Published on April 21st, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell2
A Review of Gran Turismo 3:A-Spec…Graphics vs. content
Year: 2001 // System: PlayStation 2 // Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment // Developer: Polyphony Digital // Designer; Kazunori Yamauchi // Genre: Racing
>>> It’s difficult to imagine that ten years ago, I had the three best racing games on the PlayStation 2 in my library of games: NASCAR Dirt to DAYTONA, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, and the commercial success story Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec. That’s like having Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers on the same football team- how do you choose a quarterback?! I had the same dilemma what-with owning those three racers, but for several back in the day, they would have considered the matter a no-brainer. “Gran Turismo 3,” they’d say with a shrug and a shake of the head, “it’s got the better graphics and it’s more realistic. I can’t believe this is even a contest.” Until GT4 came along, it was definitely hard to find a racing game on the PlayStation 2 that could compete graphically with A-Spec. Not only that, but the third Gran Turismo backed up its stunning visuals with its classy game play. The simulation mode was back without the glitches caused by saving the game, and the car classes returned more defined than ever with the addition of the powerful F1 models. The driving simulation was elevated to a whole new level of realism that the processing power of the first PlayStation could not deliver.
But in spite of the ridiculously amazing graphics and increased responsiveness, does GT3: A-Spec hold up as the one of the best racing games ever made?
When the PlayStation 2 and XBox came out, the craze at the time was for prettier games with more interactive worlds. They wanted to see a character smash up everything in his or her environment, and then get drenched by the rain storm that swept through the area. They wanted to see a bike actually kick up clouds of dirt that blinded the AI in the rear-view mirror. Worlds were to be bigger, and games needed to be longer. The key concept was quantity. Even if you think of the look of a game as quality, it’s a still a question of how much power the creators use to create the graphics.
But the matter in which the developers at Polyphony devoted their resources to the graphics and racing engine actually attests to their interest in creating a high-quality game. Because the PlayStation 2 was in the early phases of its lifespan, the capabilities of the PS2′s processing engine were not yet fully realized. Therefore, the creators sacrificed certain aspects of content (there are only 180 different vehicles to choose from in A-Spec as opposed to 650 models in Gran Turismo 2) in order to create the highly-detailed graphics and provide the in-depth statistics for each car that was available in GT3. Another thing to note about the lack of in-game content was the fact that Polyphony had built the new game engine for Gran Turismo 3 on the PlayStation 2 from the ground up, whereas Gran Turismo 2 improved upon the engine that was already set in place by the first Gran Turismo. The first game in the series, by the way, offered about as many vehicles as the third game, so no one complained too loudly about the diminished ranks of vehicles with the series’ move to the second Sony console.
I do wish that A-Spec presented new modes of play not featured in the first two racers, but I immediately gathered that the creators were in no way intent on creating a new experience for players. Rather, they wanted to take the masterpiece they already created (the focus on which being on simulating realistic racing and driving of all types of cars) and simply make it more believable in how it looked and drove. The result was yet another deep racer with 34 variations of 19 tracks that include newcomers Morocco and Tokyo, and approximately 100 different events to compete in from the five racing leagues featured in the revamped Simulation: Beginner, Amateur, Professional, Rally, and Endurance. The events were challenging in that they oftentimes called on you to race with certain types of vehicles, meaning that you had to perfect the lower-tiered events and accumulate the specified vehicles in order to move on. I did not mind this focus, as this way I could learn more about the specs of the cars that were offered within the game, from the mid-engine, rear-wheel drive vehicles, to the Type R made by both Honda and Acura. Placing first in each of an event’s races resulted in a free car, which you could then keep or sell to acquire a better car or buy upgrades.
