Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec

The Real Driving Simulator.

Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec is an easy one for me to recall from my memory. The first console I purchased myself (with the aid/funding from Mum, obviously) was the PlayStation 2, and it was bundled in a bright red Gran Turismo 3 branded box. Getting a game that looked this impressive for a brand new console that looked this awesome was a no brainer, and over the years I played quite a bit of GT3.

Despite wanting to get a slim PS2, that original launch PS2 is still with me and working to this day. I've no idea where GT3 went, but you can find copies everywhere, and I've picked up a Platinum rerelease from somewhere to get my fix.

I suppose I haven't played it since GT4 came out, which would mean last playing this game fifteen years ago. I'm sure it'll come back to me in no time.

Fun Times

An absolutely banging hype video introduces us to GT3, with Feeder's 'Just a Day' serving as the background music for the UK release. I wasn't a Feeder fan until GT3. I'm not much of a fan anymore, to be clear, but gaming probably introduced me to more music than anything musical ever did. But this isn't a music blog.

Deciding to hit the road as soon as possible, the arcade mode is my go-to mode here. There isn't much to choose from at the beginning, but it's thoughtfully presented with video footage of cars on the track to give more of an idea what the Mid-Field Raceway even is, for example.

Spotting Trial Mountain, I thought it was time to compare GT3 with the original GT, and spotting a Subaru Impreza racing around the city, I knew what I had to do. I don't know what it is with this car, but 15-odd years ago, it was up there on the favourites.


Oh. That's not good. As it turns out, emulation is a serious business, and for some as-yet-unknown-to-me reason, Trial Mountain doesn't play good with emulation. Through some tinkering (thankfully not taking as long as Dark Alliance, I was able to either play the game at garbage sounding half speed or just try and avoid Trial Mountain. I'll go with the latter...

After some much more minor graphical hiccoughs, I'm into a race around Mid-Field. It is... a race. How can I describe this better than that? It is Gran Turismo. It looks polished, it has that stylised HUD, your car comes equipped with the bells and whistles if you want them turned on. At the end of the day, it's a racing game. A racing simulator, even.

But I wasn't blown away by it. I'm glad I recognised some of the music I hadn't heard in years, but that was a side note. I wasn't thrilled by the racing. I wasn't hyped. The video at the start made GT3 look fast and smooth. This was a Subaru dawdling around a track while five AI cars rigidly stuck to the racing line.

It was underwhelming. I needed something punchier. Faster. Let's try the rallying.

Further Fun Times

Yeah, this was more like it. Sliding across the dirt actually felt like 157km/h. I was only up against one other driver, but he was blinded by my dust as I effortlessly swung my card around the Swiss Alps track.

And I say effortlessly because I instantly fell into rallying. I know about racing lines and hitting the apex and all that stuff, but I was struggling to make it look good on the track. On the dirt, where those terms are as loose as the ground beneath your tires, I was having a blast. This was the speed I was looking for. This was more like the GT3 I remembered - fast cars around sun-soaked circuits.

What was up with the dust clouds, though? I refuse to believe Polyphony Digital would release a game with replays that looked like that. There's only one thing for it: I'll have to actually fire up my PS2 and check.

Sure enough, these funny clouds were a product of emulation, making the original game on original hardware look that much better. I was even driving better, having a PS2 controller in my hands, rather than an Xbox 360 pad. Not much better, but it felt better. I was having more fun.

And then I noticed something in the replay options. The music mode. Instead of cutting from circuit-side cameras following one of the drivers, this would cut and colour shots from all over the place, including physically impossible camera positions, making each of your replays look like a hype video of your very own.

I mean, just look at these shots:

Ugh, damn it. It seems like my current emulator set up allows me to see graphical errors every few seconds, or everything at half speed. Half speed it begrudgingly is then...

Imagine all that, but played at a stable frame rate that isn't measured on fingers. That's GT3 at its best. A graphical show-off. A few hundred cars from across the world lovingly rendered for anyone to hurtle around a digital racetrack in the safety of their own home.

If you wanted to go through the arcade mode unlocking new cars and circuits, you easily could. But that's not where I spent my time with GT3 at all back in the day. The arcade mode just isn't what you do in a Gran Turismo title...


Final Word

This 1001 list could have chosen Gran Turismo 4, or potentially Gran Turismo 5, depending on when the book went to the printers, but it went with Gran Turismo 3, knowing that it had dodgy AI and a lack of damage models for the cars, meaning you could still abuse the other drivers by using their vehicles as brakes in order to finish races.

It still has it in the looks department, and the soundtrack still sings to me, at least, but I wonder if GT3 can actually still go. You can dive into the career mode and grind your way through the driving tests and the Sunday Cups to earn more and more credits to buy better faster cars, but it is a grind. If you like racing that much, great. I suppose you are at least working towards something.

I've already put in those countless hours, though. I've already bought an Escudo for a million credits for the sole purpose of going fast enough to pull a wheelie. Been there, done that, don't want to do it again.

I haven't touched the arcade mode, however, and progression through that opens up new tracks and cars. Do I want the full GT3 experience? No. So a quick look through an arcade mode should be the next best thing, right? I'm not so sure.

Gran Turismo 3 sits at this place where I know how technologically sound it is, I know how impressive it is, I know how good it looks, but if I want to race something, I'll either pick a more modern title, or I'll pick something like Mario KartGT3 was one of my most played games, I've bought most of the GT series, but I don't find them worth going back to for a quick fix of what they offer.

It's just racing. I can get that anywhere.

Real driving simulators are few and far between, though...

Fun Facts

GT3 is the best selling game in the GT series, despite having relatively few cars and tracks compared to other titles, both before and after. It took so long to develop that it was renamed from its original title, Gran Turismo 2000.

Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, developed by Polyphony Digital, first released in 2001.
Version played: PlayStation 2, 2001, also via emulation and teenage memory.