GT3 Could Be the Grandest Racer Ever

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Maybe I should take back what I said in my commentary a few months ago, and my initial regrets for the PlayStation 2. Granted when it came out there were very few high quality titles available, save perhaps Madden and SSX. But in the last few months I have noticed the quality of PS2 games improving greatly. ZOE, Red Faction, Starfighter, FIFA 2001, and the MGS Demo (remember Breeden, it’s only a DEMO, there will still be more in the final release!) are just a few of the many great titles coming out, and from what I’ve seen at E3, there are many more to come out.

Nonetheless, aside from the grade A status of both Madden and SSX, there still was missing that certain killer app that would make the PS2 a must buy for something else than being a DVD player. After all, the original PlayStation had Tohshinden (what the hell were they thinking?), the Nintendo 64 had Mario 64, and the Dreamcast had the still unbelievable Soul Calibur.

Even the next gen systems are providing theirs (Rogue Leader for Gamecube and Halo for X-Box, but Sony was still left in the dirt.

Last year’s E3 presented the possibility of two great killer app titles for the PS2. Metal Gear Solid 2 which looked amazing at the trailers and demo will not be available until November of this year, and what was originally called Gran Turismo 2000 which was rumored to be a launch title were both possibilities.

Gran Turismo 2000, at its initial E3 showing, was only somewhat impressive. Granted the game was running at 60 fps, and featured some impressive effects such as heat waves distorting the graphics, but there wasn’t really anything that would turn me away from the Dreamcast. It looked just like a minor upgrade of Gran Turismo 2.

As the months passed, the rumors of a launch title started to wane, and knowing that it would not come out by the end of 2000, Polyphony decided to change the title to Gran Turismo 3 and decided to give the engine an overhaul. The only problem is with this overhaul the game would be delayed, but I’ve seen that happen a lot.

Back in early May local stores were showing a demo of GT3 running the Trial Mountain course, and from what I saw it was an improvement over the GT2000 demos I have been used to. I was already used to the 60 fps and the higher textures that were previously shown, but new effects such as sunlight peeking through trees and true reflections off of the cars were starting to really impress me. The control also felt more realistic, especially with collisions. No longer could I use my wall trick from GT2 as the collision data for each rock face was separate.

While I could easily bounce off one crag and get back on course, another crag would either turn me to another direction or grind my vehicle to a halt. It made me just want to buy the game and play more, but waiting two months was going to be hell.

The hell got worse at this year’s E3, with a new version of GT3 which was graphically superior to even the Trial Mountain demo. Unfortunately for me, I could only see it from a distance as the line to play it went for miles. Over the last few months I started to download long movie files from rival sites (pending I didn’t have to pay or become a member of their money-grubbing Insider services) just to see more of what this game would provide.

Then the magic day arrived, and I had my copy of GT3. Fearing that only a select few would be available (or having to be forced to buy another wretched bundle set), I made sure I was at the store when it opened and had my copy ready to go. Not only did they have my copy, but Sony was smart enough to have more than enough copies to meet demand and attract new buyers.

When I popped my copy into my PS2, I was short of breath with the amount of detail that was put into this game. It was gorgeous, controlled like a dream, and was just as enjoyable as ever. I’m sure that I’m perhaps the 500th person to write about the graphics, and all those before me were right on the money. Even the graphically impressive Metropolis Street Racer pales in comparison. Polygon counts between 4,000 and 10,000 per car have been mentioned, but whatever count may be final it is just unbelievable to witness. Each environment is also breathing with life as well; sunlight shines through trees, activity takes place inside giant buildings, and attending crowds take flash photographs as cars race by.

The beautiful graphics also take account to actual gameplay. During rally races, the dirt that is kicked up during races can actually be used to blind your opponent. It’s happened to me. The weather can also play a heavy toll in some races, as the reflections from wet tarmac can present a disorienting, yet glorious, challenge. The rain effects are perhaps the best I have ever seen in any racing game. And this is coming from someone who’s seen great weather effects in titles like Need for Speed 3 (PC), Shenmue, and Test Drive Le Mans.

