We had a chance to play a near-final version of the Japanese release of Gran Turismo 3 yesterday at Sony's headquarters. After spending some time exploring the game's menus and options and speaking with the assistant producer of the game, we took to the tracks and tested out Logitech's Gran Turismo steering wheel.
We got to see the opening cinema sequence for the first time, and it's simply amazing. The intro sequence starts off with an incredible CG animation set within the engine of a high-performance race car. It shows a spurt of gas spray into one of the engine's cylinders in slow motion, then the fuel ignites and the piston begins to move. The sequence continues as the camera slowly pulls back, revealing some of the other workings of the engine, until the camera finally pulls out of the engine compartment to the exterior of a real car. From here, the sequence switches to high gear and shows lots of fast cuts of the cars racing on many different tracks. It's really quite impressive, especially since it's hard to tell the difference between the first car, which is real, and the car models the game uses for play.
Playing the game with Logitech's steering wheel adds a lot to the experience. The assistant producer we met with told us that it takes some time to get used to, but the game was optimized specifically for the steering wheel, and once you get a feel for it, it's hard to go back to playing the game with a controller. We were only able to go around a few tracks using the steering wheel, and it was a little tough. The car we were using , handled very well, though, which made it hard for us to avoid oversteering. After playing with the steering wheel, it's clear that it is indeed very responsive, and the force feedback that it offers is very accurate and strong. The force feedback can be set to a few different strengths to offer more or less resistance. We also raced on a new track that we had never seen before--it was set in Monte Carlo. The course is very technical--there are a lot of tight turns that are hard to make with six other cars racing along with you.
One of the features we had a chance to see for the first time yesterday was the game's extensive selection of replay-mode settings. One such setting is a highly stylized replay mode, which actually changes the camera angles of the replay in time with the music. In addition, this replay mode also features special camera angles and effects such as blurring and different camera-lens colors. We were also told that the US version of the game will include the iLink feature, which lets you link six PS2s together. Also, the game will have a new race-logging option that lets you see exactly when you braked and accelerated on each track so you can figure out where you may have made a mistake. This option, if used correctly, will literally show you how to race each track better. Additional features include the ability to see the rims and tires on your car before you purchase them, exhaust-system upgrades that actually change the sound of your car's exhaust, the need to change your car's oil every few thousand miles, and, of course, a car wash.
As stated previously, the game is extremely impressive from a visual standpoint. When you're watching the replay mode, it's simply hard to believe that you're looking at real-time rendering. The tracks are incredibly detailed and don't have any noticeable pop-up. Also, the lighting and reflections in the game add a lot of realism to the game's visuals.
So while we'll have to wait a few more days to get our hands on the final Japanese release and really sink our teeth into the game, it's easy to see that GT3 is the most visually realistic racing game ever. The US release is scheduled for June and is said to only have minor changes from the Japanese version, such as the game's soundtrack and menu language translations.