Grand Prix 3
Windows - 2000
Description of Grand Prix 3 Windows
It's Grand Prix 3?
Maybe Hasbro should have gone for the more befitting title of Grand Prix 2.5 -- after all, this game features teams and cars that are 2 years old and is built on top of the architecture of a DOS game that is out of date by double that. But at the end of the day, it's still the most satisfying F1 simulation to come out since its predecessor.
Its sheer class lies in the quality of the racing that it offers. Geoff Crammond is the guy who practically kickstarted the motorsport sim industry, and knows exactly what it takes to produce a great game. All the hallmarks of his handiwork are here, from the bulky and detailed cockpit styling to the wonderful car handling which any would-be driver can take confidence in. It may not have the most realistic rendition of the physics of an modern F1 car ever (that accolade goes to F1 2000), but then again it doesn't need it -- go side-by-side with the AI in GP3 for a few laps around Silverstone or Monaco or any other of the game's 16 circuits and I guarantee you'll come out feeling like a real Grand Prix driver.
Difficulty Setting: Rookie
Everybody needs to start somewhere. Back in 1984 Gerhard Berger made his F1 debut in his ATS BMW at his home race, Austria. Going straight from F3 to F1, it was a tall order, especially at a place as daunting as the Osterreichring. At the same race, current Austrian legend Niki Lauda was fighting for the championship when his gearbox started to play up. Christopher Hilton wrote in his acclaimed biography of the Austrian that during the race, "Berger treasured the straights to gather himself, Lauda, travelling a great deal faster, had the experience to be able to execute bluffs and double bluffs with a flawed car. As everybody says, it takes time to learn it, several years..." He's probably about as perceptive as they get.
In 1997 Gerhard would retire, a legend in his own right, with a career total of 10 victories.
The initiation process in GP3 is not so extreme, and thankfully doesn't take years - this is no Grand Prix Legends. The beginner driver can jump straight into the thick of things using the excellent array of driver aids, letting the computer take care of gearing, braking, throttle and steering control, and providing an ideal line trace, thus helping keep the awesome 750bhp on tap under harness. These get switched off as you progress through the game's five difficulty levels, thus putting the onus on you to learn the skills required whilst providing a beautifully judged learning curve. The game also comes with a Quickrace option that lets you drive a 3 lap race without any fuss. Total time taken from opening the box to driving the first race: 5 minutes. And whilst we're at it, the entire menu system is worthy of a mention -- it's a classic piece of intelligent design, and allows you to set up your desired race with a few mouse clicks without sacrificing the wealth of menu options that GP2 was renown for. The developers of F1 World Grand Prix could learn something from this.
The first most important skill to learn is an understanding of the circuit layouts, and again GP3 doesn't let you down. If you've been watching a lot of Grands Prix on TV then you'll be able to relay that knowledge into the game -- the circuit layouts here are the most realistic I've ever seen, bar none. In addition the game provides interactive maps of each circuit, which can be viewed from four directions, and which contains hotspots providing useful information on each corner.
Hotspots actually play a big part in GP3, as most of the important menu options have an info box attached to them. The idea really comes into its own in the car setup screens, where Mr. Crammond's concise technical explanations can be called on demand without recourse to the manual. Not that reference to the manual would be a major problem -- GP3 comes with a well written 170 page book that takes its time going over every aspect of learning your F1 racecraft.
Difficulty Level: Amateur
In March 2000 another driver made the jump from F3 to F1. Jenson Button arrived in Melbourne on the Saturday before the event and went round the track -- then still a public road -- in a loaned BMW. Autosport's Mark Hughes interviewed him -- "After I'd slept, we took the BMW we'd been loaned around the track... You don't learn anything from doing that, though. You learn much more on the first lap out of the pits."
Wise words indeed. You can read the manual all you like, but at the end of the day you'll learn most from what you do on the track. Once you have the circuits memorised you can start to let go of the driving aids. You have no choice if you want to get anywhere -- it's the only way to drive these cars on the limit.
