I think it’s fair to say that Forza 3 has had more hype than a 7 year old on too many Haribo. Since the official announcement during the E3 games exhibition back in June, Forza’s development team, Turn 10 have been involved in one of the most pro-active marketing campaigns since Halo 3. There’s been a plethora of screen shots for the fans to pore over, videos of updated Forza favourites (fans of the series have been screaming for a high def Fujimi Kaido track since it was dropped after the original Forza) and more headline licence deals (Bugatti Veyron, Le Mans circuit) than you can shake a drive shaft at.
The demo has been massively anticipated by just about anyone with an xBox and a steering wheel. Buoyed by screen shots that seemingly put Gran Turismo 5 Prologue in the shade, Forzonians (tm me) stayed up to the small hours in time zones that demanded it and used Poirot levels of deduction to predict the exact minute that the release would drop. Remember, this is a demo.
So, the fans have downloaded, played to death and picked over every pixelated titbit that Turn 10 has offered up. Was the hype justified?
Let me rewind (more on this later, you’ll see) to Forza 2. It’s fair to say that that the second stab at the franchise was, to those in the know, a huge step forward for arcade/ pseudo-sim racers, bridging the gap between the rFactor’s and the Ridge Racers of this world with less compromise than the, somewhat dictatorial recent Gran Turismo titles. It incorporated decent physics, sound and expressionalism in the form of the huge amount of tuning parts and the in-game-skinable cars. These threw up an amazing amount of community content, from professional car tuners to talented painters that could get staggering amounts of artistic genius from the crude livery editor. All of this channelled through to the car auction house, where these works of art could be purchased by the inept (yes me) for a large chunk of game earned credits.
It was still accessible and scalable for those with a lead foot and ham-hands making for a game for all racers.
The downside was a game that, whilst not ugly in the eye candy department, looked pretty second rate when compared to the likes of Racedriver: Grid or GT5P.
Back to the present day and how have things sped on? Starting at the beginning, the menus, which have gone all ‘Apple Mac’ with their white backgrounds and minimalist form-factor, are a lot less cluttered and more car-orientated than before. However, as in Forza 2, some of cooler options are hidden beyond the comprehension of the casual gamer with the hot-lapping mode (no cars, infinite laps) being situated on the leader boards rather than the main menu. This however is a criticism of the demo build which is unlikely to be the same as the final build.
Next, the assists have been raised an rpm or two by the introduction of a wealth of hand-holding methods of getting new-comers around the track in one piece. There’s even an option for auto braking which will mean all can be competitive to a certain degree. A controversial addition is the rewind (see I told you’d see) option which has become a must have option since Race Driver: Grid. It gives you the option to rewind and replay any section of the track which you may have hashed up. This makes me unhappy. Leader boards will soon be filled with artificially patched up laps where drivers can rinse and repeat a circuit until it is demolished, inch perfectly. I can only hope that purists will be rewarded for a clean, one off lap of perfection. Apply huge sigh here….
The A.I of the CPU controlled cars has been tweaked substantially. They now hold their line, defend a corner, get angry if provoked and get spooked if intimidated. There is still a few moments when they will simply punt you off for the sake of it but it’s pretty infrequent and as a whole, as random as a real life race would be. Comparisons with GT5P are valuable here. If you replay a race, the A.I will do something different in every race restart. In Gran Turismo, A.I behaviour is an obvious script that is repeated each and every race.
One of the most over-looked nuances of a racing game is the sound and FM3 doesn’t disappoint. Super-chargers whine, turbos hiss and V8’s throb. The tyre sounds come in for enormous praise here as well (as they did in FM2) with a very delicate aural response to how hard you attack a corner. This is possibly the area where the game adds to its immersion most strongly. Feedback is ok through controller or wheel, but the sound of tyres that are obviously on the limit of their traction gives the biggest clue to how hard you are pushing it. Turn the sound off and try driving; you’ll see what I mean.
Feedback, secondary to the sound, is better this time around. A Mini’s steering feels well dampened, constant and mostly inert whilst the Track Racer Porsche GT3 feels nervous and granular, twitching with the feel of the tarmac and camber changes. A truly good effort.
Physics are a very objective thing as the forum fallout has showed. Some are saying that the cars feel glued to the road whilst others are offering views for the flipside. My t’penny’s worth is that they are an improvement. Cars are less nervous than before and corner with less drama. Most modern cars are built with safe as default handling and FM3 showcases this in accurate style. Tyres no longer have the concrete feel of before, with sudden grid drop-off and a mile of catching the tail. It’s all progressive until you drive the track orientated Porsche which displays a natural grip/spin bent. Some disagree; citing a dumbing down of skill needed but, hey, the demo is free, make your own mind up!
I can avoid the subject of visual lovelies no more. Graphic-wise, it’s easy to say it’s a tremendous step up from the cartoony look of FM2. Cars and interiors have an amazing attention to detail that have obviously had an enormous amount of care and money poured into them with every, switch, button and panel modelled in an anally attentive way. The lighting, however, is the biggest let down as it was in the previous game. The cars are picked out in an overly saturated way which gives them a slightly orange tint and an unnatural contrast to their surroundings. It is worth remembering that this is on the one track in the demo which is obviously set at near sunset. The juries out on this.
The announce screen shots that have been bandied around with the ‘No Bull-shot’ moniker by Turn 10 seem to have regardless been ‘improved’ upon. Much as I’d have liked it to be so, they are no match for GT5P’s delicate lighting. Photo-Mode is the catch phrase here but don’t expect quite the level of detail that the official screen-shots suggest. They’re good, but not that good.
In conclusion, none of the criticisms should be taken to heart. Forza 3 is shaping up to be the leader in crossover arcade/sim racers. Its diversity and community aspect is unlikely to be topped by the, almost ether-ware and (probably) anodyne GT5 or any of the other pretenders. The demo, whilst only offering 5 cars and 1 track, is as good a racer as you’ll ever find. The full game can only stamp its authority harder.