Forza Motorsport 3

Forza is a funny old series. It consistently scoops up superb marks, is raved about by racing purists and is the nearest thing to Officially the World’s Best Racing Game Evah (that’d be Gran Turismo) you’ll find on 360. Yet perhaps that’s the crux of the problem; for whatever reason, developer Turn 10’s opus has never hit the populist heights of Polyphony’s seminal series. But as the years drift by and GT5 appears scarcely closer than when it was first announced, isn’t it time we finally gave Forza a break?

Damn right it is. Although deemed soulless and spartan by casual racers, it’s actually possible to retrospectively argue that in pure mechanical terms Forza 2 remains the standout driving sim on any system. It combined ultra-real handling and an unparalleled upgrade system with a 60fps engine that – while not Gotham-breathtaking – was faster than a butcher’s dog on amphetamines. Plus, you could construct decals based on a gigantic phallus; our knob-mobile was a work of automotive art.

So... imagine all these existing good bits, then imagine Turn 10 went absolutely bonkers and also stole a bit of the best ideas from all the other standout racers on the market. Features like a graphics engine (still holding steady at 60fps) that makes GT5 look like Chase HQ on the ZX spectrum, Blur’s online community appeal, GRID’s time-rewind function and an idiot-proof ‘one button drive’ driving aid that we can only presume was pilfered from Pole Position on the Atari 2600. Forza 3 wants to be all things to all racing fans, and by golly it might just succeed.

Another score over Gran Turismo is the fact Forza has beaten GT to the damage punch. We’re not just talking the odd dent or paint chip here; imagine cars flipped onto their roofs, broken axles and full 360° rolls. Better still, a fully-fledged video editor lets you whip up professional looking recreations of your most glorious victories, narrow misses and mash-ups to share with fellow gearheads on Xbox Live.

Just when it could hardly get any better, in comes a whole new season mode packing a mighty 200 different events. Oval racing (maybe a riposte to Gran Turismo 5 snagging the NASCAR license?), drifting, drag and a Le Mans mode join oldies but goodies like circuits and timed events – while we’re guessing the rest are simply variations on these established themes. Multiplayer-wise, Turn 10 have hinted at an entirely new riff on online play, linked to their title’s raison d’etre – the fostering of user-created content. Meanwhile, on the driving aid side we’re promised more power than ever before; play the game as an arcadey racer or hardcore sim -it's up to you.

There’s so much goodness here, in fact, that E3 08’s rumour that the game would ship on two DVDs has in fact turned out to be true – one works as the install, the other runs the actual game afterwards. Who needs Blu-ray? (No you don’t, shut up.) And the final indignity? Forza 3 is revving onto 360s in October, well ahead of Gran Turismo 5’s alleged release date. It’ll also mean Turn 10 will have released three whole Forza iterations in the time since GT4 was brought out – no mean feat. But then, this is no ordinary developer, and certainly no ordinary racer. Helming "the definitive racing game of this generation" (Turn 10’s words, not ours) is a lofty ambition, but a laudable one. If Forza 3’s scattergun approach can live up to half the claims its dev is making, everybody else might as well pack up and go home.

Jul 15, 2009