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Gran Turismo 3: A-spec
PS2 Staff Review by Shawn Fogarty

It's not a perfect game but it is by far the best racing game you can buy and is significantly better than its PlayStation predecessor. But should we have expected more? After all, millions of GT fans have had to endure countless torturous delays. Even when the game was completed, its North American debut was pushed back purely due to marketing strategies by Sony. No doubt, the final release date set at July 10 instead of one month earlier was due to the recent release of Twisted Metal Black. But anyway that is another story.

Everyone has their most eagerly anticipated game and in many cases, gamers will buy a system just for one game. For me, GT3 is that game that I've been waiting for and after the excessive number of delays I had turned bitter and was determined to give it a very harsh review, or at least point out every single flaw no matter how minor. Well, to be completely honest with you, I cannot find any major flaws with this game. It has exceeded my expectations in many respects but it is still not a perfect game.

There is so much depth to this game that it really does take several hours to appreciate all that it offers. Lets start off with the navigation system. It's obvious from the very beginning that Polyphony Digital has listened to feedback from its fans as there are many great improvements over GT2 in the menu layout, which is a very important aspect of this racer. The whole thing as been streamlined for easier and faster access with more intuitive and attractive layouts as well as very speedy load times. To give you an example, you no longer need to find the dealer of the car you are driving in order to tune it. All you need to do is get in the car you want to tune and then go to the tune shop. The car manufacturers are in a well-organized list now so there is no more searching to find a dealer, it's all there in front of you so finding specific vehicles is easy.

Some of you may either be happy or disappointed that the majority of GT3 feels a lot like GT2. But I think it's good that they didn't change things too much, this way the franchise retains it's uniqueness. The license tests are back but with some new challenges. There is a new course added to the game specifically for license tests so you will definitely find some interesting challenges on your quest to earn all licenses including B, A, IB, IA, Super and Rally license. Oh yeah, and the Super's really damn hard!

The racing challenge consists of five leagues, beginner, amateur, pro, rally and endurance races. Each league has up to twenty specific challenges with anywhere from three to ten races within. All of the old challenges have returned like the FF, MR, 4WD, turbo cars, all American cars etc. The arcade mode also offers a lot of things to do. Players start off with a limited number of cars and tracks. By completing the tracks on easy, medium and hard difficulties with all of the cars, new cars and tracks open up. Whatever you unlock in the single player arcade mode can be played in two player or iLink racing. Unfortunately there is no two player co-operative mode.

Two of the things Polyphony promised to be greatly enhanced in GT3 were physics and AI. Well, they certainly have enhanced the physics but the AI is still nearly as dumb as before. Where is this "revenge AI" where cars learn your racing tendencies and seek revenge upon you if you race "dirty"? It's simply not here, and if it is, the effect is so subtle that it's unnoticeable. Although the opponent cars follow their racing line very well and even make mistakes, they lack awareness of their surroundings. You can still easily out maneuver the AI and they still act as if you aren't even there. In fact, the only time it looks like they see your cars is when they try to pass you. Of course it is all too easy to block them. If you want to see realistic AI, check out Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero. It puts GT3's AI to shame.

The car physics however are another story. Unlike GT2, this game's control was designed with the analog stick in mind. Players now have a very fine degree of precision when they steer. Not only that but the gas and brake are pressure sensitive. GT3 makes the best use of the Dual Shock's pressure sensitive buttons I have seen yet. It is easy to control your revs just before the green light so it is possible to get a faster start depending on the rpm's your revving at during the start. I think these highly improved physics are what make GT3 the most different from it's predecessors and make it a far more enjoyable game to play.

This time there are only two camera angles, chase view and inside car view. While the chase camera was the most useful in GT2, this time it is the in-car view that really shines. I believe this is due to the fact that it is easier to manipulate the more refined steering physics in this view. Besides, your car often obstructs your view of the track ahead while in chase view.

