Reviewed: July 18, 2001
Released: July 10, 2001
Long before the PlayStation 2 became a reality the Gran Turismo series established itself as the premier racing simulation with two of the best racing games ever made for the original PlayStation console. Naturally, with the immense popularity of the series and the power of the PS2, a sequel was only a matter of time. There were promises made and expectations ran high.
My first viewing of Gran Turismo 3 was at the 1999 E3 show where they had a very early copy running on a PS2 prototype box. Needless to say, much has changed since that early preview and regrettably, much has not. With any game that has been under construction for as long as GT3 and hyped beyond belief by every gaming magazine and website on the planet, it would be a miracle if it were to live up to everyone's expectations.
While GT3 clearly breaks new ground in the graphics department, the core of the game remains unchanged and the game as a whole disappoints on many levels, which I will go into in the following sections.
If you have played any of the other Gran Turismo games then you have already played this one. The game is broken down into Arcade and Simulation modes. The simulation mode is a career type game that will take you the better part of...oh, the rest of your life...to finish. You start with a meager bank account and you get to go shopping for a modest car. Once you start winning races you start earning more money and bonus cars that you can either keep or sell.
The simulation mode is broken up into several classes of racing and just like the earlier games you must earn the appropriate license to even participate in these races. The tests that make up each license range from easy to nearly impossible. You are allowed to strive toward three preset time goals and depending on which one you beat you are awarded either a gold, silver, or bronze cup. If you manage to earn gold cups in all of the tests you get a bonus car and extra cash, which makes getting your career started considerably easier.
There are several annoying flaws in this portion of the game that have been present since the original and I was really hoping they would have been addressed in this sequel. First of all the cash flow system is terribly flawed. New cars are outrageously expensive and when you go to sell them you are lucky to get 25-30% of the initial price. You can also spend $1000 to $100,000 to upgrade your car and you can never regain this investment back in the sale of that vehicle nor can you strip the parts and use them in another car.
Unlike the earlier GT games, you can no longer win unlimited bonus cars. This is an extremely poor design decision, as you may inadvertently sell off a car that you cannot buy at the dealership. I'm assuming the designers "patched" this loophole to keep people from winning multiple cars and padding their bank account, but the value of these cars if often less than the prize money you are allowed to repeatedly win with no limitations. Simply find a short race with a big payoff and your potential earnings is limited only by your patience for racing the same track over and over again.
Another complaint is that you have no way of telling "how fast" the competition is going to be. Before you start the race you get a list of the cars but not their horsepower. You may have a car that qualifies to enter a race but it could be seriously deficient and you won't know it until they blow you off the line and disappear on the horizon leaving you to bail on the race and head to the Tune-Up Shop. And even then you don't know how much to spend on upgrades to be competitive.
The menu system hasn't changed and is just as clumsy as ever. Almost every menu screen has the least likely (or least used) option set as the default so if you inadvertently hit the X button you are screwed. A good example is when you start a race the first choice is Preview or Enter with the default being preview. While you might want to preview a track the first time you race on it, it should never be the default. I can't count how many minutes I've wasted by accidentally hitting the Preview button then having to wait 10-20 seconds for the preview to load then canceling and waiting 10-20 seconds for the previous menu to appear. Restarting a race - something that should be as simple as pressing START and then choosing RESTART - now requires no less than the input of 8 commands on 6 screens.
Another "observation" is that you can only save one Simulation game per memory card. While this isn't a "problem" for me, as nobody else uses my PS2, it could easily become a problem if multiple family members wanted to work on concurrent careers. Since a saved career doesn't require the entire memory card I can't understand why they don't offer multiple games per card. Even worse is the fact that there is NO AUTOSAVE feature, so unless you exit back to the Garage after every race and save your game you stand to lose any progress you make. In my 50+ hours of playing, the game has locked up four times at various menu screens and even while driving. On one occasion I lost two hours of progress and another I lost six hours of my life, 4 cars, $84,000, and I had to replay more than 16 races. It is simply unforgivable that GT3 doesn't offer to save your game after each race.
The much talked about Emotion Engine AI that was supposed to redefine console racing is non-existent. Supposedly all the cars were supposed to have unique AI styles and react to the way your drive. If you hit a car they would become aggressive toward you and return the "favor" if given the opportunity. Instead, we have 5 computer-controlled cars that follow a racing line like they were on rails. They almost never break from the line unless you knock them out and then they fight madly to get back into their preprogrammed route with no regard to your safety or theirs. Of course once you learn their pattern you can use it against them.
There is still no car damage, visible or otherwise, and no repair system. Aside from a slight drop in speed, there is no real discouragement from using the walls or other cars to assist you around the track at unsafe speeds. Even if the auto manufacturers won't allow damage to be depicted on their precious cars, the designers could have implemented some sort of reward system for driving well. Metropolis Street Racer had the Kudo's system that awarded stylish driving and that worked very well. GT3 could have easily given cash bonuses for superior scratch-free driving.
You can choose from a wide assortment of cars from all of the popular manufacturers. There are over 175 cars in the game (about a third of the number from the previous games), but you now get some of the newer models and the sporty rally cars to choose from. A new feature for GT3 is an odometer that tracks the miles on each of your cars. This is a handy reference for tire changes and engine wear, as you must now report for routine oil changes to keep your engine humming at top performance.
Control is flawless with the Dual Shock. The analog stick provides excellent steering control and the force feedback effects are adequate and appropriate. Of course for the ultimate experience you are going to want to play this game with a steering wheel. The pressure sensitive buttons on the Dual Shock just don't offer the amount of variance for smooth acceleration and braking required to achieve the precision driving necessary to win races and get those gold cups.
