Tag Archive: forza

When Forza Horizon first launched four years ago as a spin-off of Forza, many of us were pleasantly surprised by how it was able to tone down the seriousness of the main series while still making an extremely competent racing game. As time has gone on and we’ve fallen into an annual cycle of Forza followed by Forza Horizon, what once was a spin-off has now turned into a series all its own—one that now rivals its parent in every way. And, with the release of Forza Horizon 3, it may even surpass the mainline series in key areas.

For those who might be unaware, the Forza Horizon games are set up around a traveling fictional festival called Horizon that’s like a cross between Woodstock and Top Gear, and this year’s game is headed to a land down under. Whereas the original saw you rise up the ranks to dominate the event, and the second one had you as king of Horizon from the start, Forza Horizon 3 basically just makes you the festival’s God this go around.

From what radio stations can be heard at the festival’s hubs throughout Australia, to what part of Australia Horizon will expand to next, all the decisions are yours. You can even customize your license plate and what your assistant will call you via a list of names. Yes, I admit I enjoyed the fact that my assistant actually called me Ray and all my cars’ license plates said “Carsillo” on the back—it’s a little thing, but that added hint of personalization was a nice touch. Unfortunately, it also made the fact that you can then only choose from a dozen or so generic, hipster-looking avatars to represent your “face” just as disappointing as the license plate customization was fun.


These are only minor details, however. The heart of Forza has always been the cars, and Horizon 3 does not disappoint. Over 350 cars are available at the game’s launch—the most in Forza Horizon history—and, as always, plenty of car packs will be coming in the future. The game also maintains the series’ high standard of stunning car models that contrast terrifically against the picturesque backdrops inspired by an amalgamation of Australia’s coasts, forests, and deserts. The big additions this time around aside from the usual list of new supercars are dune buggies. Since a quarter of Horizon 3’s mashed-up rendition of Australia is the Outback, dune buggies are great for crossing the desert terrain at high speeds and pulling off crazy stunts to fill up your score meter.

At first, the buggies took some time to get used to, because they handle completely differently from any other car in Forza’s long lineage. By the time I was done with the game, though, I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough races inside these off-road masters, bobbing up and down through the countryside, and was actually disappointed when I was placed back in a luxury car or sporty speedster depending on what race I was doing.

Speaking of racing, it remains at the core of what you’ll be doing in Horizon 3. There are 63 tracks set up across the game for you to unlock and play through, with more unlocked by expanding and growing the festival. This is done by earning fans, which you can do through winnings races, completing one-off special objectives in 30 brand-new bucket list courses, winning showcase events against unusual race opponents like speed boats and fighter jets, and completing “PR stunts” like daredevil jumps and burning rubber through drift and speed zones.


Each individual race location not only has the standard single race, but later you can also unlock three-to-five race championships with new themes for each course. For example, a single exhibition race in the Outback might have you racing off-road trucks like the Ford F-150 Raptor, but the same course’s championship might be themed around rally legends like the Suburu Impreza, giving each track more replayability as you race different vehicles.

If that wasn’t enough, Forza Horizon 3 also introduces the new Blueprint feature to both racecourses and bucket list events, which allows you to set your own stipulations that you can then share with the Forza community. You could create a perfect storm of racing nothing but high-end supercars like the Lamborghini Centenario along the curving coastline, or punish people by sticking those same sports cars on an off-road track in the rainforest and see if they can’t maintain their traction. The same goes for the bucket list Blueprints, but like most other games where you can create your own courses, you have to be able to beat your own challenges before uploading for others to play. In theory, you could have an endless stream of fresh content coming into Forza Horizon 3 long after this initial launch window.

Another major addition to Forza Horizon 3 comes in the form of its online multiplayer. You’ve always been able to take on friends head-to-head, but Horizon 3 adds it so that you can now experience the construction of a Horizon festival from the ground-up together. Campaign co-op, which is also available in cross-platform play, allows you to join a friend’s game or vice versa in order to help each other complete objectives or find hidden bonuses like landmarks or barn finds to fill out your worlds. Any progress made in each other’s games carries over to your single-player game as well, so there’s no need to do something twice if you don’t want to.


