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Forza 3 impresses on a technical front, but still feels sterile next to the real thing. For all its bells and whistles it still lacks Gran Turismo's spark of life.
Simulations do exactly what they say: they simulate a real life activity. Generally speaking, videogame simulations recreate something particularly exotic; something very hard to achieve in real life: a WWII combat flight simulator, commanding a fantasy army or just scoring a perfect round in the Masters.
Forza Motorsport 3 is a driving simulator, and is probably the closest most people will ever get to driving cars like the Audi R8 or Aston Martin Vantage. It's also probably the best digital representation of driving ever created. But it still doesn't quite feel like driving.
I love cars. I always have done. Now I'm old enough, I also love driving. A game like Forza 3 should, then, be my perfect game. In some ways it is. Like most car fans, I have a check-list in my head of cars I've driven. Having been driving for less than a year now, that list is very short: A 1.1l Hyundai Getz, a 1.6l Citroen Xsara Picasso and a 2.0l Volkswagen Golf GTI (my current car). Admittedly, it's not particularly inspiring (the Golf is great, though), but I'm a realist. It's hugely unlikely I'll ever drive an Aston Martin, or a Ferrari. Except in Forza.
There's a phenomenally complex physics system .
With over 400 cars to choose from, there really is something for everyone in Forza 3. Even better, the career mode adapts to the kinds of cars you drive most and offers up appropriate competitions. Whether it's sports cars, Supercars, hot hatches or muscle cars, there are plenty of competition options that make everyone's game unique to them. In this regard, Forza 3 is virtually perfect. I can't fault the career mode, the range of cars, the tuning and upgrading options, the multiplayer suite, the menu design or the graphics.
Nor can I fault the technical side of the game. There's a phenomenally complex physics system incorporating speed and friction, as well as distribution of weight. Brake too hard into a corner and you'll suffer over steer. Do it in a car with rear engine-placement and that over steer will be even more pronounced. Forza 3 takes into account so many factors that no two cars are the same to drive.
What Forza can't truly recreate though is the sensation of driving. This isn't a shortcoming in game design, but a shortcoming in technology. The process of driving a car simply involves far more sensation than can be conveyed through a TV screen and a controller. Acceleration, for example, can't really be replicated. The feeling of being scooped up by your seat, leaving your stomach behind, is absent from Forza. So too is the sensation of steering. While you obviously need to steer in Forza (you can have the game do it for you if you really can't), it doesn't come close to the feeling that you're in control of something with real weight.
I'd still rather drive a real Golf than a digital Ferrari.
Forza has excellent sound design, but it can't match the way a powerful engine vibrates the cockpit. The various growls, roars and snarls of different engines are technically a major accomplishment, but again there are more sensations involved than just sound: there's the resonance of the engine, the pull as the car accelerates, the various smells including petrol, rubber and the general smell of heat. Next to the real world visceral experience Forza is, unfortunately, a little sterile.
As a digital racing game Forza 3 is great. But technically it is still a long way from the real thing. Petrolheads will spend hours tinkering with their upgrades and tuning setups, while new comers can just get on and race their favourite cars. I certainly look forward to putting many more hours into collecting various cars. But I'd still rather drive a real Golf than a digital Ferrari.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
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