Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec
When you are driving down your neighborhood street, you have a choice to make. On one hand, you can maintain your speed, keep under the limit, and generally obey the law. Or, you can make the alternate choice, living on the wild side as you streak through corners and accelerate down the straightaway in front of the gas station (not, hopefully, the police station). The designers of racing games must make a similar choice. They can conform to the real laws of what drivers can do in their cars, or they can abandon reality and give the gamer ever-greater fixes of the speed and exhilarating acceleration he wants. Designers make choices that fall on both sides, and some attempt to find some reconciliation between them in the middle ground. But while there are many great series in the world of arcade, ”fantasy” style racing, one series completely surpasses all others in the realm of realistic racing games. That series is Gran Turismo.
The phenomenon that feeds Gran Turismo is that it allows us to live our dreams. While other games put you in a NASCAR racer, a jetski, or a podracer and let you go on a track, Gran Turismo allows you to hop into a PT Cruiser, or a Mazda Miata–the same exact car that may be sitting in your garage right now. Except the game lets you use that PT Cruiser, or Miata, in a way that you never could in real life–souped up with a massive turbocharger, refitted exhaust, $50,000 racing tires and a six-speed transmission. In real life, you can sit at the starting line, foot on the accelerator, revving the engine up to 8000 RPMs. And you can’t try your luck against cars of legend, like Vipers, Corvettes, and Skylines. Plus now you can streak through those corners with abandon, and you don’t even have to wear a seat belt!
The term Gran Turismo, when applied to an automobile–surely you have seen ”GT” models of cars, around town or at a dealer–defines a car that is squarely between two extremes. On one hand, it is sporty, with a powerful engine, swift acceleration and sharp handling. At the same time, however, it must be an everyday car, comfortable for trips of long distance and suitable for driving to work or the mall. The eclectic mix of real-life, average cars and supermachines was best presented by GT2, which featured everything from the close-to-1000 horsepower Suzuki Escudo Pikes Peak Version, to a beat ’87 Ford from the used car dealer. The Escudo returns for Gran Turismo 3, but the used car market is no longer in the game.
The game of necessity offers a player vs. player arcade mode, which the single player can do work in as well by unlocking all 34 tracks in the arcade, and racing time trials. Though it takes a good few hours at least to complete Arcade Mode, the beef of the game is in the Simulation Mode. Here, you begin your journey as a racer with nowhere to go but up. You have just 18,000 dollars in a world where everything costs extravagant amounts of cash, are only qualified to compete in the most limited and basic competitions, and have a huge road ahead of you. In the end, you will grow to be a top driver, with an immense garage of the best cars available, competing in the most elite and difficult series. The journey from bottom to top is very arduous, and only the most dedicated players will be able to complete it.
Races are in the same six-car format as in the previous editions, with just two cars in rally races. A huge variety of courses, both visually beautiful and challenging to the driver, breaks up the monotony of playing race after race, as does the difficulty of adjusting to the variable driving technique needed on each vehicle.
Gran Turismo 3 was intended to be one of the big draws for Playstation 2 in the first year of its release. GT2 was one of the biggest hits on the original Playstation, and the possibility of bringing even better graphics to the game with a more powerful concept seemed too excellent to pass up. Essentially, GT3 is exactly the same in terms of gameplay as GT and GT2 were. Yet its graphics are a huge, Frogger-style leap above those of its predecessor. Superior graphics are a massive benefit to a game that seeks to mimic reality as closely as possible–the more detailed and precise the graphics are, the more realistic the game is able to look. Gran Turismo 3 takes the realism to a whole new level of excellence. One of the game’s maker’s claims has always been that when you turn on the replay, someone might mistake it for a real race. Even discounting the ”Gran Turismo” symbol that appears at the bottom of the replay, this is hardly likely, but it does come close, and that alone is an amazing achievement.
Graphics are hardly proportional to processor speed, but Polyphony makes full use of their resources–not just the PS2, but the real beauty of the cars and courses featured in the game. Translucent, shifting paint jobs and smooth, curved hulls, like that of the TVR Speed 12, are captured perfectly. But you don’t really see the cars while racing, so it’s the courses that are important, right? Amazing locations include the French Riviera coast and the real-life Monaco street course are imitated in GT3’s Cote d’Azur track, where the opening hill pins you driving into the Mediterranean sun with a steep drop-off to the sea on your right. The combination of raw power and aesthetic beauty achieved in these races is exhilarating.
Music is the one area in which Gran Turismo 3 clearly does not improve above its predecessors. GT2 had an awesome soundtrack, good enough that a CD album was made to go with it. However, aside from a few good songs, this edition does not offer the same kind of quality. The one positive feature is that the soundtrack can be modified as to which songs you want included or not in your ”playlist”, and the order of songs can be modified. However, while the artists chosen are top-flight–think Lenny Kravitz, Snoop Dogg, Jimi Hendrix, Papa Roach, and Judas Priest among others–the songs are not the best range of work. ”Dogg’s Turismo 3” has a nice beat, but I think Snoop could probably do better. Additionally, the balance between music and special effects is very poor. Engine noise will overwhelm all but the bass of whatever song you choose. On the positive side, since the special effects are what you’ll be hearing most of, they are pretty nice. While the engine noises can be bland, different gears and running speeds produce distinctly different sounds, as they should.
On the whole, Gran Turismo 3 is a great addition to any game library. Rental is actually more iffy than buying, since five days will simply not leave you enough time to get a full taste of this game. And for solely multiplayer or casual-play purposes, there are probably a few other games which have more excitement than this one, though none offers the same level of realism. Some specific examples of such games would be Evolution’s World Rally Championship and Genki’s Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero. But no other racing game has the immense and engrossing single-player mode that GT3 offers. Literally, there are well over 200 hours of gameplay in the Simulation Mode, even for a skilled player just to beat the game.