The wait is finally over and Forza Motorsport 3 is about to land, another enormous development period is coming to its close for Turn 10 studio's and VVV were fortunate to be among the first within press circles to gain a copy. Though despite this we’ve taken our time about the review, its an important release to the console racing fraternity and in writing I wanted to make sure I researched the maximum content of this package, and what a package it is. A huge title, so much to explore, so much to do, but does it live up to expectations? We’ve learned already that games evolve an awful lot in their final months but more included means more that can potentially fall apart, so I climb into my racing overalls for the *ahem* “definitive” review.
Start the game up and you will be presented with a wonderful clean, minimalist menu system, this is about as polished as anything you’ll ever find. It’s also highly functional and well refined, from the off the game has that touch of class which lets you know you’re really in for something special. It’s almost the perfect car show room and those pictures you see of the cars are actually the real 3D models not 2D images. Even the viewing options are customisable depending how you would like your garage displayed and then in finding the car of your choice you can search using a range of parameters, not something I’ll ever need to use but this handy implementation never goes unnoticed.
Initial options cover the standard Forza Motorsport 3 mode which includes Career, Season and Multi-player, and then you also have the Free Race mode including Hot Lap and Quick Race. It should be noted the Quick Race appears to have “easy only” competitor settings, changing the opponent difficulty only affects proceedings in the FM3 mode, if there was an option to change this I certainly couldn’t find it. But then hidden options are all over the place, just finding the Time Trial mode is a mission at first, I spend much of my time informing other gamers and journalists where to find it. Strange that such an important mode is buried away but this may be altered in the final release?
Onto the Career and this time it’s huge, over 200 events that's more than twice the size of FM2 making for months of unending gameplay challenges. You can either play through the Career choosing any event you like or enter the Season Mode, in here you come across the standard Career events but these are provided in a nicely laid out simple to follow order, with the cars in your garage influencing the events it provides, so you’re often unlikely to get the “your car is not suitable for this event” message. Again though improvements here too, if your car is not suitable it will select your garage and provide you with a list of cars that are, likewise if your current car is suitable but under or over powered the quick upgrade options make this light work. So no more trawling through menu screens tinkering when all you want to do is race. Core strength here is how the racing flows and there is no other racing title that has a structure and ease of use anywhere near this, superb implementation of a noteworthy feature.
Starting the race and you’ll see several views of your car in its glorious maximum detail, though the revs are controlled by the CPU until you enter the cockpit, unfortunately with a 3 second countdown it leaves less than half a second of player control before the lights turn green and this invariably makes it impossible to balance perfect revs at the start, a minor quibble but certainly an issue in the more powerful cars when TCS is turned off.
Handling was the initial concern, had it improved? Was this a true simulator? Well if you read our preview earlier in the year you’d probably already be aware that the handling has been heavily refined and developed, its much more intuitive and therefore real driving fans can react far quicker to any given cars performance. But to call it a simulator of driving probably wouldn’t be the best description, every game creates a perceived reality or “hyper reality” experience. Basically this means the car does what you expect it to do, a common sense interpretation of inertia, weight, balance, texture, grip. Finding that balance is never an easy job, I wouldn’t call this the ultimate simulation of driving but in its own perceived reality everything works, everything is simulated, every part of the car does what you expect it to do. This balance is difficult to achieve, you need to bring in the new casual players but also cater for automotive experts and with the range of handling assist options available Turn 10 have done a remarkable job while the tyre deformation technology is astounding in its complexity. It’s not 100%, there is room for improvement but at the same time its part of the challenge, anyone can play FM3 but mastering it is an entirely different ball game, so I wouldn’t say I’m perfectly at home but certainly an awful lot more comfortable than I was with FM2 and right now there is no other product that comes close.
Wheel control too has been improved with a great feel provided by the force feedback, but I still need more, the basic MS pedals are substandard and lack rumble, the standard Fanatec pedals are even worse bordering on completely useless. Is the wheel faster? Well for me the answer would be no and a good example would be turn 1 of the Amalfi Coast in Time Trial mode – TCS off, turn in full using the pad and the car goes in nicely, turn in using the wheel and the car spins out. Does this mean the wheel is over sensitive? It’s a question that will require more play to answer but my wheel driving is competent so I’ll have to side with the pad for ultimate speed. The wheel also lacks the option to look left and right, this is a critical mistake that players are unable to change in the options menu leaving wheel drivers at a massive disadvantage when it comes to blind spots, this is even more noticeable when racing in cockpit view.
The wheel also reveals the weakness of being unable to effectively use the photomode, this requiring the player to turn off their wheel to plug in a pad, however on occasion the pad will only select controller slot two requiring a system reset to make it pad 1, thus loosing critical photo moments, you could save the replay but that’s a time consuming process and could mean wheel drivers will miss many potentially awesome photo opportunities.
Then there is the added inclusion of the clutch, this basically replaces the classic glitch shifting techniques, different buttons to press but effectively the same process. Top hot lappers and time trial experts will need to fully utilise this feature and contrary to common belief it does produce better times in all car classes, top quality shifting can save vital tenths but will required a great deal of practice to truly master.
