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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sony & Polyphony Digitalís Gran Turismo is the gold standard of driving games, the first two installments went far beyond anything previously attempted in racers for any game system. No other series comes close to the games in terms of sheer depth or ambition, spawning dozens of imitators in its wake though none of these even remotely equals its sheer depth, number of cars or exacting realism. After a very long gestation, the series finally arrives on the PS2 in the form of Gran Turismo 3 A-spec. The most immediate improvement are GT3ís mesmerizing graphics which are undeniably the best ever seen on a console, with incredible environmental effects and car models that approach photo-realism. While the visuals have evolved immeasurably, GT3 doesnít stray from the series trademark gaming conventions, which is a good thing since the seriesí gameplay has always been its baseline appeal. GT3 doesnít disappoint in this department. With its depth, breadth, and difficulty very much in evidence, Gran Turismo 3 offers a long lasting and incredibly challenging driving experience that will keep players occupied for quite some time.

Originally revealed as a prototype PS2 title back at 1999ís E3, the title now known as Gran Turismo 3 A-spec has spent quite some time in the garage. While itís been a long time coming, the seminal driving seriesí debut on the PS2 is a solid entry that stands as a true landmark of both technical achievement and gaming excellence that other developers will be hard pressed to match. GT set the bar very high with itís lineup of real world manufacturers and this installment is no exception. The range of vehicles is quite impressive, with everything from baseline production vehicles, to rally cars, classic sports cars and even prototypes, there isnít a major type of vehicle missing except for stock racing cars. The range of manufacturers is also impressive, with more familiar Japanese manufacturers such as Toyota, Suzuki, Honda, Mitsubishi and Nissan prominent along with North American and European companies such as Ford, Dodge, Chrysler, Chevrolet, BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz,  Aston Martin and Volswagen all having some representation in the game. There are also more exotic niche manufacturers such as Lancia, Tommy Kaira,  Aston Martin, Alfa Romero, and Shelby as well making for a comprehensive sampling of the worldís automotive industry. Featuring an astonishing 200 different vehicles altogether, Gran Turismo 3 offers depth and challenge that is unrivaled by any other console racers. For the PS2 debut, Polyphony Digital hasnít changed the formula too dramatically but instead have opted to enhance the solid foundation of the previous games. There are still two main modes of play: simulation and arcade mode. The most impressive thing about the game is how deep and satisfying both of these modes are, each of which will carry strong appeal to the types of gamers theyíre aimed at Ė though it must be noted that the arcade mode has undergone significant tweaking to increase the excitement, with a deeper, more challenging and self-contained path to success.  

Itís in the Simulation Mode where youíll find Gran Turismoís soul and the deepest part of the game. While there are many vehicles available in arcade mode, the sheer number available in sim mode is astonishing. As anyone whoís played the previous games will know by now, you start sim mode by earning a license in one of the 5 racing classes.  This involves completing a series of exacting tests that challenge but also improve your driving skills.  While the initial tests may seem tedious and overly picky, mastering these allows the player to master the driving nuances theyíll need to succeed in competitive races. Many of the tests require multiple attempts in order to beat them, but with patience and persistence, most players should be able to get the hang of them without too much effort. Fortunately, you can begin racing right after you earn the first license. Once you have that initial license, you are then ready to begin competitive racing Ė though donít get too excited. While it would be great to start off with a prototype sports car, you start with a humble vehicle with very little power.

Thereís no denying that GT3 starts slow, but what you need to remember is that this is a game where patience pays off big time. You take small steps and slowly earn enough credits to upgrade your vehicle to gain decent performance, gaining speed and agility slowly but surely. Those looking for a quick fix can get right into the action in the arcade mode, but while in sim, you must first prove your skill by winning literally dozens of races and cups before you earn enough credits to purchase the more advanced vehicles and upgrades. This will take plenty of time, and while this is frustrating, you have to remember that youíre gradually building up your skills. Some players, understandably will find this type of simulation off-putting, whether through intimidation or by a lack of desire, but those with persistence will find the simulation mode incredibly rewarding.

