You know Top Gear, that BBC2 programme on which a trio of smug, middle-aged elitists get paid very handsomely to do to act irresponsibly with a never-ending series of obscenely expensive motor vehicles? Well, I canít stand it. OK, so perhaps Iím supposed to see its funny side and view it as more of a lighthearted excursion into the inner workings of the human psyche, or some flowery twaddle like that, but I just canít get past the infuriatingly obnoxious fans that the romanticised glorification of the sports car lifestyle has spawned. Nowadays, Iím convinced that everybody knows at least one opinionated berk who considers a sub-£50,000 vehicle without a twin-turbo, rocket-powered, aerodynamic cappuccino machine a conduit of transport used exclusively by a poverty-stricken subset of society, and whose incessant ramblings about the unacceptable traction control regressions of the 2011 Audi GT-C3PO PMT-Edition in comparison with its 2010 predecessor. So, thanks for effectively ruining society, Top Gear.
It follows naturally, then, that the tie-in with Messrs. Clarkson, May and Hammond with regards to the Ultimate Edition of Forza Motorsport 3 drew my scepticism like a Dawsonís Creek boxset to an emotionally repressed adolescent. In any case, even without the incoming injection of Top Gear poison, it was still a racing game, one that would surely only serve to accentuate the overawing tedium of driving round and round in identical circles, just like the real life Iíd be trying to escape by playing video games in the first place.
Iím not quite sure exactly what changed my mind. Perhaps it was the luscious, oh-so-satisfying way in which the blazing afternoon sunshine glimmered on the pristine bonnet of my lovely new TVR, its vibrant red finish illuminating the picturesque foliage and greenery of the legendary Nurburgring and the rain-sodden muck of Silverstone. Maybe it was unequivocally gritty screeching of brakes and tyres, the scraping of metal and paintwork and the animalistic roaring of the engines ringing majestically through the air and into the upper grandstands, where thousands of rabid spectators bellowed simultaneously in rapturous approval. Or it might even have been that unmistakeable mixture of self-congratulatory glee and maniacal schadenfreude that comes with hurtling round a sharp hairpin at breakneck speed, wrongfooting your nearest challenger and sending him hurtling through the dreaded gravel trap and into the all-too-welcoming wall of tyres, the cocky smirk emerging on your face as his humbled ride fades into but a mere dot in the middle of your rear-view mirror. Whatever it was that lodged its hook into my skull and reeled me in, Iím glad it did, because Forza 3 is nothing but a barrel of high-speed, fine-tuned merriment.
Whatís initially so striking about Forza 3 to the cynics like me is its no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point approach to presentation. Rather than slapping you in the face with a crudely concocted montage of flips, spins and crashes set to the embittered wailings of a contemporary emo rock band, the game jumps right to business, bringing up a series of plain, easy-to-follow menus and a welcoming, accessible user interface that works immediate wonders in removing the inhibitions that haunt so many newcomers to the racing genre. Supporting this sense of visual professionalism and interactive sensitivity to the playerís needs and expectations is an eloquent, unassuming English voiceover artist, whose soft, reassuring tones guide the player through each of the gameís features and nuances without ever drifting into grating, overbearing territory.
Speaking of Forza 3ís nuances, there are quite a few of them, all of which sport the kind of substance and depth that youíd commonly associate with entire games in their own right. Want to micromanage each and every one of your vehicleís componential inner-workings in the quest to craft the ultimate behemoth? Go ahead; thereís plenty of room for fiddling around with bits and bobs. Fancy giving your motorised mount an aesthetic makeover without having to bother with the all the under-the-bonnet technical mumbo-jumbo? Forza 3 has you accounted for. Whether you want to spend the odd minute here and there experimenting with different colour gradients or whether you want to pour every millilitre of your creative juices into developing the next breakthrough in artistic innovation, thereís no doubt that youíre welcome at the Forza arts and crafts table, and you donít even have to wear an overall. Think about that for a second. The opportunity to be creative without looking like a pillock? Count me in.
Of course, itís all fine and dandy having a comprehensive set of user creation tools at your disposal, but itís all for nought if thereís no way of sharing your inventions with other human beings. As if you even needed to ask, Forza 3 resoundingly answers the call of duty, providing a stellar range of content-sharing options over Xbox Live. For the narcissistic attention-seekers out there, itís perfectly possible to simply show off your decorations and set-ups to the worldwide community, but the more enterprising of users may well find themselves engaging more actively in the gameís online auction system, through which oneís user-created content may be sold to the highest bidder, using in-game currency garnered during Forza 3ís substantial single-player modes. Itís a simple, but surprisingly satisfying addition to the experience that exponentially expands the gameís lifespan beyond that of your standard-fare racer, yet, at the same time, itís a completely optional sideshow that may be embraced or ignored at your leisure. This, in a nutshell, is what Forza 3 is all about; itís a bountiful collection of seamlessly intertwined options and modes, all of which add to, but none of which are absolutely essential to, the overall package.
