Review by matt91486

"Want to play Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec? Hey, if you can pry the controller from my cold dead hands, more power to you"

OPENING STATEMENT
The PlayStation 2 lived nine months with out having that killer, must-buy game. The Nintendo 64 launched with Super Mario 64, and the Dreamcast headed out the gates with Soul Calibur and Sonic Adventure. But the PlayStation 2 had none. Nine months went buy, and Polyphony Digital finally finished their masterpiece for American shores. And, finally, American gamers had a reason to have spent all of that money on a PlayStation 2. Besides, of course, watching The Matrix repeatedly on DVD. And thus is the impact of Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec.

GAMEPLAY--9
Polyphony Digital created the most realistic and absorbing racing experience that they possibly could when they programmed Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. The entire game oozes realism. That is one of the only complaints that I have heard from people about this magnificent title. Some people complain that the game is too realistic, and if they want to play something that exactly controls driving in real life, they will actually do it. Well, I sincerely doubt you can drive a tricked out Dodge Viper at two-hundred miles an hour in real life. Or a rally car down the beaches of Tahiti. Polyphony Digital’s realistic racing experience is not based off of the realistic driving experience of heading down the freeway during rush hour. Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is instead based off of the envisioned experience of driving in very fast cars, on closed-off tracks, without the highway patrol chasing you down. And they have recreated this experience to a tee.

The number of tracks that were actually included in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec astounded me. I was reading there would be twelve to fifteen tracks. But, I purchased the game anyway, and I was rewarded with thirty-five or so. And what a pleasant surprise that was. These varied tracks all add a lot to the gameplay. You will need to use a different style of driving on the Super Speedway than you will on, say, Laguna Seca. Some tracks you can be aggressive on, cruising along like a madman, while on other tracks you will need to calm down, take the turns nice and slow, and keep a close eye on your opponents.

The biggest reason that Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is successful is because Polyphony Digital has recreated the formula that made Pokemon such an addictive success: Collectability. I had the urge to gain enough money to purchase all of the cars in this game, racing over and over again to gain some cash. I re-raced some of the easy Super Speedway tracks so many times, I am surprised the game did not rename the track after me. Granted, some of the cars cost a pretty penny, so for many of them, the best chance to get them would be to win them as a bonus car. After some races, and after all Cups, you win a bonus vehicle. These vehicles are the same as the vehicle that you would have to pay money to get, except for these are free. They can save you a lot of time and money, so work hard to win every single race, so you can get the bonus cars. These cars actually had me coming back to earlier races that I had only gained Silver Trophies on to replay them, to get the Gold Trophy, which was an excellent move on the part of Polyphony Digital.

As I said before, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is a racing game in the simulation vein. So, if you go really fast and attempt to make a rather sharp turn, you are not going to be able to do it. On wet roads you will find yourself spinning out a lot, especially when they have lots of tight corners. Mastering the control of your vehicle’s turning is the single most important aspect of Gran Turismo 3. If you can harness the realistic driving physics, speed will not be a problem to you, so you should be able to win wherever your vehicle is viable.

GRAPHICS--10
What a difference nine months makes. The PlayStation 2 gave birth to the magnificent looking Ridge Racer V at it’s launch. Nine months later, Sony’s console gave birth to the even more magnificent looking Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. Ridge Racer V has now turned into the ugly, ignored, spoiled, and bratty almost one-year-old, that people hide in the corner and pretend it does not exist when there is an opportunity to show off the beautiful new game. That pregnancy analogy simply came to me when I figured out that Ridge Racer V was released nine months before Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. Sorry.

Anyway, nine months truly does make a difference. Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec surpasses Ridge Racer V on ever graphical level. The environments, the part of Ridge Racer V that I thought looked the best, are so much better in Gran Turismo 3 that I could hardly believe it. Where Ridge Racer V stuck with clear skies, clouds sometimes roll over the tracks in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. Where in Ridge Racer V there were only a couple of flora varieties, I counted more than a half dozen species of trees alone in Gran Turismo 3. The buildings look more realistic, better, and certainly more livable than those built just three-quarters of a year before. The grass is not always green, the skies are not always blue, and that is what makes Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec such an absorbing experience.

The PlayStation 2’s biggest graphical weakness was anti-aliasing, or therefore a lack of. This was painfully evident in launch games, as the rounded edges of vehicles looked almost like a staircase at times, as there were ‘jaggies,’ as they are commonly called, all over the place. Well, Polyphony Digital exterminated those little jaggies with an astounding solution to those problems that Sony doubters had hearkened as would be the PlayStation 2’s downfall. Instead, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec’s vehicles look completely realistic. Seeing the difference between an Aston Martin and a Ford Escort is hardly a problem. The vehicles look so unbelievably realistic that as you race, your car actually gets dirty. When you take it to the car wash, it gets back that sheen, that reflection, so you can see the world around you by simply glancing into the surface of that vehicle.

The lighting is dynamic, and it helps set the tone for each race. The moonlight, and brake lights, reflect off of the wet pavement in the rainy courses. The sun glistens off of the newly washed cars. In all of the races, but especially the rally races in Tahiti, shadowing makes the graphics look all the more realistic, as you keep wishing and wishing you were on the white sand beaches. Yes, lighting may be simply an effect, and not an item, but the effects are what makes the atmosphere in a video game. You could have the prettiest looking car in the world, but if it were surrounded by a child’s drawing of a forest, you still would not be impressed.

