Gran Turismo 3 Hands-On

Sony brought by the latest build of Gran Turismo 3, and we took several cars for a spin on such courses as Deep Forest, Trial Mountain, and the Seattle street course.

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The Gran Turismo series is akin to a supertuned McLaren F1 in the world of video game racing - it's top of the line, refined, and a lot of fun. So, when Sony brought the latest build of Gran Turismo 3 to our office, we were admittedly eager to log more gameplay time with this PlayStation 2 racer. Each of our previous encounters with the game had left us very impressed, and this latest incarnation was no different.

In the latest version of Gran Turismo we took several cars for a spin on such courses as Deep Forest, Trial Mountain, and the Seattle street course. In addition to the returning tracks, GT3 on the PlayStation 2 will feature two new courses - Monte Carlo and Tokyo Racing Circuit - for a grand total of 15 raceways. According to Sony, Polyphony Digital hopes that the tracks in GT3 exude the feeling of drivingon realistic racetracks, so even the Seattle or Rome street courses will be cluttered with sponsor billboards and other assorted signage.

The replay options in GT3 have been revised. There are new options such as a true behind-the-car camera that gives a clear view of the opponent's racer you just dusted. Additionally, you now have the ability to see replays of the AI-controlled cars with both in- and out-of-car camera positions. Naturally, the replays are where GT3 truly shines visually. Some of the new features that were added in this latest version of the game are fully rendered rims, brakes, and brake pads that move and heat up in real time. Instead of having the flat, 2D look that is common in most racers, this game has realistic depth - for example, in the wheel wells on the cars. Additionally, environmental objects opposite to the camera position can be seen through the car windows, and overhangs, trees, and light sources are reflected on the glistening chassis. These are subtle effects, for sure, but intricate visual details like these come together to add to the game's unprecedented level of visual realism. But the game's refinement doesn't end with the detailed graphics.

More than the cars in any console simulation-racing game before it, each of the cars in Gran Turismo 3 has its own unique and true-to-life characteristics for handling, braking, and acceleration. Virtual replicas of cars like the RUF Turbo exhibit soft launches followed by merciless acceleration as the engine revs up while cars with flatter torque bands, like the Supra SZ-R, have routine burnouts. The importance of torque and subsequent wheel spin is one of the subtle new additions to the PlayStation 2 incarnation of the GT series. Making use of the analog face buttons on the PlayStation 2 controller, you can apply staggered levels of throttle pressure. In this latest build, there seemed to be three levels: light, medium, and pedal-to-the-metal pressure. Additionally, tire spinout in GT3 isn't limited to launch, as it also comes into play while accelerating out of turns.

The game shares much of its physics engine with GT2, but it has been tweaked and refined for this latest game in the series. Although we weren't able to perform any vehicle modifications ourselves, according to the Sony representative, car customization will have a greater correlation with on-track performance, more so than in previous GT games. For example, variables such as higher spring rates will result in tighter handling and lower gear ratios yield greater horsepower. These characteristics will have a bigger impact on actual vehicle functioning in GT3 than earlier games in the series. However, despite its technical intricacies, it seems as if Gran Turismo 3 doesn't become overly reliant on its simulation aspects. It is simply fun to play.

The sense of speed is more accurate in GT3, when compared to previous games in the series, particularly in the in-car view. When you're flying down the track at 200-plus miles per hour, environmental objects become a blur, and effects such as rumbling engine sounds and the newly implemented howling wind noise truly add to the overall feeling of speed. On the subject of pure speed, one of the things Polyphony Digital may add in the final version of the game is a drag racing mode. However, that mode has not been implemented into the game and is only under consideration at this time.

Sony has not announced the final soundtrack for the game, but the company did confirm that the game's 20 bands would bring together a mix of several styles including rock, alternative, and hip-hop. Additionally, there will be differences between the soundtracks for the Japanese and American versions of the game. One cool new feature that Sony did reveal is that you will be able to customize your own music tracks for specific races. You can mix your music by selecting four songs before a particular race.

Polyphony Digital is developing its latest game in the Gran Turismo series with care, and it shows in the staggering level of minute yet significant detail that it has packed into the game. Graphically, each of the 150 car models is designed realistically, down to manufacturer-specific hood ornaments, decals, wheel wells, and chassis configurations. The environmental texture quality and resolution are equally as impressive, and effects such as true reflections, motion blur, and heat dissipation add to the game's visual style. The driving physics have also been refined, and Sony promises that in the final release of the game the computer AI will be advanced to the point where computer-controlled racers, when provoked, will show "emotion" by tailgating you or speeding up to cut you off. However, in this latest build, that advanced AI wasn't readily evident. Finally, Polyphony Digital plans to add weather effects, including fogging effects and rain - which also weren't implemented in this latest build - that will have a direct effect on your ability to negotiate the game's courses.

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