I openly admit that I have never truly understood the mystique, praise, and fascination surrounding the Gran Turismo series. I likened Part 2 in the series to a beautifully sculpted statue. I appreciated the meticulous craftsmanship, but also found it untouchable due to the game's lack of structure, dizzying amount of choices, and painstakingly "realistic" driving physics, which was a heck of a lot more work than fun. Even after reading many reviews (including Mikes one right above), I still struggled to understand the attraction.
It wasnt until after playing Gran Turismo 3 (GT3) for several more weeks did I finally "get it." I finally figured out that whether or not one will enjoy GT3 boils down to essentially one thing: the "feel" of the driving physics. You either accept it or reject it. You either love it or you hate it.
How can I be so sure that it comes down to one thing? Examining the major gameplay elements is what led me to this conclusion.
The limitation of racing against a meager five faceless computer opponents that drive with lobotomized personalities and mechanical precision is basically a bore and hardly constitutes thrilling competition. The "gotta catch 'em all," Pokémon-like intensity of car collecting is naturally addictive, but it's also arduously repetitive and predictable. Players start off by purchasing a car and entering various qualifying racing leagues and tournaments. First place victories arent even possible until a car is upgraded to the point of being decisively superior to all other competitors. Excellent driving skill and technique is applicable, but can also be negligible if a car has enough boosted horsepower. This process of purchasing, upgrading, and winning must be repeated many times over with different cars for weeks and maybe even months on end if the 100% completion status rating is to be attained. Doesnt sound very enticing, now does it?
Since neither the competitive nor the collecting aspects are main draws, ultimately the joy of GT3 comes from the feel of the driving model. Mastery over the handling of the many different types of cars and figuring out the multitude of tweaks, adjustments, and configurations that can be made to nearly every part of the car to affect performance is the core driving experience that GT3 offers. If you can embrace that, you will be able to ignore most of the major flaws and everything else just seems to fall into place. This, however, wasnt the case with me.
Personally, the driving model wasnt something that I wholeheartedly enjoyed. I liked the customization and upgrade process and GT3s new menu layouts made my experience much less confusing than Gran Turismo 2's, but what I went back and forth on was the actual driving. There were moments where I felt like I was truly getting a decent feel for the cars as if it were becoming second nature, but there were also many times when I struggled to handle the "drunken" behavior of the other cars. All the cars were negotiable to a degree and could be properly tuned to individual taste, but I wasnt entirely enjoying the process. There were times when I was aware of how much work was necessary to learn the ins and outs of each car and racetrack. The sense of inevitable research and effort that was necessary before nearly each race made me weary and was a severe turn-off down the road.
I also couldnt escape the irony that for a game that looks and handles so realistically, all of the cars are magically invincible and cannot suffer from any physical damage (due to licensing restrictions with car manufacturers). I found it amusing that cars would ridiculously smack each other around like bumper cars during tight starts, crash into barricades head-on without any physical ramifications to the vehicle, and use the invincibility to cheat turns. To me, that seems almost contradictory to the games title of being the "most realistic driving simulator." Perhaps the title "most semi-realistic driving simulator" would be more appropriate.
The production values of the graphics, sound, and gameplay content in GT3 are clearly high-caliber and worthy of being dubbed "next-generation." But I'm not so sure that the priorities were where they should be for a racing game. GT3 is still much more about the quantity of collecting authentically licensed cars and the simulated experience of what it's like to drive them rather than the quality of the actual racing competition. Until a better balanced is achieved, I only recommend this title to those who can tolerate or enjoy the "feel" of the questionably realistic diving model.