Review by DConnoy
"...and you were expecting revolutionary?"
Gran Turismo has never been revolutionary on any particularly deep level--the original PlayStation game was really more of a case of developer Polyphony Digital happening to answer a question that millions of gamers didn't realize they'd been asking. The idea of modifying and racing the cars we drive and see on the roads every day, in as rigorous and accurate to true-life a simulation as was possible on home console hardware, struck a chord with wannabe-speed freaks everywhere, and the franchise took off like a pocket rocket. Content merely to refine and update their franchise since then, Polyphony has taken several subtle steps forward with Gran Turismo 3, but it's certainly not redefining the franchise.
It'd be pretty much impossible for me to say anything that hasn't already been said here. Gran Turismo 3 is the first game to truly tap into the power of the PlayStation 2, and it's the most gorgeous racing game ever made. Cars are modeled to the tiniest conceivable detail, and the way the reflection mapping places them squarely in the environment is uncanny, every element of the surroundings accurately reflected in their gleaming surfaces. ''Graphics, pah!'' the elitists will scoff, but the rest of us can drink in the better-than-real-life effects: sunlight through the trees of a Tahiti rally course that you can practically feel on your face as you throw your Impreza through the corners, or the unmistakable tail lights of a C5 Corvette reflected on rain-soaked tarmac, its spinning tires kicking up clouds of mist that glisten in the streetlights as it races through blackest night. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the feeling that you're really there, laying rubber at Laguna Seca, something worth accomplishing?
Sound effects have gotten a noticeable upgrade from Gran Turismo 2. It's now possible to hear all the cars around you (not just the nearest one), tires squeal quite a bit more in earnest now, and the ''swish'' effect that accompanies racing on wet pavement is particularly realistic and cool. Engines still make characteristic noises--that smooth, high-pitched VTEC hum means an S2000 is gaining on you, and the Doppler effect is done correctly for once.
Hugely improved, at least in quantity, is the soundtrack. It features 25 tracks, the DVD format allowing a huge leap in content over the previous two games. Stylistically, the tracks run the gamut from what passes for heavy metal these days, to gangsta rap, to kitsch (Judas Priest, ''Turbo Lover''!?), to five tracks from the original Japanese GT3 score by electronica artist Daiki Kasho, so I think just about anyone could find several they don't mind. Kasho's mixes in particular are unobtrusive and unoffensive, and everything else fits well enough, save for the more slow and ponderous metal and the rap tunes.
Of course, ask ten different people what they'd like to see in a GT soundtrack and you'll get ten different answers; thankfully, a ''soundtrack mixer'' option is provided that functions just like the program on a CD player. It's possible to take out of rotation songs you don't like, and set the remaining selections to play randomly or in a predetermined order. This is just about the best Polyphony and Sony could have done to please everyone to some extent.
Just as Polyphony has come the closest to using the fullest extent of the PS2's graphic capabilities, GT3 succeeds in making the Dual Shock 2 seem like a worthwhile evolution over the original PlayStation controller. I remember the Dual Shock analog sticks having a particularly large ''dead spot'' in GT2, which made very small changes in direction almost impossible to perform; however, a tiny tap on the stick will give you the subtle steering you're looking for in GT3. Also wonderfully utilized for the first time in a PS2 game are the Dual Shock 2's pressure-sensitive buttons--after a little practice, it's possible to hold a constant speed through a long turn by maintaining the correct pressure on the button, rather than ''feathering'' full throttle on and off as was necessary in the previous two games.
Possible, if you have i.Link capability and enough PS2's TV's, and copies of the game, is a link battle of anywhere from two to six players (you'll need a hub for more than two). This seems too ungainly to be feasible to me, but it's there for those who want to try it (and I'll bet it's darn fun). Naturally, the classic two-player split-screen is in there too.
