Microsoft's racing studio Turn 10 wants to make the "best simulator on any console", and one that a child of six could play. It wants to get 65-year-old classic car restoration enthusiasts playing videogames. It wants to make the biggest racing game the world has ever seen. It wants to be the first to bring you tyre flex and deformation at 60 frames per second. It wants to foster the most vibrant user-generated-content community in all gaming.
There's not a lot that Turn 10 doesn't want, and going by a confident presentation to UK press after-hours at E3 yesterday, Turn 10 is pretty sure that it's going to get it all. It reckons it's creating "the definitive racing game of this generation", a phrase used so often in its Microsoft press conference debut that the meaning was worn out of it like the tread on a set of tyres. Forza Motorsport 3 has so much definitiveness that it can't fit on a single DVD.
That's right, this will be a two-disc release when it appears in October, hardly a surprise when you consider the 400 cars spread across 50 manufacturers and the even more astonishing 100 tracks. We're asked to consider it like getting a year's worth of DLC for free on release, which seems fair enough; the first disc will present a "complete game", and the rest can be installed to hard drive so there's no need for disc-swapping.
No matter the quantity of content, getting granddad and grandson involved in a simulation racer like Forza - historically a very good but rather dry one - isn't going to be easy. Many people, seasoned gamers among them, have a deep aversion to braking in racing games, but a realistic game like Forza demands it.
Turn 10's solution is what it likes to call "one-button racing" - in other words, the latest addition to Forza's suite of driver aids, the auto-brake. This manages your speed through corners so you don't have to, and can concentrate on following Forza's signature racing line indicator instead. An assist too far? Certainly I found it a little disconcerting when I tried the game on easy, after I'd got over being disconcerted by the terrifying triple-screen set-up on Microsoft's stand, with force-feedback wheel and pneumatic racing seat.
Taking braking out of the equation seems very odd in a game that, even with stability, ABS and traction control turned on, feels true-to-life in its handling. Forza isn't a hell-for-leather arcade game and it's no use pretending it is, and the result, once you get over the sound and fury, is a rather uninvolving ride. Although you can turn it off of course, and it's certainly worth trying to make the game more accessible to more people, we wonder if this will give them the right idea. Regardless, there's nothing to suggest that Forza 3 won't have best-in-class handling at launch.
A much more successful bid for usability is the inclusion of the rewind feature pioneered by Codemasters' Race Driver GRID. Accessed at any point, taking you back as far you like, and with no penalty whatsoever for use, it works perfectly in the context of a game where glancing contact with a barrier can ruin lap upon lap of dedicated driving.
That kind of dedication is an overriding memory of Forza 2. Hugely involving in its handling, tuning and customisation, the game was more of a war of attrition in terms of its career mode content. Boiling down simply to vast tracts of circuit racing under various class, car and tuning restrictions, it was easy to get lost in its breadth, or weary of its lack of variety.
Turn 10's aiming to fix this with a "season mode". Although the main career will still present an overview of 200 events, season mode boils these down to three at any moment, populating your calendar with events based on your preferences, performance, what you've raced in the past and which cars you buy, and then feeding these through to you as necessary. As for variety, we're told to expect oval racing for the first time, as well as drifting and drag racing. It's a much-needed overhaul; here's hoping it goes deep enough that Forza's long-term structure can match its superb moment-to-moment racing.
On the multiplayer side, we're teased with an "emergent" multiplayer game type that will tie into Forza's philosophy of user-created content. On that front, Forza's adding a comprehensive video editor to its paint and tuning suites and photo mode, to give another set of creative car fans another outlet - two, in fact, since it will give drivers a chance to show off, as well as budding Top Gear directors. Forza has been incredibly successful in fostering community activity in the past, with Forza 2's car marketplace doing brisk trades in exclusive tuners and liveries, and this time Turn 10 is adding scoreboards for the most successful and famous creators, as well as the fastest drivers.
Microsoft has three tracks on show, all originals, all set in a vertiginous, rocky and green alpine setting. A road circuit, a test circuit and a Formula One-style track, they are relatively fast and sweeping with some interesting bumps and camber changes - and pretty, too: lush, crisp, colourful and brightly lit, just like the cars, which sport full damage-modelling (cosmetic, simulation or intermediate) and can even roll. Forza 3 looks a little less clinical that its predecessor - but still quite clinical, and despite Turn 10's confidence that it has the best-looking racing game in the world on its hands, it can't quite match GT5 Prologue's near-photorealism, GRID's bustling track drama or Need For Speed Shift's thrilling in-car view.
Definitive or not, Forza 3 is certainly a full-service game for motoring enthusiasts, and it clearly represents a massive investment on Microsoft's part. Interestingly, Turn 10 was happy to admit that Forza sells better in Europe than the US - and bearing in mind that Xbox 360 has a much stronger presence in the UK than the rest of Europe, it doesn't take a genius to figure out why Microsoft was taking such pains to present the game to British press at E3. We are the market for Forza; from the clean UI to the cultured tones of the Peter Egan voiceover, they made it just for us - a bespoke, coach-built racing simulator. Given its luxurious spec, that's pretty flattering.
Forza Motorsport 3 is due out exclusively for Xbox 360 this October.