The emphasis on co-op doesn’t end there, however. Even if your friend isn’t online, the new Convoy feature means their Drivatar can ride with you and help you, too. By winning street races against specifically marked Drivatars, you can add up to three Drivatars to your Convoy. And if you want to replace someone in your lineup, simply street race another person and fire one of the old drivers. Having and riding with a full Convoy means not only a better chance for you to find hidden secrets and earn more credits, but your friends will be earning credits even while offline.

Of course, more online-driven endeavors has meant more server strain that normal in the Forza community. Even a week after launching, there are still occasional connection issues in regards to things like leaderboards, some of the Blueprints, and finding strangers online to race with or against. Groove Music—Microsoft’s digital music streaming service that has been added to the game to allow players a chance to finally have custom music playing while driving—works only about half the time, too. I’m driving a million dollar car, and the damn radio is broken.

These online hiccups aside, Forza Horizon 3 is a racing lover’s dream. The insane stunts and off-the-wall challenges remain hugely entertaining, and being able to incorporate your friends more into that has only added a new wrinkle of replayability to the game. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more complete racing experience than this one, and in many ways has possibly eclipsed the mainline Forza series in terms of fun and enjoyability.


Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: Playground Games • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.27.16
Forza Horizon 3 pulls out all the stops to provide one of most fluid and enjoyable racing experiences out there. A must have for casual car fans and hardcore gearheads alike, Forza Horizon 3 may even surpass the mainline series in terms of fun with this effort.
The Good Gorgeous looking, excellent handling, and more content than ever before in one package.
The Bad Occasional issues with connecting to people and features online.
The Ugly Constantly forgetting that Australians drive on the other side of the road and getting into lots of head-on collisions because of it.
Forza Horizon 3 is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Leaving the competition in its dust

Forza has become the Call of Duty of racing games. Every autumn for the past five years, a new entry in the franchise—counting the Horizon spin-offs—has been released. So, I was worried this year’s entry would simply be another mediocre improvement over the past couple of games, and that it might grow boring without the open-world gimmick or festival backdrop of Horizon. I was wrong. Just like how Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, or any other annual franchise is sometimes able to overcome the limitations that inherently pop up from a 12-month release cycle and knock one out of the park, Forza Motorsport 6 similarly takes the series to new heights.

As soon as you start the game, you’ll be introduced to the first major change in Forza 6: its Career mode, which is broken up into two separate parts. The first is “Stories of Motorsport.” Here, Forza 6 takes it upon itself to explain how much racing touches our lives, while guiding us on a tour through the world’s greatest tracks and hottest automobiles. Beginning with street legal sports cars, Career moves through five separate volumes. In each, you’ll race through three different series comprised of four to six tracks before being allowed to advance to the next volume, which feature progressively more impressive and powerful cars.

A nice touch in helping to get the message across is the history you’re given of the cars you’re driving, why they appeal to people, and what to expect over the course of your circuit—all narrated by guest commentators ranging from Top Gear’s Richard Hammond and James May to winners of IndyCar or the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I came to look forward to the little tidbits of info each intro gave me before a race, like Watkins Glen holding the first pro race post-WWII in the US, or that the tower at Circuit of the Americas is 251-feet tall.

Stories is a great twist on Forza’s Career, and the loose narrative really helps pull you through the mode—especially when the same tracks start to repeat. For me, though, the real fun began with the second part of Career: the new Showcase events. Showcase events originally debuted in Horizon as special one-off races in ridiculous but fun scenarios where you’d race planes, trains, as well as automobiles.

In Forza 6, the Showcase events are actually 10 different series of themed challenges. Some, like those inspired by Top Gear, are more light-hearted, such as bowling with a Jaguar F-Type or racing against the “Digital Cousin” of the Stig. Others are more purely race driven, such as passing challenges or turning trials inspired by those you’d see at the Bondurant High Performance Driving school. There are even endurance challenges where you’re asked to go literally dozens of laps in one race. Similarly to Horizon’s showcases, each of these special challenges will put your skills to the test in ways that are anything but dull.

