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Gran Turismo 3 A-spec (PS2)
Demo Preview

Screens (42)
The first time I encountered the demo for Gran Turismo 3 A-spec, I was shopping for some clearance titles at a local Toys R Us. On their PS2 display they had GT3 running on a TV about 8 feet off the floor. The lighting was bad, reflecting off the monitor, and my neck was starting to hurt. Needless to say, the experience was not enjoyable. I couldn't spend any quality time assessing the demo. Recently Sports Gaming received the same demo and we put it through its paces.

The demo is limited. The only cars available are an Acura NSX racing model, a Ford Mustang Cobra, and a Honda S2000. The cars could be raced with either the racing or drift model, manual or automatic transmission, and on one track, Trial Mountain. Furthermore, you are given only 150 seconds at a time to race, barely enough to complete a lap and a half.

Graphically GT3 is shaping up to be one of the nicest looking titles for the PS2. The cars have an incredible amount of detail. The NSX racing model was tricked out with logos from major players in auto racing. Each car in the field of six also had detailed brake lights, tires, trim, and more. Away from the cars, rays of sunlight pierce the trees and cars can kick up dirt. The cars also good real time lighting reflection. Tree limbs that overhang the course and rock formations can be seen reflected in windows. However, one thing that struck me was that as I drove in and out of shadows the reflections were absent. It appears that the game is only reflecting hard objects. Personally, I could care less either way. I was too focused on driving to pay attention to the lighting during a race. The demo has two views available, a third person view and a bumper camera. Driving was easy from either vantage point, though the first person view provided a greater sense of speed. The game clips along at a smooth rate. Never did a frame drop nor an object get drawn in. One graphical area I hope gets addressed before the release is a rear view mirror. You can look behind, but the demo lacked a rear view mirror.

It was hard to judge the audio in the demo. There was no way to adjust the audio, and I prefer to race with no music. I want to hear the air rush by and the purr of the engine. Unfortunately the car sounds were drowned out by the terrible '80s music. It sounded like something Sammy Hagar would have sung in his "I can't drive 55" days. The '80s were a bad time for popular music. Let that era rest in peace. Please. Over the din tire squeals were heard. They are intended to give you an audible clue when on the brink of instability.

The handling in the demo perplexed me. The S2000 and Mustang are both front engine rear wheel drive cars. The Acura is a mid-engine rear wheel drive car. With the rear wheel drive cars I expect them to be able to get loose so that I can power through a curve. The Acura's power was rated at over 600 horsepower, which is more than enough power to cause problems if you lay on the power out of a turn. I was expecting an F355 experience where I'd have to fight fishtailing. Instead I found a driving model in the racing handling mode that made me think I was driving my 1994 Saturn SL that has somewhere around 100 horses under the hood. Every car in the demo suffered from severe understeer in turns in the racing physics model. In fact, the cars reminded me of some of the grippier cars of Ridge Racer 5. About the only time I could get a significant yaw rate entering or exiting a turn was to get one of the rear wheels in the dirt or grass. Switching to drift mode, my NSX had a bit more power in the back and allowed me to drive more aggressively. While the driving model is not up to the caliber of my favorite racers (F355 and Monaco GP 2 on the Dreamcast), it's a nice balance. I'm sure it will appease the masses.

Incidentally, I went back to the tried and true original, Gran Turismo, and took a few laps on the same course. The difference between the original version and GT3 was incredible, and I'm not talking about the graphics. I took the Acura NSX out for a spin on the same course. The handling in the arcade mode with either the standard or drift mode was looser than GT3. Actually, the standard mode in GT was substantially more drifty than the drift mode of GT3. Furthermore, on the long straight between turns 6 and 7 (consult your GT reference manual) you catch some big air. In GT3 the cars stay firmly planted to the ground.

The opponent AI was also puzzling. The pack mentality returns for yet another round. AI cars won't force the issue, but they will hold their ground. If you stay near the lead you'll find yourself locked in with few passing opportunities as the five AI cars hover close by. However, when behind the AI tends to have the same kind of flawed catch-up logic as Sega Metropolis Street Racer. I gave the field a 30 second lead and noticed that the five AI cars thinned out. I then hit the gas and was able to catch up to the back of the pack by the end of the first lap.

Finally, the control was average in the game. I'm a huge racing game fan, and there's no better console out there than the Sega Dreamcast for racing games. The Dreamcast controller, with its analog triggers, is ideally suited for racing. The analog pressure sensitive buttons of the Dual Shock 2 have some sensitivity, but they simple can't compare to the triggers. Likewise, I found myself hitting the analog thumb stick full right or left, making the game almost digital in nature. One final unfortunate turn is that the demo did not support my original PlayStation racing controllers. Neither my Interact V3 racing wheel nor my Interact UltraRacer functioned with the demo. Sony, I thought all my old peripherals were supposed to work on the PS2 (side note - so far none of the US PS2 racing games I have played have worked with these controllers, yet I own two import titles which work perfectly)?

I must admit that I dismissed the demo the first time I tried it. The setting was less than ideal. But having sat in front of the demo on my flat screen television just a few feet from my face was an experience. The detail of the cars during the race is incredible and adds a huge shot of realism. The driving model, while not as challenging as some racers, is balanced. Also, the AI is questionable in isolated instances, but if you race an honest race you'll find an AI field that gives you a run for your money. Just lose the awful music and give me analog support for my racing controllers.

By: James Smith 2/14/01

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