November 20, 2009

The third installment of the Forza series may very well be the best racing game made for the XBOX 360 to date. Read ahead for a complete review.

The Ultimate Racing Sim: The adherence to precision, stunning graphics, tight controls and variety of elite race cars that have made Forza synonymous with simulation driving are all still there in spades. The new wrinkle of the Rewind button -- which allows you to correct your mistakes in this often merciless game -- is the final topper that makes this experience complete. New tracks include the Amalfi Coast in Italy, the American Southwest and Montserrat in Spain.

Variety Is The Spice: As has become customary with Forza, every manner of racing vehicle is represented, from American Muscle cars (Camaro, Mustang) to the Euro speedsters (Ferrari, Porsche, Maserati) and top Asian imports (Mazda, Nissan, Honda). More than 400 cars are offered. Any type of racing you prefer is also included, from circuit to oval to drag and even drifting. And if you are the artistic type, the car paint and decal editor is back and so is the auction house so you can buy and sell the most innovative creations.

Be Kind, Rewind: There's nothing more frustrating than being in first place heading into the last lap of a long race, making one mistake and seeing it all go to pot. That's what happens in many cases when playing a challenging game such as Forza. The Rewind feature is nothing short of a game-changer. You can take more risks knowing that a crash can be undone by simply pressing the "back" button on your controller. It's a wonderful training tool more than anything. You can rewind a crash and see exactly what you did wrong. The more you use it, the more you challenge yourself to not use it at all -- by driving better.

Play At Your Own Pace: Forza 3 takes the long view at season play. You pick and choose the races you want to participate in every month. Some paths offer new tracks that you haven't seen, while others allow you to test out new cars. At the end of each mini-circuit is a World Class Championship race. Every season you play brings a different class of car into the World Class races, so you have to keep progressing to qualify for the big-time events. The pace brings you along in a gradual-yet-rewarding manner. Remember -- this is not an easy game. Jumping into a Ferrari right off the bat with a low skill level isn't going to do you much good. The good news is that if that's what you want to do, you can since every car is available from the outset for free play mode.

Customization: You can set your own difficulty levels and driving assists. The assist options are autobrake, anti-lock brakes, stability control, traction control, shifting (manual vs. auto) and suggested line. I would recommend turning all the assists off and modifying the suggested line to "braking only." You will be rewarded with more points with fewer assists activated. (If you can win races without that brake line assist, then we salute you!)

Quick Upgrades: For gearheads who know their lugnuts from their ratchets, there are no shortage of parts upgrades to plow through in the shop. However, for the rest of us who haven't logged much grease time in the garage, it's easier to use the "Quick Upgrade" option to modify your current car for each particular race. The tuning options that racing enthusiasts love to tinker with also are available again. Online mode brings customization to a new level, allowing users to create any number of mini-games (i.e. cat and mouse) with the settings options.

Forza Motorsport 3 in action:

Rearview Mirror: The cockpit view of the car can be more visceral and immediate, but the problem is that not all car cockpits display the rear- and side-view mirrors completely. So on some cars you lose the advantage of the mirrors because you can only see half of them.

Pit Options: You might take a wrong turn and end up in pit lane, where you sit there for a few seconds, some stuff happens (or at least it sounds like stuff is happening) and then you drive off and your car's frame is still all yellow on the damage meter. I'm not sure what the point of pitting is other than to guarantee not winning.

A.I. Rehashes: The A.I. in this game is generally very good. You have to genuinely outrace the enemies to win a race, and they often go down to the last turn. However, does every racing game ever made have to have this same setup? The last cars are the heavies -- they will bludgeon you off the road if you get stuck back there; the middle cars all travel in a tight pack; the top three cars are in their own cluster and break off from the pack and drive with mad skills.

Same Track, But Different: By now there are some tracks I've raced so many times I can draw them on paper blindfolded. All racing games do this so it's not completely fair to bash Forza, but using the same tracks and having the cars go backwards on them shouldn't count as an extra track. And usually these backward races are just annoying and don't make much sense the way they are laid out.

Gameplay: 9.5Graphics: 10Audio: 9.0Online: 8.5Overall: 9.5

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