Do you like cars? If so, Forza Motorsport 3 is the game for you. In fact, provided you don't hate cars, Forza Motorsport 3 is the game for you. Turn 10 Studios' latest racer is an ambitious game that tries to be a lot of different things for a lot of different people, and the great news is that it succeeds at just about every turn. It doesn't matter how good you are behind the wheel; you can find a difficulty level and a handling model to suit you. And while there are plenty of options available for those of you who enjoy painting or tuning your rides as much as you enjoy driving them, you don't have to devote any time to those features to reap their rewards. Forza Motorsport 3 is a bigger and better game than its predecessor in every way imaginable, and while it's not flawless, it's certainly way ahead of the competition.
Your first race in Forza 3 is spent at the wheel of an Audi R8 loaner, and by default, there are several driving assists--including the series' familiar dynamic racing line--turned on that serve as your water wings as you're thrown in at the deep end. From there, you're free to take your career in whichever direction you choose, though with limited funds at your disposal your first car is more likely to be a Scion than a Shelby. Career mode is divided into seasons, and each season you compete in a world championship that spans several races. You don't get to choose which championships you're entered into, so you start with relatively slow showroom cars early on and must get some miles under your belt before competing in thoroughbred racecars later on. With that said, championship races are generally two or three weeks apart, and so after every race you're invited to choose another, shorter series of events to take part in. You can also ignore the calendar completely if you choose, and just compete in whichever events you want to at anytime. Either way, the options you're presented with are determined, at least in part, by the cars that you own, so if you manage to get your hands on an Enzo Ferrari or a Porsche Carrera GT early on, you don't have to wait around before putting them to work. You might even find that you can use one or two of your cars in events for which they far exceed the maximum performance restrictions, though this bug doesn't rear its competition-trivializing head very often.
Regardless of what you're driving, you're free to pick and choose which assists you want to use, and you have an opportunity to quickly alter your settings before every race. This is definitely a welcome feature, because while you might not feel the need for antilock brakes or stability control when you're driving something modest, you might not be nearly as confident climbing into a Bugatti Veyron supercar for the first time. It's tempting to make things easier by keeping all of the assists turned on, but there's a great incentive to turn them off, because every time you do so, your potential earnings increase. For example, turning off the autobrake (which you'll probably want to do right away) increases your winnings by 10 percent, and if you opt for "simulation" damage, fuel, and tire wear as opposed to "cosmetic" or "limited," you can add another 15 percent on top of that. This setup ensures that while anyone who picks up Forza 3 can spend their entire career feeling like a winner, better drivers will earn more money in the process, and rightly so. Similarly, you get to keep more of your winnings if you don't have to spend them paying for damage incurred during a race, so although it's possible to win some races by driving aggressively and using opponents or walls to slow you down for corners, you won't be doing yourself (or your opposition) any favors in the long run.
That's especially true if your opponents are other online players or a friend that you're playing split-screen with, because retaliation is likely to cross their minds at some point. Forza 3's AI is more focused on the finish line than on forcing you off the track, which makes it superior to some of the players you're likely to meet online, but it's not an intelligence that's going to pose a threat to its human counterparts anytime soon. At times, AI drivers are superb: they jostle for position, they look for openings when other drivers falter, and they know when to back off if their attempt at an overtake starts looking perilous. Occasionally, though, these otherwise believable opponents will make such silly mistakes that you'll swear they must have fallen asleep at the wheel. At Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya, for example, it's not nearly as uncommon as it should be to see opponents accelerate toward the Seat hairpin and fly off into the gravel without ever appearing to touch the brake pedal or the steering wheel, and it's not unheard of to see different opponents making the exact same error on consecutive laps. Race incidents like these aren't something you'll see often, especially if you're spending most of your time at the front of the pack, but if you're in a closely contested race, it's less satisfying to win as a result of an opponent's incompetence than it is to beat him out of a corner or slingshot past him on a straight.
It's also slightly less satisfying to cross the finish line first if you've felt the need to use Forza 3's new rewind feature during the race, but it's a great (if unoriginal) addition to the game regardless. If you consider yourself a purist, you might feel inclined to look down on this new feature and on anyone who uses it, and that's fine, because you don't have to use it if you don't want to, and nobody is ever going to have the option of using it while competing with you online. Furthermore, if you're from the no-rewind school of racing, your leaderboard times will always appear above those of drivers who have used the rewind to correct any number of their mistakes. The leaderboards also clearly display which assists drivers were using when they recorded their posted lap times, which might ultimately end up being a better incentive for you to turn them off than extra winnings are.
As in Forza 2, your winnings in Forza 3 can be used to buy new cars (more than 400 different models are available at launch), either direct from manufacturers or from other players via an auction house. However, it seems unlikely that Forza 3's auction house will be the hive of activity that Forza 2's was, not because it has changed for the worse, but because unless you're looking for a bargain or want to offload a car that you've been awarded, there are few reasons to go there. In Forza 2, one of the main reasons to buy a car from the auction house was that it had a great custom paint job and/or because it had already had money spent on upgrading and tuning it. You can still buy and sell cars this way if you choose to, but in Forza 3 you can also deal in tuning setups, paint jobs, and individual vinyl designs without having to attach them to cars. For example, if you re-create a favorite video game character on the hood of a car and you want to earn some credits selling it, you now have two options. You can either sell it as a vinyl that other players will be free to paste onto any car that they choose (safe in the knowledge that they won't be permitted to resell it subsequently) or incorporate it into a design for a specific model of car so that players who own one of those cars can apply it to their vehicle. It's a vastly superior system to that in the last game, and because potential buyers can search for designs either by typing in keywords or by using presets like "retro," "anime," and "realistic," there's a good chance that players who are interested in the kinds of things you create will find their way to your in-game storefront.
