Forza 3 tries to capture every aspect of car culture. It includes drag racing, drifting, circuit racing, tuning and all things making your car pretty. For me though, Forza 3 is all about the tracks.
The last Forza already had a good car selection, customisation and physics that actually felt 'right'. The biggest step up with Forza 3 are the roads you actually get to attack. If happiness is pursuit of the perfect corner, then you are spoilt for choice here. No racing game since the original Need For Speed has offered really satisfying, realistic roads. Here you can cruise around the coasts of Italy in a classic Ferrari, touge Fujimi Kaido initial D styles, or take a lotus around the ever popular nurburgring. Larger tracks can be over 10K's of driving bliss, offering up off camber corners, tunnels, and some stunning scenery. These tracks can also be broken down into stages for rally nuts, making for some interesting hill-climbs. Circuit freaks worry not, Silverstone and other popular circuits return with the inclusion of Le Mans! I belive my flatmates first words were, "Oh my god, I'm driving somewhere interesting!".
As you would expect, this iteration of the game is a lot nicer to look at than the last. Every part of the game is now more detailed, cars have individually modelled lug nuts and there is a lot more to look at when tearing around the tracks. You may be concentrating a little too much on the actual racing to notice straight away. Stepping back to watch a replay of your tweaked ride gliding around exotic tracks is a car fans dream. Forza 2 in comparison now looks a little bland. The new in-car view may not look as good as say Need For Speed Shift, but Forza's beauty is all in the details. Oh - and thank the stars that there is actually a rear view mirror this time around.
Although purists prefer engine noise over music, there is also now music as you race. Of course you can turn this off, but the tunes they have selected aren't bad. I still prefer to tune into internet radio for a longer race. Sound effects are also improved with effects such as tire noises on differing surfaces. Car engines sound meaty enough too, with modifications changing the cars sound noticeably.
One aspect of the game which seems to divide are the AI cars. There seems to be too many of them on real tight circuits, making overtaking a slow process. On later races with more laps, this is ok, as it is realistic - and challenging for sim fans. Fairly often though you will be tempted to overtake on the grass or just take someone out to get past them. Not too realistic and this certainly reminds you that you are playing a video game, but if you only have three laps to beat close rivals, its almost necessary. I have to say all my mates that have had a go seem to adapt this strategy immediately. On the other hand, you have tight, evenly matched racing which forces you to slow down a bit and choose your overtaking spots carefully.
As with any racing game its a lot harder to be aware of cars around you than in real life, and although opponents usually won't plough straight into you, over-breaking or tightening your apex can result in crippling pile-ups. If this is at the end of an endurance race, the result is often a controller through your screen. Not so with Forza 3, you just press rewind and try again. Personally I don't dislike the inclusion of this, but being a bit of a driving purist, I certainly try and avoid it. For me this feature destroys any immersion or rhythm in the game during a race. That said certain situations which would normally result on the game being ejected from the console become fixable. You can even use it to tackle your favourite corner again and again to perfect a line.
Personally, I have never been a huge fan of the way games like Gran Turismo and Forza have been laid out.To get anywhere in the game you have to have a million tuned cars, resulting in playing the same races again and again to scrape enough money to be competitive in the next event. Forza 3 uses a calender, this is hardly ground braking, but the calender actually changes according to the car you currently have selected. This means the game moves along a lot quicker and its a lot easier to stay competitive. You will still be forced to compete in a few class events, so do have a back-up car for these. Fact is though within an hour of playing I had a Del-Sol with an S2000 engine and a rear wheel drive Fiat Abarth which lasted me a good many races.
Upon booting the game up you will immediately see that the interface is much cleaner than ever before. Navigating the menus is a breeze, which is a good thing as there are a good many menus to navigate to get the most out of this game. The screen I care most about though is the upgrade menu. Unfortunately you still often have to go back a good many pages to manually upgrade your car between races, but the tuning is so well thought out, its worth a couple more button presses. Car nuts will almost live in the tuning menu's, a few new features includes the ability to rock different rim and tire combinations back and front. You can even do drive-train swaps at will. Those a little less technical can opt for a very clever 'optimise' feature which automatically equips the best upgrades for the current race. For me though, I love changing aspects of the car myself and knowing how each 'tweak' will affect the handling.
My only disappointment, and it is a big one for some of us - is that there is no system link. This means that if you have two or more people, XBOX's and TVs in the house you still need to go through the Internet. And here's the kicker; You all need an XBOX Live account. I have hosted a number of Forza 2-athons and as well as increasing the cost involved in playing, adds unnecessary latency - not desirable in close racing. Game companies need to remember that not everyone actually wants to take the game online thank you very much.
The problem about reviewing a title like Forza 3 is that a lot of the game is highly community based. Depending on how the community receives and supports the game, as well as depending what new packs become available to upload the score I give the game today has the potential to go even higher. The game really needs to be out for a few months to really do some features justice - so please keep this in mind when you read this review. I personally didn't get too much into this side of the game with Forza 2, but I will definitely be keeping an eye on XBOX Live over the coming weeks. Apparently some sicko's enjoy painting, filming and tuning their cars more than they like actually taking for a spin.
Forza 3 may have 'something for everyone', but for me the heart of the game is how damn satisfying a good lap feels in the hot lap mode. And I guess at the end of the day, the most important thing in a DRIVING game is how much fun you have kissing the apex. Gran Turismo 5 (you knew it would be mentioned somewhere) has a lot of work to do to eclipse this as the premium car game.