Forza 6 didn’t just focus on the single player when it came to changes, however. Multiplayer remains a big aspect of the game, and it starts by making the online experience a lot less intimidating for folks. While there will always be those in the online community who care more about crashing into other players than actual racing, Forza 6 is trying to help serious racers find better-quality races through a new online mode called Leagues.

Leagues run races over a period of time and will be broken down into a variety of car types. The more you race in a given league over the time period it’s open for, and the better you place, the more likely you are to win the league and get a nice payout of credits. The main difference between Leagues and traditional multiplayer is that everyone in these league races are ghosts. You are still racing live players, but the fear of an untimely collision costing you a pedestal position is gone. Leagues offer players a chance to still play other like-minded racing fans, but the competition falls squarely on how well you can or cannot drive, without affecting anyone else around you.

This is a brilliant move for Forza, and should only help the competition aspects of its online features. Leagues also shouldn’t affect the traditional multiplayer audience too much, as they’re locked into certain car types when created. Traditional multiplayer, meanwhile, will let you customize each individual race on the fly, still giving players a sense of freedom—even if all they want to do is see a BMW M3 T-bone a Corvette.

These changes to single- and multiplayer should add a lot of replayability to the game. But, they’re only one part of what makes this a great racing package. Forza 6 continues the series’ legacy of great driving physics and gorgeous graphics. Plus, the game is launching with 460 cars and 26 tracks on disc, far more than were available at release for Forza 5. Each race can now support 24 cars both in online and offline modes, making for some epic 24-player multiplayer League sessions—which I tested and saw working without any issue whatsoever. Of course, this was a week prior to the launch of Forza 6, so it’ll be interesting to see if everything holds up on day one.

The most impressive part about the gameplay now, though, has to be the night and rain aspects. Although both were introduced in Horizon 2, they’ve been revamped for Forza 6 in ways to make each track that supports them feel completely different in those variants. Puddles now accumulate on asphalt, forcing you to brave plowing through them or altering your course to steer clear, as hydroplaning is a legitimate concern. The gleam of headlights in your rearview mirror at night can become a distraction, with light sources acting dynamically in ways we’ve never seen from a racing game before. And different surfaces will react in distinctive ways to each one, as dirt becomes muddy in the rain, and track barriers may throw off unexpected glare depending on what angle your headlights catch them at. For those tracks where these new options are available, driving in the rain or at night keeps the experience feeling fresh, and makes each track variation feel like an entirely brand new course.

Not every track supports rain or night, however—and since many tracks are being carried over from Forza 5, you’re likely to get an unwelcome case of déjà vu with courses like Laguna Seca that remain entirely the same. Sure, some such as Rio have reverse versions, and it’s more realistic since not every track will run at night or in the rain, but it would’ve been nice to pull back on the sim a little and give every track at least one of those variations.

Speaking of toning down the sim, also returning is the bevy of assist options to help customize your racing experience, boosted with two major additions. First, you can now adjust Drivatar AI when racing offline. This means that if you don’t feel like facing particularly aggressive drivers, you can now dumb down the Drivatars so you have a more civil racing event.

The other major addition comes in the forms of Mods, which can be purchased as packs in the same way as you would new cars. Some Mods make the race more difficult, like lowering a car’s stats but rewarding you with more credits and XP at the end of a race. Others give cars boosts to stats or improve payouts. How you utilize them is up to you, and depends on what experience you’re looking for.

And while on the subject of credits, the final major change we see in Forza 6 this go around is with the game’s economy. There are no microtransactions at launch; whether or not this means they’ll be added later is another story, but at the very least, everything you get on day one is earnable in Forza 6. And with the Horizon 2 prize spinner coming over—now with a Press Your Luck game show flair instead of a slot machine motif—it’s easier than ever to earn credits, with huge bonuses coming your way when you level up both your driver and your car affinity. Admittedly, it still takes some time to grind for those really expensive, seven-digit price tag cars like a Bugatti Veyron or a Chevy IndyCar, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was in previous games.

