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Forza 3 gives me a chance to draw breath and reflect on the series to date. Acknowledging some shortcomings and realising expectations, Forza 3 on the 360 is a breath of fresh air to the series. As full of life and spark as ever Gran Turismo or Grid ever were.
There's something magical about cars. I've never worked out quite what it is that captivates people's hearts for these hunks of metal. But lately I have been admiring the sweeps and curves designed into even the most practical of vehicles. I'm realising that each car is the designer's creative genius, constrained only by the market's expectations. The Forza series has tried to capture this automotive beauty and has achieved smiles across the world as the sun glints off their digital renditions of the best creative minds in the car industry, while producing a highly accurate interpretation of real world physics and motor dynamics - to the extent of matching actual track times.
The first game in the Forza series released in 2005 was one game demo I couldn't put down; the game's beautiful lighting and car rendering married with knowledge of the robust physics model kept me enticed. There was something very rewarding to know that the car I was hurling round the track would behave in a very similar way in real life; this of course meant the driving was tricky to master.
As soon as I got my paws of the full game I realised that this was a title that I could squeeze as much time into without growing cold. I spent those first weeks playing Forza building a meager, but carefully chosen, garage of cars - Honda Civic SI, Mazda RX-8 and TVR Tuscan S to name just a few; only those which I warmed to would remain in my collection.
I jostled for position amongst the other cars trying to avoid damaging my shiny new Ford.
I then modded upgraded painted and tuned them lovingly to compete with the best drivers online. As far as I was concerned I was creating a unique car that I could then win with and know that it was my preparation and cunning that added to the sweetness of the victory. I recall spending quite some time researching all the areas of car dynamics from tyre compound to antiroll mechanisms. My head was spinning, and my enthusiasm for that side of the game became jaded, when I saw little returns for all my time and effort when racing against the masses online.
That experience has stayed with me in Forza 2. Always knowing that to really play this wonderfully modeled game for all its worth, I need to keep a grip on the world of racing dynamics and paw through the forums for the best tips of tricks to stay up to speed. Trying to play online in a casual way proved difficult; everyone you met seemed to know about the black art of Forza tuning leaving those wanting to hop on for a quick drive floundering a few laps back. When you play the likes of the Project Gotham Racing and the Burnout Series' you begin to relish the jump in and drive pleasures of these shallower games, especially when combined with a busy family life.
Forza 2 was more of a game update that a next gen title; with similar environments and car modeling as the original Xbox game. I began to forgive these past problems as I excitedly pawed through the videos of Forza 3 before release. Immaculate in-car views and breathtaking environments looked to have finally made use of the 360's power.
With Forza 3 now fully installed on my 360 I let the clean crisp presentations absorb me as I am prepared for my first race in the Audi R8. I was next led to buying my first car and jumped straight into a race in a brand new Ford Fiesta Zetec - sticking to the atmospheric in car view and saving the outside views for the beautifully cut replays. Although this first race was indeed in low powered cars, it was just as nail biting as the Audi R8 race. I jostled for position amongst the other cars trying to avoid damaging my shiny new Ford. To my delight I noticed the computer controlled cars actually making mistakes in their racing line and even coming off the track in places. This small element adds to the game's realism hugely.
The in car view, although not quite as crisp and clean as some of the preview videos would have me believe, is still a welcome vantage point that doubled the atmosphere; and to my delight the driver's view bobs about with the movement of the car; adding to the genuine sense of motion and speed. I felt totally at home in this game I realised how easy cornering was in Forza 3; I could belt it behind the back of that BMW and not rear-end him going into that hairpin; it wasn't till the start of the second race where I climbed into the cabin of a Ferrari that I realised I'd had auto-braking on. This wonderful feature made me realise how the game had been completely opened up to my 7 year old with that very simple assist.
Forza 3 is a breath of fresh air to the series.
Forza 3 is a breath of fresh air to the series; the glean and polish of the cars and the extravagantly expansive landscapes make for an experience intensely involving; after each race it seems a crime not to watch the replays and be wow'd by this beautiful piece of art work. The cars move convincingly on the tracks with these heavy vehicles gripping onto the road at brake-neck speed, and being bounced around in what seems like perfect race physics as they respond to the undulations beneath them.
I cruised through race after race in career mode with the very polite voice announcer encouraging me to work through and enjoy the extensive content; this together with the immaculately enticing presentation of the career mode makes the chore that existed in Forza 2 into a pleasure. As I rubbed my bleary eyes and climbed into my faithful Fiesta Zetec for the last time that evening, I weaved my way through the pack to the front. I ducked and dived onto grass to cut-up the other drivers without a hint of remorse. Feeling my car lift slightly as I come over the brow passing the lead car I had the warming thought; that's going to look great on the replay. And it did.
Forza games attribute car and driver experience levels. This leads to a wonderful sense of connection with the vehicles you enjoy using the most. Now in Forza 3 same car can be freely auto up and down graded quickly depending on the need of the particular race; your one very favourite vehicle can be taken into a huge range of races. I think I've taken my Fiat Abarth 500 into over 4 different tournaments, sweeping it up to level 4 in no time. Auto upgrading and down grading the cars is one of the largest accessibility victories for Forza 3 over Forza 2. This game can now been played at the very deepest technical level, or enjoyed at a surface leaving the computer to make the decisions.
There is none of the dry racing simulation feeling to Forza 3 that its predecessors suffered with.
Heading over to the much streamlined car painter I slap some purple checks on my silver fiesta, just to get a feel for the tools. While I was sipping my tea at the menus for the next races my newly painted car becomes a screen saver; show-piecing my work.
There is none of the dry racing simulation feeling to Forza 3 that its predecessors suffered with, leaving many a racing fan disillusioned and looking to other titles. And now the series is truly open to all racers from 6-60 years as the publisher puts it, there is a whole world of play to enjoy for all the family.
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