By Matt Carey
Way back in 1974, Atari released an arcade game by the name of Gran Trak 10. It was a groundbreaking release, being the first game to feature a steering wheel, gear stick and foot pedals. In this one moment of innovation, an entire genre was born.
Over the years, the racing game developed to encompass many different styles. From snowboarding to karting, biking to simulations, the genre has encompassed about as many different makeovers as a series of This Morning, yet it never stagnated. As time progressed, so did the games, with platform defining titles always pushing the boundaries. Pole Position, Out Run, Mario Kart, Metropolis Street Racer and Gran Turismo all pushed and pushed until, here and now in 2009, Turn 10 aim to take the genre one step further with Forza 3.
It is testament to Turn 10 and the sterling work that they have done on past Forza titles that make this arguably one of the most eagerly anticipated racing game in history. Where Polyphony’s take on the racing sim has always been a very serious one, Turn 10 have always embraced the gamer first, and the car enthusiast second. This has always made the series more accessible to the mass market, but apparently, not accessible enough. Yes, all the assists are still there, along with the racing line, but now thrown into the mix we see auto tuning options and a rewind function. Of course, this can all be turned on, off, or somewhere in-between, and if you want to spend ten hours fine tuning your brand new DB9, then you can. The rewind function has been copied wholesale from Grid and Dirt 2, but whereas in the aforementioned titles the use is limited, Forza allows you unlimited turning back of the clock. The hardcore may balk at the very idea, but in truth it is a fantastic addition. The leaderboards even reflect what assists have been used by the racer and what hasn’t ,keeping even the purest of pure game-drivers happy and still with all bragging rights intact.
There is a stripped back look, and feel, to the game. Pretty much everything is white, and whilst minimalist in presentation, it is effective and uncluttered. Rightly, the focus is on the cars, or the parts needing purchased, or the competition to be raced in. Bells and whistles on screens that serve no purpose other than to say “press start”, for example, are irrelevant, and for a game that prides itself on the realism, the white backdrops give a sense of purity. Upon beginning the game, you are vocally walked into proceedings by British actor Peter Egen. His voice adds an air of authority and is there to introduce and guide you as you venture through the menus and features.
The comforting arm isn’t just confined to telling you what to do. The game seems intent on making things easy for you. For someone like me, this is a god-send. See, I like my car games. Love them in fact. My favourite program is Top Gear too. But flip the hood on anything from a Ford Escort to a Subaru Impreza and ask me to change the oil and, well, I’m as confused as a very confused person can be. So, when a game offers me the option to bypass menu after menu of flywheels and tires, and just ask me if it wants me to let it install what it thinks I should have, then you can bet your crankshaft that I’m going to select “yes”. But, for those that know exactly what should go where and how to get the best of them, then they can ignore the molly-coddling and get covered in virtual oil.
Season Mode is a very welcome step forward from the usual ‘here are a load of events, pick what you want and race’ that we are accustomed to. Now, the game reads what you are doing, where your strengths are, and where you perform. After selecting your free car, you are presented with a selection of events with which to get to grips with your car. Once the race is complete, and you will no doubt win a car or two by this point, then a new selection of races open up, based on what cars you have. Proceedings continue like this throughout a calendar year, but as you progress, different cars and different races become available. The system is designed so that each individual player will have a different experience. In a nutshell, your game will be unique to you.
Helping this concept along is the unusual approach that Turn 10 have taken, namely to make available to the player every single one of the 400 cars right from the beginning. Yes, that’s right. From the second you begin the game you can choose to purchase whichever car you desire. There is nothing to unlock, and nothing that can only be attained by winning a certain event. Want to save up for a Bugatti Veyron before anything else? No problem, go for it. Some would say that this is yet another way that the game panders to the amateurs out there and steers away from the hardcore. In truth, this decision is more to do with opening up the season mode to being unique for everyone. If one man buys a VW Golf after 5 races, and another buys a Ford Focus, then each person is going to veer off in very different directions. However, if you did prefer the old system, that option is there too.
