Approximately 82% of you who read this site are here because you love cars, working on them and having fun with them. On an unrelated note, 63% of all statistics are made up on the spot. Make that 64%. Anyway, cars are not, sadly, a particularly cheap hobby. Sure, narcotics, booze, gambling and loose women aren’t priced for the masses either, but the fact remains that possessing warehouses full of cars and being able to exercise them pretty much anytime you want is the sort of thing reserved for the rich and famous (and people who are rich, famous and have large mandibles). However, if you don’t absolutely have to experience the smell of burning rubber, or the sheer agony joy of washing transmission fluid out of your eyes as you attempt to dislodge an uncooperative oil filter winning best-in-class at the local concours d’elegance, there are ways that the rest of us can enjoy playing with cars.
Enter Forza Motorsport 3, Microsoft’s latest foray into the realistic racing game arena. There are more than 400 spectacularly rendered vehicles to from which to choose, including such hooniversally appealing hoopties as the Datsun 510, Lamborghini Miura, Ford RS200 and the VW Corrado, which should make the only admin of this site who is of the Canadian persuasion whoop with joy. There’s also a wide array of race cars, from Australian V8 Supercars, to vaguely-pre-COT-NASCAR-ish stock cars, to contemporary Le Mans prototypes. And unlike previous installments of the franchise, all cars can be repainted and redecorated, including the racecars. Want to replicate Al Holbert’s mighty Löwenbräu Porsche 962? Go for it. Wal-Mart sponsored Ram SRT-10? Have at it. BMW 3.0CSL-cum-Threatmobile? Uh…minus the mannequin, sure, why not?
But the customization potential doesn’t end with paint and decals. Oh, sweet mother of internal combustion no. You name it, chances are you can upgrade it. Brakes? Of course. Chassis bracing? Yup. Increasing displacement? Indubitably. Engine swaps? Provided it’s from the same company and physically fits under the hood, yes! And all upgrades lead to noticeable differences in the way the car sounds and behaves, as do adjusting such settings as brake balance, spring rates and gear ratios. Best of all, you can sell duplicates of your setup, as well as your paint designs and your whole cars via Xbox Live, where other players can buy your stuff with in-game currency that you, in turn, can put toward new projects. If there’s one downside to the car selection and customization aspect, it’s that the selection of vehicles isn’t what you’d call Encyclopedia Hoontanica. As in, don’t go looking for a Citroen SM or a Tatra 613, though with new cars scheduled to be offered for download every month, some more unorthodox machines might become available.
What of the actual driving experience, you ask? Dynamic behavior for each vehicle is scary accurate, be it the tendency of front-drive cars to understeer when flogged hard or the way the LMP cars can swap ends faster than your bladder can begin emptying itself when the tires are cold and you aren’t gentle on the throttle. Also, unlike most console games, Forza 3 has the option of requiring you to use the clutch. If you don’t have the budget and/or space for a proper steering wheel, pedal and H-pattern shifter setup like this bad boy, getting the heel-and-toe, er, left-index-finger-and-right-index-finger technique is tricky at first, but you’ll definitely want to have it in your bag of tricks, lest you garboon the gearbox.
Ah yes, damage. As with most of the game’s other settings, the amount of damage can be adjusted from “None” to “How the hell is this thing still mobile?!” You can’t completely blow up the engines, nor can you re-enact the event that kicked off Stefan Eriksson’s 15 minutes of fame, but just about everything else is fair game, including going shiny-side-down. However, if you really wish you had applied the brakes at “two Mississippi” instead of “three Mississippi,” never fear: you can actually rewind the race (in single player mode only) until you get it right. If only that feature had been available that time you went home with that tall chick that had that big lump on the front of her neck…
Dislikes? Other than the lack of truly off-the-wall cars, the soundtrack is pitiful, but you can a) play the songs you’ve loaded onto your Xbox hard drive, and b) you probably don’t want any music sullying the scream of your FXX’s V12 anyway. Other than that, no major gripes to report. If you own an Xbox360, and you believe that cars should be more than just soulless, faceless appliances that whisk you from home to office and back, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this game.
Note: All the photos were taken in the game by me of some of my cars. The retro Alan Kulwicki paintjob is available in my Forza 3 Storefront.