of powering past the field on the first lap. Now I had a real challenge on my hands just to keep my place, and without the rewind I would certainly be restarting each race time and again in order to finish first. The difficulty level climbed and climbed until even with the rewind I was struggling to get anywhere and it became obvious that I really needed to learn the tracks off by heart and stick to the optimum racing line all the way round. But it came at just the right time, since winning easily would have become extremely boring if it had gone on any longer.
The funny thing is, not once has this game influenced my own driving. Well, maybe a little bit. I do find myself driving along and considering what the right racing line would be to take corners - only most of them involve burning round on the wrong side of the road with my foot stamped down on the accelerator and there is absolutely no way I'm ever going to take that risk.
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