Spring TGS 2001: Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec

We take out this highly anticipated racing game out for a test drive, and we're happy to report that it's nearly done.

The busiest booth at TGS was clearly Sony's: the publisher had a staggering 66 games on display in one form or another. However, the majority of Sony's booth was occupied by Polyphony Digital's long-awaited (and delayed) racing game, Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec, which was on display on 18 stations, all of which were running the game on widescreen TVs with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The version of the game at the show looked nearly complete as it featured 141 cars, all the tracks, and a wide variety of gameplay modes. We had a chance to play the game extensively--here's what we thought.

The first thing we noticed when we started up a new game was the expanded list of options available at the title screen. Previous builds only let you participate in a single race and choose from a limited number of cars and tracks. The TGS build of GT3 had all of the game's modes unlocked, and from the title screen, we had access to the arcade mode, the Gran Turismo mode, and the options menu, which gives you the ability to customize features like the controller's analog sensitivity, toggle the game's widescreen mode, and adjust the lap length of each race. Like other games, GT3's options menu also lets you listen to the game's many soundtracks. Late last year, we were surprised to hear Motley Crue's Kickstart My Heart playing in the background of the Gran Turismo 3 build that was on display at the San Francisco Auto Show. Sony confirmed that it was seeking to license music from popular bands to include in the game, but the company hasn't released any specifics since that time. However, it now seems that Sony has finalized that list of groups, as the game's music menu reveals more than 25 different songs from artists like Muse, Overseer, Motley Crue, Grand Theft Audio, Ash, Feeder, and Lenny Kravitz.

After adjusting the controls and various other aspects of the game to our comfort, we quickly jumped into the Gran Turismo mode. This is undoubtedly the meat of the game, and anyone who's played the two previous games in the series will instantly recognize this involved career mode. You're presented with an overhead map of a generic city with seven different icons spread throughout the map. Each of these icons are integral to the Gran Turismo mode, and you'll find yourself "traveling" between these locations constantly. They are as follows: my home, car dealer, tune shop, go race, GT auto, machine test, and license center. You begin this mode with nothing except for three million credits. From the car dealer, you can purchase a majority of the game's vehicles, although initially you'll only be able to afford a relatively low performance car. Here, cars are divided by country of origin, and you can choose to buy from Japanese, US, German, French, Italian, and British manufacturers. You'll be rewarded with prize money for successfully competing in the many circuits available in the go race mode. However, you'll need specific licenses as a prerequisite to enter all these racing events. Some of the races only require a beginner's license, while others require you to possess more advanced licenses.

These licenses are acquired from the license center. Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec has six license classes: B, A, iB, iA, S, and R. As you might suspect, each of these licenses get progressively more difficult to attain, and you can't move onto the next license class without first completing the prior one. Each license class poses eight challenges for you to complete. Within a specific license class, these challenges can be taken in any order, and depending on your performance, you'll be awarded with a gold, silver, or bronze placard of completion. For example, one of the very first challenges you'll face is to drive a Dodge Viper GTS 1,000 meters and then come to a complete stop within a small area. If you complete this challenge within 26 seconds, you'll receive the bronze award; 24 seconds gets you the silver; and 22 seconds gets you the gold.

Races in the Gran Turismo mode are presented as club events. There are five different club classes, and each one has 19 unique events with themes for a specific car manufacturer or car type. Some of the earlier club events include the Race of Turbo Sports, Type-R Meeting, Sunday Cup, and Clubman Cup. Each of these events is further broken down into individual races where you go up against other cars with a similar theme to yours. For example, the Beetle Cup places you in a VW Beetle against cars with engines that have the same displacement as yours, and you race each other at Trial Mountain and Midfield Raceway. While scrolling through the various club events, we noticed a large number of different tracks and circuits. Sony officials at the booth confirmed that the build of Gran Turismo 3 that we were playing did indeed contain all the tracks that will be included in the final game. We were surprised to find 35 different circuits, although most are just subtle variations of each other. Here's the complete list of tracks in GT3:

· Apricot Hill Raceway
· Apricot Hill Raceway II
· Complex String
· Complex String II
· Cote d' Azur
· Deep Forest Raceway
· Deep Forest Raceway II
· Grand Valley Speedway
· Grand Valley Speedway II
· Laguna Seca Raceway
· Midfield Raceway
· Midfield Raceway II
· Wet Stage Route 5
· Wet Stage Route 5 II
· Rome Circuit
· Rome Circuit II
· Seattle Circuit
· Seattle Circuit II
· Smokey Mountain
· Smokey Mountain II
· Special Stage Route 11
· Special Stage Route 11 II
· Special Stage Route 5
· Special Stage Route 5 II
· Super Speedway
· Swiss Alps (Rally)
· Swiss Alps II (Rally)
· Tahiti Circuit (Rally)
· Tahiti Circuit II (Rally)
· Tahiti Maze (Rally)
· Tahiti Maze II (Rally)
· Test Course
· Tokyo R246
· Tokyo R246 II
· Trial Mountain Circuit
· Trial Mountain Circuit II

