When I was eleven years old, it was a very good year, and I can remember my daily routine vividly. These were the years before I owned a Sony Playstation, and I used to venture to my friends house - everyday after school - to watch him play through Final...
(As usual, with old games, I'm reviewing it based on my memories from when it was new to me)
Gran Turismo 3 is... Well, if you owned GT1 or 2, it's everything you expected it to be, sans cars and more new tracks. I, however, never owned any of those games, so GT3 was pretty much my first foray into the track racing scheme. And boy, was I disappointed? Not in the least.
Now, usually graphics aren't a big concern for me, at least not on a technical level (I'm often more concerned with design decisions). However, I won't deny that when you make a realistic-looking car-game, then it helps if the cars look their part, and this game does not disappoint in the least on this level. If you doubt me even after looking at the opening movie, here's my tip for you: Get to the car dealers, and find the Jaguar XJ220 Road Car. Instant drool factor. Before I started playing, I knew that I wanted that in my garage. Preferrably in Mistral Metallic (with Seafrost Metallic coming in second).
However, before I'd get there, I'd have a long road ahead of me. With arcade racing, a few time trials, with licences to acquire, and a plethora of single races and championships of all forms, there was this sense of being overwhelmed with stuff.
Licences, first, and this is of course a pretty damn good idea. You want to learn how to actually drive corners properly, this is the place to visit. You start with getting a B license, then working your way up to A, International B, IA, and Special, with Rally on the side. You can actually spend several days in here before you've even managed to do a single race, depending on whether you want to earn not just a licence, but gold medals on all the trials. The rewards are some pretty sweet cars, so it might be worth it.
But for now, let's assume you're getting into the races, where the action is... Well, first you actually need to buy a car for your pitiful amount of money, and then pretty much enter it as-is in the first race. Gradually, you'll win enough money to upgrade your car with a better engine, and lots of other stuff that helps. Everything you buy has an explanation for what it does, and if it turns up your break horse power, it'll tell you so. So you really don't need to know anything about cars in real life. I certainly didn't, and still don't.
As for the racing itself... Well, the cars mostly behave as they should, and the controls are tight. However, in some city stages, one can use crashing into walls for your own benefit, even if this isn't entirely, shall we say, realistic. But it often takes some practice to find out exactly how to take the first corner in the Tokyo stage without breaking at all... Oh well, while it might not be realistic, I'm not particularly missing the lack of damage per se. It would be nice at times, yes, but on the other hand, especially during endurance races, it would be pretty crappy to have your car break down in lap 89/100 because of a moment's distraction. Just saying that you should be a bit pragmatic about this.
When it comes to game length... Well, this game's got it in spades. Hundreds of races of varying lengths, most of them imposing some limit of anything from placement of engine, down to specific car models. You seldom get the chance to grow bored with a car before it's time to acquire a new one. As expected, more expencive cars usually perform much better, though not always so. The powerful Espirit has a horrible understeering, while the Cobra slids if you try to corner anything less wide than the corners on the Test Track. Which isn't a critique of the game itself (it's good that the cars behave differently), just saying that those two cars aren't worth it.
Still, you'll probably grow tired of the game sooner or later. For the first few weeks, it keeps on getting thrilling to race with so damn good-looking cars in such enviroments. But you will possibly wear out before the game does. There's also not much replay value, but since there is a ton of "mere" playing value, you won't really miss the former.
Music ranges from happy rock (Feeder) to more obscure heavy techno. Fortunately, one can turn on or off any and all songs, which there are plenty of. So pick your favourites and leave the rest in the dust. Sound effects are as they should be; noisy car engines and wheels screeching.
The multiplayer I won't say much about, simply because I haven't tested it much. There is a two-player head-to-head race mode, and also possibilities of LAN.
If there is one complaint I have about this game, it's that it is rather sterile. All the cars have sooted windows and there's impossible to see the driver. But then again, you can't make one up, so there's not much to see anyway. Also, the opponents are not having more personality than you imagine them to, driving from A to B in a no-nonsense manner, never bothering one bit if you happen to slam into them right before that hairpin corner so you don't have to break, while they're left in the sand (an excellent "cheat"). They just get back on track and perform their routine.
But even if this game lacks soul, it's still among the best. Overwhelming you with just about everything car-related, this is a racing game series that is having a well-deserved reputaion. If you - for some incredible strange and unknown reason, such as being frozen down cryogenically - haven't tried any Gran Turismo game, now's the time to start. And if you can't find GT4 in your local gameshop but GT3 is there in the bargain bin, then you might as well try out that first to get a good test driving for a small price.
He's got a brand new car.... Looks like a Jaguar...