Review by GreenFlag

Reviewed: 07/30/03 | Updated: 07/30/03

Drop the clutch and shift into top gear: GT3 takes pole position easily.

Even though the Gran Turismo series has had two previous reincarnations, Gran Turismo 3, without a doubt, makes all other racing games - including the first two, keeping in mind they were released for an inferior system - pale in comparison. I'm proud to say that this is a racing game that not only provides a great deal of excitement, but a great deal of replay value as well. Those who decide to invest in a memory card (please, please get one!) to ensure that their progress is saved for posterity will certainly have their thrills and spills.

I'll begin rather simply for those that simply aren't sure where to go: For those that merely wish to jump in to the game, GT3 includes a separate Arcade Mode that has a bit of a challenge in itself. In a rather simple exercise, you have to win each race in the various ''areas'' to move on. Reaching various goals will result in the awarding of a new, higher specification car for you to use.

Of course, there is the simulation mode in which a person can make a legitimate attempt to make some money from racing, and this is where you will probably perform your greatest achievements. As you begin to play GT3, don't expect to start at the top: those who are used to speed will undoubtedly be frustrated with cars that top out at approximately 100 MPH. Unfortunately, that's all that you can buy with your savings, but with success in races (entry fees, perhaps?), you will be able to either purchase new cars or upgrade your current one, in order to be comparable to the undoubtedly better-spec cars that you'll encounter as the difficulty goes up. Fine-tuning your car for the various circuits or simply to make it more competitive may be a task: the customization in GT3 is extremely detailed and has no shortcomings, which may be good or bad depending on your experience in the automotive unit of shop class.

GT3's strength is undoubtedly in the amount of all-around dexterity it requires from a driver, first of all in the number of cars in the game. In order to beat the game, a player will not quite need to master every single car available (with well over 200 cars, this would be quite a feat), but each car is very different in its acceleration, braking, and cornering and requires a certain technique. As just an example, a driver will need to master four-wheel drive, front- and rear-wheel drivetrains, rally vehicles, sports cars, and certain automobile manufacturers. Because these various characteristics are requirements for some of the events in Simulation mode (cups will be open exclusively to Volkswagen Beatles, American-produced cars, and so on), a driver must be comfortable with many driving styles.

After you select your machine of choice it's time to take to the track. Unfortunately the great number of cars in the game trumps the number of actual environments - nineteen, although the total number of tracks totals well over thirty with backward variations. Regardless, some real-life circuits have been included, including Mazda Raceway (more commonly known as Laguna Seca, a Champ Car venue) and the Cote D'Azur circuit, which is revered among all as the Formula 1 circuit in Monte Carlo, Monaco. The circuits, while not the strongest element of GT3, are impressive and challenging. Be warned, however, you WILL see these tracks a great deal throughout the game with all the events that you must complete (which range from two-lap races to two-hour marathons). Sadly, these events are only run against five other CPU players, which makes the field feel somewhat thin.

Without a doubt the first thing that most well-versed video gamers will notice as they go out onto the track is the detail in which all the circuits have been created. Just going out onto the track is a pleasure in itself, and if the scenery wasn't speeding by at over 120 miles per hour, perhaps it would be more enjoyable to watch. As you run through the forested sections of some of the tracks, the light shines through the trees and reflects off your car meticulously. You can run at various times of day. All this graphical intensity (namely the buildings at Cote D'Azur), and the game is still puttering along at 60 frames per second for maximum sense of speed. Good stuff. We should not fail to mention the multitude of polygons that the cars are recreated in, resulting in a very smooth look that makes the car look like it just came off the showroom.

Yes, the graphics in GT3 are certainly formidable, and add to the ''experience'' that the game provides. There are plenty of subtle details: look closely enough on some of the road circuits and you'll see that the curbs are scratched up from overuse. In replays, you might take note of the fact that the car's brakes hit astounding temperatures when decelerating, resulting in ''glowing'' brake discs. It's these sort of additions that make GT3 as good as it is on the surface, without even taking into account the replay mode. On a negative note, damage and dynamic events are not featured as prominently as I believe they should be, and the menu system is not graphically impressive.

With all of that talk about the gameplay and graphics, then there is the actual racing. For those who are completely unfamiliar to simulation games, you will be having a TIME of it if you do not make yourself familiar with the cars and the physics. I remember running off into the gravel numerous times from braking too late in my first race, as I was used to a more arcade-like feel. As such, before you even TRY any racing you need to go to the license center in the game. There are six different licenses that you need to obtain that qualify you for the more difficult races. Each license is made up of eight tests. Earning a ''bronze'' result is passable, while ''silver'' and ''gold'' results are superior results. The game enforces the need for a license rather well - just to enter any race in simulation mode, you require the B-class license, and improved licenses for later events.

The controls and physics are certainly passable by a great degree. In the hands of a skilled driver, the deactivation of the standard traction control systems (ASM, ABS) will result in the ability to execute the well-known ''doughnuts''. On the other hand, hitting tire barriers (common when running on the road circuits) results in nothing more than a smack reminiscent of running into armco. But overall, it all seems realistic. The control scheme serves its purpose well, with simple upshifts and downshifts from the L2 and R2 buttons. The steering seems slightly loose on all cars and requires a lot of effort to receive maximum cornering, but that could very well have been the fault of the controller used in this review. As a side note, it's almost a prerequisite to use a rumble feature when playing this game, it all makes your experience seem much more realistic as you squeeze maximum grip out of the tires and jump over the curbs.

As you race around the circuit Polyphony Digital and Sony Computer Entertainment have included 19 music tracks (some of them exclusive recordings) from Judas Priest, Lenny Kravitz, Snoop Dogg, among others. You can play these tracks in a certain order, or shuffle them randomly, much like you can on a CD. Although I'm not a big fan of heavy rock and rap, I found that in most cases the music suited my needs and was appropriate considering the title. Unfortunately, most of the time the tracks were drowned out by the throaty growl of an engine running at up to 8,000 rpm, which is a shame because it's a really impressive soundtrack.

Considering that it's the audio that we hear most of the time in A-spec, it's probably appropriate to talk about it...gearshifts are (just barely) audible over the sound of the engine, which in itself is reasonably impressive, varying depending on the car you are in (should we expect anything less?) As you breeze by other cars you'll also be able to hear their motors as they fall by the wayside. Ambient sounds such as cheering crowds could be made more obvious. But turn to the bumper camera mode, and you'll be able to explicitly hear the car rubbing the curbs, the engine echoing in the tunnels, the air rushing around the car, and so forth. While not jaw-dropping - this should be standard fare - it's a plus nonetheless.

After finishing your race, you have access to a detailed ''telemetry'' showing your progress - this may be completely useless to some drivers, and invaluable to others depending on whether you're Joe Fast (fictional!) or Tony Stewart. Or, for those that like to watch rather than perform, you can watch your whole run in instant replay using one of four ''production'' styles. The replay is nothing short of magnificent with absolutely no loss of quality from the race (and even a little extra information included as well from your run, including steering wheel contact), with the occasional motion blur or haze rising up from the track as the car slices through the course (good stuff!)

In summary, the Gran Turismo series has never ceased to be a frontrunner in the racing simulation market, and this installment certainly shouldn't disappoint anybody looking for a little bit more of it. While the game still has a few minor flaws - I would have liked to see a greater variety of circuits, for example - it's still a game that is certainly worth picking up at just about any price (unless that aforementioned price exceeds the value of your PlayStation 2). I'm certain that the developers of this game will somehow find another gear (no pun intended) and push the series ever higher, but until then, enjoy, and please obey all posted speed limits when you drive in real life.

Final score: 9.4

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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