By taking and improving on elements from the Horizon games, re-vitalizing the Career mode, introducing new modes like Leagues, and adding night and rain to the gameplay, Forza Motorsport 6 is without a doubt the best game the series has seen yet. If the franchise continues to grow and change at this rate, then it’ll be a welcome sight on the annual list of autumn game releases for years to come. For this season, though, Forza 6 is a must-play for all racing game fans.

Developer: Turn 10 Studios • Publisher: Microsoft • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.15.15
Forza Motorsport 6 is a welcome shot in the arm for the series. Easily the best entry the franchise has produced, Forza 6 introduces tons of new online and offline gameplay that should make players want to stay in the driver’s seat for as long as possible this fall.
The Good Rain and night provide enough variation and new challenge to forget about the repetition in tracks. Superb graphics and physics.
The Bad Can still feel like a bit of a grind when saving up for the most expensive cars.
The Ugly Having someone other than a member of the Top Gear team introduce The Stig.
Forza Motorsport 6 is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.

When you start up Forza Motorsport 6‘s Career Mode for the first time, you’ll have to prove that you’re ready to handle the tracks it’ll throw at you by taking part in three qualifying races.

These races will show off the game’s newest features, while also giving you a prime chance to get those tires warm again and earn some easy credits to start filling out your garage with the 460 cars that will be featured at launch. Here are those three races, as I ran them, in their entirety.

If you want to learn more about Forza 6 before it comes out, check out our interview with Turn 10 Studios’ Content Director, John Wendl, as we got to talk about how rain affects the gameplay, the new Mods feature, and more.

Forza Motorsport 6 will be available exclusively for Xbox One on September 15th.

Kicking the tires

The ideas of open-world exploration and story aren’t usually synonymous with racing titles. A spin-off game from Microsoft’s popular Forza franchise, Forza Horizon, bucked the trend, though, and delivered a fun, fresh take on the genre back in 2012. It was welcomed back then as a breath of fresh air, so it’s no surprise that high hopes surrounded the follow-up, Forza Horizon 2.

Primary developer Playground Games committed themselves to making sure Horizon 2 was bigger and better in almost every possible way. Moving from the Rocky Mountain roads of Colorado, the Horizon music and racing festival has now set up shop on the Italy-France border, creating a fictional space that’s not only far larger than the first game but also more diverse. Whether it’s the beach resort town of Nice, France or the fields and old-world charm of Castelletto, Italy, each of the game’s six regions feel unique and exude an authentic Western European vibe.

Also, as we’ve come to expect from every Forza, the cars look absolutely spectacular. The game’s cover car, the Lamborghini Huracán, the 1960s Chevy Corvette Stingray, or even something like the Volkswagen Rabbit—along with more than 200 others—have been crafted to look exactly like their real-world counterparts, and they all shine brilliantly on the Xbox One.

Each car also handles much like you’d expect they would in the real world, but a new addition to Horizon 2 pushes that handling to the limit. Along with the returning day-night cycle, a new weather system makes its debut here. Rain not only changes how your car drifts and takes turns in races and out in the open world, but roads remain slick well after the rain has stopped, providing not only a major new hazard for racers to contend with but also a little welcome variety.

Speaking of variety, each region features wide-open spaces that just scream for you to take your car off-roading and cut corners between winding roads. While you could do that sometimes in the first game, far fewer boundaries will impede you here as fields of roses, wheat, lavender, and dry brush dot the landscape. It became a guilty pleasure to carve crop circles into each respective field, racking up my wreckage multiplier, and then hightailing it back onto the road, looking in my rearview at the carnage I’d wrought. These off-roading segments are also the theme of many races and provide a true sense of freedom, since no barriers hem you in or tell you how to reach the next checkpoint (yes, there’s a suggested path, but you’re often better off ignoring it).

There’s more to do beyond just traditional racing at the Horizon festival, particularly since the game offers rewards for exploring the nooks and crannies of the map with the return of Barn Finds, 10 hidden gem cars scattered about the game world. Forza Horizon 2 also features six new showcase events, allowing you to race head-to-head against a train, several planes, hot-air balloons, and more. The most interesting addition, though, may be the new Bucket List—30 different challenges spread around the map that offer special objectives ranging from the simple, such as driving along the coast in a certain amount of time in a Ferrari, to the maddening, like driving a Bowler Wildcat through a forest back to the Horizon Festival main tent.