Besides standard controls you have the aforementioned range of driver assists, of course there’s the one button driving, we’ll skip that along with stability control, but with improved ABS-off functionality coming as a welcome relief and TCS being critical to some of the more powerful cars, especially to wheel users. Some of the cars in FM3 are absolute beasts to drive, this compares well to their real world equivalents, in the lower classes its pretty simple driving, move up to the R classes and Fm3 becomes an altogether more serious challenge that will test the most experienced of drivers out there.
Besides the handling, the penalty system too has been revised, now instead of giving penalty time players will either receive valid or invalid laps. Laps become invalid if a player puts a wheel off of the track, touches a wall, receives contact from another car, receives or gives draft, goes on two wheels or gets air. Valid laps will always be listed above invalid laps making mistakes fatal, these meaning longer circuits will require an even higher level of perfection and concentration required to deliver those top class times. However my experience of the system reveals it still needs more urgent work and VVV would welcome a patch to fix the following, getting air and two wheels should both be valid, also some corners towards the end of the Cataluna Circuit give invalid errors for perfectly legal use of the curbs, and this will lead to much unnecessary frustration.
So a range of racing modes and styles but the most novel inclusion has been Drag Racing, huge in the US and with Forza 3’s car tuning options surely it represents a logical inclusion. Now if you’ve never looked into the world of Drag Racing, the object is simple, balance your revs, get away the second you see the lights change then shift perfectly to optimise the performance of any given car. Unfortunately this mode doesn’t tick all of those boxes, it’s flawed for the simple reason that starts are controlled by the CPU, and hence players can’t jump a start. This will be disappointing to purists but combined with the limited time to control your revs it’s a feature that looks better on paper than the eventual result, ultimately it’s a nice inclusion but not a noteworthy one.
Of course it should be obvious from the screen shots that graphically FM3 is stunning, this setting the new benchmark for automotive gaming on the 360, it really is a cut above and the true step forward we all previously looked forward to in FM2. Focusing first on the environments, huge amounts of detail have been included, creating some glorious worlds to race around with almost unlimited draw distances. That combined with the improved handling make this game a joy to drive, not just to race or hotlap, not just to be No:1 on the leaderboard but to simply make your way around the courses, this game is whatever you want to make it. Graphical effects are everywhere on the many distinctive circuits, and the environments have been given yet more life with the inclusion of animated crowds, not the biggest crowds we see in a racing game but certainly a much needed inclusion.
However, we again see room for improvement, lighting is for the most part ambient, it’s simply not coarse enough to be truly real, gravel effects are poor, no dust clouds? No smoke hanging in the air on starts? No leaves on the track at Maple Valley? The dashboards too have a slightly lifeless feel; textures are not as vivid as early photomode shots would have lead to believe and cars lack windows. No internal reflections, and when looking around the cockpit you can only see at a 45 degree angle either site or it snaps to a full on side (bumper cam style) view. So no looking up or down, no complete camera freedom, combine this will the lack of windows and you loose that feeling of realism. These are cars many of us will never have the opportunity to drive or even sit in but in encompassing the player into the right environment you can almost get a glimpse of that reality, unfortunately FM3 doesn’t quite achieve that goal, but Turn 10 should be commended for their enormous effort in developing this aspect. As for cockpit views, they really are a mixed bag from perfect to virtually undrivable, not necessarily Turn 10’s fault but the option to move the drivers head position or an additional selectable view (Supercar Challenge) would have added to nicely to proceedings especially those with limited viewing range. Another question is how violent should a cockpit view be? Well these are very smooth, I can’t help but feel the intensity of the Formula BMW cockpits in Race Pro would have been the best example but nevertheless these are highly playable examples and do their job.
On a more positive note the car models are magnificent, headlights and tyres are mind-blowing in their realisation, I still stare at the demo circling the car in sheer amazement, every aspect is lovingly modeled and for car enthusiasts you simply couldn’t as for more.
Sound too has had a complete revision in the technical department with superb ambient sounds combing with a wide range of spot effects, not to mention the completely rerecorded engines notes. Though cockpits still show room for improvement, Race Pro would again be a good example for the aggressive and deafening engine notes from major sports cars, that aggressive feel! While stones hit the bodywork if you go through the gravel, unfortunately some effects like the latter are missing which almost certainly loose some intensity of the cockpit experience but we take nothing away from the package as a whole, even replay sounds are dramatic in their presentation.
Onto one of the biggest new features, that being the Forza Motorsport 3 Storefront, basically you have your own stow to sell your Tunes, Decals and Paint Jobs while also uploading photo’s and replays. This is a huge new aspect to the standard game and it’s what defines the true experience Dan Greenawalt and fought to create. His vision has always been about far more than just the racing, it’s been about the cumulative enjoyment of the automotive world and this vision is unmatched by any other console title. Such an addictive feature I find myself returning to the storefront every time I turn the game on, it really is a wonderful implementation of an inspired idea.
