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scrn5-01.jpg (3415 bytes)Beautiful, addictive, fun. There you go—the first 5-star, 3-word review in GamesFirst! history. Well, okay, while that may express my feelings about Gran Turismo 3, it is hardly going to satisfy my standards for a review (or my editor’s). Besides, like myself, many of you have spent a considerable amount of time playing GT3. This, then, is as much an opportunity for pause and reflection as it is for a belated review. Has GT3 lived up to its tremendous hype? Will it perform over time? What is its contribution to the video game industry? And, for those of you who are way, way out of the loop (those who have, say, been studying the mating habits of Antarctic penguins for the past five years), what is GT3?

The first two installments in the Gran Turismo series were arguably the most expansive, innovative, and popular auto racing games on the PSX, perhaps even in console history. GT3 brings the series onto the PS2 in the expected fashion: loyal to what worked in the previous titles, fine-tuning what didn’t, with the most noticeable improvements being in graphics and presentation.

scrn1-01.jpg (3704 bytes)To say that the graphics are merely "improved" is an understatement. This game, quite frankly, will be the crowning achievement in visual fidelity for the PS2’s freshman year (remember, MGS2 will be released after the anniversary date). The cars have been rendered in astounding detail—every line, curve, and texture captured precisely. Hood ornaments, trunk latches, headlamps, everything is presented with care. The entire surface of each car has been intricately reflection mapped, accounting for sun flare, falling shadows, reflections from the road, the color of the car, everything. It is a marvel the way that, when you are driving under a canopy of trees, you can see each individual branch scroll across the glossy finish of your car. The backgrounds are impressive as well. The cityscapes are gorgeous, especially Tokyo and Seattle. The road texture—rain or shine, dirt or pavement—is always convincing, as are the lighting and weather effects. This is the kind of game where you find yourself being impressed by the way the dust dissipates over the track. This is not to say that everything is perfect, however. While the game runs at a high and constant frame rate no matter how cluttered the screen gets, the graphics take a hit in the multi-player mode, primarily where draw-in is concerned. Also, the roadside spectators are rendered two-dimensionally and are glaringly different from their surroundings.

The sound and music are phenomenal. Each car’s engine has its own nuances, its own pitch and roar. You never have to look at your tachometer to know when to shift; you need only listen. The grind of the pavement, the squeal of tires, collisions that resonate—you couldn’t ask for much more. Except a kickin’ sound track, which GT3 delivers. From metal to rap to techno, from the 80’s to the 90’s to current hits, there should be something here for everyone. The powers that be even went so far as to solicit original songs from popular artists. Snoop Dogg has a track called "Dogg’s Turismo 3" which is a lot of fun. One small complaint, however: while the jukebox-style music selector is great, there isn’t a volume control. This is a soundtrack that I actually want to hear, and the engines often drown it out. I know this is a racing game, not a music game, but the option would have been nice.

scrn4-01.jpg (3735 bytes)Like its predecessors, GT3 is huge—hundreds of cars, dozens of tracks, and options up the wazoo. At its core, the GT series has always been a racing sim. You begin with limited funds and options, and open the game up by racing, winning, and earning money. Your game environment consists of the garage, where you store the cars you have purchased or won; car dealerships, where you purchase and sell cars from different countries all over the world; the license center, where you earn the licenses required for different races; the tune-up shop, where you customize your car; the machine test area, where you gage your car’s performance; the GT auto area where you change your oil, wash your car’s exterior, etc (yes, this actually makes a difference); and the race area, where you compete. The races are divided into circuits—beginner, amateur, pro—each of which contains over twenty cup events, which themselves contain three to ten individual tracks to conquer. There are also ten rally events, ten endurance races, and, hidden within the game, an F1 circuit. In order race all of the circuits you must earn five different licenses. Many of the cup events are further stratified by limiting the make or model of the cars which can compete, or the engine, the transmission, and so on.