Embellish it with as many bells and whistles as you like, though, but Forza 3 is still a racing game at heart. Itís a pretty good thing that racing is what it does best, then, or else we might have had a problem on our hands. If youíre up for a quick, pulsating hootenanny on your own, you can engage in a single race or time trial against up to seven AI opponents of customisable skill, or, if youíre looking for a longer, more measured session of racing goodness, just hop into the gameís lengthy season mode, during which your performances count towards the racking up of experience points and the all-important prize money required for the acquisition of new sets of wheels. I suppose you could also compete online if youíve got some of those overrated ďfriendsĒ I keep hearing about. Whichever way you want to slice it, Iíd be willing to bet that you wonít struggle to keep yourself occupied, what with the 500+ cars and 100+ track variations and all.
Crucially, each an every one of the default cars appear to operate and handle uniquely, each boasting their own distinctive characteristics, charms and inherent frustrations. Itís enough to leave all but the most stubborn of car loathers mulling over the pros and cons of the Ferrari 458 Italia as opposed to 2010 Nissan GTR SpecV, and thatís a rather emphatic accomplishment given the ordinarily polarising nature of the racing genre and, indeed, the brash and uncouth world of motor racing in general. If that werenít enough, once youíve messed around with all the pre-existing car set-ups, tweaking every little nook and cranny before marvelling at the results in action, youíll soon come to appreciate the frankly staggering numbers of unique driving styles weíre dealing with here.
And you know that customisable opponent AI I mentioned earlier? Well, thatís not the only way to tailor your on-track experience to your every need. If youíre a newbie to the whole virtual racing malarkey or, like me, youíre just a bit craptastic, simply turn on the guided racing line, steering assist, braking assist, handling assist, diuretic assist and the option that allows your wealthy father to bribe your opponents to go easy on you, all at the touch of a few buttons, once again demonstrating the triumph of Forza 3ís expertly designed menus. If, on the other hand, you laugh in the face of your miserly opponents as they crumble in the wake of your cockpit-based might, turn off every assist function and go for the hardcore simulation challenge. See if youíre still so full of yourself then, cleverclogs.
But letís not be fooled into letting Forza 3 off the hook completely. For instance, even on the hardest difficulty settings, AI opponents have the occasional tendency to drift inexplicably off course like an urban rioter after spotting a McDonaldís Drive-Thru, even if they werenít under any noticeable pressure from you or your other opponents. These AI competitors also exude a noticeable lack of personality and dynamism, rendering them nothing but mere names on the standings lists that pop up following the races. To be fair, when you look at the loudmouthed, ear-sodomising AI drivers that populate many other racing titles (Iím looking at you, Dirt 2), this might well be a good thing, and perhaps itís nicer to leave the apparent emotions of your racing brethren up to your imagination. Still, perhaps it would have been best if the developers could have sought out a suitable middle-ground between the lifeless sterility on show in Forza 3 and the brash cacophony of its less subtle counterparts.
While most of the gameís vehicles certainly look the part, the same canít always be said for the environments. On the positive side of things, such natural landscape features as the rolling mountain ranges of Germany and the mesmeric lakes of Southern Italy, are as detailed and exquisite as just about anything else seen on a current-gen console. Flora and fauna, however, evidently wasnít tarred with the same brush, with the ragged edges of some of the trees and wildlife by the roadside sticking out like a sore thumb trying to infiltrate an Amnesty International thumb meeting whilst kitted out in a Gestapo uniform. I know that makes no sense, but sod you. What Iím trying to say is that Forza 3ís consistency from the standpoints of its presentation, sound and gameplay doesnít quite stretch into its graphical prowess, and thatís a shame considering its otherwise splendid track record. Track record? Was that a better pun? Oh, to Hell with you.
So, thatís the story of how Forza Motorsport 3 turned a car-hating cynic into a nonsense-spewing, environment-destroying car nut. Itís an inspiring tale of triumph over adversity and one that has a happy ending for all, or at least it would if it werenít for the fact that Iím now considering spending even more of my hard-earned/borrowed/stolen from the inside of a buskerís guitar case money on the upcoming sequel. If you love cars, Forza 3 is like a love letter from the almighty god of high-velocity mechanical concurrence and, if you hate cars, it might just knock you down a few pegs and change your perspective. And if you hate Top Gear, you can always fantasise about using your new R3-class Ferrari to run down Jeremy Clarkson. Itís all good.