Title :Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec
Platforms :Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher :SCEA
ESRB Rating :Everyone
Game Rating :8.7
Review by :Ken Gagne

As possibly the first mass-market 128-bit system, the PlayStation 2 holds astonishing capabilities for unique and innovative titles, offering gameplay unseen on any other console. 

Oddly enough, the PS2's first "killer app" is one of the best entries into one of the oldest genres there is. Enter Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec, from Sony. 

GT3 is a simulation racer, which is of a slightly different form than an arcade racer. In a sim, attention is paid to detail and realistic gameplay. GT3 drivers are best served by understanding gear ratios and torque settings. There are no jumps, no shortcuts, and no balloons to pop in a game such as this. 

But there's plenty that GT3 does have. Cars, for example. The Gran Turismo series is well populated with car models from dozens of manufacturers. Ford, Dodge, Shelby, and many others offer their machines with actual specifications, making this game a car enthusiast's dream come true. 

There are also plenty of tracks, but not enough to warrant the vast number of cups and circuits. Players who proceed through all that the game has to offer will encounter the same courses several times, with some tracks identical to earlier Gran Turismo courses. 

For those unfamiliar with the series, GT3 can be a tough game to crack. Players begin with a small budget competing in small-time cups, trying to earn money to purchases better cars and parts. The lack of speed isn't only in the game's progression. If you're looking to hop into an Audi or Cobra right out of the starting gate, look elsewhere; you'll need to slowly work your way up from a Mazda Miata or Ford Taurus in this game. It's hard to get excited over the sense of speed a 115 horsepower machine provides when you know there are 700 HP toys out there. 

The gameplay has improved very little since the original Gran Turismo. The controls, gameplay, and goals are identical. What changes do exist are minor. The menu system by which players access the game's various parts has been greatly optimized: all car dealers are accessed under a single submenu, as are tune-ups, licenses, and races. The package advertises realistic racers that flaunt the PS2's heralded "Emotions Engine," but I've yet to encounter computer driving that I'd describe as excited or jealous. 

To balance the lack of gameplay innovation, this new installment's graphics are lightyears beyond its predecessors, with visuals that are as detailed as the cars. As is often the case, the instant replays look better than the actual gameplay, but not by much. Windshields show reflections of stage lighting, individual branches on trees whiz by, and other minutia serve to astound. 

But having played and been wooed by Vanishing Point on the Dreamcast, I can't say that GT3 is lightyears beyond anything else on the market. It's a big step up from other Gran Turismos, but it's a step in a direction many other racers have taken since. 

In my history books, Gran Turismo pioneered racing to vocal tunes. Lenny Kravitz, Motley Crue, and Snoop Doggy Dogg continue that tradition with songs on GT3's soundtrack. Though the music is great to race to, it wasn't designed around the game, nor vice versa, and occasionally lacks the appropriateness that other video games with unique soundtracks exhibit. Syncing the instant replays to the music is a rare and unexpected feature, though. 

Many people will claim that Gran Turismo 3 is the best racer on the PlayStation 2, sporting the best graphics of any system. It'd be hard to argue with that, and the graphics do make GT3 a worthy upgrade from GT2 – but in all other departments it seems to me the the series is just spinning its wheels.

This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 24-Jul-01