Forza Motorsport 3 is an essential purchase for any online racer with an Xbox 360, and is possibly the best reason for choosing Microsoft’s console over the Playstation 3. And yet, it doesn’t get 5/5 because of some serious flaws.
The Forza series was built with online race in mind, coming after the launch of the Project Gotham Racing series, and building on the lessons learned from that team. It has always had more of a focus on serious competition and real-world racing physics, and is seen as the Xbox answer to Gran Turismo – despite the fact that all 3 Forza games have been released since the last major Gran Tourismo game surfaced!
And on paper, the specifications look good. More cars (over 400 from 50 manufacturers), more tracks (over 100 tracks and road courses), improved graphics and new game modes.
But before you jump online and compete, you’ll probably want to earn some cash and grab some cars in the single player game. And this is one of the biggest flaws in Forza Motosport 3. In an attempt to make the single-player career more accessible, Turn 10 have made two major changes. The first is adding a ‘rewind’ button which can be used during single player modes. This scrolls back the race at any points, which means you can undo any mistakes.
Single player bad:
Now I’m not against rewind in principle – if you’ve ever wiped out a car in the last few laps of an endurance race, you’ll understand why. But is it really needed for races under 10 laps? It’s almost impossible to ignore, and takes away some of the dramatic tension of battling with a damaged car to hold onto your lead, seperating the game further from reality than I’d have liked.
The other flaw is the new structure for single-player career mode. It’s now structured in seasons, with one main championship each season, and the chance to choose a smaller championship in between each main race.
Which wouldn’t be so bad, but it goes on for ever (6 seasons in fact, for the career achievement points). And by the 6th season, you’re competiting in a 13 race main championship, with a further 10 minor championships of 3-6 races in each. So around 40-odd races minimum.
Not only that, but you can end up racing in F or E class depending on your choices earlier in the game, going from the fastest cars in the game to the slowest. And if you’ve spent much time racing online, or competed in any one-off events for fun, the odds are you could have unlocked all the cars and reached the maximum driver level some point in seaosn 4 or 5, meaning that it’s simply a grind to get to the end.
This makes a single player game which isn’t challenging, but does go on far too long. Add in long loading times, and it becomes even more frustrating.
Combine all of the efforts made to make the game easier and more accessible to new players and it has one major effect. In previous Forza games you had to work your way up through classes, starting with a low-powered car and eaking out improvements to tune and speed up your motor.
In Forza 3, you start with a low-powered car and within minutes you’re having new cars thrown at you – and many of them can be used in races against far lower spec competition, meaning you can put a race tuned R1 class car up against F class untuned saloons for some reason.
So you don’t build up the affinity with the start cars that you gained in FM1 and FM2, and you don’t feel much of an achievement unlocking the powerful cars. There’s no car that is a badge of honour when you wheel it out online as a result.
On the bright side, when it comes to the cars, there’s the biggest selection yet. It feels as if the big muscle cars have been tamed slightly in FM3, meaning that there’s a slightly wider variety of possible race winners. Meanwhile the lighter and front-wheel cars seem to be slightly less advantageous.
All the upgrade and paint options have also been tweaked. You can now upgrade cars even further beyond their base specs, including All Wheel Drive conversions, and swapping powerplants in a huge range of cars. And you can take road cars into the Racing categories for the first time.
Online racing better:
The bright side is that online racing in Forza is still pretty good. There’s a range of options to select the format you want to race, whether that’s circuit or road racing, drift or drag racing, or tighter specification racing. You can also still select private races, although the lack of public options means that you can’t set up a lobby and ban those cars which always end up as dominant.
This also means that there’s less of a community – far less players are chatting in the online lobbies, and it means there’s no way to stop people picking any particularly dominant car in general racing. Hence the VW Golf Mk 2 overwhelming everything in the lower classes.
You’re unable to invite friends into a public lobby, tune your car without leaving, and the new ‘kick’ function was meant to remove bad racers (Something which the host could do in Forza Motorsport 2 anyway), but is being used to remove anyone who is leading a room on points already.
Although plagued with the same eternal loading times as single player, online runs pretty smoothly, and looks just as impressive as ever.
Forza Motorsport 3 is still the best racing game available on the Xbox 360, and pretty much any console, despite some new challengers since the last installment. Even with the major flaws to single player and online racing, it’s still possible to get a fantastic evening of racing.
The problem seems to be that Turn 10 are shying away from the hardcore racers and fans who were such a big part of the first two games in the series – because they fear alienating a potentially much larger general audience. The problem is that they end up diluting all the elements that made hardcore racers fanatical fans, and end up with a general audience who buy the game, play it for a bit, and then move onto Halo, Call of Duty, or whatever else they fancy. And while that’s fine for initial sales of FM3, it’s bound to have an effect on downloadable content purchases – and particularly on the next game in the series.
So get FM3 as the series reaches the highest level of graphical polish and variety, and enjoy the fact the handling is still realistic enough to give a great deal of enjoyment. Soldier on through the single player mode, and persevere with multi-player (Or just find a good car club or group of friends), and bask in what could be the last of the ‘real’ Forza racers while you still can.