On paper, Forza Horizon 2 offers plenty more to keep you occupied compared to the first game, and there’s no denying that it plays wonderfully. The addition of Drivatar AI opponents even adds a little extra flair, with the knowledge that when one of my friend’s avatars tries to squeeze me into a sideboard on a track when we’re up against each other, that’s what they’d actually do if we were playing together. That said, playing the game on Medium difficulty and with only a couple of braking assists, I was still able to take first place in every race I was in and found the clock in Bucket List challenges to be far more of an opponent.

But there’s one thing missing this time around that left me horribly disappointed: the game’s heart. To begin with, the story mode is a shell of its former self. This iteration offers many more races (nearly 700 total across 168 championships, though you only need to clear about 65 races over 15 championships if you want to get right to the final race), but all the charm’s been sucked out.

Much like in the original Forza Horizon, your objective here is to become the champion of the festival. In the first game, however, you had to knock off other championship contenders who specialized in particular cars. They offered a rarity in racing games: nemeses with personality and panache. Here, they’ve been replaced by nothing more than the Horizon organizer telling you how many more races you have to win to qualify for the finale. It becomes just a mundane, soulless countdown of championships—punctuated by the same, dull repetitive commentary—that starts to feel more and more like a grind as you move from region to region, choosing which of each area’s respective 28 championships you wish to take part in.

The popularity aspect of single-player portion has also been removed. In the first Horizon, you had to perform tricks and win races to move up in the popularity standings of the festival. This was another way to prove if you were worthy of a championship run. Here, in order to help streamline the seamless transition to multiplayer, you have a pair of XP bars that can be filled in both single-player and online. As you gain levels from tricks, you receive skill points that can be spent on unique upgrades—of which there are only a couple dozen, and they aren’t nearly as satisfying to acquire as moving up the popularity leaderboard. As you gain levels from winning races, you get new wristbands, just like in the first game. In the original, though, these opened up new races; here, they do nothing except change the color of your XP bar—a sad attempt at carrying over aspects of the first game that have now lost all meaning.

I will say, at least, that the multiplayer transition is impressive. Mind you, it should be noted that I played with only a handful of others online, and it worked fine, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the servers when the game actually launches with, I’d imagine, many more people populating them. The idea, though, is that with a simple button press from the menu or map, you can start searching for online games. When you find enough people, it becomes an impromptu race to one of the game’s six regions if you select Road Trip, or you can simply Free Roam with your friends and challenge others on the fly.

If you do Road Trip, when everyone gets to the destination, you begin a series of four events to determine the winner and see who takes home the online championship. You can also play the returning Playground Games, a group of offbeat multiplayer challenges that are less about racing and more about surviving—like Infected, which declares that the last person to be hit by an “infected” car wins.

In many ways, it’s clear that Forza Horizon 2 is definitely bigger than the original. It’s a great racer in terms of gameplay and chock-full of content that could potentially keep you busy for months on end. But gutting the story—and taking away one of the key pillars that made the first Forza Horizon so special—to blur the line between single- and multiplayer left a sour taste in my mouth. If all you care about is getting behind the wheel and scenic European vistas, though, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better experience.

Developer: Playground Games/Turn 10 Studios • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 09.30.14
Bigger doesn’t always equate to better. Forza Horizon 2 definitely delivers a gameplay experience a step above its predecessor, but gutting story mode leaves the single-player soulless and more akin to a grind.
The Good A larger, more beautifully detailed world to explore; seamless multiplayer integration.
The Bad The story is nearly nonexistent.
The Ugly Tons of new music tracks—and still nothing good on the radio.
Forza Horizon 2 is available on Xbox One and Xbox 360. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.

Ray Carsillo goes one-on-one with Forza community manager Brian Ekberg who reveals more about the upcoming sequel and gives new details about the super-charged Xbox racing title Forza Horizon 2! Check out our special video interview from the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con to learn more about this amazing new driving title.