Although the physics are more realistic, the game still manages to be quite forgiving, enough so that almost anyone can pick up the controller and have some fun. Hitting other cars are the wall does not reduce your speed dramatically unless it is a very hard and direct hit (but you still better stay clear of the "kitty litter" on Apricot Hill).

There are several new additions to the game beyond just improving upon GT2. There is now a maintenance area where you can change your car's oil, give it a car wash and also select from a wide variety of rims. This time the car wash actually serves a purpose by increasing the aerodynamic efficiency of your car. Likewise, by changing the oil from time to time can keep your car's horsepower at peak levels, otherwise it will slowly decrease over time. When doing license or machine tests, there is now an analysis option that presents a graph with information about your car's performance during the event. Here you can also turn on the replay, use slow motion and compare the replay footage to the graph. It's a very neat feature for those who want to delve deep into the guts of GT3.

But remember, I never said GT3 was perfect. There are several minor problems that are quite obvious. The big one of course is that simple fact that there are only 186 total cars compared to GT2's 500+. Personally, I don't care because there is still a very wide variety of cars and many of the crap vehicles that were in GT2 are now gone so you don't have to sift through so many poor cars. And don't forget that the 186 cars in GT3 are vastly more detailed and realistic than any other games cars out there.

To many loyal GT fans, they will love the return of the qualifying event preceding each race. Of course you do not have to qualify but it sure can make your race a lot easier if you do. The problem here is that instead of giving you a running start so that you can begin going for the pole position on your starting lap, you must run a pointless warm-up lap first. This just slows down the process of completing events in a game that is already immense in size. Another small grip I have concerns music and volume control, or the lack thereof. Surprisingly, I noticed the absence of the ability to adjust the volume of the music and sound FX right off the bat. For unknown reasons, Polyphony couldn't pull this simple option offhum. Perhaps another sticking point is the lack of new tracks. I believe there are only three entirely new tracks, the rest are almost identical to those in GT1 and 2. Although I love racing on all of the tracks and they are brilliantly designed, I think everyone thinks it's time for all new tracks. Still, the addition of three new tracks combined with most of the old ones gives you around 32 tracks total including reverse versions. It seems as if there is a similar problem with the number of available parts to upgrade with. It looks as if the number of parts in the tune up shop has been slightly scaled back. If anything, I would have expected even more customizable parts. This IS a sequel right?! Now for one final gripe, the Japanese version of GT3 came packaged with a large reference manual of sorts while the North American version gets a bare bones manual. What is up with that? Sony, I don't think it's a good idea to play favorites, especially with such a universally popular franchise.

Finally we get to see what the PlayStation 2 is really capable of and boy is it impressive! The overall visual quality and realism in GT3 is just down right uncanny sometimes. Basically, from the intro. movie you will be wowed by the visuals or if you are like me, there will be a whole lot of cursing. I couldn't stop saying, "Holy !@#$".

The majority of the developer's time was obviously spent on creating the most realistic car models ever seen in a game. GT3's cars are meticulously detailed down to every last curve and line. Even while being viewed at extremely close angles, the car textures look very crisp. Real-time reflection mapping and amazing use of lighting were also key factors that help achieve the near photo realistic look of the cars.

The second most detailed aspect of the graphics is the courses. The asphalt textures are superb, the best seen in a console racing game. But what really adds to the realism is the spectacular lighting, which produces a bright glare on the road depending on the location of the sun. In essence, a bright sunny day looks like a bright sunny day on the courses too. It's quite obvious sometimes that car detail has come at some expense to the background environments. Most of them have low polygon counts and in some areas, the texture detail is low. Also, there is a lot of use of sprite based graphics for spectators and tree lines. However, there are exceptions to the norms. One of the new tracks in Tokyo, boasts very detailed graphics all over the course with large buildings and signs everywhere set off by truly photo realistic sky.

The graphics aren't perfect though. They may be the best display of the PS2's capabilities thus far but that still doesn't justify the fact that GT3, like many other PS2 games, suffers from flickering and slight texture distortions in the distance. Surprisingly, there is no issue with jaggies as some method of anti-aliasing is clearly at work. Of course, don't expect never to see a jaggy line as this is STILL just a videogame and there is only so much detail a TV screen can handle.

