Picture a rating scale for car racing games that increases in terms of realism from left to right. Regardless of what game is at the lowest end, the title at the farthest right needs to move left to make room for Grand Prix 3. This simulation possibly incorporates the most detailed aspects of Formula One racing ever put on disk, making for an ultra realistic driving experience for gamers patient enough to master the controls.
In Grand Prix 3, you're strapped into the cockpit of a screaming machine capable of reaching 220 mph just a few inches off the ground. Sixteen real Formula One tracks, such as Silverstone and Monza, as well as over 20 international drivers from the real-world circuit are available. You'll rip through the streets of Barcelona and Montreal, trying to work your way through the field to the ultimate goal of winning the world championships.
Discussing a game's manual at the beginning of a review may seem odd, but Grand Prix 3 demands it. Anyone expecting to dive into the action straightaway without help from the 182-page book is in for a rude awakening. Simply put, the game is tough, unforgiving, and, without preparation, frustrating. The manual helps ease the growing pains somewhat by giving detailed information on all the controls, tracks, physics, and more.
Veteran racers can jump to the section on how to fine-tune their racer for the razor-sharp winner's edge. Less experienced players need not worry; most sections begin with the basics, such as "How Does a Tire Work?" and "The Slip Zone." Neophytes will be talking like pros in no time with the 53-term glossary, and even the Quick Start option features a five-page tutorial.
Driving aids are offered to assist you in learning the ropes. They act as a set of training wheels that keep tyro racers from going too fast into curves, rights cars going the wrong way, and prevent damage to the fragile machines -- all can be removed when the comfort level rises. Although the sensation of an unseen hand changing gears automatically is at first odd, new racers will appreciate the help. Be forewarned, though, as mastering the learning curve for Grand Prix 3 is trickier than mastering the Curva del Sol at Interlagos.
After paying your dues by mastering controls and investing the time to learn "how to race," a wholly unique level of depth and complexity is waiting. Practice a few days before the race, establish a position in qualifying, and then finally compete in the event, where weather plays a major role in dictating tire choice and strategy. Once familiar with the racing aspects, enthusiasts can try their hand at designing racecars, with the help of intelligent tips and a trouble-shooting guide. Multi-player options keep racing fresh by testing skill against skill from around the world via the Internet.
The graphics are lush and capture the locales nicely, giving you something to watch as you're spinning out of control. The street courses are loaded with interesting backgrounds, such as the famous casinos of Monte Carlo, that serve as landmarks for racers as well, indicating when to start a turn or when to speed up. The cars are finely detailed replicas and obviously received a great deal of focus. Animation is smooth, assuming your 3D card is up to the challenge; providing the sensation of going 200 mph eats up system resources rather quickly.
Grand Prix 3 is a treat for the ears as well as the eyes. The engine sounds aren't the vulgar growls of a NASCAR beast, but the unmistakable whines of a finely tuned F1 machine. The Doppler effect is especially satisfying when using the draft to slingshot past competitors. Fans will appreciate the distinct thumping sound that results from hitting the rumble strip while taking the perfect racing line through the chicanes. Novices, though, will most likely hear the sounds of rocks being kicked up after sliding into the gravel pits again and again.
While Grand Prix 3 limits instant accessibility in favor of extended involvement, the sacrifice is worth it. The joy of the game is derived not just from the actual race, but also the rewarding feeling of honing skills. The pleasure of completing the first lap without the help of any driving aids is almost as good as winning that first event. Those who view Grand Prix 3 as an investment in time and patience, rather than expecting a simple driving game, will be rewarded by arguably the most satisfying and realistic racing simulation on the circuit.
Graphics: If the graphics card is up to it, the frame rates are smooth and dizzyingly fast. F1 fans will recognize famous sights, but remember to keep your eyes on the road!
Sound: Authentic engine sounds capture the excitement of Grand Prix racing. Sounds actually become another driving tool for establishing the racing line.
Enjoyment: Those who stick with it will discover a racing experience rich in strategy and depth. First experiences are frustrating and may discourage some drivers.
Replay Value: Trying to shave seconds off your best run is addictive. Sixteen venues offer real world challenges against decent computer or human opponents. Designing the perfect racecar is a fan's dream come true.
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