Wheels of Glory

Originally Published: December 16, 2009, on Examiner.com, Lundberg.me, and 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

There are few games that can offer the sense of realism like a racing game. There is nothing quite like the feel of pounding the clutch as you switch to 5th or up to top gear as you try to pass on the outside as a hairpin turn is approaching. There are few things that match the visceral sensation of actually fighting against the g-force as you drift into a turn at 110 MPH and try to tame the laws of nature itself. Of course, a large part of this comes with the tools that can be added to a racing game in the form of a steering wheel, pedals, and shifter that you need to truly experience all the moments I described above.

So, when you pop in the winner of Spike TV’s VGAs Best Driving Game of the Year (which I agree wholeheartedly with), Forza Motorsport 3, what wheel would provide the best experience to go with the best driving game?

Well, I know a pretty strong candidate for the discussion. Let me introduce you to the Porsche 911 Turbo S Wheel from Fanatec. With two possible gear sticks, three force feedback motors, and a smooth belt drive; this wheel easily provides the best racing experience possible on the Xbox 360 and therefore makes it the best wheel on the market.

I enlisted the help of a friend of mine, Joseph Layton (give a quick shout out to Joe!), who is a gearhead and an avid video game racer (and also sometimes serves as my editor) to try out the wheel and give it a good thrashing. He played with it for four hours straight, rushing through gears, drifting all over the track, and, generally, driving like a maniac. He said the finish of the wheel was excellent and the sense of driving was very lifelike. The hand-stitched leather wheel cover provides a great grip and the authentic Porsche crest looking back at you lets you know this is a special piece of equipment.

After I pried my buddy from the wheel, I stepped into the driver seat myself and looked at the peripheral from a pure gaming perspective and I immediately found myself fighting against the wheel as I tried to take some tight turns a little too quickly.

The term “simulation” had taken on completely new meaning because there was an entirely new world of nuances and fine-tuning that I didn’t get with a regular controller and now needed to take into consideration with this wheel. From knowing when to let my foot turn to led to when to let up and ease on the brakes, this was racing like I had never experienced before and it was good. Even when using the famed Forza Motorsport 3 Rewind mode, the wheel would actually rewind itself as well to the position where my wheels were at that previous point in the race as I prepared to re-do that hairpin turn. The wheel had surprised me and made a great game even better.

I had only a couple of problems with what the wheel had brought to the table. Although my friend said it was mostly authentic to a Porsche’s pedals, I thought the pedals were a little too sensitive and not being able to adjust that on this model was a little bothersome (But that could be the car we used in the game during much of the testing, a racing-spec Porsche GT2, in honor of the wheel).

I was also a little perturbed with the placement of the buttons on the wheel. Often when reaching for several buttons in mid-race, I would press the wrong button and would suddenly be rewinding the race when I just needed a pause for a bathroom break.

Aside from these minor complaints, this wheel does nothing but add to the overall experience of an already great game. Throw in that the wheel is backwards compatible with any racing game that supports the Microsoft Wireless Wheel and is also compatible for the PS3 and the PC and that makes this wheel worth the $350 price tag because it will last you the remainder of this generation of consoles, and since this current generation is expected to last longer than previous ones, it looks like it would be a great investment in your video gaming peripherals.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best.

Overall: 9.0: Obviously, none of my other usual categories apply to this piece of equipment. Hands down, this is the best wheel on the market and due to its compatibility with previous Xbox 360 racing games and other systems, it makes it a worthwhile gaming investment. Throw in the phenomenal force feedback (the best of any wheel I’ve ever used) and smooth feel of the wheel and I can’t rave about this wheel enough.

Note: The wheel was used with a Rennsport Wheel Stand (also from Fanatec) which made the entire review much easier than it would have been otherwise. The stand itself should also receive a 9.0 because the setup was quick and simple and the overall build quality was very good. I had no problems with the stand, but my friend complained about it sometimes hitting his leg when using the pedals. I just think he was flailing about way too much though.

