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Forza 3 hands-on: Only better if it came with a free Audi R8

We love driving games, and few are better than Forza. With the new game hitting shelves this month, we took an early look and had the ride of our lives

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We'll be perfectly honest about this. Forza 2 is our favourite racing game of all time. Well, it was, before a review copy of Forza 3 landed on our desk late yesterday. There was a brief scuffle, a few Cravers got a little bit punched in the face, but eventually a winner emerged to take the game home and give the Xbox 360 a workout. The result: a beaming smile and an urge to complete the day's work so he can get back and play some more...

What makes the Forza series so enjoyable is the potential for customisation. When you buy a car, you can paint it any colour you like, add decals to any part of the body and make it completely your own. Beyond aesthetics, you can tweak all the components. If you lose a race because you spin on the corners, buy new spoilers and better tyres. If you fail because you couldn't accelerate past your rivals, buy a couple of turbochargers and a supercharger. If you want to take it further, you can adjust every aspect of the car's performance. Downforce can be tweaked, suspension adjusted and gear ratios optimised -- not only does this tuning help you win races, it's compulsively addictive.

The production of Forza 3 is nothing short of superb. The graphics in the second game were nothing to sniff at, but they've been updated again here and everything looks epic. Just click through our gallery for some jaw-dropping stills.

There are more cars too, including a selection of Ferraris and pretty much every other make and model you can possibly imagine. We love the fact you can buy everything from a Ford Fiesta to an Audi R8 -- and we can't get enough of the American muscle cars, which need tens of thousands of credits spent on them before they can attempt a corner without spinning off.

Even the game's menu systems are thoughtfully put together. This time they're finished in a stark, modern white with a smooth-voiced commentator guiding you each step of the way. Early on you get bags of help and suggestions about what to do, and when you've understood, he slips away and pops up only when there's something new to say.

Amateur gamers, like this Craver, will appreciate the ability to generate some gamerscore early on too. Buy or sell on the marketplace, finish a race using only the in-cockpit camera, and pass milestones in experience points -- all earn you achievements.

From what we've seen so far, a couple of hours into the game, there are a few minor issues. Early levels can really feel like a destruction derby, with too many cars packed on to too small a grid. This means that you end up bumping into people until the pack thins slightly -- and Forza doesn't reward smacking into opponents like Need for Speed: Shift does. Another feature we're not keen on is the 'rewind' function. If you go wrong during a race, you can simply press the 'back' button on the 360's controller and rewind to before you messed up. This is handy in some ways, but it feels like a cheat. We used to get an adrenaline rush from knowing that a mistake on the last corner of a 5-mile race could mean you have to do the whole thing again. It makes winning sweeter, and the option to rewind just detracts from that.

Owners of Forza 2 will be on safe ground though -- many of the annoyances of the previous game have been ironed out. The waiting time on the grid is reduced and the game-type selection is much less irritating. For example, if you have a car that isn't eligible for a certain race, the game will suggest races it is suitable for.

We could probably talk about Forza 3 all day, but the fact is, you'll love it. It takes a while to get used to the style of play because this isn't an arcade racer, but once you get it, it's one of the most rewarding games we've played.

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Ferraris make an appearance in Forza, which is sure to make some people very happy, and some completely indifferent.
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There are even classic car races that allow guilt-free mistreatment of some very expensive cars.
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And American muscle cars are here in rude health too. Just remember to spend a lot of money on after-market accessories to enable them to go around what we in Europe call 'corners'.

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