One of the greatest aspects of the game that really makes it immersive and realistic are the sheer number and depth of upgrades available. The thing about GT3 thatís so appealing is that these upgrades can and do make substantial differences in how your vehicle performs and handles. While there isnít enough space here to cover all the things you can do, the sheer number of upgrades and the different levels of each upgrade available make the game incredibly deep. A thorough knowledge of what each part does and how it affects performance is essential so you donít waste your money on ineffective or useless parts. For example, you wonít need off-road tires unless youíre rally racing. There are six main types of parts in the game that you need to purchase with your credits. You can upgrade the carís suspension, install a more powerful engine, change the drivetrain that improves shifting, install a turbo kit, change the tires, increase the stability with computer parts and upgrade the vehicleís aerodynamics. Choosing which one to use requires a knowledge of the car itself and how much youíll benefit. The sheer number of parts that you can choose from can be overwhelming, so it pays to read each partís description before you buy them, with an eye on how much the car will benefit. One other thing to keep in mind is that parts have different effects on each car, so while purchasing an item may have a dramatic effect on one vehicle, the same part may only offer neglible improvements on another, this is especially true early on when credits are difficult to earn.

After youíre done upgrading the vehicle after your initial few races, you can begin to concentrate on the racing cups that the game offers. There are a variety of racing cups for each license level, each cup is a series of races or a long endurance race. Some of the cups have special requirements such as only allowing front wheel drive vehicles or autos that have a certain horsepower, so youíll need to have more than one vehicle by necessity. You unlock vehicles by finishing first in each cup, or you can purchase autos with credits. Early in the game, youíll have to make do with unlocking the less powerful vehicles then selling them off in order to get more credits. The progression is a bit slow but the effort is worth it since itís incredibly satisfying when you trade up to more powerful vehicles later on in the game.
 

All of this depth is great but itís when you get on the road and really begin to race that the game really becomes impressive. The sheer sensation of speed that the game offers is unrivalled. The carsí all control and handle much as youíd expect their real world counterparts top do but the trick is to master each vehiclesí nuances without losing sight of the big picture. Early on, the vehicles are very clunky and control awkwardly but as you progress through the game, the increases in performance and handling really becomes apparent. This is especially true when it comes to cornering and acceleration, vehicle grip and turning are very important factors that need to be taken into consideration as this has a major impact on how you race. Many races are won or lost by the ability of the player to compensate for a vehicles shortcomings and flaws. This ability is hard to learn at first, but gradually becomes second nature. For example, if you have a car that doesnít drift very well around tight corners, youíll need to anticipate these turns well in advance and apply the brakes before. Doing so too late will only cause the car to smash into a wall, causing you to lose the race as a result.

At first, you initially race against yourself, since in the early rounds what youíre basically doing is learning the ropes of racing, the brilliance of GT3 becomes apparent in later races when the opponents become much more of a factor in the race. How you counteract their moves and take advantage of their flaws is crucial to success. What you really need to do at this point is to learn the opponentís lines and moves which takes some time, but there are some flaws in each of the patterns that you can usually take advantage of. For instance, computer controlled cars donít tend to take corners as aggressively as is possible which is something you can use to your advantage by breaking less conservatively than they do. GT3ís opponents also have a tendency to drive in clusters, making it easier to pass multiple cars at the same time with a single mode. For all this, itís much harder than it sounds to win races, especially if youíre handicapped with a weak vehicle. Donít be discouraged by what may seem to be unwinnable races, however since even a second or third place finish will still give you a decent amount of credits, which can be used to purchase an upgrade you might need, and that new part may be enough to push you over the finish line first the next time around. This is all part of the brilliance of the Gran Turismo series, itís an incredibly addictive experience, one that continually pushes and challenges the player to keep going on. Thereís a high motivation factor in the simulation mode Ė thereís so much to learn, so much to unlock that gives the game such long-lasting appeal. You always have the feeling that something else awaits you, that you can always do a little bit better if you concentrate harder. Once you beat a level, another level of difficulty awaits. The crucial difference here is that instead of being intimidating, the game has built up so much skill in you that youíre ready for the next challenge. The key here is to pace yourself and your expectations Ė a good piece of advice is to try not to beat it in one sitting or youíre bound to be frustrated and stop playing long before the true brilliance of the game become apparent.