Fortunately GT3 does not live by graphics alone as there is tons of gameplay to boot. The usual arcade and simulation modes are back and are as good as ever. There are about 20 different tracks to take part in, including 2 new tracks (Tokyo R246 and Cote D’Azur, which is based on the Monaco GP).

The simulation mode has at least 60 different championships to take part in, each with their own challenges and limitations. As for cars, I’ve heard many people complain about there only being about 150+ available compared to the 500+ in GT2, and the lack of used cars. As far as I’m concerned, this is not an issue. I will admit that without the used cars it would be harder to buy another car to replace a potential lemon without repeating races over and over, but this is a minor setback. Considering how long it took to render one car (which was believed to take days), rendering all 500+ would delay the game even longer than necessary, making it ready for when PlayStation 9 finally debuts.

I mentioned earlier how tight the control was, and it is definitely on the money. Considering I only had a Dual Shock 2 available, I was impressed with the precision and the change in feedback that took place when driving over various surfaces. The control is improved greatly with the additions of Traction Control and Automatic Stability (two helpers that were inspired by Ferrari 355 Challenge).

While the control was great with a Dual Shock 2, I only wish I had the opportunity to play it on a GT Force wheel. (Logitech are your listening? We can give you a plug if you send us one). Arcade mode can be played single player or on split screen as well, but it can also be played via I.Link for the ultimate racing experience. Up to six racers can join up at the same time.

The only catch is that each racer needs his own PS2, his own copy of GT3, and their own monitor, not to mention the costs of the equipment. Firewire/I.Link hubs are being listed on eBay for anywhere from $50-100, and cables can go as high as $40. Nonetheless, the multiplayer for this game can be quite vast. There are even reports of three PS2s being connected to provide a wide screen view identical to Ferrari 355’s. I have yet to try this out, but if anyone else has please let me know how it turns out.

GT3’s soundtrack is also varied, and most of it is good, but there are some tracks I will replace with some MP3s that I usually use for racing. I really like using the soundtracks during replays, and setting the replay mode to follow with the music. Here the graphics of the PS2 will be pushed to the limit, where the already photo-realistic environments will be saturated with psychedelic colors, unreal motion blur, and dizzying perspectives.

Each car also has its own unique sound, and they all sound much better than they did on the PS1. You can hear each engine roar, the turbo releasing its exhaust, and the screech of each tire. One can only wonder how long it took to record each and every detail.

Now we know that every game, even a five gem rarity, has its minor flaws, and GT3 has its own. The car AI is the same as before, and they do still have that tendency to pack together. An overpowered car can easily beat them, and since the HP limitations of GT2 are gone, it is easier to do so. However, new limitations such as developer-based races can easily remedy this. Also, since we’re dealing with the more powerful PS2, I would like to be able to race against more than 5 opponents. After all, look at Le Mans on the Dreamcast, it handled 24 cars near flawlessly.

However, these complaints are minor when the rest of the game is as sweet as it is. Never before have I seen a racer play or look as realistic as it does here. I also want to commend Sony’s marketing staff for doing something that others are afraid to do. Knowing the heavy demand for GT3, Sony released tons of copies instead of a limited number, and they even offered an option for first time PS2 buyers. In addition to the basic CD, there is also a PlayStation 2 GT3 Racing Pack on sale for $329. The only difference is the Racing Pack has a limited edition red label GT3 (based on the Japanese version), but it is otherwise the same as the American version.

I’m commending Sony on this because as you can tell in a previous commentary I wrote I am sick of companies not releasing enough items to meet demand, and having companies take reservations or provide bundles to handle the sales. I started calling this ET-phobia, in remembrance of the disastrous Atari 2600 ET release, where tons of excessive surplus carts were buried in an Arizona landfill. But comparing ET to GT3 is comparing a Pinto with a Ferrari. GT3 will sell better, and it has. In fact, it just recently beat out Madden as the best-selling PS2 game available.

GT3 is a masterpiece. Buy it to play, buy it to just watch it in action, buy it to drool over, just buy the damn game! Finally the PS2 has the killer app that it needed until Metal Gear Solid 2 is released. GT3 has all the qualifications of the rare five GiN Gem games: photo-realistic imagery, deep gameplay, an extremely high replay and production value, and very easy accessibility. Racing developers can learn a lot from this game.

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