The racing itself is much as you would expect from a game that has ‘sim’ plastered all over it. The physics at play here are complex and beautiful in application, ensuring that the racing experience is as accurate as it should be. Even the tracks themselves have been expertly modelled, with every bump and dip recreated superbly. For instance, I was participating in a race on the Suzuka circuit in a Ferrari. One particular corner kept catching me out as on the approach there was a slight kink in the track. Every time I hit it, it would just throw my steering off enough to take me off for a little grass cutting excursion. Annoying, yes, but I fully respected the work that had gone into ensuring that bump would be exactly where it should be.
There is also car damage for the first time, along with the ability to flip the car. In terms of the damage, it really isn’t all it could be. Sometimes your car feels like it is decidedly beat up, but visually looks like it only has a few scratches and scrapes. It’s a shame, but at least Turn 10 are not as stoic to the concept as Polyphony have been with Gran Turismo. With regards to flipping the car, well, I haven’t yet. However, that doesn’t mean to say that the car still feels planted. Hit the rumble strips incorrectly on an apex, and be prepared to have your car manoeuvre briefly on two wheels. It certainly does add an air of caution to your racing, as well as a huge slice of realism.
For a great many people out there, the most fun to be had in Forza is found in the customization modes. As before, there is the option to place your pimped out rides up for auction for all to bid on. Some cars are plastered in decals, some are of a certain level, and some may be tuned to the hilt. However, in a bid to curb the appalling over-pricing and tactics employed by people in the last game, Turn 10 have added the Store Front. Now, whilst you can still buy a car with a mad, brilliant or garish design, there is also the option of just buying the design. Budding automobile Van Goghs can post a design set to a specific car, set the price, and also decide on the quantity available for purchase. Needless to say, the great designers out there can make a killing, not by selling their wares at huge inflated prices, but by keeping them low, but keeping the quantity high. This ensures everyone has half a chance to get what they want or like, but are not restricted by their credit balance. This can even be broke down further, and instead of full designs, individual decals can be sold. For example, I decided to make a design based on Family Guy. I managed a rather good Stewie myself, but was struggling to make Brian. After five minutes on the Storefront, I found a design I liked and purchased it to use how I wanted.
If you want to create them yourself though, you will find that the process has been made much easier this year. Instead of attempting to design your next masterpiece on the bonnet of any particular car, the design is a screen in its’ own right, complete with a grid work, enabling absolute precision. Needless to say, this makes it all much, much easier.
On top of this, Turn 10 realised that not everyones strengths lie in the field of art. By making the game accessible t racers of all kinds, they understood that those out there that like to tune and tinker should be given the opportunity to make some in game cash too, and those that don’t can still benefit from someone else’s work, without having to buy the entire car to do so. Again, for someone like me, this idea is priceless. Forking out 10,000 credits for a set up that will help me win a race I’m struggling on is a dream come true.
The ability to do what you want doesn’t end with just the Season, the cars, or the design. Multiplayer this year has been beefed up too. At first glance, everything is the same as it once was, only a little more streamlined. Now, there are multiple listing options for the cars, meaning that finding the car you want to race in a whole lot easier. The race types are where it’s at though. If just the basic ‘pick a track and car and race’ option doesn’t float your boat, then feel free to pick one of the included game modes, including team play and cat-and-mouse, for example. And if that isn’t enough, then go further into the options and mess with anything you want. Tracks, cars, assists, laps; it literally is all up to you. Find a set-up you like, and the game enables you to save it for further use, meaning you don’t have to spend hours trying to remember how you set things up last time. Needless to say, with pages upon pages of options, there really are limitless possibilities.
Car games nearly always fall into the ‘sim’ or the ‘arcade’ category; they either cater for the hardcore, or the casual. It is refreshing beyond words that Turn 10 have made possibly the first racing game that is everything to everyone. Whatever your level of interest in cars and games based around them, Forza 3 will reward you. The presentation, the game types, the customisation, the community are all designed to bring in and encourage gamers of all ages, types, and abilities and more than this, the racing is fun, solid, and pant-wettingly good fun. Especially online. I haven’t even mentioned the graphics which are, as expected, beautiful to behold, and eye-candy of the highest order. Forza 3 is not only the best racing game this year, but the best for a (console) generation. See that shiny, metal, glove thing on the floor? That’s the gauntlet Turn 10 have just thrown.
10/10 Racing Nirvana