This review originally appeared in E99, July 2001.
Revs are kept at a steady 7,000rpm. The five red lights ahead of the grid predictably give way to green and the turbo does its job of propelling you into triple figures in a scandalously economic collection of seconds, wonderfully wheezing its way to the components’ mechanical limit before every upward gear change. And then it’s straight onto the brakes and back down the transmission before the track’s first apex is clipped. The tyres screech as they struggle for grip, the back end snakes around menacingly, but a little mid-corner acceleration soon settles things down. Then it’s on to the next bend. And the next. Lap after lap, circuit after circuit. Of course, you’ve travelled this Tarmac before. A similar, albeit cruder, background has previously swept past you. And you’ve certainly already battled against these automotive opponents.
Only it’s never felt this rewarding.
Following the two previous Gran Turismos was never going to be easy, of course. On the one hand, aficionados demanded a 128bit version of an experience they knew intimately. On the other, many would look at the title expecting a blueprint for the racing genre’s next generation. After all, its predecessors had set the standard for structure, content, realism, and handling dynamics in a mix that, at the time of the 1997 original at least, proved revolutionary.
But, as happens to many revolutionaries, GT3 has calmed down somewhat in its latter years. Granted, in visual terms, the game is still very much firing on more cylinders than the competition (even if Metropolis Street Racer can occasionally give it a run for its money). The physics model, too, remains ahead of pursuers. Now operating at twice the number of frames per second than Polyphony’s last digital driving venture, it feels far more immediate, responsive, and, crucially, predictable. Forget the sudden, unexpected mid-corner 180º spins that occasionally plagued the more adventurous GT2 driver – here, if the rear end misbehaves you’ll not only feel it sooner, but your correctional input also has a more rapid effect. In terms of balancing playability and authenticity, Polyphony has yet to be joined on the top podium.
In terms of fresh content, however, GT3 ranks somewhere further down the placings. Only four circuits will be new to previous GT owners: Tokyo 246, a fast drive around Akasaka’s wide streets, a central area of the Japanese capital where you’ll find SCEI’s headquarters; Swiss Alps, a decent – if unremarkable – rally track; Complex String, a massive – and excellent – test track; and Côte D’Azur, the Monaco GP circuit familiar to any F1 game player.
Naturally, there are other changes affecting familiarity. Gone are the second-hand vehicles, and GT2’s 600-odd models have been streamlined to something nearer the 150 mark. While this has removed most of the milk floats found in that game, it has also taken out some massively influential and much-loved European hot hatches (a slight line-up adjustment may be made for the PAL release). Still, as a result things are far more digestible if somewhat harder – progression takes substantially longer than in previous iterations of the game. Perhaps realising this, Polyphony has removed the BHP limit found in GT2’s race meetings that thwarted cheats as a way of balancing matters, although the price of the tuning components appears to have been altered accordingly. The race series themselves are split into five categories (beginner, amateur, professional, rally, and endurance), with compulsive tyre wear coming into play in anything other than the beginner and rally meetings, again making things trickier.
In terms of disappointments, the AI stands out as the biggest culprit, seemingly unashamed by its noticeably scripted nature. And more so than in the previous GT games, the lack of damage is now a major issue – given the graphical realism, bouncing off other cars or walls without perceptible visual bodywork mutilation looks odd (see box). By today’s standards, both feel offensively out of place in a game of this calibre.
Thankfully, then, GT3 strikes back with superb force-feedback wheel support to significantly improve playability, and a magnificent sixplayer iLink option, the latter negating the AI aspects mentioned above, and offering a remarkable racing experience.
True, there are better racing games out there. The PlayStation’s TOCA WTC, with its excellent AI routines, and Le Mans on DC come to mind as superior all-out racing affairs. But the essence of the GT world has always been to take a car and its driver to the limit of their ability, rather than racing alone. And in this respect, GT3 truly refines this experience.