Forza Motorsport 3
There are simply too many options for racing fans these days, so chances are you'll either be drooling over the prospect of yet another realistic racing simulation or you'll simply be sighing with indifference before going back to Burnout. On the whole, racing games can be a fairly divisive genre, meaning that you likely prefer either the arcade thrills of a racer like Burnout or MotorStorm or the rigidly authentic petrolhead's wet dream of a Gran Turismo or a Forza.
And with Gran Turismo 5 seemingly forever delayed, Forza has seized pole position as the motoring connoisseur's game of choice. With the follow up to 2007's well-received Forza 2, Turn 10 hope to cement the series' rep for unmatched authenticity and detail, beating GT to the punch with stellar graphics and a satisfyingly complex driving model.
Forza 3 retains the same depth and nuance as its predecessor in its handling, but the developer has made extra effort to ensure that even the most ham-fisted driver isn't put off by the inherent difficulty that comes with portraying race driving so accurately. This time round, players can turn on enough assistance to make the game playable with just one button - merely accelerate and steer and the game will take care of the rest.
Pointless? Maybe. But then no one can accuse Turn 10 for not trying to at least make Forza more accessible to players less accustomed to the intricacies of driving a real car (or pretending to for that matter). Happily, there are multiple variables that you can toggle on or off through the assistance menu, so you're bound to strike your own happy medium, whether you like your racing raw tough or baby simple. And as is de rigueur for racers at the moment, you can always correct a careless mistake with a quick rewind to the moment before you spun out into the tyre wall.
The braking line indicator also makes a welcome return from the previous Forza and is just as helpful a learning aid for feeling your way around each of the 100 plus (count 'em) tracks putting in an appearance. Some are based upon real life circuits such as the unforgiving Laguna Seca and the iconic endurance test that is Germany's Nurburgring, whereas others are fabricated tracks based on actual exotic locations around the globe like sun-drenched Montserrat or the craggy Amalfi Coast in Italy.
Chuck in more than 400 cars from 50 manufacturers, all fully customisable and aching for the creative flair of your painter's brush (if you have the time or wherewithal to bother) and you have a racing package so unfathomably colossal, it's had to be spread across two discs (although you can play purely from the main disc if you're not fussed about immediately accessing every single extra).
As ever, each of Forza 3's oh so shiny cars have been painstakingly modelled inside and out, which is especially important given the brand new internal view that provides a lovely in-car perspective, where you can admire the finish of your fine leather upholstery if you so wish. And speaking of visual touches, there has always been one element where Forza has consistently been ahead of Gran Turismo, and that's the crash damage your car accumulates during the race.
Bumps and scrapes not only leave their cosmetic scars on your vehicle's bodywork, but the advanced physics mean that driving like an aggressive road rage maniac can have a slightly adverse effect on the handling. Still, there are some plusses to racing like a nutter due to the newly upgraded AI, which enables you to pressure rivals into making mistakes. During our hands-on with the game, we managed to cause several AI opponents to become flustered enough to drive into the gravel verges, which is surprisingly gratifying.
Opting to play the game on normal, with just a few helpful assists switched on, we found the game a joy to play, the graphics especially jaw-dropping with all of the gorgeous visual effects you can imagine like lens flare and bloom transforming even the most mundane tracks (an oval test track we sampled, for instance) into an eye-catching spectacle. Important for instances where you catch an opportunity to record a video showing of your racing skill (or lack thereof), which you can then submit to Xbox Live for others to admire.
Playing with both the pad and steering wheel in turn, Forza 3 provides superb feedback for both, although the steering wheel is clearly the optimum way to play. Our session is furnished with a triple screen set-up allowing us to race (almost) enveloped within the car with the peripheral vision from the left and right monitors adding immeasurably to the immersion. It's an option that almost no one will be able to replicate at home, but it's nice to know it's there nonetheless.
Forza 3 looks utterly astonishing and handles like a dream. And the good news is that casual or arcade-centric gamers need no longer fear the impenetrable difficulty of having to get to grips with a merciless simulation - Forza 3 can be tailored to be as welcoming or as sadistic as you like - and you can gradually adjust the challenge as your racing skill evolves with each successful race.
Turn 10 has pulled out all the stops for this sequel, potentially outstripping the opposition before any of them have even had a chance to leave the starting grid. This could not only be the definitive Forza, but the most definitive racer you can buy full stop. Come October, Forza 3 may well be the only racing title you'll ever need.