MUSIC--2
SOUND--9

You have found the weakest link! If you were searching this review to find if I rated something bad, and therefore was not a little Sony-biased gamer, than I can now tell you goodbye! Anyway, Sony really did a poor job with the music in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. From having Lenny Kravitz, and other artists that, according to my friends and family members, I should have heard of, to the fact that this is simply a racing game, I expected the tunes to simply be songs, and as a result, somewhat enjoyable to listen to. But, no. Polyphony Digital had to get Lenny Kravitz to record some stupid new song with Gran Turismo in it numerous times, instead of just including ‘American Woman’ like a sensible developer would. The other bands offer a variety of musical styles, but the eclectic bunch simply sounds horrible together. Hip-hop followed by hard rock followed by easy listening simply does not work.

The sound effects, though, are effects that should be, and probably will be, stolen by every racing game developer in the near future. They add to the realism as much, if not more than, the incredible graphics do. Put yourself in the first-person view, and send your vehicle to Tahiti. You can hear the rushing wind through the tropical valleys. Even more impressive is the fact that the sound effects are actually different in the first-person view, than the third-person view. I know things sound different when you are in a car from when you are outside of it, but hearing the distinct difference in a video game absolutely blew me away. (And if you are looking for my opinion, the first-person view is better audio wise, while the third-person view is more graphically impressive. The first-person view wins simply because it is easier to race in.)

The brakes make different noises too, depending on how fast you are driving when you attempt to slam on them. Actually, the normal brake sounds different from the emergency brake as well, so if you are looking to here dozens of braking noises, Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is an excellent place to start the search. When you are driving on wet roads, you can hear the spray that the tires are making. When you collide with another vehicle at high speeds, you can hear the bone-jarring collision, while if you do the same at a nice easy twenty-mile-per-hour drive through the country side, the noise will be a mere grazing of metal on metal, and as a result it is much more quiet and subdued. Basically, unless you are actually driving down the freeway, speeding up and braking rather frequently, without eight quadrillion other vehicles around you, you really cannot believe what Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec sounds like.

CONTROL--8
Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec offers a completely realistic controlling experience. That is part of the reason why it is not perfect. When you are aiming for perfect driving physics, you forget occasionally that you are developing a video game. As a result, turning around some chicanes is virtually impossible. (In case you did not know, because I did not know before playing Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, a chicane is a very tight U-turn.) Many times I skidded into the wall or another vehicle intentionally to make the turn a bit easier on me. Besides, ramming that poor Mazda Miata into the while while driving a tricked-out Dodge Viper was always fun.

The buttons are all logical, and they work well for their various tasks. ‘X’ takes care of go, and ‘Square’ works well for braking. The emergency brake, since it is so rarely used, probably could have been on a button used less than ‘Circle,’ and perhaps it should have been switched with the main view changing button, which is ‘R1.’ ‘Triangle’ works all right for reversing your vehicle, but if that were at ‘Circle,’ Polyphony Digital would have really been in business.

FUN--10
Quite honestly, I have not had more fun playing a PlayStation 2 game on the PlayStation 2. (I am not including watching DVDs or playing original PlayStation games in that statement, mind you.) The addictive qualities absorbed me for days at a time, and I needed to pull myself away from the system to get enough sleep to function. (When you couple Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec with a rental of NBA Street....boy was I tired.) Anyway, the great number of cars, the variety in the tracks, and the collectability factor all go together to make the most enjoyable experience out there.

I had a great time racing against my friends, especially when they brought their own memory cards to race against me with. Then we could truly race for bragging rights for the better player. And when we were not alternating, we helped each other out, on the races that we were better at, alternating to help the other people get those solid gold trophies. This team play worked out great. It provided a time to chat with the people who were not racing at the time, and it was a great way to have a lot of fun progressing. If you have multiple friends with a Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec save file, test it out sometime.

CHALLENGE--MEDIUM TO HIGH
Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is not for the easily discouraged gamer. I needed to replay some races twenty or thirty times before finally gaining that first place finish. The game is especially difficult when you are first starting out with that low budget car. Luckily, the first two license test sections are fairly easy, to help get your confidence up. The difficulty really skyrockets after the first four or so cups, and once you reach the IB License tests, so, if you breeze along early on, expect to need to buy a seriously good vehicle to keep on whizzing to first. Luckily, this steep difficulty curve makes sure that you need to have some actual skill at racing, which will prevent really bad players from getting the game one hundred percent complete.

REPLAY VALUE--HIGH
Even after finishing the game enough to appease many gamers, I am still racing on, gaining cash, and buying the unbelievably expensive racing cars which I probably will never used, as I have upgraded my Dodge Viper more than I ever needed to. But, I am still buying them, because I gotta catch ‘em all! As corny as it may sound, I feel compelled to keep playing Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, to beat every race and buy ever car, even though it is not necessary. And, even after I do that, I shall still be fighting it out with my friends and family members, for the title of greatest Gran Tourer of all.

PROS
*Graphically, the best game released to date.
*Enough depth in the gameplay to last you for years.
*You will get plenty of playtime out of this one.

CONS
*The music will make you wish you were deaf. Seriously.
*The challenge may be a little too much for some people.
*Control configuration could have been slightly better.

CLOSING STATEMENT
Polyphony Digital has packed enough into Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec to more than hold me until the release of Gran Turismo 4. This is truly the first must buy PlayStation 2 game, and therefore, you must go buy it. Now. You will hardly regret it, because you will be glued to your television set. (I am not responsible for any work required by an eye professional after playing Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec for staring at a television screen for a hundred or so straight hours.)

OVERALL--10


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 08/06/01, Updated 08/06/01


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