When a game like Forza Motorsport 2 comes along, taking a decent original game and propelling it into the next generation with a near definitive experience, it's hard to imagine what a second sequel could do. In Forza 3's case, it's really rather simple. The same, but BIGGER. And from the looks of things, that's exactly what we're going to get.
During a behind-closed-doors showing of the game, product manager Amritz Lay was eager to point out the new game's many numerical superiorities over its predecessor. There are now 400 cars and 100 tracks, 220 career events instead of 90, The poly count's increased tenfold and the textures are four times as detailed.
But we won't be swayed by mere statistics. The size of the game wasn't what needed fixing in Forza 2. In fact, the focus on these figures only makes us think perhaps the series has run out of ideas. Especially when it is pointed out that the bulge and roll of each tyre is now simulated and rendered in 3D, 'affecting' how the car handles. To be honest, we probably won't notice that particular difference.
What we really wanted to know was whether the new game has a soul. Forza 2, impeccable though it was in the simulation department, left many gamers feeling a little detached. The tracks were too clean, the presentation was minimalist... everything just felt a bit sterile. So it was with bated breath that we waited for the new build to load.
The good news is, our time with the game felt great, primarily because the sensation of weight is spot-on. Not in the inertia nightmare kind of way that PS3's Supercar Challenge beats you up with, either. These cars feel like their wheels are physically rolling over tarmac and the game is ready to respond to any flick of the steering wheel or feather of the throttle.
Of course, there's a technical explanation for this. The physics engine here is running at 360 frames per second. So every time you see one frame of the action, the car's position and inertia has been computed six times. Geek mode cancel. In layman's terms it means the car behaves like a car.
The game's front end is currently still too sterile and the voice of Peter Egan talking you through the game is about as phoned-in as you can get without a crackle and a handkerchief. If you've heard LittleBigPlanet's commentary from Stephen Fry, you'll know exactly what this is not like. Though strikingly similar, there's little charm and zero comedy on display here.
Of course it's a shame that you'll have to race Le Mans in 24 hours of brilliant sunshine as there's no wet weather or night-time driving. Also the addition of a 'one button' acceleration and braking system for beginners is definitely taking the driver assists one step too far. Surely nobody's that stupid?
But when you look at the returning community features, a 'rewind' button borrowed from Race Driver GRID, the devastatingly deep customisation options (which span from adjusting suspensions to completely reworking your car's parts and decals) and the fact that this has damage where Gran Turismo 5 Prologue doesn't, there's no denying this is threatening to become the ultimate console racing sim.
The team's motto may be 'to make gamers become car enthusiasts and car enthusiasts become gamers', but we reckon it'll at least make more gamers like Forza Motorsport. The game is scheduled for release on Xbox 360 on October 23 in Europe.