Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec Roars to Victory on PS2

How good is Gran Turismo 3? Well, consider this: I don’t like racing games – they’ve always seemed repetitive and boring. I don’t drool of cars, and aside from my Jeep Wrangler, I’ve never had much interest in them. I’m your typical geek, more interested in computers and RPGs than horsepower and RPMs.

And I love this game.

For those who – like me – have been oblivious to the genre for the last few years, Gran Turismo 3 is a racing game based on real-world cars. It features over 100 vehicles from dozens of manufacturers, and prides itself on accurately reflecting the look and feel of each car, from the slick little Mazda Miata to the drool-worthy Dodge Viper.

It has two primary modes, Arcade and Simulation. In Arcade, players compete in dozens of races – including rally (off-road) and road events. Winning races allows players to unlock more cars and hidden tracks.

In Simulation mode, players start with a small amount of cash, which allows them to buy one of the low-end cars. They then compete in races to win cash and buy parts to upgrade their car, or ditch their old vehicle entirely in favor of a new higher-end model. The upgrades should throw car junkies into ecstasy – just about ever part of the car, from the tires to the power train to the gears – can be upgraded. The shear quantity of options was overwhelming to an automotive neophyte such as myself, but each part was clearly labeled with an explanation of what it was, what it did, and how it would help my car.

There are a couple of things that make this a killer game, one so good that it even has an avowed geek like me drooling over cars:

  • Awesome graphics: This game looks and feels better than any racing game ever made. Period. I have never played a game so jaw-droppingly beautiful that I “killed” myself looking at the scenery. The first few days I had the game I was constantly smashing into things, partly because I was a terrible driver, but partly because of the awe-inspiring sunsets that would burst upon me while navigating turns. Sunlight rains down through trees, peaks behind clouds, and paints the world orange and red, all the while glinting off the perfectly reflective paint jobs of the racing cars. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.
  • Teeth-grinding realism: GT3 is not designed to be a 100% accurate car simulator and it makes certain compromises to remain playable. Never you mind that though – this game feels real. Different cars handle in radically different ways depending on whether they’re four-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive, or have a big freaking Stage 3 turbo under the hood. Flying down the road, with the eye-stunning scenery wiping by, the chrome of your fellow races reflecting the passing trees, it’s almost possible to suspend one’s disbelief about the game. You can almost feel the speed … and the bone-crashing deceleration as you fly into a barrier.
  • Wonderful toys: Who hasn’t seen a Viper and thought …man I’d love to drive that? Or how about a tricked out Corvette? Or even one of those weird little PT Cruisers? Well with GT3, you can drive all those cars … and even a few you didn’t even know you wanted to drive (like the Ford Escort Rally Car).
  • Upgrades, upgrades, upgrades: I competition, and I love winning races. But most of all, I like large cash prizes that allow me to turn my humble little Lancer Evolution in to a ass-kicking, gasoline-gurgling king of the God damn road!
  • Customization: The high-end GT upgrades do far more than just make your car go faster. They also allow you to tweak almost all of the car’s settings, from how high it rides off the road, to how much force each brake has to the transmission’s gear ratios. It’s really astounding stuff, especially for those of us who will almost definitely never get to play with these sorts of options in the real world.

Now all this praise aside, GT3 does have a few limitations, and their worth mentioning.

  • Missing Cars: First and foremost, there’s no Porsche or Ferrari cars and some cars I was really hoping to race – like BMW’s Z3 Roadster – aren’t in the game.
  • Limited Multi-Player Options: One of the best things about GT3 is the ability to customize your cars to your heart’s content in Simulation mode. Unfortunately, all that hard work is blown to pieces when you import your favorite car into Arcade mode – instead of getting your car, you get a generic version of your car. And what really sucks is that this makes it impossible for you to race your tricked-out monster against your friend’s own creations, thus killing any hopes at bragging rights. It’s a glaring oversight and it’s something that I hope will be remedied in GT3. I was also disappointed that the multi-player mode is limited to two racers with no computer-driven cars. I realize there are undoubtedly hardware/software limitations to rendering that many cars, but a little more competition would have been welcome.
  • No Damage Model: In GT3 you can crash into a wall going 210 mph, and – aside from dropping almost instantly to zero – nothing bad will happen. Your car shakes off the impact and continues on. The same goes for giving the other racers a little lovetap to send them into an overpass – no damage to your car (and absolutely none to your unlucky opponents). I’ve heard speculation among friends that this is because the car companies in GT3 don’t want to see their cars banged up. I’ve also heard that getting the mechanical models down is hard enough without adding in the damage factor. Nonetheless, I would love to see that level of realism in that game.

GT3 is more than just a really good racing game. It’s one of the definitive reasons for buying a PlayStation 2. It’s also a really good way to get yourself on a fast track to divorce, so if you’ve got a non-gaming spouse, you’ll need to be mindful of the hours that GT3 will gobble up. And if you’ve got a spouse who’s a gamer … buy a second PS2 and GT3 just for them.


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