-Ray Carsillo

Where Dreams Are Driven

Originally Published: October 26, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com), Examiner.com, Collider.com, and Lundberg.me

It is the slogan for one of the most anticipated racing games to come out in a long time. The Forza series is the premiere racing game for the Xbox 360 and is constantly in the discussion for best racing game available, period. Two years since their last installment, the folks at Turn 10 and Microsoft have kicked this franchise into another gear now (pun admittedly intended) with Forza Motorsport 3.

With now well over 400 cars featured in the game from over 50 different manufactures, you would think “options” is what Forza means (it really stands for “power” in Italian and that makes more sense, I think). Each and every car is also completely customizable from interior designs and colors to rims to the air pressure in your tires.

You think it’s great to drive a lot of cars? Well, how about driving them on 100 different race tracks from all over the world from Sebring to Nürburgring and even the Circuit de la Sarthe, which is used for the world-famous Le Mans 24 hour race. Yeah…options.

So far, I’ve thrown out a lot of numbers. Impressive numbers, but still, just numbers. Let’s talk about looks. The cars are built with 10 times the amount of polygons from the last installation of Forza and that has allowed for more finely detailed visible damage to your car from scratched paint all the way to tire wear over the course of a race. You can almost see the flies splatter across your windshield this game looks so good.

Speaking of damage, how about the fact that a brand new physics engine now might make you think twice about trying to smack an opponent out of your way as you might just flip your own car over and take yourself out of the race (I know, I’ve done it. It is fun for like three seconds until you realize you’ve definitely lost the race now).

Of course, a severely improved A.I. could make contact all but impossible as your opponents react to your actions like real drivers now. Some cars might try to floor it to put some distance between you if you act aggressive while others might just let you pass in the hopes your righteous fury will just glide by them (I only know how to drive aggressive so I’ve only seen the A.I. act to my anger fueled actions). The A.I. might try to pull the same tricks on you, though, if you’re not careful, by bumping you in turns or veering back and forth to prevent you from cleanly passing.

Along with the classic racing game modes like vs., time trials, and online vs., there is also the inclusion of a brand new single-player season mode that insures that no player will have the same racing experience as you play through six years in the life of a driver as you try to win races with a plethora of cars in various classes. From one-on-one heats, to drift events, to drag, to circuit races, each calendar has more than 200 events on it and will test every aspect of your skills as a driver.

This sounds like a gearhead’s dream for sure. But what if you are a more casual racing gamer? What if you don’t know how to tune your car or when to brake going into a turn? The fine folks at Turn 10 took that into consideration. There are a bevy of options that can be tuned to your liking depending on your ability and even an automatic “Quick Upgrade” feature that will tune your car to its maximum ability without you having to look through valves and fuses trying to figure out which ones will be the best for your car. You can ease up the opponent’s A.I., you can lessen the wear and tear on your car during a race, and you can even turn on the one-button auto-brake assists or you can paint a line on the track telling you where to turn and how fast you should be going. All of these are great for beginning racing gamers as you attempt to not only learn the tracks, but improve your skills over time.

The ultimate assist though is probably the best. Similar to the “flashback” feature from Grid, Forza Motorsport 3 has no limits to the amount of times it’s “rewind” feature can be used in a single-player race as it allows you to stop play and go back in time instantaneously to re-do a poor turn or maybe getting spun out by an opponent’s car. The “rewind” feature is so extensive, that the opponent might even rethink how they go into a turn.

While playing, I specifically remember two cars colliding on a hairpin turn that caused a pileup that ended up taking me and several other cars out. I rewound the accident and, on the very next try, the cars avoided each other and the race continued. I didn’t have to worry about restarting the entire race or trying to comeback from a ridiculous deficit because of a mistake the computer made and that makes playing this game so much more enjoyable.

With all the compliments I am paying the game, mind you, there are flaws. Firstly, the soundtrack is beyond limited and you might just turn the music off after a while because by the second year of your single-player career, every song has been played to death.