For players who donít have the attention span, GT3 also offers a pumped up arcade mode that allows players to race any of the more advanced vehicles without the effort involved in Sim mode. This is a fairly straightforward mode, which should have the broadest appeal, especially amongst casual racing fans. GT3ís progression structure in arcade is simple - you have to win each race in order to progress through to the next heat of 5 or so races. Itís very simple but there is a surprising amount of depth here as well. In this mode, you can choose from the different vehicle classes and can race any type you want on each course. This makes the arcade mode a lot of fun, because the sports cars are available for an immediate speed rush but be warned, some of these vehicles are difficult to control and are quite touchy so you may need to practice with slower, less powerful vehicles here as well. The depth thatís present in the rest of the game is apparent here as well, with a dozen or so racers available in each class. While you can select from main classes of racers on most courses in this mode, there are several off-road courses where youíre limited to rally vehicles. Yes, the rally mode has returned after a lukewarm reception in GT2, fortunately this mode has been substantially upgraded and now offers more realistic handling and control, and additionally a much greater variety of vehicles to unlock. While itís not a full game, and Rally racing also has a separate license and track in the sim mode as well, itís solidly produced giving players a solid feel for this type of racing. The main appeal and strategy in this type of racing seems to be the mastery of drifting around the tight corners. The variety of courses in this mode is also quite surprising as is their difficulty. One problem I had with this mode is that youíre limited to only yourself and one other vehicle on the course, which severely limits itís appeal as a realistic simulation. It fits in well and the attention to detail and realism in the other areas of GT3 is also quite evident here. The cars seem to control realistically, making the races extremely satisfying as well thanks to the sometimes extremely difficult course designs (try the Tahiti Maze levels for a severe challenge) making this the most sophisticated off-road simulator seen on the PS2 to date, though honestly it pales next to the sheer rush of Sega Rally 2 on the Dreamcast. Still, the rally races are outstanding in both presentation and gameplay, especially when you consider that it represents just a fraction of the GT3 experience!

A major part of the success of the Gran Turismo series has always been itís controls which accurately reflect both the feel and nuances of many different types of cars. In this case, the upgrade to the Ps2 has instituted a few minor changes but the feel and type of controls that the series has become known for remains intact. From the slow and hard to maneuver low powered production vehicles, to the finesse driven sophistication of sports cars, Gran Turismo does an outstanding job of reflecting the differences in driving abilities between the various vehicles in the game. From sheer rush of barreling down a straight at an insane speed to the subtle nuances of effective drifting, this simulator lives up to the hype, making each of itís vehicles perform at the level youíd expect. The controls are so good, that even small differences in performance are noticeable by the player and can make a huge impact on race strategy. While in a perfect world, players would play GT3 using a high-end race wheel, this is far from necessary to enjoy the game when the Dual Shock2 does such an excellent job of producing tight accurate control. Whatís most important here is that the controller gives the player a good sense of how the vehicle controls, while making sure that the player never feels overwhelmed. Here, the interface is good enough to allow for sophisticated maneuvers without losing its simplicity. The controllerís force feedback goes a long way in this, especially in the rally modes, where you can feel every bump in the road distinctly, which is subtle effect but goes a long way towards increasing the gameís realism. So while in an ideal world, weíd all have an analog force-feedback wheel, the standard PS2 controller is more than up to the task of creating tight, responsive controls that give an accurate feel of actual real-world racing.

