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‘Forza 3’ zooms to lead in racing games

When it debuted for the PlayStation back in 1997, “Gran Turismo” set the standard for realistic racing simulation.

Sony’s racing series remained the leader in the genre for quite a while, with four standout games released between the first game and 2005’s “Gran Turismo 4.”

But while the developers have slowly worked on a new game in the series for the current generation of consoles — “Gran Turismo 5 Prologue” doesn’t count — another franchise has stepped up to match the achievements of Sony’s series.

Microsoft’s “Forza Motorsport” started out as another entry in the genre that was released for the Xbox just months after “Gran Turismo 4” came out. The release came during the height of the “Gran Turismo” craze, and much like all of the free-roaming games that sprung up during the rise of “Grand Theft Auto,” “Forza” just couldn’t match “Gran Turismo” out of the gate.

But Microsoft hasn’t just sat around and waited for Sony to release a new game. Since that original “Forza,” Microsoft has released two sequels. The most recent, “Forza Motorsport 3,” came out Tuesday exclusively for the Xbox 360.

Just as you’d expect with a racing simulator, “Forza 3” is a massive game.

The game has more than 400 playable (and fully customizable) cars and hundreds of different events on the more than 100 real-world race tracks.

There are so many options that all of the cars and courses couldn’t fit on the game disc. Microsoft included a second disc that adds more cars and tracks that you will have to install to your hard drive. The save will take up about 1.9 gigabytes of hard drive space. There is also a download code that comes with the game for the addition of 10 “classic cars” and two track packs.

As far as in-game mechanics go, “Forza 3” delivers a pretty good challenge. Determining how each car handles is part of the experience in any racing simulator, but the mechanics seem pretty fair. Real-time damage has also returned to the series, something that “Gran Turismo” still hasn’t perfected.

“Forza 3” has a rewind option, which gives you the chance to rewind back any parts of a race. Some people won’t want to use the crutch, but it gives those not familiar with racing games an option to cover up some rookie mistakes.

“Forza 3” doesn’t pack many surprises. If you’re a fan of the franchise, then you already know you’re getting a quality game that has been fine-tuned from previous releases.

The series is now the leader in the genre, and only time will tell if the long-awaited “Gran Turismo 5” can take back that title for Sony when it’s released in March.