In my estimation, the Forza Motorsport series has long supplanted the lumbering beast of Gran Tursimo as the premiere racing franchise in the console market. While it might be argued that Gran Turismo is targeted more towards the hardcore sim market, Forza, particularly with its second installment, set itself apart as a racer able to provide whatever driving experience players wanted from it. Forza Motorsport 3 continues this tradition, and while improvements over its predecessor might not be dramatic, it still represents some of the best racing available on any platform. It is perhaps the most complete driving package to date.
As in Forza Motorsport 2, Turn 10 has provided an extraordinarily customizable experience. The wide variety of completely optional driving assists and other tweaks makes the game appealing to hardcore sim racing fanatics, arcade racing enthusiasts, and everyone in between. Further, this is a title that allows players not only to race exactly the way that they want to do but also spend time doing exactly what they want to do in the game. Returning from Forza 2 is the vinyl toolset, which while providing a simple interface for customizing the appearance of your car makes jawdropping paint jobs possible. The in game storefronts allow players to buy and sell fully customized cars as well as various add on features made in game. It’s easy to imagine spending a fair amount of time just navigating the storefronts to see what other players have come up with.
There are vast amounts of things to be seen and done in Forza Motorsport 3 whether you prefer to race solo or with the robust online community. The game is large enough that it comes with a second disc of material to be installed. Though it’s technically optional, you’re short changing yourself by not installing it, and as it’s a meaty 1.9 gigs, Forza 3 was the first game that made me seriously consider getting a larger hard drive for my 360. While Microsoft has to be credited for almost single-handedly making online console gaming a successful reality, it is difficult not to feel that they dropped the ball with respect to some of their hardware design decisions. In this case, the inability for users to upgrade their own hard drive in a manner commensurate with the current price for hard drive space feels incredibly shortsighted, and it is a problem that seems likely to become more of an issue the further that we get into this console generation.
While it both looks and sounds exceptional technically speaking, Forza Motorsport 3 isn’t leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. But given that Forza 2 was the series’ debut on new generation of consoles, that shouldn’t be all that surprising. Further, it doesn’t really matter. All of the top racing franchises these days are technically adept, looking and sounding sharp. The key differences lie in presentation and diversity, and Turn 10 seems to understand this concept. Forza 3 has a higher degree of overall polish than did 2. The matchmaking style of online racing just feels right. The opponent AI is more realistic. The overall Forza experience is simply made more enjoyable by little touches.
While all this is good in theory, it does beg consideration of where the franchise is going to go from here. The reality is that Turn 10 is a Microsoft internal studio comprised of very talented developers. They could easily refine the Forza franchise every few years to keep it in sync with modern technologies, adopting innovations from other titles. For example, Forza 3 employs the brilliant rewind feature of Grid and Dirt 2 as both a learning tool for difficult track sections and as a safety net preventing entire races from being blown by a single mistake. But it would be a shame to see such a great franchise fall prey to the kinds of lackluster updates that have plagued the Madden series in recent years.
While it might seem premature to worry about a problem that Turn 10 hasn’t demonstrated that they actually have yet, it might be interesting for Forza to adopt the model of Rock Band, which despite the release of a second iteration pretty clearly serves as a gaming platform at this point. It has long seemed to make sense from a consumer perspective for sports franchises to offer annual roster updates instead of brand new, full priced titles. But the more we see add-on packs and microtransactions for all kinds of titles such an approach seems more appealing for any franchise that sees regular releases, particularly for titles without any real narrative to speak of. This speculation aside, Forza Motorsport 3 is a well-done racing title and is certainly recommended for fans of any kind of racing game. Turn 10 has crafted another beautiful game and have placed the ball firmly in the court of Gran Turismo developers Polyphony Digital.