Driving games are zooming closer to realism with each passing year – but just how accurate are they at capturing real-life speeds of over 100mph?
We got behind the wheel of an Xbox 360 and a real-life Lotus Exige to find out.
I look down at the speedometer and the gauge trickles past 120mph.
The car is revving almost as hard as my heartbeat, and the long Hangar Straight at Silverstone urges me to put my foot down further.
Suddenly a turning approaches too fast, sending the £42,000 Lotus Exige careering across the grass before smashing headfirst into a barrier.
I hit rewind and play the track again. This time it was just a game.
Forza 3 Motorsport is the latest racing game for the Xbox 360, taking the fight to Sony’s Gran Turismo series (and no, GT5 is still not out yet).
Forza 3 boasts more than 400 real-world cars and 100 race tracks – including our very own legendary circuit: Silverstone.
Make no mistake: the game looks gorgeous as our real-life Lara Croft. And all the engine noises have been recorded from real cars, so the in-game Lotus Exige sounds like the real deal.
Controls with the Xbox 360 steering wheel take getting used to, but aren’t too difficult.
The game is even harder in the more realistic cockpit-view, but play outside the car with a standard controller and it’s much more fun. Using manual is even better as you can take the cars to higher revs and get more acceleration out of them before a delayed gear change.
Stepping out onto the cold tarmac of Silverstone’s South Circuit however, the real difference between screen and track is striking – the circuit is huge.
Racing on a television screen gives a distorted view of the circuit’s size. In real life, it’s wide enough for three or four cars side-by-side on the Hangar Straight of Silverstone.
Plus it’s freezing and slightly foggy. And weather effects are something which the game sadly can’t recreate.
Negatives aside, we don our helmet and squeeze ourselves into the passenger seat of the low, bare interior of the 257bhp Lotus Exige.
“Forget everything you’ve learnt about driving a car,” the instructor says, as he fastens our seatbelts and starts the car’s engine.
“You’re on a race track now, the rules are different.”
I motion to say something back but the car shuts me up before I can even open my mouth. 0-60mph in 4 seconds certainly feels a lot quicker in real life.
The noise of the engine roars through my ears and I try my hardest to take in the instructor’s advice about changing gears and positioning, but everything is literally a blur.
We’re driving so fast around Stowe corner I feel like we’re tilting onto our sides, and my sense of direction is seriously put into question. Forza 3 isn’t like this.
Before I know it, it’s my turn to drive. And it’s not looking good.
There’s no DSG manual paddle-shift system in the real Exige (like there is on the 360 wheel), just a standard gearbox. The clutch pedal is stiff and has a habit of dropping into sixth gear when you want fourth.
Thankfully, being in control of the Exige is a lot more fun. It’s a seriously powerful track car and light as anything, with fantastic grip.
We swing from corner to corner, hitting over 120mph on the Hangar Straight and manage to stay safely between third and fifth gear.
The only difficulty we face is staying on the left-hand side before entering a corner, to follow the correct racing line. This is much easier in the game.
On the real-life track our Exige wobbles in the middle, giving us massive understeer, which causes us to brake mid-turn. Not good.
But the acceleration is more fun than on Forza 3.Going from third to fourth and putting your foot down in an Exige is awesome. Everything feels faster in real life, and the wind noise at 120mph is incomparable to the same speed in a computer game.
We take our hats off to Forza – all the corners and barriers have been perfectly recreated like-for-like. Even heavy tyre marks on virtual Silverstone can be found in the same places in real life.
Driving for real improved our skills in-game too. We take the proper racing line and only spin out once. This is the fault of the game’s hardest difficulty setting however – not our newfound driving skills.
But give us a real-life Lotus Exige over a computer game any day. You can’t beat sitting in one zooming across a track at 120mph.
Sorry Forza 3. We love you, and Gran Turismo may not be around at the moment to snatch pole position – but you’re just not quite as good as the real thing.
Forza 3 is out now on Xbox 360.
View our Forza 3 launch pictures for more supercars, supermodels and… supergamers?
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.