Because of the time limitations we were facing on the show floor, we couldn't explore the game's Gran Turismo mode as much as we would have liked to. We were able to fiddle around with its arcade mode, however. Here, you can choose from a single race, a time attack, a free run, two-player battle, iLink battle, and a currently inactive option called goodies. The most intriguing of these options is the iLink battle, which allows numerous PlayStation 2s to be daisy chained together for a true multiplayer experience. At the booth, Sony had six units with Sparco racing seats and the Logitch GT Force wheel and pedal combo all hooked up together. However, since a separate TV and Gran Turismo 3 disc are required for each player, it's unlikely that gamers will use the iLink battle mode for any more than two consoles at a time. Another interesting feature of the arcade mode was the free run option. When you choose this mode, you're presented with several choices: Before the race, you choose your opponents' level of difficulty; choose a course; pick a vehicle class from C, B, A, S, and rally classes; and then choose a car from within the selected class.

We were impressed with the graphical improvements that have been implemented since the last build of Gran Turismo 3. While all the tracks simply look spectacular, Wet Stage Route 5 is truly impressive. This course winds through the streets of a rainy metropolis. Street lights, tail lamps, and even the car models themselves reflect off of the water on the pavement. Additionally, the cars will track water into tunnels, so while a tunnel entrance might be dry at the start of a race, after a few laps, it'll be significantly damp. And the water effect isn't just a visual nicety either. Not only is your traction severely hampered on this course, but cars in front of you will kick up tall rooster tails that can impair your visibility if you pull too close.

The individual detail of the car models has also been improved. The wheels, for instance, are now completely circular, and it's all but impossible to note any polygonal corners along the tire edges. You can even make out the individual car's manufacturer and model badges, and in some cases, even the small tow rings located underneath the front and rear bumpers. The car models also aren't as glossy as they were in earlier builds. This adds a realistic look to the game, since cars that are too "shiny" tend to dilute the player's suspension of disbelief. The reflections off the individual car models are still quite visible, though. This is a particularly noteworthy aspect of the game's graphics, as these reflections are all drawn in real-time--they're not environment mapped. The track lighting is quite realistic as well, and you'll often make out beams of light pouring through tree branches, and at times you can even get a strong glare of the sun off the pavement. Car shadows will shift across the tarmac as the cars dip into and out of turns, and shadows cast by other objects dance across the car models as they streak by. Replays have also been reworked to give them a more realistic look. It seems that the designers at Polyphony Digital have taken a design cue from Namco's Moto GP, as the replays now boast cameras that shake and display difficulty in keeping up with the cars as the move across the track. The game also includes the addition of skidmarks that mark various parts of the pavement whenever your tires (or those of other cars) lose traction. These skidmarks look like part of the track, and not like textures that are pasted on as afterthoughts. Also, they remain on the track no matter how many new skidmarks you manage to progressively add.

The last aspect of the game we were able to test drive was the rally mode. Gran Turismo 3 will feature a number of different rally cars like the Toyota Cellica Rally Car, the Toyota Corolla Rally Car, and the Subaru Impreza Sedan WRX Sti Version V1, as well as six rally circuits. These courses require a completely different mentality to navigate than the road courses do, and we found ourselves using the handbrake more often than the gas pedal. Each course will have varying terrain types like gravel, mud, sand, and pavement, and your car's handling characteristics will change dramatically depending on the road's surface. Unlike the standard races, however, rally events are strictly a two-car affair. Rally racing is traditionally done against the clock, not other cars, which explains the lack of all out head-to-head racing in GT3's rally mode. Besides, these cars kick up so much dirt and dust, that it would be impossible to see where you're going if more than one car was ahead of you.

At last year's Fall TGS, we assumed that Gran Turismo 3, then known as Gran Turismo 2000, would have been released by now. Regardless, we're excited to have seen all the changes and improvements that Polyphony has added. However, the best new feature of the game is its release date--Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec will be released in Japan on April 28. Sony is confident of this date, which means that the US version of the game should only be a month or so behind. We're looking forward to getting our hands on the final game, but in the meantime, we'll update you with any news on Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec as it becomes available.

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