Another problem is that once you have a solid lead in a race, even on the hardest difficulty level, the A.I., although great in many other aspects, has trouble making a play back on your position if it falls too far behind. This means that a lot of races that might be five or six laps, could be over by the third or fourth a lot of times if you can make the right moves. Also, since in many series you’ll face the same cars, the cars do not make adjustments between races like you can and you’ll often be competing with the same two or three cars while the other four or five will simply fall out of contention. The A.I. is very good, but it still has its drawbacks.

These small complaints aside, this is still probably the best racing game out there because hands-down it is the most fun to play. It has successfully removed all the frustrations for those rookie racers out there while having enough options to keep the hardcore of the hardcore more than happy. Forza Motorsport 3 is available for the Xbox 360 on October 27th, 2009.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best.

Graphics: 9.5: From skid marks staying new and fresh throughout the entire race to bumpers flying off in high speed collisions, this game looks gorgeous. Maybe if rims and side-mirrors started flying off in collisions, too, it would be completely perfect looking.

Audio 8.0: The soundtrack gets tired quickly and is really the only audio complaint I could find. The hum of the engines and how they vary from tune-up to tune-up is impressive.

Plot/Plot Development: N/A: It’s a simulation and therefore really doesn’t have a plot…

Gameplay: 8.5: The A.I. is light years ahead of the competition in many aspects, but does seem simple if you can pull out to a big lead.

Replay Value: 8.5: With 200 events per single-player calendar and online and offline vs. and time-trial modes and the Forza community will be happy for a long time with this installment. The only problem is that the single-player campaign can become repetitive after a while with only so many tracks and opponent strategies, making for a more simple racing experience.

Overall (not an average): 9.0: Easily the most fun racing game I’ve ever played, it still isn’t quite perfect. More audio tracks would be nice and the A.I. has lapses at times, but this is still probably the best racing game out there. Now, we just have to wait for all the track and car DLC that is sure to be coming.

-Ray Carsillo

Right Around the Corner

Originally Published: September 18, 2009 on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com), Examiner.com, and Lundberg.me

Back in July, I had promised a second preview of Forza Motorsport 3, coming out October 27th for Xbox 360. With only a few more weeks before it hits store shelves, I figured now would be a good time to remind you why you are going to want to pick this game up.

Here is my interview with Amrtiz Lay, Global Product Manager for Xbox 360, and an exclusive look at one of the year’s hottest racing games.

Forza Motorsport 3 Preview with Ray Carsilllo
Video by Jared Bodden

Be sure to stay tuned for my full review of Forza Motorsport 3 next month.

-Ray Carsillo

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

Originally Published: July 20, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and Examiner.com

When describing the Forza Motorsport online community, “hardcore” does not even come close to doing these folks justice.

Keeping that in mind, the Microsoft gaming gurus teamed up with Audi, one of the top of the line racing car manufacturers, and decided to reward their racing community as the launch date for the highly anticipated Forza Motorsport 3 nears.

Microsoft flew the top nine players in the Forza community, hailing from all over the United States, to New York City for one very special weekend that coincided with the Le Mans 24 hour race in France (that Audi just so happens to dominate most of the time).

After being broken into three-man teams, these elite players competed on a never-before-seen Forza 3 demo for a chance to win a trip to France for Le Mans 2010.

The outlines of the competition had the teams facing off for three hours at a time, one driver for every 40 minutes with the first driver also taking the fourth shift, with the best overall times being electronically monitored by Microsoft experts. After a full 24 hours, the winning team would be decided with the conclusion of the competition tied in directly to the end of the Le Mans race overseas.

While these select few players were competing for the trip of a lifetime, I had a chance to hop on a Forza 3 demo myself in Microsoft’s special simulator pod to get some first hand impressions on the game. I was also able to catch up with one of the racers during an off-shift and Brian Lockhart of Turn 10, one of developers of the Forza Motorsport franchise.

Forza Motorsport 3 Preview with Ray Carsilllo
Video by Jared Bodden

Be sure to stay tuned for my second preview of Forza Motorsport 3 where I got to sit down with an extended demo for over an hour and truly put the framework of Forza Motorsport 3 through its paces.

-Ray Carsillo