The licensing events were by themselves tons of fun, and the addition of wet roads was a testament to the improved responsiveness of Gran Turismo’s core engine on the PS2. Each vehicle handled individually in every aspect from speed to torque to down-force to weight. I could definitely experience much more hang time in the air when coming off a hill at high speed in a Mittsubishi Lancer versus the low-riding Mazda Miata. I get the feeling that the vehicles from Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Subaru, Nissan, and Mittsubishi were more comfortable to drive than the clunky Dodge and Chevrolet modes (that and the Japanese cars were more affordable- just like in real life). Prices of new vehicles were fairly accurate for the year (2001), and the license’s emphasis on the control quality of consumer-type models sharpened the contrast between the everyday vehicles in this game to the vehicles built specifically for professional racing. I enjoyed the dual emphasis on both the professional leagues and the average Joe’s fantasy of taking a car he would own to the racetrack. Even with the fewer models, the drastic differences in the tiers of included vehicles was enough to encapsulate the player’s feeling that he could he could satisfy more of his or her driving/racing issues in this title than he/she could do with any entry out there…at least until the arrival of Forza Motorsport and the latter GT games.
No, you cannot visibly damage your vehicles, nor do you hit other cars or walls in a realistic fashion. The actual art of chasing down and passing other competitors does not deliver the same level of thrills as in the arcade-style racers like the entries in the Ridge Racer and Need for Speed titles. Heck, for all I have complained about the NASCAR games, even they present a fiercer type of driver AI! Intense racing is not so much the emphasis in GT3 as it is progression. I will admit that some vehicles were harder to chase down because of the limitations of your own vehicle. But once you mastered the track and brought a fast enough racer to a league, the opponents quickly fall behind. They’re more of a gauge of your performance than the heart of the racing experience. But even if this isn’t necessarily thrilling for me, the utilization of competition redirects the challenge to self-improvement and track mastery. You’re not racing to take on a series of epic racers, but you’re racing because you want to prove you can drive a GT3000 better than anyone else can in the game. You want to be able to check off every corner on the S. Route 5 in a vehicle with a 300+ horsepower engines without any problems. The competition might not be memorable, but the experience of driving and perfecting your driving routes through a series of breath-taking course truly is.
Few racing games handle with the finesse of this entry, in spite of A-Spec’s arrival during the start of the PS2′s life cycle. Yes, the emphasis appeared to be on graphics, and no, there aren’t as many vehicles as featured in its predecessor. But the cars in the game are all equally fun to drive, and even if the premise of the third game has not altered one bit, there are still an amazing number of features that keep the player immensely intrigued while delivering an extremely responsive racing simulation that does nothing but improve on the formula already set in place.
Challenge: 10/Classic: Whether it’s racing Rally cars for the first time or keeping your eyes open during a grueling Endurance race, there are hardly any limits on the number and quality of challenges that you can both participate and create for yourself in this game. The courses remain some of the best in video game history in both how they look and handle. The AI never becomes too frustrating, but then it never backs down at any point in the game. You truly earn your route forward.
Handling: 10/Classic: Controls are borrowed from the comfortable schemes of the first two games, but this time with the use of the analog sticks as your gas/brake and steering wheel. Tilting the right stick forward at various degrees exacts precisely the same response as pressing the accelerator with your foot in an actual car. By the way, even if you tilt your stick in the same fashion for three different types of cars, you won’t get the same result, as you won’t when hitting the gas pedal of three different cars in real life.
Innovation: 10/Classic: No, there aren’t any huge changes from preceding titles, but GT3 recreated its engine from scratch on a system with higher processing power. Therefore, the goal of Polyphony was to recreate a more powerful version of the original Gran Turismo engine. With beautiful graphics, equally appeasing aesthetics, and insane detail factored into how each car looked and handled, the creators exceeded their own expectations.
Core Experience: 10/Classic: Okay, so there aren’t as many vehicles as the second game. That’s okay, because the inclusion of 150+ cars in any game is still impressive. The Arcade mode is a nice diversion from the much more complex Simulation, complete with a different feel and objective. The Simulation mode was rich in activities without becoming overwhelming, and the structure of that mode was far clearer than it was in Gran Turismo 2.
OVERALL: 10/Classic: I still prefer Hot Pursuit 2 to A-Spec, but this game succeeded in improving upon an already classic entry in the GT series. Gran Turismo 3 definitely earned its place in a video game Hall of Fame in the case that one materializes.