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Forza Motorsport 3

Review: One size fits all

Forza Motorsport 3 isn't a hardcore racers-only simulator, nor is it a softened racer for the mainstream. It's the racer that shapes itself around you; it's what you want it to be.

Alarm bells usually ring when a game claims to be suitable for experts and beginners alike. That usually means you're in for an arcade-like, simplified, "family-friendly" experience. But Turn 10 has managed to create a racer that we genuinely believe almost anyone can play, and it seamlessly moulds itself around a player and their skill sets.

The very first screen you see asks you if you're a casual, regular or serious player of racing games. Your choice here swiftly determines what driving aids the game turns on, how much damage your car takes in collisions and how hard the CPU racers will be.

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The good thing here is that the parameters for each of those categories are incredibly wide. You can go from having the game practically drive itself for you (it accelerates and breaks automatically and you just steer), or you can crank up the realism, manually operate the clutch and gears, and thread the accelerator to stop that rear end stepping out.

And Forza allows you to customise all of this yourself; you might like a little help in the form of stability, traction control and ABS, but take control of the gearbox yourself. You can turn off car damage, opt for moderate visual-only damage that doesn't affect car performance or go for a full-on damage simulation, right down to tyre wear and petrol. It's all a bit hardcore - and yet the casual players are well catered for.

It works because Forza is, at its core, an incredibly realistic simulator and has everything required to be as hardcore as it needs to be. Each of the 400 cars are modelled on the real thing and you can feel the clear differences between them.

Vehicles are weighty and you can really feel their connection with the road. This is supposedly down to some kind of magic, space-age physics system busy simulating every flex and bump of your tyres and how that affects your cornering. Cool stuff, but come on - if we hadn't attended techy developer presentations we would've never noticed, and ultimately it doesn't make the game a million times better.

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Yet layers and layers of help moulded around this tough simulation-focused centre allow you to make the game as accessible as you need it to be - and that's something that Forza 3 does really well.

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Particularly in adopting the new rewind feature that's quickly becoming a standard trend in racing games. At any moment, hit the back button and you can rewind the action and re-play a section again. Unlike in other racers though, Forza's rewind feature is unrestricted - you can rewind as far as you like, and as many times as you like.

Yes, that means you need never make a mistake again, which will make the game far easier to beat. It's a moral dilema for hardcore players. But there's no doubt that it cuts out the frustration of crashing on the last lap and losing everything you worked for and opens the game up to those who wouldn't usually bother.

Online leaderboards will also place those who don't use it higher in the table, giving you the incentive not to use it.

Like stabilisers on a bike, however, if you're someone who plays with assists on you'll gradually become better at the game, eventually starting to turn some of the game's virtual hand-holding off. The game encourages and rewards you for this with monetary bonuses after winning races. The more hardcore you are, the more money you get.

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