Game Review: Forza 3

October 8, 2009

As Microsoft's latest bid to be king of the road, Forza Motorsport 3 aims high to deliver a comprehensive driving experience while providing means for any car lover to play with minimal frustration. Does it succeed in providing the best of both worlds or is there still some fine tuning to be done?

Forza Motorsport 3 is overflowing with content, quite literally in fact, as the game doesn't even fit on a single DVD, prompting players to install nearly two gigs of data from a second disc including 100 cars and three track locations. You can play without that content if you choose, but you'll either have to clear space or get a bigger hard drive.

Forza's full car selection is 400 strong with classics like the Lancia Stratos, common utility vehicles such as the Dodge Ram, and performance monsters like the Bugatti Veyron. Cars aren't locked away, so with enough cash, you can buy any vehicle on the roster, but individual events are limited to specific classes or manufacturers.

The track selection includes 22 locations in all, each with a variety of layouts. Most are real-world circuits such as Sebring and Silverstone, but there are a few additional locales like a race around Times Square and the hairy switchbacks of Fujimi Kaido, returning from the original Forza Motorsport.


The main career mode is grouped into racing seasons that play out over a calendar period of time. You'll commit to a series of events for the weekdays and compete in championship races on the weekends. As you progress, you're presented with new series' to add to your calendar based on past choices and vehicles in your garage, but at any time you can view the full list of 220 events and take part in any that you're eligible for. Most events are focused on specific classes of cars or manufacturers, but there are also oval speedways, drag races, and endurance challenges.

With some cars costing millions of credits, Forza 3 smartly provides more casual players a chance to test drive any car or any track in quick race, hot lap, and two-player split-screen modes. You won't earn cash or experience, but times will still be posted to the leader boards. And of course, the game has a wide selection of online multiplayer options for eight players, including drift competitions, elimination races, and frantic rounds of cat and mouse.

Beyond racing, Forza 3 provides a comprehensive suite of personalization options. To improve performance, you can purchase new parts like air filters and sparkplugs, reduce the weight of your vehicle, install new rims, fine tune various attributes, and even save multiple tuning setups for different situations. And if you don't feel like digging under the hood, there's a quick upgrade tool to recommend sets of parts necessary to boost your car to the next level.

Particularly impressive is the game's vinyl editor, which allows you to create complex decals or full car designs. By manipulating, layering, and grouping different shapes, you can quickly whip up attractive compositions, and examples from talented creators online prove that the only limit is imagination.

Despite prior claims, there is no form of video editor. The game does provide a great replay system with dozens of angles to choose from and the ability to upload 30-second clips to the official website for use Despite prior claims, there is no form of video editor. The game does provide a great replay system with dozens of angles to choose from and the ability to upload 30-second clips to the official website for use in any editing program you may already own.


Tying together all of this user-generated content is the storefront, where you can sell tuning setups, decals, and car designs, or share photos and replays. You can browse for the highest rated and most popular content, and each player has a personal space to display their creations. Prolific designers can earn a lot of credits by simply selling items to other players, and there are leader boards specific to each craft.

The auction house remains as a separate marketplace, but with artistic designs and tuning setups available in the storefront, bidding wars will likely be limited to those looking for good deals on upgraded machines.

Forza Motorsport 3 has a wealth of content for car enthusiasts of all kinds, and with such well-designed creativity and community tools, there are times when it can be easy to forget that there's also some actual racing to be done.

The driving mechanics in Forza 3 aim to please players of all experience levels, harnessing a detailed simulation with layers of assists geared toward a broader audience. At the extreme end of this is the ability to hire a driver, essentially watching the AI drive the vehicle of your choice, often failing to rank as well as you could. A step below this is what developer Turn 10 refers to as one-button driving, which lets you hold down the accelerator while the game brakes for you while displaying the green racing line for you to follow.

Dedicated players can dispense with these training wheels gradually, learning to drive without guide lines or traction control. The game does a great job of rewarding you for this by boosting the amount of credits you earn--doubling your money if you turn everything to the hardest settings. With assists off, the game presents a strong representation of each vehicle that approximates its real-life characteristics. Most importantly, they feel natural to drive.

In the midst of all these aids is the new designer drug: Forza 3's rewind feature. By pressing the back button, you can make up for any missed turn or collision by rewinding the race a little and trying again. Unlike Dirt 2, there are no penalties for using it, no limits to how often you rewind, and the feature can't be turned off. It's a double-edged sword. Rewinding can relieve the frustration of blowing a turn at the end of a race or let you experiment until you get the perfect drift, but with no limits, it can become an addictive crutch that keeps you from improving your play under pressure. You will find yourself rewinding even while telling yourself that you shouldn't.

With an authentically demanding driving system, learning and managing each track is an entertaining challenge in itself, but competing against full groups of AI drivers has its ups and downs. Events early in the career take place on tight courses with short laps, making it tough to overtake opponents in time to cross the finish line. Things open up a bit more later on, but on the medium difficulty, you'll often find yourself passing most of the pack at the starting line and fighting it out with the top three for the rest of the race.


AI drivers maintain a pretty tight line around courses, rarely sliding off track, but they do take initiative to overtake one another, and if you play rough, they'll find chances to bump back. Being aggressive will cause you to lose credits to repair damage to your car, but there are no penalties for running someone off the road. Likewise, there aren't any overt penalties for cutting track, but in certain locations, doing so will unnaturally bring your car to a crawl.

Forza 3 provides a sound driving experience that can be shaped to each player's skill, but it does have a few quirks and the rewind feature will put your will willpower to the test.

Car models in Forza 3 are rendered in meticulous detail, showing off rivets and complex structures in rims and tail lights. Cockpit views are modeled for each car, but they aren't quite as stunning as in Need for Speed SHIFT. Scraped paint textures look great for light damage, but if you crash headfirst into another car, there's little impact to the frame and flipped cars usually manage to land on their wheels. Cliff-side track environments present breathtaking views, and a vibrant color palette lends a slight edge of fantasy to the overall look of the game. The whirs and whines of various engines are characteristic of the cars they represent, but the song selection tends to repeat a few tracks with the best of the bunch having been featured in several other racing games over the past year.

Forza Motorsport 3 features a wide breadth of content and truly excels with its fantastic creative tools and community structure. Some limits on the rewind feature would be nice, but the ability to shape the experience to your skill level insures that it will satisfy anyone looking for a realistic racing experience without too many headaches.

Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.

Source: Turn 10