Visually, Gran Turismo 3 is like nothing you have ever seen on a console. The car models are exquisite and the track graphics are amazingly detailed. The weather and environmental effects are beyond photo-realistic. Sun reflects off the road and other cars and there are real-time shadows being generated by the sun. The billowing dust clouds that roll from behind your tires on the rally tracks actually obscure your vision and the wet streets reflect the city lights and send a shower of spray out from behind the cars.
If you thought the replays in the first two games looked good then you "ain't seen nothing yet". The game graphics are light years beyond those replays and the GT3 replays are as close to broadcast quality as you will see on any current racing title.
Reflections on the cars are rendered in real time rather than those fake reflection maps of other racing games. If you are passing through a forest you will actually see trees flashing in the reflection of your windows or paint. And perhaps my favorite effect; the streaming sunlight through the trees in the forest track.
There are some excellent new tracks in GT3 and a lot of your old favorites are back with a PS2-facelift. These range from the exciting and scenic Tokyo and Seattle tracks to the incredibly boring Test Track that is so huge the turns are practically straight. If you've ever played Ridge Racer 5 then picture the Airport Oval on steroids. Some of the tracks are a bit dark and I was disappointed that the headlights didn't really illuminate the tracks. Many of the nighttime and sunset levels were very hard to play in anything other than a totally dark room.
The lack of a cockpit/dash cam will most likely turn off many serious race drivers. The chase view is nearly impossible to play from and the bumper cam gives an exaggerated sense of speed. The replays are excellent but you are again limited to either in-car or preset track cameras. It would have been nice to have more options to view the races.
In the end, the graphics are flawless with no texture tearing or flickers or jaggies. Even with a full field of six cars on screen and some amazingly detailed tracks the frame rate never dips below a silky-smooth 60fps.
The sound effects are as excellent as they have always been. Each of the cars have a unique engine sound and all the other effects such as tires squealing and cars banging into each other are all present and accounted for. The menu sound effects are ripped directly from the previous games.
The music selection is bigger and better than ever with great tunes from Judas Priest, Motley Crue, Lenny Kravitz, and many more. Some tunes are better suited to racing than other. I seem to drive a bit better when Turbo Lover is playing rather than when listening to 99 Luft Balloons. The music volume is a bit low and you almost have to strain to hear some of the tunes over the sound effects.
Despite the large selection, the music will start to get repetitive and you will probably want to turn it off eventually and concentrate on the sound effects.
As I write this review I have over 50 hours invested in Gran Turismo 3 and my progress meter indicates I have only completed 9.7% of the entire game. If this remains constant then one can reasonably expect about 500 hours of gameplay from this title. Personally, I think that is a bit long. If this were the only game available for the PS2 then it would be a great deal, but chances are there are going to be a lot more games and even a couple new systems out before anyone completes this title.
There are 60 races for the beginner, amateur, and professional drivers and then you can tackle the 10 rally and 10 endurance races. The endurance races are marathon sessions that can last anywhere from 90-120 minutes each and will test your patience more than your driving ability. Just imagine how upset you will be to invest 2 hours of your life and make a stupid mistake on the final lap and lose the race then have to do it all over again. There are also the Championship series races that encompass 5-10 tracks that you must race in sequence and these can range from 25-80 laps total.
The various skill / licensing levels get rather repetitious in both track selection and pure tedium. You will race many of the same tracks and the same series of tracks as you progress through the higher difficulty levels. Only the amount of laps you must drive for each race increases along with the horsepower of your opponents. Some of the races will reverse the direction of the track but a mirror mode would have been greatly appreciated. I'm only a 10th of the way through and I am already getting bored with the game.
Multiplayer is supported on a variety of levels. You can use the PS2 link cable to connect up to 6 units for multiplayer racing. If you don't feel like hauling around your big screen TV you can always opt for the split-screen mode. The frame rate remains consistently smooth, even when the CPU is rendering graphics for two human drivers.
If you are wondering why this game is getting four stars despite my critical review please keep in mind that I am not criticizing a "bad game", but rather the next generation of a great series. The original Gran Turismo games were all top-notch racers and GT3 is no different. Polyphonic had the opportunity to do so much more with this game, but they chose to play it safe. While they amaze us with their stunning new visuals they offer little to no improvements in any of the other areas.
There are two types of racing games and two types of people who play them. The diehard simulation guys like to tweak spoilers, modify gear ratios, and study the analyzer graphs to achieve peak peformance. These people are probably going to find Gran Turismo 3 just a bit too "arcade" for their tastes. With no damage model and no penalties for poor driving, not to mention a lack of a dash-view, this game can hardly be considered a simulation.
Then you have games like Ridge Racer 5 and Midnight Club: Street Racing that offer casual racing enjoyment for the casual gamer. These games are for people who like to sit down and enjoy a quick race and unlock secret cars and tracks, but don't want to invest a major portion of their life to do so. GT3 may simply be too overwhelming for these gamers.
Gran Turismo 3: A-spec falls between these two groups and may get lost somewhere in that middle ground. There is no doubt that millions of people will be buying this game, but just like every other over-hyped product I seriously wonder how many people will continue to play it after the initial "thrill" is over and how many will ever complete the entire simulation. You can see and do just about everything this game has to offer without ever coming close to finishing it. Only the most diligent racers will have the patience to muddle their way through the entire simulation mode.
I find it amusing that Sony is now bundling GT3 with the PS2 console. Strangely enough, people who end up buying that combination may never need to buy another PS2 game, as it should keep them busy until the next generation of consoles hit the market. For now Gran Turismo 3 is the best racing game that you can buy for any console, but with the amazing Project Gotham scheduled for release on the Xbox it may not remain on top for long.