Gran Turismo 3 Hands-On

We travel to the San Francisco Auto Show and test-drive the latest version of Sony's upcoming racer.

Last week, the city of San Francisco played host to the 43rd annual International Auto Show. Held at the Moscone Center, the show drew crowds from all over the Bay Area and saw the unveiling of a wide variety of forthcoming cars, trucks, and SUVs. But tucked away amid all the sparkling new cars, concept vehicles, and curious onlookers, was a small booth that Sony was using to showcase a 2001 model of its own: Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec. The last time we had the chance to play this highly anticipated racing game was at the Tokyo Game Show in September, so we were curious to see how far along it has come.

Unlike Sony's booth at TGS, the Gran Turismo 3 stations at the Auto Show weren't using the Logitech wheel and pedal combinations, but the standard PlayStation 2 controller. And while the build in Tokyo had 24 playable cars and seven racetracks, the version of the game on display at the Auto Show only boasted one playable course and three cars: the 619hp Raybrig NSX, the 371hp Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R, and the 246hp Honda S2000. Like its stock counterpart, the Raybrig NSX felt extremely tight and precise blasting through turning, but with nearly twice the power of its street-legal sibling, it was very easy for this car to lose traction under hard acceleration during cornering. The Mustang was significantly slower than the NSX, but with its peak torque below 3000rpm, it was just as difficult to drive. Compared with these two cars, the relatively light and nimble S2000 handled more like a go-kart than a road car. And while the availability of only three cars seems a bit strange - especially considering the final game's 150-plus playable vehicles - the selection at the Auto Show accurately portrayed what the entire spectrum of performance will look like on Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec when the game hits store shelves. Indeed, players will be able to drive a variety of cars ranging from the Civic hatchback to the Viper GTS-R, and everything in between.

Likewise, even though Trial Mountain was the only track available at the Auto Show, it gives a good indication of the graphics potential of the final game. This course takes drivers through a wooded area where light pours down through a canopy of trees and is dynamically reflected off the chassis of each car. And with ten turns as well as a high-speed S-curve littered throughout this counter-clockwise course, Trial Mountain is also one of the most technical tracks in the game. It's also worth mentioning that the background music for this course was none other than Motley Crue's Kickstart My Heart. While the long guitar riffs and heavy beats of the song fit the fast pace of the game perfectly, Sony officials at the booth didn't know whether the song would make it into the final game.

Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec is expected to arrive in the US in January 2001.

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