Review by Kane

"Look no further for your reason to wipe the dust off your Dual Shock 2"

After being delayed for almost a year, Gran Turismo 3, the game all the PlayStation 2 fans were eagerly waiting for, finally came out in the US. This game was going to be very important because the previous "hyped" titles on this console all turned out to be either very short or just plain disappointing. Let's be honest, this game is one of the main reasons why the PS2 launch was such a huge success. The first question that comes to anyone in their right mind when reading a review for this game is: "Does it live up to the hype?"

The Gran Turismo series has been Sony's main franchise since the first episode came out and totally changed the image of racers in the minds of the public. What was then hailed as "the real driving simulator" was actually more of an arcade-style game hidden behind dozens of options and incredible graphics, but it was -and still is today- one of the most fun racing games in history. While many people saw Gran Turismo 2 as the pinnacle of virtual driving, I personally thought it was nothing more than an update of the original installment with cleaner graphics and a (poor) Rally Mode. I wasn't even looking forward to either the PS2 or GT3 for obvious reason, until I saw a demo of the game in a store.

I'm not the kind of gamer to buy a game just because it has extraordinary graphics and because it's highly anticipated by the whole gaming industry. I've seen too many of these "groundbreaking" games finish in the closet or even in the toilet after a week. I'm not even a racer fan, actually. But when I saw this game, and later tried it, I felt excited. I admit it, I gave in to the temptation, and got the "PlayStation 2 + GT3" bundle. Is that a crime? I don't really know, but I sure know I felt guilty as hell on my way back home... I was thinking: "What if it was nothing but flash, like so many others?" Enough of my boring stories though, let's see what happened when I put the DVD in my brand new heater... Woops, I mean my beloved PS2 of course.

Without trying to sound like an infamous fanboy, the Sony logo screen was not exactly enough to reassure my worried -and broke- self. But as soon as I saw the first images of the introduction, it became obvious to me that this game was going to be something big. Not because it looks perfect, but because of the impressive amount of detail it displays. Various memories of the previous games came to my mind as I was trying to find a graphic flaw in vain. I have rarely been in that contemplating state where you stop trying to rationalize everything and keep your eyes wide open, catching as much information as possible. I watched the introduction no more than three times before actually playing the game. And honestly, each time was as good as the first.

The whole game looks almost as good as the introduction I just described. The cars simply look exactly like their real-life counterparts, and the Polyphony Digital (a first-party company) developers have done a great job at reproducing every single detail that could meet the eye. The backgrounds look a lot better than in the first videos I saw on the internet a while ago and are more varied than in the first two episodes. The trees, the stands, the commercials, the spectators... Everything looks surprisingly real, even though there are still a few apparent jaggies here and there. But the game is very colorful and its most impressive aspect lies in the great use of special effects that make you feel like you're really driving one of these kick-ass vehicles. I have never seen a better utilization of shadows, dust, rain and light effects (especially lens flare). The reflection of the backgrounds on the cars is, simply put, fantastic. You can scrutinize the graphics a lot closely in Replay Mode, and you probably already know that, but please allow me to tell you that they look amazing. The visual effects look better than your average Madonna video and the camera changes in order to provide the perfect angle to see the action, but the hidden reason behind them is obviously to show off the PS2's unexplored power.

This is by far the best looking game on PS2 so far, and possibly the best looking game ever, period. It seems even hard to imagine how racers are going to look in a near future now. Of course, we all know graphics don't make a game. But this is one of the rare games I enjoy just watching because it fully reproduces the excitement of racing. The speed of the cars is very well rendered and you can really feel their power in straight-aways. Other than that, there is little to no animation, as in most racers, but the cars don't seem to "glide" too much, which is a good thing in my opinion. Watching GT3 is exactly like watching an exciting race on television: you don't really know why you're doing it, but you just do it.

However, it is worth noting than the interface of the game has only slightly evolved since the first Gran Turismo. The game is mainly divided in two parts, Arcade and Simulation, which if we only pay attention to their names seem to be the solutions to make any racer fan happy. But the truth is that even though the driving in this game is a nice mix between arcade fun and deep simulation, it is everything but realistic. You can still bump into other racecars to adjust your path in both modes, which sounds horribly funny for a so-called simulation. Don't be fooled by the cool strategies featured in the manual: the gameplay hasn't changed much in a whole generation of consoles. The car models seem better indeed, and the Rally mode has been vastly improved: you can actually try to control your car now, instead of spending all your time trying to correct your mistakes. It now feels somewhat similar to Sega Rally 2, only better.

The Arcade mode is self-explanatory, really. You pick a track and a car, and you battle against five other opponents controlled by the computer or against a human player. Needless to say that despite the fact that there are many extras to unlock, the second option is a lot more fun. If you can get your hands on a i.LINK hub, up to six players can take part in the same race, like in the arcades. However, you will probably have trouble finding 6 PS2s, 6GT3s games, the i.LINK hub and the cables.

The Simulation mode is similar to the first two games, but is it necessarily a bad thing? You start with a small amount of money and need to buy a used car and get a driving license before taking part in races. As usual, the driving license trials can be a pain at first, but you'll be very happy when you can finally use a decent car. The more races you win and the more money you get, the more and better cars you can buy. The system is addicting and consequently boosts this title's replay value.

At first, I was struck by the fact that this game features fewer vehicles than its predecessor. But then I figured out that it wasn't such a big deal because I had never bothered to use all the cars available in the previous games. Actually, even a game with only one car is enough to make me happy (namely Ferrari Challenge F355 on Dreamcast). All I'm asking for are good controls, and they are definitely in there. You don't need a steering wheel to find out that this game plays very well: you will be the only one to blame when you finish last. Because there is something I forgot to mention before: this game is a tough challenge. Any decent player won't have any trouble to unlock everything in the Simulation mode: it's only a matter of time. But finishing first on all the tracks in Arcade mode on hard setting, or getting gold trophies on all the license trials, now that's something for the driving experts out there.

I liked the music in this game. A lot. I think it's a refreshing change from most soundtracks because it is fast and dynamic but not annoying, and doesn't distract from the gameplay. To put it bluntly, I am not a big fan of rock and particularly not of Methods of Mayhem, but most of the tunes sound good to me, and I never felt the urge to press the mute button. Any soundtrack that features Pappa Roach, Snoop Dogg, Raekwon and Jimi Hendrix is worth noticing. Lenny Kravitz's genius tune 'Are you gonna go my way' confirms the status of this soundtrack: it is spankarific, and perfectly fits the dynamic and mechanical mood of the game.

If F355 is an underrated technical simulation, then on the contrary GT3 is a great "mainstream" racer that is a bit overrated. The people who complain about it being Gran Turismo 2 in disguise are at least partially true: it brought almost nothing but technical improvements to the series. But then again, isn't that the point of a sequel? The reason why it was so hyped is because people loved the first games, and were excited at the idea of having similar games with an engine using the power of the PS2. In that sense, this game is a complete success, and perhaps the best racer ever. However, if you are looking for novelty, forget about GT3. It is not perfect and lacks some originality to really have a long-term appeal for the average gamer. But any PS2 owner owes it to himself to play this game at least once in their lives. You don't often come across a title that does live up to the hype.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/05/01, Updated 02/02/03

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