It never ceases to amaze me that Gran Turismo sells as well as it does. Oh, it’s certainly well deserved, but as far as painstakingly authentic sims go, they’re ridiculously dense, difficult, and not all that accessible when compared to other game series that sell fifty million copies and move PlayStation consoles. I’m positive Gran Turismo yanks more than its fair share of hardcore car enthusiasts out the analog woodwork, but what about the rest of us?
Above: The answer is on the last page!
I’d wager that a substantial percentage of those copies go to gamers interested in owning the most beautiful title on the console, fanboys purchasing out of solidarity, and those who merely dabble in the nuances and couldn’t possibly be utilizing the game for everything it’s worth. Fortunately, Forza Motorsport 3 has finally bridged the vast divide between gearhead and average gamer in a way that Gran Turismo seems to have little interest in attempting.
Above: The single best new feature in Forza Motorsport 3
You’ve seen Rewind modes elsewhere, but the ability to take the race back a couple seconds enhances the experience tenfold. Unlike other racing sims, Forza’s vehicles get beat the hell up performance-wise AND cosmetically. Thank the Gods: Wrecks, spin-outs and all those other little F-ups that shatter sizable chunks of invested time are literally things of the past with just a push of the Back button. It’s not as refined as the Flashbacks in DiRT 2, but rewinds are unlimited, and you’ll only suffer the small penalty of an asterisk next to your lap time record.
Hands down, Forza 3 is the most accessible sim the world has ever seen. Everything you’ve ever perceived as impenetrable about the comprehensive racing sim can be turned on and off like a light switch. It’s not simply that every damned detail is customizable, it’s that the adjustable options are available at any time and are never buried under parchment scrolls of convoluted menu options. Just on the surface, you’ve got in-game leg ups such as colored guide lines, traction and stability control. Best of all, you’re never penalized for calling in an “Assist,” but you’re rewarded with more XP and cash the less you use them. Turn ‘em on when you need ‘em, off when you don’t.
And while we of the vigilant hardcore once begrudged the game’s much touted “Auto Brake” as a baby mode that plays the game itself, it’s actually extremely fun and a giant step toward making the genre less daunting for the average player. Sure, the gas-to-brake finesse nestled within the 360’s analog sticks are, once again, Forza 3’s crown jewel. They truly represent what makes a phenomenal game and a feat of digital engineering, and it’s a shame for people to miss out on the subtle complexities of two-fingered feathering. But it can’t be denied that games like Need for Speed, Burnout, and GTA have fathered a new breed of racing fan that doesn’t care to take their finger off the accelerator. And thanks to a single adjustable menu option, Forza’s built a place for them, too.
Forza 3’s ability to change with your specific level of skill and comfort isn’t just a triumph of accessibility… It’s a total game changer. I started the game on “Regular” and after an initial race to gauge my skill, Forza’s omniscient Sorting Hat assigned me to a class with the Auto Brake on… without telling me. I had a great time. Fellow editors with no interest in racing games had a great time… and it was only after several hours that I realized the game had been decelerating for me! “What do I look like, some n00b?! Let’s turn that off.” And Forza 3 became a completely different game.
Each and every difficulty preset reveals an entirely new game. So while I eventually became most comfortable playing on “Hard,” there are still two more degrees of difficulty to tackle after that! New vehicle classes you unlock through Season Play present the same inviting progression. You don’t have to be a car nut to notice the variances in the handling. Each car is distinct and the way you’ll eventually gravitate towards one or the other is not unlike selecting your preferred Street Fighter character. And right when the experience becomes too comfortable, you move on to a new class to master.
