Yesterday, I finally got a long awaited and much anticipated opportunity to have a decent and uninterrupted hands-on at Forza Motorsport 3. I have to admit, I've been pretty excited about this game, but at the same time not entirely convinced that the package had moved forward.
Like all aspects of technology and gaming, the benchmark moves very quickly, but occasionally something comes along that really exceeds expectations. vVsually at least, Forza Motorsport 3 is one of these, resulting in a product that simply wasn't possible on the hardware two years ago. But before I ramble on any further, it's time for some brief reflection around the heritage of the series.
And, indeed it didn't disappoint. Presenting a level of detail which blew away any opposition on the Xbox format, with exceptionally detailed graphics (despite the limitations that come with 30 frames per second) combined with the most advanced handling model ever seen on a home console title helped Forza Motorsport to exceed all expectations. Sales-wise, the title did well too, but this came at a point very late in the life-cycle of the Xbox, so perhaps wasn't entirely representative of its potential.
VVV were among the first to play Forza Motorsport 2 and helped produce this handy beginners guide
However, all didn't seem as well as I'd hoped it would be. The handling seemed a little off – perhaps a bit floaty – but with a short few goes on the stock set-up without the ability to tune the cars, it was very hard coming to any meaningful conclusion.
Suffice to say, it was the best racer on the Xbox 360 for that period, but the package didn't match that of the prequel – handling issues and glitches affected its early life and, on the whole Forza 2 felt like a rushed job.
My feelings that Forza 2 was a game done on a tight schedule were reinforced when I got to meet Turn 10's Game Director, Dan Greenawalt. I got the impression it wasn't all he wanted it to be, with the cost of development weighing heavily on its development process and possibly rushed release.
Move on two more years, and we see Dan on stage at E3 2009 presenting Forza 3 with absolute confidence. He conveyed the level of enthusiasm we all know and expect, and it seemed that this was the game he'd always wanted to bring to the 360. In other words, it was likely that Forza 3 was going to be something special.
Now was my first chance to get stuck in and really analyse the improvements this package brings to the table.
For my first go on the new game, I selected the longest of the Monserrat circuits and opted for a 2007 Lamborghini Murciélago LP640, with ABS, TCS, Racing line and Brake Assistance on, along with Manual Gears and everything else off. We see the cars revving on the grid briefly before the race starts, the vibrating camera building the intensity of the scene and away we go.
Jostling for position before diving into the the dark shadows and tricky mid corner apex of turn 1, I loose a few places before accelerating hard down hill (curiously picking up a penalty for getting some air…). I gain a place when I brake into the corner at the bottom, but suffer some understeer.
It was at this point that I felt the feedback for the first time – as the car lost grip, I felt a detailed response in traction and relative grip; the car felt good and traction response was superb. Back up the hill before two more slow corners and I already felt at home with the controls, with the relative grip combined with the car's limits of performance for my short term experience were giving great feedback and enabled me to push harder, allowing me to really get the most out of the car.
Already at this early stage of my hands-on session, this demo was capturing that racing spirit. I was enjoying the driving, and it just got more enjoyable the more I pushed the car.
Following a quick run about on the other circuits in the Ford GT40, I decided to go back and really have a pop at honing the longest of the 3 courses, taking out a Porsche 911 GT2 (997) and turning all assists off. Of all the aspects I hoped to see fixed, the ABS would probably be top of my list and thankfully Forza 3 didn't disappoint. Indeed, it again exceeded my expectations.
Racing down the hill to the first hairpin, I snatched a wheel and it sent me wide , which is typical when you change from ABS assistance, but in making that mistake I felt clearly when the wheels were turning.
Going round and up the hill, I break early just over the crest, again feeling the wheels locking under braking but not locking my steering. I come off the brakes, the wheels start turning again and the car began to grip well again. Up the second part of the hill and I was really building some speed, with this game giving an unparalleled sensation of motion that only 60fps can provide.
Braking into the final corner and it was a tricky late apex, the wheels again locking slightly, making me cautious, and with the Porsche's big ass wanting to overtake me, it's a corner that seemed to go on longer than you'd ever expect! Round onto the final straight and I was again finding a comfortable balance. 10 laps later, though, and it was about time I'd take a test drive in a muscle car.
After a brief search through the demo's relativley limited car roster (don't worry, we're assured there'll be substantially more to choose from in the finished game!) and I opt for a 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT-8, with all the assists off. I leave the grid and the power the Challenger has is instantly made obvious – this car has torque and plenty of it! I head through turn 1 and my back end steps out immediately, and I quickly counter steer and reduce the power so the car straightens out as I head down the hill.
I brake into the apex and the back end again comes out, sending me into a full-on powerslide. I hit the opposite lock to control the slide, but it's too late and the car spins out. It seems at this point that the car really needs a different set-up to slide comfortably, with the stock car giving a driver two options: either come off the power or spin out. Either way, it was great fun racing this beast around the track and it gave the opportunity for some really aggressive driving!
Coming up to the final few corners and I almost loose i,t but the road is in a heavily positive camber, giving me the grip for a save from a possible heart stopping accident. It looks like the track modelling and physics engine are doing their jobs well, with camber really affecting the cars as it should and would in real life
This was just a taster of the final game, and although we've seen very little so far, with a wealth of modes and game options still to be revealed, what I have discovered on this brief experience is that Forza 3 is going to deliver both in handling and graphics. It was exciting feeling just how different each car handled, with the weight distribution and traction all very unique in their response.
Even at this very early stage, the game feels right. It feels new and it's difficult to compare with anything I've played before. I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on future builds before our interview with Dan Greenawalt later this year!,
In the meantime, check out the latest Forza Motorsport 3 shots in our gallery.