With its 190 horsepower a Lotus Exige 06 should be far removed from the world of super cars that usually pride themselves with names like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani and Aston Martin. A design that reminds one more of an weirdly aerodynamic go kart, and an engine supplied by Toyota - a name that is as far removed from professional motorsports as you can possibly get, according to the ongoing Formula 1 season - doesn't do it any favours.
But bring it to a track like Rally Di Positano, turn of the automatic gearbox and traction-control, and you will be transported to a racing-utopia, where the gear changes sound like a machine gun and the tires rubber fight a fierce battle against the never-ending array of sharp corners. It's the essence of racing, the search for the perfect blend of challenge, speed, balance and control, and it's a point where Forza Motorsport 3 excels.
But Forza 3 starts off at another, much slower pace, with me at the in control of a Toyota Yaris that doesn't seem to have the faintest idea of what it is doing on a racetrack. Sure it seems like a boring place to start out when you know that the game includes cars from such brands as BMW, Ferrari and Porsche, but there is a logic explanation behind it.
By forcing you to start out in the slower leagues the game teach you to know the effect of speed, and the skills required to master it. In other words you will get to learn and understand the games physics and most basic details by taking the time to crawl you way around the tracks in a Yaris, no matter how big you craving is for passing the 150km/h mark.
The slow start also turns out to be one of the only restrictions thrown in your way, before you start the hunt for the more extravagant cars. Almost every car is unlocked from the very start of the game, with your choice therefore coming down to what you can afford. This also means that you won't have to participate in obscures trials just because you want to race in an Aston Martin.
Forza 3 is all about letting you focus on setting the fastest lap times possible, which can be seen in the work that has been put into making the options, and the selection of these into as streamlined a process as possible. The menus are minimalistic, fast and easy to understand. Also appreciated is the way the game keeps offering you races that suites your selected car class, which means that you won't have to go through your entire garage or get out of your favorite car every time you want to participate in a new race - Gran Turismo should take a hint.
The class-system is identical to the system that was used in Forza 2, and it still works perfectly. The combined characteristics of each vehicle are measured in a number, which determines into which class each car is indexed. A car from the S-class for example, will range between 601 and 700 points. The really clever thing about the system however, is that it lets you experiment with the many different parts and the setup of the car, to get as near to the next class as possible.
Tuning you car has become easier than ever before, and with the "Quick Upgrade" option, everyone will be able to tune their cars with just two pushes of a button. The setup of the car will never reach its maximum potential if you use this option however, and to get the absolute best from your car, you will have to tweak the many options yourself.
No matter how much work you have put into your car it will show on the track, at least if you want it to. If you wish to play Forza 3 as an updated version of Outrun it is possible by turning on all of the offered assistance options and pull the trigger all the way, but if you long for realism in your console racer you will also find what you are looking for.
With the steering wheel on the table and the pedals secured on the floor, I found the racing game I've been waiting ages to play. Turning up the difficulty setting to hard, opting to shift manually, turn off traction control and turn on the realistic damage model. The result is the closest any game has come to driving along the fine line between manageable simulation and the kind of visual experiences seemingly only available to Formula One drivers.
Out on the course you will also experience the must debated rewind functionality as often as you wish by pressing the back button. This system works exactly like in Race Driver: Grid and allows you to rewind time if you happen to drive off course or crash into an opponent. And while I think it robs the game of some of the tension, there is no doubt that it's a well thought out helping hand to less experienced players.
If you chose to take your cars online, Forza 3 offers almost limitless opportunities to customize races. Much like in the predecessor nothing has been held back, and there are time trials, check point racing, drag racing, drifting, multi class races, elimination and much more. Furthermore these modes can be modified with rules such as limiting the horse power allowed.
From a technical perspective Forza 3 isn't a giant leap from the last game, but the developer has opted to put their effort into the most important areas. The car models for instance are far more detailed, as evident by the fact that all cars now also have their interiors modeled. The framerate is set to 60 frames per second allowing for a great sense of speed and control.
It is however the tracks that have been given the most attention this time around, and Fujimi Kaido, Rally Di Positano and naturally Nürburgring are all as beautiful as they are challenging. This is also true for the rest of the large selection of courses, and the surroundings seem markedly more realistic and living than what has previously been seen in the genre.
The same can be said for the sound design that when compared to the predecessor allows for more varied engine sounds, and a much improved surround sound experience if you have the audio set up. I'm still missing the roar of the V8 engines in Race Driver: Grid, but the difference between something like a Porsche 911 Turbo and a BMW M3 is big enough for it never to be any question what car you are driving.
Forza Motorsport 3 is in many ways the complete package, and for once we have a game that will offer both beginners and hardened motorsport fans a great racing experience and plenty to do. However, Turn 10 has not built the perfect racing game and there are two reasons for this.
If you don't have any plans to race online with your friends, but planned to go through the game from start to finish on your own, your competition will be made up of the artificial intelligence. And it's not very good. Overtaking often has to do with tricking your opponents into making mistakes, but in Forza 3 the artificial intelligence lacks any creativity and always attempts to stick to the predefined racing line, regardless of whether this is optimal or not. This also means that you will be able to hold off cars behind you simply by sticking to the ideal racing line. It becomes a tad bit predictable. The artificial intelligence does however make mistakes, and the system is a major improvement compared to what was used in Forza Motorsport 2 and Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. It's still not quite where it should be.
The other area that leaves me wanting more is the damage models, or rather how it's used. With the damage model set to realistic it tried several times to ram my Ferrari Fxx into a wall at more than 200 km/h just to witness it roll back with only a slightly curled up front and damage to the paint. It may get you to questioned whether there really is a complete damage model there, but I can assure that there is, it's just that it takes some extremely violent incidents for it to be put on display. This problem can surely be fixed with a patch, and hopefully one will be made available shortly after launch.
With a few exceptions Forza Motorsport 3 is everything an enthusiast like I had hoped for. To work towards perfect your lap times at Nürburgring is the emotionally intense experience it ought to be. Seldom has a game shown this much understanding of car physics, speed and the art of tuning, and seldom has this been as beautifully packaged. For any gamer claiming to be a fan of motorsports - Forza 3 is without a doubt the best and most complete experience on the market today.