2009 is suddenly a holiday of racers. If you don't believe that, consider the trifecta that have been unleashed upon us already:
I say surprisingly because "simulation racers" generally lie in a calcified place among the hearts of the mainstream gamers: the hundreds of factory-immaculate car models and pitch-perfect world racing circuits, along with the endless class licenses and intricate engine tune-ups, can turn most gamers off completely. Right here in the CNET offices, I told a colleague I was playing Forza 3, and that I actually enjoyed it. "Really?" he asked, somewhat disbelieving. It's assumed that Gran Turismo and Forza will be inaccessible to those who don't appreciate racers, just like Madden often erects a wall between NFL fans and gamers and the rest of the world.
I am a casual racer, and Forza 3 sucked me in.
Its first success was employing a calm British man to talk to me. Much like
From a pure car enthusiast's perspective, I'm not sure any game other thancan do any better. Car exteriors and interiors are immaculately rendered, and the 60-frames-per-second graphics make animations and the entire racetrack environment look hyperreal. In fact, some of the racing landscapes are so detailed that they begin to look more arcade-like than photorealistic. Car damage accumulates with even small car scuffs, and by the end of most of my races my vehicle was a chipped-up, hood-dented mess.
Another newcomer benefit is the purist-angering rewind, which will take you backwards in five-second chunks to whatever previous point in the race you'd rather play from, in the event that you suddenly slam into a wall during a hairpin turn. It's a useful tool and has its benefits, but also incurs no penalty for using it. I didn't mind, but the hardcore will most likely have it disabled.
The real achievement in Forza 3 is the feeling of visceral fun that driving these vehicles brings. I like the Gran Turismo series, but over the years (and especially in the) I've started feeling like I'm helming a simulation as opposed to driving a car. Regardless of the vehicle I drove in Forza 3--even the crappy low-powered ones that I had to slog through in order to get fancier rides--races were fun, not mechanical. I credit this to good race balance and impressive car AI, both of which made most races exciting throughout. On the other hand, racing circuits did begin to feel a little repetitive after a few hours. It takes a while to build up credits to buy cars (or earn wins to get gifted cars), and while there are a stunning 100 tracks in Forza 3, it felt like a lot of them were set in a number of repeated settings. Still, the track count and vehicle list (400 cars) dwarfs the collection found in Forza 2, and even requires a second packed-in disc to download some of the data to your hard drive.
I haven't even mentioned Forza 3's car painting studio, car-stunt video recorder, or online multiplayer, but these are great bells and whistles to what's already an amazingly deep product at the core. It'll be a long time before you're done playing through all the content on these discs.
Need for Speed Shift was celebrated for its return to realism and its well-designed racetracks, but I just couldn't find myself returning to it after Forza 3. Dirt 2, on the other hand, has the sort of Tony Hawk dirt-punk presentation and arcade-challenge structure that might appeal to a completely different type of race fan, and its rally physics place it somewhere on a spectrum between an improved