2009 is suddenly a holiday of racers. If you don't believe that, consider the trifecta that have been unleashed upon us already: Need For Speed: Shift, Dirt 2, and Microsoft's holiday tentpole Forza Motorsport 3. All of them promise realistic physics, blazing speeds, and tons of customization, but NFS: Shift and Dirt 2 are multiplatform, while Forza Motorsport 3 is an Xbox 360 first-party exclusive. For my money, though, I'll take Forza 3. After playing all three, the newest Forza has, surprisingly, won me over--not with realism, but with fun.
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 LittleBigPlanet, a gentle voice of authority (although in this case, not Stephen Fry) welcomed me, showed me the basic ropes, and told me everything was going to be all right. Rather than worry about detailed car controls and under-the-hood tinkering, a simple press of a few A and B buttons got me right into a season-long circuit of races. The voice tutorials gently tailed off naturally, until I had the ropes completely. Suddenly I realized that I had been playing for several hours, and was itching to complete just one more race challenge to unlock more credits. That's when I realized that, fundamentally, Forza 3 is a success.… Read more