Tuning cars is pretty much as you would expect, all of the fantastic telemetry has returned now with even more options and combination's of possible car setups which now apparently work? I say apparently but event though I can have a tinker its not until the masses come online to we see the real reality of tuning limitations but the improved PI systems should sort things out, at least so that we don’t see the old dominance of muscle cars.
Another much improved system is the car painting area, not only is the standard layout enhanced but players can also zoom closer to the car when applying those all important details, though on discussing this with experts they still feel the range of colours besides their applications can be improved and the lighting system in the paint shop is still somewhat flawed, look at the back of the car and it always appears in shadow, so paint a white car and the rear will always appear grey. A bizarre flaw of an otherwise excellent paining experience, but it doesn’t stop there. Forza Motorsport 3 also includes a new Decal Design area, basically a graph paper, squared background to built key aspects of your design. This helps in a range of ways enabling greater detail whilst giving painters a flat canvas. These decals can then be entered into your storefront to sell to other budding car enthusiasts.
Photomode as ever will be a never ending journey of automotive greatness with the standard picture effects options, now with the added ability to submit pictures to your storefront it’s yet another great way to bring the community together, besides submitting your picture you’ll also be presented with the correct sorting options, model, make, year, shot style etc. As the say goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it being very apt here” but loosing the option of cockpit photos has been a blow, the creativity this option could have presented would have been a delight, again lost in development hell.
Thankfully replays have been much improved but still no where near where we would like them to be, some views give fantastic panoramic vistas where as others revert back to the same old zoom in on the car feel, it’s a decent improvement which now makes the replays truly worth watching but don’t expect Turn 10 to be gaining any awards for TV coverage just yet. Besides the replays players will also have the opportunity to upload their film clips to the Turn 10 website via their storefront, thus enabling the opportunity to download and edit your own car movies. Though the feature is a lot more restricted than expected, camera views are limited as is the recording time and with no buily in editing mode its another new feature that has ended up more of a tentative step rather than a bold design execution, a nice idea with lots of room to improve in the future.
This leads us onto the leaderboads, of which there are over 800 featured in the game. Every car class of every circuit, turners, painters, directors, ovals, time trials, point to point, drift and just about anything else you can think of is covered and highly organised. Even profile options have been improved; to date my profile is as follows:
percentage of career complete: 15.8%
experience to next level: 42,100 XP
total winnings: 1,394,364 CR
online winnings: 47,389CR
current credits: 1,315,654 CR
distance driven: 1,109 miles
average speed: 85.5 mph
number of victories: 163
number of podiums: 173
number of races: 178
total repairs: 32,675 CR
car name: Ferrari FXX
number of cars in garage: 40
parts value: 658,160 CR
garage value: 13,268, 160 CR
time driven: 12 h 58:34
top speed: 201.4 mph
distance jumped 102.8 ft
time spent in menus 28 h 23:14
time spent upgrading 43:39
time spent tuning: 33:15
time spent editing designs: 6 h 04:52
time spent in auction house: 02:20
time spent in store front: 1h 42:47
time spent test driving: 2 h 47:34
Besides modes FM3 welcomes a range of new racing environments and with over 100 circuit variations they’ll be enough for anyone to contend with. Notable additions include the return of a much improved and extended Fujimi Kaido circuit and what a test this is. In my experience of FM3 this track is as challenging as it is beautiful to look at with the understeer and low revs of uphill driving combined with the limited grip and treacherous braking on downhill sections, mastering clean laps here will be a tough call even for the top racers. But every circuit has had that lick of paint, that upgrade in detail, crowds also add greatly to the atmosphere especially on the Sunset circuit. Forza 3 really does push the 360 quite unlike any other racing game before it, combining in a highly refined package consistently pushing new boundaries.
Multiplayer too has been revised, you will find standard split screen 2 player which runs in full detail at 60fps (minus the cockpit view) and the range of online options. Though I have to confess my online racing had been a tad limited with more use of the team matchmaking to be full tested, but in my experience online code had been improved, cars looking far more realistic in their movements especially when power sliding. Here’s looking forward to a load more races when it comes to the official release.
So an enormous package with literally years of playing value and that’s not even including the forthcoming DLC! Lots of great features to explore, though I can’t help but wish it was 12 player online and 16 player against CPU, we still don’t have times of day or weather conditions and it’s a shame that we can't really run the true Le Man’s experience. But at the same time with such a feature laden game there was always going to be something left out and who knows what DLC may bring?
Overall Forza Motorsport 3 represents a remarkable achievement, in just two years Turn 10 studio’s have exceeded all expectations, and unlike the prequel have truly lived up to Dan Greenawalt’s vision, encompassing every aspect of automotive love while being inclusive to every level of player. Forza Motorsport 3 puts its stake in the ground as the industry benchmark, it ushers in a new generation of online experience, not just racing game it’s far more than that, it’s a building block giving a glimpse to the future, and there’s nothing else quite like it.
Forza Motorsport 3 is a triumph of design and a masterclass in execution, undoubtedly taking its place in pole position when it hits stores later this month.
9 out of 10
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