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Review: Forza Motorsport 3

Forza Motorsport 3 is the newest edition of Microsoft's hardcore racing simulation franchise. The reason that the game falls into a "simulator" genre is not at all obvious when one starts up the game for the first time, however. Forza 3 features some of the most customizable, intelligent difficulty options that I've ever seen in a game. The product that Turn 10 has turned out is without a doubt one of the best racing games ever created, but not just for the fact that it's a nearly perfect simulator; the game is easily approachable and incredibly engaging for people of literally all skill levels, a goal that no game designer has ever been able to achieve nearly as well as the developers of this game.

After installing the second disk of the game, which contains extra tracks and cars that couldn't fit on a single disk, Forza Motorsport 3's friendly English narrator asks players to identify themselves as either casual, regular, or experienced racing game fans. Those wishing for a no-hand-holding, hardcore simulation of circuit racing should choose the last option, but most players (myself included) should start out with the "regular" setting, which changes the extremely customizable "assists" in a number of ways that ease players into getting a feel for driving high-level vehicles.

Autobrake, stability control, traction control, shifting style, opponent difficulty, damage, fuel, and tire wear, anti-lock brakes, stability control, and a nifty feature called the "suggested line" are all "assists," difficulty options that can be altered in order to either provide an easier racing experience if left on. They can also provide a boost to money earned in races in various percentages if left off. The "suggested line" is a convenient little line that appears on the track and tells racer where they should turn, slow down, and accelerate, which is great for those just starting to grasp how the physics engine works.

The first thing that people will notice when they see gameplay of Forza 3 is that the game is absolutely gorgeous. The environments are impressive and provide a lot of visual variety, but the cars themselves are the star of the show. Near perfect modeling, light reflection attributes, and pure number of polygons make the cars of Forza 3 the best-looking vehicles to ever appear in a video game. I literally could not believe that the game was running on my 360, which I had been lead to believe had reached its peak graphical potential long ago.

Forza Motorsport 3 isn't all presentation; there's a ton of content behind the pretty visuals. Aside from the usual "Free Play" modes, which include a quick race option that allows you to take any of the 400+ cars in the game (no unlocking required!) on any of the 100+ tracks on the game, and a splitscreen option, there is also an especially cool mode called "Hot Lap," in which players can have the track all to themselves and race against a "ghost" (or recorded version) of their best lap times. This is made all the more interesting by the fact that there is no limit to how many laps a player can run in this mode, and with each new record set for best time, a new ghost, representing that particular run, will appear. Racing against a transparent version of yourself can really help a player to see where they can improve and what sort of things to avoid - crucial information for those who wish to take their skills online.

Speaking of online, don't expect the competition to be easy. I was mercilessly raped by some Gamestop managers who had early access to the game when I went online, and I expect that things will be even worse once the game is released to the general public. There was zero lag in my experience and getting a race set up is surprisingly easy, so I enjoyed my time with the online portion of the game despite my total inability to compete seriously. Racing isn't the only part of the online, of course. Players can create logos, custom vehicles, intricate decals, and tuning setups, all of which can be bought and sold on the Forza 3 storefront. Custom vehicles can be purchased through auctions. players can also create incredibly high quality footage with a video editor and take snapshots during races and share them

The meatiest part of the single player experience in Forza 3 is the "Season Play" mode, in which players are taken through a multiple-year career as a circuit racer, earning cars, money, and XP (which increases your driver level) as they go. Progression is made by completing events in a semi-linear fashion, but it's possible to go into the event list at absolutely any time and play any of the events that have been unlocked. There are so many events that it would doubtless take over 60 hours to complete them all, so that achievement for getting gold in all of them will very likely only be earned by the hardest of hardcore fans.

The actual racing segment of this racing game has, appropriately, received a lot of attention in this go-round. It's incredible how realistically every car in the game controls, and the amount of challenge presented in even the most simple of turns because of this realism gives the game an especially addictive quality. Accidentally letting your tires catch grass can potentially spoil a race, so extreme caution must be taken if one plans on successfully taking down the stiff AI competition.

One new feature that could be controversial is the rewind function, which allows players to go backwards in time and redo mistakes. There is absolutely no limit to how many times the rewind function can be used, so players can spam away at it if they can't make turns properly. Because the rewind function cannot be used in multiplayer, however, I don't see it as a problem; instead, I see it as a solution. Racing simulators like this one have long suffered from a simple problem: if you mess up one turn really badly, no matter how well you do for the rest of the race, odds are high that you'll never catch back up to the pack. This is extremely unfriendly to new players, and doesn't help them learn the game at all, instead forcing them to constantly restart, which undoubtedly makes many players give up entirely. The rewind feature allows a player to see what he or she did wrong in the situation and test out different alternatives, letting them see for themselves how they should be driving. Players don't have to ever use the rewind feature; it is merely a very convenient teaching tool and saving grace for those who need it. As a solution for the large learning curve for games like this, it's pure genius, and I give the highest regards to whoever at Turn 10 came up with the idea for the feature.

There just doesn't seem to be anything that Forza Motorsport 3 doesn't do right. The game is set up in an intricate, unique way that allows even casual players to slowly turn into hardcore ones. The presentation is stunning, the online options and community features are unparalleled, and the sheer amount of content available is enough to last years. FM3 sets a bar that may not be touched for a very, very long time.

Players:1-2 local, 1-8 online

Platform(s):Xbox 360

Developer:Turn 10

Publisher:Microsoft Game Studios