Seem like a lot? It is a lot. And believe me, I could go on. But in addition to the sim, there is also an arcade mode. Here you can choose from a variety of cars and race a single event, a time trial, a free run, or challenge a friend in the multi-player. And while the arcade mode in most racing sims is merely a concession or an afterthought, GT3’s arcade mode is bigger and better than most games devoted solely to this style of racing. There are thirty-four courses, five classes of cars, rally races, and tons of cars to unlock. In multi-player races, you and a friend can upload the badboy cars that you have tuned to perfection in sim mode, via your memory cards, and race to see whose is the best. You can even race with up to six players using an iLink hub and separate TV’s and PS2’s.

scrn3-01.jpg (4077 bytes)The default controls of GT3 retain that strange, drifting, GT feel. However, the control set-up is completely programmable, and the analog control can even be calibrated to your liking. Plus, there are options to assist in stability and traction, as well as the tune-up options you can earn for your car. All of this combines to allow you more opportunity to fine-tune and nit-pick than any other game on the market. There is also a steering wheel peripheral tailor-made for GT3. The Logitech GT Force steering wheel has its own page in the booklet, its own calibration system in the options menu, and works exceptionally well with this game. For more info on the GT Force, see our review.

Of course, all of this will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has played either of the previous GT titles. So what’s new? Surprisingly little, actually. A few of the options are new. So is the car analysis system in the machine test area. But out of dozens of tracks, only two are new to the series. When it comes right down to it, the game play in GT3 consists mostly of refinements made to the old set-up. The menus are more intuitive and stylish, less aggravating. Some of the more unnecessary parts have been removed from the tune-up shop. There are also less cars—around 200 in total, as opposed to GT2’s nearly 500—ditching many of the low-end clunkers, and eliminating the used car selection entirely, although that has more to do with the time and effort it took to render these beauties than anything else. Other than that, except for the rally races (which are sublimely fun and exciting—some of the best racing I have ever done on any video game of any kind) and the F1 circuit, you may never have seen GT like this before, but you have probably played it.

scrn2-01.jpg (4254 bytes)The saving grace might have been—should have been—the AI. Unfortunately, despite what may have been promised, this is not the case. A few mistakes and missed turns aside, all of the computer controlled cars follow the same optimal racing line you find yourself trying to negotiate in the license tests. And because there is no damage done to the cars during races, there is a lot of unchecked bumping and jostling, and you can still lean on the cars around the sharp turns for an advantage. Truth be told, I was much more impressed by the AI in Tokyo Extreme Racer Zero than by what is exhibited here.

So, considering this, is GT3 worthy of all of its pre-release hype? Well, yes and no. GT is widely considered to be the king of console racers, and GT3 is the best of the series. That alone is justifies some hype. GT3 is also pretty damn fun and exciting. That is enough for me. The sim is fun, the arcade races are fun, the multi-player is fun. The game gives me a sense of speed, exhilaration, and purpose like no other racing game I have ever played. It will also perform well over time. Each time you think you have mastered a track, you will be forced to play it in a different circuit, with a different car, different engine or tranny, and you will get hooked all over again. There are so many cars to attain, so many ways to customize them. And this is a game with nuance—each new part changes the way your car handles, often dramatically, and not always in the best interests of your driving style. Not to mention this game is huge—there are months of game play here, not hours, or minutes, like other recent games.

As to what GT3 has contributed to the game industry as a whole, well, obviously it has raised the bar for graphics. This game looks better than all that have come before—in the arcade or at home. It has also put PS2s into more homes (the PS2s prepackaged with the game sure did fly off of the shelves), which never hurts. But, in terms of game play, GT2 was the true innovator here. One would hope that the success of the three GT titles would inspire other companies to put more into their own games, but that has not been the case so far. And GT3 has done nothing to further the realm of AI in its genre.

I have no qualms stating that this game live up to its "killer app" status. Everyone who plays video games must play GT3, racing fan or no, if only to see it, to experience it, to know what it is all about. However, due to the lack of innovation in game play since the last title, and the all too familiar tracks and racing behavior, players who have tired of the GT formula should play before they buy. For all those new to GT, you have a truly great gaming experience ahead of you.

Jeremy Kauffman   (09/27/2001)


Ups: Incredible graphics; great vehicle physics; lots of tracks; high level of complexity; will keep you busy for months.

Downs: AI hasn't really been improved.

Sony PlayStation 2