Forza 3's car models look fantastic in their showroom and real-world race liveries, but it's the designs being created by the community that are really making them pop. That's no mean feat, because the tools that designers have to work with, while clearly powerful, don't make life easy. If you're familiar with the design tools in Forza 2, then you might be disappointed or at least surprised to learn that they haven't changed much in Forza 3. You still work primarily with geometric shapes and generic-looking icons, you still group large numbers of them together to create race team logos or photo-realistic images of your favorite Brazilian supermodels, and it still takes a lot of work to create something worthwhile. It's time well spent, though, and because there's now an option to create designs on a perfectly flat surface before applying them to a car, you no longer have to use the roof of a Mini Cooper for a canvas. Would this aspect of the game be better if you could import images from Photoshop or just scan them in? Absolutely not. Sure, it would be easier, but it wouldn't be as rewarding, and more importantly it wouldn't be fair for players without access to the necessary hardware or software. It's also unlikely that the end results would look significantly better. Spend some time checking out the top designs, as rated by other players, and you'll realize that just about anything is possible with Forza 3's design tools; you just have to get good with them.
If you're more inclined to spend your time racing than playing with geometric shapes, there's still no reason you can't have great-looking cars. Just make sure you win enough credits to buy all of the designs you want. Whether you're racing in your single-player career or online with up to seven opponents, all of your winnings go into the same pot, and so do your experience points. Leveling up in Forza 3 doesn't benefit you in the way that you might expect it to in other genres, but every time you reach a new level, you're awarded a new car, so it can be a strong incentive to keep playing long after you've told yourself "just one more race." This is especially true later in your career, because the cars you're given are among the most desirable in the game--assuming you haven't rushed out and bought them already.
Just as you would in real life, it's not a bad idea to test-drive cars before you buy them. None of the cars in Forza 3 handle poorly, and all are delivered to your garage with perfect bodywork and spotlessly clean, accurately re-created interiors. Inevitably, there will be cars that suit your driving style better than others, though, and if you don't know much about tuning, it can be tough to tame a car that's proving problematic for you--even if you take advantage of the new quick upgrade option that optimizes your car for the class of competition that you want to use it in. In Career mode you're only able to use cars that you own, but every car in the game (as well as those in your garage) is available to you from the outset for use in single races, hot lap events, and multiplayer.
Online play was one of Forza 2's greatest strengths, and the same is true of Forza 3. It doesn't matter if you're looking to enjoy a private session with friends or hop into a race with random opponents--getting your car onto the starting grid couldn't be easier, and it's hard to imagine how the subsequent races could be any better. Even in multiplayer, detailed environments from all over the world fly by at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour without ever posing a threat to the frame rate, and the game is very smart about knowing when to "ghost" players who have tried to take shortcuts or are in the mischievous minority who think it's hilarious to drive the wrong way and try to crash into other racers. In addition to regular races, online options include Drag and Drift events, as well as three different Tag variants, Elimination races, and team-based Cat and Mouse competitions. As the host of a session, the options that you have to customize these game types number in the dozens, and you can even force players to turn off certain assists or use a specific camera angle.
Those camera options include all of the usual suspects: bumper, hood, cockpit, chase near, and chase far. Another great feature of Forza 3, which will be familiar if you played the previous game, is that at any point during a single-player race or during a replay of a multiplayer race, you can pause the action to take a photograph. The in-game camera has more settings for you to tinker with than the cameras that most of us use in real life, and if you're good at photography (or even if you're not) it's possible to create some impressive images. This is especially true at new tracks like Italy's Amalfi Coast, Japan's Fujimo Kaido, and the United States' Sedona Raceway, which are great additions to the sizeable roster not only because they offer very different and enjoyable driving experiences, but also because they're set in some quite beautiful locations. If you choose to share photos by uploading them to your storefront they'll also appear on the official Forza Website, from which you can download them for posting in forums and the like.
Other than some load screens that stick around long enough to outstay their welcome before each race, the quality of Forza 3's presentation is uniformly excellent across every aspect of the game. The menus are clean and intuitive, the in-game visuals never fail to impress, and the default audio options prioritize the satisfying roars of the cars' respective engines over the 30-plus licensed tunes playing in the background. Artists on the soundtrack include The Hives, The Fratellis, Fall From Grace, Alkaline Trio, The Qemists, DJ Drunken Master, Logistics, and many more. Regardless of whether or not they're to your liking, there's no denying that the vast majority of the songs on the playlist make good driving tunes.
There's also no denying that Forza Motorsport 3 is a truly special racing game. Not only does it make simulation-style racing accessible to anyone with the inclination to give it a try, but it looks and sounds superb doing it and manages to foster an unusually strong sense of community along the way. If you have any interest whatsoever in racing games, even if you've never played one before, you'd do well to pay a visit to your local video game showroom and become a member of the Forza Motorsport 3 owners' club at your earliest convenience.