Did we mention that Forza 3 is big? Well, Forza 3 is huge. The game comes with a second disc filled with 100 more cars and 29 new tracks. That’s nice. However, it requires a 2GB install. Those without HDs are screwed, those of us with 20GB 360s and Xbox Live connections are kinda short on space. (I had to delete Shadow Complex, dammit!) Turn 10 describes it as giving you a year’s worth of DLC for free, which is fair, but the no other 360 game has ever asked for that sort of digital real estate on Day One. AND when they do, there’s usually a decrease in load times… herein lies Forza 3’s biggest drawback. Have a look at my game stats:
Above: WAAAAHH! BOO HOO! GamesRadar didn’t complete a game 100% before they reviewed it
Feel free to run off to any message board you want to complain about our unethical review practices. All we ask is that you finish Forza 3 before you do so. The game is massive, the type meant to be played for years. Our piddly completion percentage up there represents well over thirty hours of game play, but here’s how Forza breaks it down:
17 hours?! We know we played more than that… What the stats don’t show is how long you’ll spend in loading screens:
The average load time between starting a race to actually spinning your wheels is well over a minute every time. Based on the number of races alone, I spent over THREE HOURS waiting for races to start… and that doesn’t even account for the billion or so other load times you’ll encounter everywhere else. To its credit, waiting a minute for fifteen minutes of racing bliss doesn’t seem like that big a deal in small doses, but in the scope of an entire career one could lose WEEKS climbing to the top of online leaderboards and 100% completion. As disheartening as that may be, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience, especially when you consider all the options Forza provides.
Yep, whether you’re fine tuning the parts or cosmetically styling your whip to a ridiculous degree of specificity, you can lose days in the menus. Oh, did you know they had customizable paint jobs?
How customizable, you ask? Very! Let’s fan the fanboy flames shall we?
Above: Click to the next page to see these two automotive titans battle it out!
Whether you know it or not, Forza 2 burst onto the scene with a user-generated community that’s second only to Bungie.net. Just about everything you can do in the game, from personall-y honed vehicles and custom decals to edited replay movies and snapped photos, can be uploaded, shared, sold and experienced with a ginormous community. Hell Forzamotorsport.net even holds Design Tournaments on a regular basis.
Is it better than... (Race War!!)
Forza 2? Yes. On the surface they appear very similar, but Forza 3 has a far broader appeal. But even if they were identical, the Rewind button is an absolute godsend! And where it took Forza 2 two years worth of paid DLC to amass its automotive arsenal, Forza 3’s giving it to you right out of the gate. In a bit of a trade off, owners of smaller, standard-def TVs can actually read the menu text! However, the visual portion is now covered by a mist of glaucoma…
Perhaps best of all, all 400 of the game’s cars are unlocked from the beginning! You’re only limitation is what you can afford. Turn 10 tells us that there are roughly 90 attainable cars in the first 15 minutes.
Need For Speed: SHIFT? Sorta. If you haven’t seen SHIFT’s amazing new driver experience, it really is one of the biggest evolutions racing sims have seen in years, and makes Forza look very sterile by comparison. SHIFT’s mid-race milestones are an interesting compensation, as well as a wonderful reason to not restart, but it’s Forza 3’s ability to endlessly rewind turns that’ll make you a better driver.
Plus, EA’s history of annual NFS releases gives us no reason to believe the game will see anywhere near the amount of continued online and community support. After all, there’ll probably be a new one in eight months, right?
Gran Turismo 5: Prologue? Depends. It may not be fair to compare a full-featured game to what’s essentially a compensatory demo, but it’s almost unavoidable in this case. Both games are after the same audience of diehard gearheads, but it’s Forza that extends the biggest olive branch towards a much broader audience.
GT is essentially the same game every time, only prettier. And while Gran Turismo 5 will probably add in the features it should’ve had years ago, its primary focus has and always will be pure, unadulterated car porn. For many, that’s all that matters... so visually speaking, Prologue (Answer A.) still looks significantly better than Forza 3 (Answer B.), and it stands to reason the full featured GT5 will look even better. See, we’re not here to bash the PS3! That’s for the video below:
Just for you, Metacritic!
The Rewind addition removes the most agonizing aspect of the modern racing sim, while the ridiculous level of customization and online support keeps the experience fluid and rewarding. And at 60 bucks, Forza 3 presents more value than just about any other game in any genre.
Oct 8, 2009