Forza Motorsport 3 Hands-On

We chat with developer Turn 10 about its upcoming racer and then take it for a spin, twice.

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During a visit to Microsoft's E3 booth earlier today, we had an opportunity to meet with representatives from developer Turn 10 and talk to them about the recently announced Xbox 360-exclusive Forza Motorsport 3. Turn 10 didn't share any crazy new information about the game with us but instead gave us a few facts, figures, and philosophies, and then more or less let the game speak for itself.

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In Forza Motorsport 3, the cars are most definitely the stars. There will be around 400 of them in the finished game (including classics, SUVs, and micros), each with 10 times as many polygons as their Forza 2 counterparts and higher-resolution textures. Needless to say, the results are impressive, and if seeing the game's signature bright-red Audi R8 V10 against the stark white background of the new user interface doesn't get you excited to drive it, then nothing will.

Cars look every bit as good on the circuit as they do on the selection screen, and you're in for a real treat if you're someone who likes to drive using the in-car view. Beautiful environments, like the mountain range and lakes that surround the Camino Viejo track, whiz by at a smooth 60 frames per second, and a plethora of driving options ensure that practically anyone can have a good time behind the wheel. Turn all of the auto-assists on, and you can drive doing little more than hitting the accelerator and turning left and right. Turn them off, and you'll find that Forza 3 offers a challenging and realistic driving experience that, if you're not as skilled behind the wheel as you think you are, might give you a great opportunity to roll your car and check out the impressive damage modeling.

Forza 3 will also be forgiving in ways that its predecessors weren't, though. If you make a mistake, you have the option to rewind time for what seems to be about 10 to 15 seconds, and try again. Cleverly, when you upload times to the game's leaderboards, they'll be listed only as "certified" if you didn't use the rewind feature. Purportedly, the game will also know if you gained an advantage by riding walls, taking shortcuts, or drafting someone for the entire lap or if you had someone in a faster car push you around, and your times will be listed as uncertified accordingly.

Toward the end of our meeting, Turn 10 made a point of telling us how important the Forza community is to them and how, while they're not ready to talk about specific features just yet, players who specialize in painting or tuning cars aren't going to be disappointed or forgotten. We were also told that Forza 3 will feature "a lot" of real-life and fantasy tracks, though only three of the latter are being shown here at E3. After leaving the meeting, we were invited to get some hands-on time with the game, and that's when things got really exciting.

The E3 demo includes eight highly desirable cars from Lamborghini, Ferrari, Ford, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Porsche, Corvette, and Audi, and after choosing one (the Aston Martin on this occasion), we got to race two laps against the other seven. Playing with the regular Xbox 360 controller, we immediately felt comfortable with the controls, and as we maintained position in the middle of the pack for much of the first lap, we were afforded several opportunities to witness the game's AI at work. Opposing drivers were competitive but knew when to back down, and crucially, they were fallible. We witnessed one driver make a completely unforced error going into a corner, which, while not entirely realistic, is certainly more entertaining than seeing opponents move around a track on rails.

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However, where Forza 3 really impressed us at E3 2009, was inside one of the three simulators that Microsoft has set up behind its booth. These simulators incorporate force feedback steering wheels, three pedals, three widescreens, and hydraulics that make you feel every bump in the road and, apparently, necessitate the wearing of a seatbelt. Most of us will never get to experience Forza 3 in this way outside of an event like E3, but the fact that it's even possible to do so underlines just how much attention to detail has gone into its making.

October can't come quickly enough, and in the meantime we hope to bring you plenty of updates on features that aren't being talked about at E3. Stay tuned.

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