Seldom in recent memory has a game ever demonstrated such an overwhelmingly beautiful environment as Gran Turismo 3. When you load the game, youíre treated to a beautiful, serene opening sequence which is simultaneously slick and incredibly artistic. Once youíre actually in the game, the impact of the gameís graphics really hits home. Almost everything about the engine is superb in a way that has seldom been attempted before and whatís most impressive is how well it works. The most striking aspect of the game visually are its car models which are realistic and solid in a way that few other titles can even approach, let alone claim to be equals of. Each vehicle is rendered incredibly realistically, almost photographic in appearance and reaction making for a stunning aesthetic experience. The windows show incredibly realistic reflection and shadow effects, making the vehicleís appearance seem real. Each carís wheels, chrome and finish showcase and incredible attention to the smallest detail, with decals and logos also nearly flawlessly rendered to make for an astonishing piece of eye candy that finally shows that the PS2 lives up to the hype. This allows the player to be able to suspend their disbelief, since the astonishing richness is apparent, even when multiple vehicles are onscreen with very little slowdown evident. The trackside environments are also impressive, but not quite as much as the cars themselves. Where GT3 really shines are in the gameís elaborate, undeniably stunning environmental effects with incredible lens flares used to create some of the most dynamic lighting effects ever seen. For example, itís astonishing to see the sheer brightness of the midday sun radiates over the pavement and can occasionally blind the driver. The gameís powerful lighting is also used to subtle effect in forest areas where you can see rays of sunshine pouring through the trees. This is a beautiful effect that adds immeasurably to the realism of the game. While this is difficult to appreciate during the races, the elaborate replay mode lets players bask in the gameís incredibly rich graphics unhindered. While there are several in-game camera angles offered, the most effective is the first-person perspective, which allows for both an unhindered view of the course but also gives the player an unmatched sensation of speed that makes for an intense experience. During races, the action never slows down and the consistent and fast 60fps rendering makes GT3 a massive leap forward. Unfortunately, GT3 suffers from the dreaded jaggies, which undermines the effort thatís gone into the gameís visuals Ė the lack of anti-aliasing is quite noticeable at some points and there is some pop-in with large objects, particularly with huge buildings in the urban settings. Still, this is only a minor blemish on what is an almost uniformly impressive visual tour de force. Whatís more, the polish in the graphics also extends to the in-game menus that are simple to navigate yet quite flashy in appearance. Finally, GT3ís music is decent but a bit distracting, which is a definite no-no in a game where concentration is the key to success. The music tracks come from a variety of commercial acts such as Lenny Kravitz and others but while itís appreciated, itís not really needed. This is because the roar of the engines and screeching tires provides more than enough intensity and so adding loud music is basically overkill in the game and detracts from the simulation aspects. So overall, GT3 has some of the most polished production values ever seen in a console game, and the small flaws donít detract from the overall impact of itís visuals and presentation.  

Gran Turismo 3 is most likely the most anticipated driving game ever released and it delivers on the hype and then some in a variety of ways.  With itís amazing graphics creating the most realistic driving environments and car models ever seen in a console title, Gran Turismo 3 looks light-years ahead of anything else on the console. Despite some flaws with anti-aliasing and jaggies, the technical quality of the graphics engine is simply astonishing. While the gameplay conventions have remained largely unchanged from previous versions, the new elements are more enhancements than anything else, the series was so solid in the first place that significant changes werenít really necessary. Adding to the arcade mode and fleshing out the rally racing levels are the two major tweaks to the gameplay this version. Some players may be intimidated by the time consuming and extremely difficult simulation aspects of the game, but even casual racing fans should at least rent this title to enjoy the spectacular graphics. While this seems like a lengthy review, it barely scratches the surface of whatís included in this outstanding piece of software. While itís far from flawless, Gran Turismo 3 A-spec is the closest thing to racing perfection seen on any system to date and is a near-compulsory addition to any PS2 racing fanís library.