It shouldn't be a surprise that, for better or for worse, very little has changed about the basic gameplay since the last two Gran Turismo games. The traditional Arcade Mode is still around to provide quick access to tracks and cars. Almost everything works the same in the more rigorous Simulation Mode: buy a cheapo car with your small amount of starting cash, win races with various themes in various leagues to earn money to upgrade your cars or buy new ones, eventually moving up the food chain to where you're racing 600+ horsepower Le Mans prototype-class machines. It's all about how the game rewards you, and the GT games have always made this enjoyable, giving you enough money to move up and feel like you're accomplishing something slowly but steadily.
This pacing is a little off in GT3, however. You're given pathetically little cash to start out, not even enough to afford starter cars that were standby choices in the first two games like the Honda Civic and Mazda RX-7 FC. I was lucky enough to pass a license test with all gold medals, earning a free car, but I can only imagine that a more standard start to Sim Mode would involve a lot of racing in the slow, boring Sunday Cup with a 63-horsepower econobox to get enough money for a non-sucky car. Passing the technical License Tests is still necessary to gain entrance to the race classes, but just like GT2, the standards have been dumbed down significantly for the US version. You'd have to be pretty amazingly inept not to at least get bronze in these tests, especially since almost all of the early ones have record lines and excellent demonstrations to guide you.
As per the usual for Gran Turismo titles, there's a large selection of upgrades you can perform on your vehicles to improve and tweak their performance... the same selection as in GT2. Sure, a couple little pieces have been added, like variable center differential, but it's about time that this part of the game got a major overhaul. It's highly unrealistic that each area of tuning has three distinct stages, and that largely, the same parts are available for every car--a more realistic approach to tuning, with branded parts instead of generic ones, could really have put this game over the top in depth, and given the smaller car roster and huge amounts of development resources, I wasn't expecting a rerun of the past games' upgrade system.
As far as the actual racing goes, it's the same story: very little has changed. Cars still can't be damaged, so the ''bumper cars'' feeling is still there when you run into the wall or another vehicle. This is the drawback, of course, to having real-world licensed cars in the game--no car manufacturer wants to see their beauties beat up, or even performing less than optimally. Also untouched is the computer drivers' AI--they drive pretty much the same as in GT2, unless you engage Arcade Mode's Professional level that makes them drive nearly perfectly. Finally, physics have been touched up just a tad--cars don't overreact to uphill or downhill slopes as they did in GT2, and the speed penalties for hitting a wall have been increased a lot. Overall, it's a lot more important to cut perfect racing lines--exit speed from turns is more important than ever because of the more accurate physics.
The races themselves fit into Simulation Mode's huge league system. There are three different standard race leagues, each with twenty different events that can entail three to ten single or series races. To further complicate things, ''theme'' races, such as convertible-only races or even Volkswagen Beetle-only races, will force you to get used to driving many different types of cars (not to mention earn the money to buy them). Also returning are rally racing and endurance racing, including rally events on wet pavement. All of this leads up to the ultimate reward--beat one of the highest-spec races and you may get a Formula One car to race in the Formula GT fantasy championship. The play value of this game is just gargantuan--sixty standard events, plus ten each of rally and endurance races, couldn't possibly take less than 100 hours to complete.
Gran Turismo laid the foundation, and every GT game since has been (and will be) attempting to refine that formula, to make it more realistic without becoming less fun, and more playable without becoming too large in scope. Polyphony made a few choices with Gran Turismo 3 that really have me scratching my head, like the headache-inducing scrolling text in the front-end and the retention of the one-size-fits-all tuning system. But, on the whole, GT3 has improved the superficial qualities of the franchise immensely, while still retaining and slightly improving the core gameplay and control that has made the games such favorites in the past. I'm unhappy that Polyphony didn't set their sights a little higher with this game--the franchise is going to wear out its welcome if they don't seriously re-evaluate its conventions soon--but it's a damn good racing simulation, offering a wide variety of racing styles in one package.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 08/13/01, Updated 11/11/01
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