Graphics also hold up quite well in the two-player mode as well. The only difference is the slight drop in texture detail on the tracks and backgrounds. The horizontal split screen mode however, shows a significant drop in detail but it is done so as to keep the game running at 60 frames per second constantly.

Although it's hard to compare graphics wise with every other game out there, the pure fact that GT3 accomplishes at times what look like photo realistic graphics, earns the title in my mind as most realistic videogame ever made. If you want to see what I'm talking about, watch a replay of your race with music and graphics effects turned on. Depending on the visual effect being used (whether it be blue shade or high contrast), you will see that sometimes it is impossible to tell the difference between a real car on TV and a car in GT3. That is something truly impressive.

Seeing as how realistic the cars look and how accurate the physics are, compared to their real-life counterparts, the driving experience just wouldn't be complete without convincing engine sounds and a kick'n soundtrack. Again, GT3 goes above and beyond the call of duty giving you highly accurate engine sounds for all of the different cars. Gear shifting and backfire are also reproduced faithfully and there are all sorts of other signature sounds depending on the type of car you are driving.

I believe that part of creating a racing game with a good sense of speed is having loud and realistic engine sounds and GT3 gives us just that. The feeling of a supped up Mustang SVR taking off from the starting grid at the Super Speedway as the engine roars through each gear is just bliss. After I've effortlessly moved to the front of the pack and now approaching 150mph, I switch to the chase view and can hear the hum of tires turning at thousands of rpm's and the swoosh of air flowing over the sleek body. Now that's what I like in a racing game! GT2 fans will be also pleased to know that all of the other in game sounds have been reproduced to sound more realistic, especially when you crash into another car. Instead of sounding like a slap across the face, you hear the crunch of metal and glass.

As for the soundtrack, there is something for everyone unless your tastes are very different (sorry no Ramstein). There are about 25 tracks in all from the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Judas Preist, Snoop Dogg and even Jimi. Hendrix. Songs range from rock, heavy metal, techno, rap, 80's music and even a couple of oldies. Again, I must bring up the annoyance of not being able to adjust the volume for music and sound effects. Why??

The quality of the sound is very high but there is often a crackling sound that pops up sometimes similar to what you would hear in a lot of Dreamcast games. I thought it was just my stereo but then I remembered that it is set up to avoid distortions when playing sounds from videogames and I believe this is the first time I heard it with a PS2 game. Still, it is just a minor issue and nothing to really worry about.

You won't find a racing game with more replay value than this one. Not only is it addictive, but there are hundreds of hours of gameplay locked up in this beast of a game! On player's quests to achieve 100% completion, they will have to complete five grueling license classes, then earn gold on them all. Earn gold in every racing event in the beginner, amateur, pro, rally and endurance leagues and then finally take on the arcade mode to open up tracks and cars! GT3 isn't necessarily a really hard game due to the fact like an RPG; there are many options that you have in the way in which you progress.

As if the single player experience won't keep you locked in your room for eternity; the two player multiplayer or iLink modes will no doubt keep you busy until GT4 Online is released! Okay, maybe not that long but you get my drift (no pun intended). Also, don't forget to check out the Gran Turismo forums at There you will find an endless supply of challenges that pit your times against the world's best.

So with that I will bring this review to a close (so you can run out and buy your copy of this game). Gran Turismo 3: A-spec is one of those rare breed of games that is just a huge cut above the rest. Polyphony must be heralded as the world's greatest racing game developer in the world. Besides the hard-core gamer who tends to be much more picky, GT3 will be seen by many as the perfect racing game that has everything that you could possibly ask for; hundreds of authentic cars, eye-popping graphics, realistic sounds, amazingly fun tracks to race on and an incredible amount of depth. GT3 is not a perfect game, it does have flaws. But it is still by far the best racing game available on the market and nothing else will even come close, that is, until GT4 comes out.

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