The cars in GP3 are very responsive and very grippy, surprisingly so for cars on grooved tyres. The mark of a great physics model is whether or not it will accept multiple driving styles, and GP3 does. If you want to chuck the car around, pumping the accelerator in Luffield to induce lift-off oversteer and the like, you can do so, but if you prefer to concentrate more on a classical smooth approach then that's also possible -- and whilst it's great fun to see the difference on the telemetry, there'll be none on the stopwatch. GP3 also provides good aural and visual feedback to help you further. Unlike in GP2, the front tyres are now clearly visible from the cockpit, so you'll be able to see more clearly when you lock them up (very easy to do), and whenever you corner quickly you'll hear the tyres screeching. In fact, as the manual helpfully outlines, "...unless you hear a lot of screeching while you drive through corners, you are not going fast enough!"
The cockpit is well laid out, and easily conveys all the information you need, from split- and lap-times to speed, fuel, damage, gear change indicator lights and water temperature. As has now become standard, the steering wheel moves as you do. It's a lovely system, it works a treat and it's a far cry from F1 World Grand Prix's brash Technicolor overlays or F1 2000's difficult to read displays.
All this would be worthless though if the game ran like a dog -- a high frame rate is essential to stay on top of things, especially when it only takes a fraction of a second to lose total control. Thankfully GP3 runs very fluidly, and I was able to run at 1024x768 with near full details (mirror details off) on my machine and maintain a steady 25fps (an improvement on GP2 in high res!). Software mode is a revelation for those who have yet to upgrade -- you lose very few of the graphical effects - but needs at least a fast Pentium II to get a decent frame rate with full detail. But a word of warning -- a Riva TNT will not do the job in 3D accelerated mode, as I found out when I started the review. Even in 640x480 I struggled to get the game playable. Strangely, equivalent spec Voodoo cards seem to cope reasonably well. Go figure.
The real showcase of any graphics engine is the replay mode, and GP3 is no exception. Simply pause the game at any point, hit "R" and watch the last 20 seconds of action from any car and any camera angle. The TV views on offer are perfectly judged, and are almost identical to those used in real TV footage. The replay feature in GP3 provides an ideal way of admiring the graphics engine, which is genuinely a true joy to behold. I've never enjoyed replaying my overtaking moves and grassy moments more than I have here. However, on closer examination, the car models leave a little to be desired from an external view, especially when compared to the lovingly detailed creations found in F1 2000 and F1 World Grand Prix. They look plain and out of place when superimposed upon the excellent track graphics. The root of the graphics engine can also be seen in the static bitmap sprites that represent the flag marshals and pitcrew. A pity - we should be beyond this now.
Difficulty Level: Semi-Pro
The importance of the setup of the car cannot be underestimated. Back in the 1996 Portuguese GP, rookie driver Jacques Villeneuve pulled out a stunner. Having won the Indy 500 the previous year, he tried to adopt his Indycar setups to the Williams Renault - in particular, he spent the weekend setting it up for the final long right-hander leading onto the front straight, as he felt it could give him a chance to overtake in the race. The Williams engineers scoffed at the thought and told him that they couldn't wait to pick him off the barriers.
At the start Michael Schumacher passed Jacques, and the order stayed that way until lap 14 when the Ferrari driver was held up by a backmarker at that final Parabolica corner. In what must be the move of the decade, Jacques quite literally took the bull by the horns and drove round the outside of the Ferrari. Michael tried to fight back, but come Turn 1 the Williams was ahead. Jacques went on to win the race, and take the title fight down to Suzuka.
Learning to drive without the driving aids is important, but there's only so much you can do with the standard setups. Soon you have to learn to customise the car, to trim it out and tweak it to your driving style. GP2 remained the best F1 game in this respect, with a wealth of technical setup options and a brilliant telemetry module. It was almost perfect, and GP3 retains this aspect with very few changes.
Of course changes have been made. The aforementioned hotspots help, and there are now options to mess with the differential (GP3 is the second game to offer this after GP Legends) and with six different types of rain and dry tyres (although there are still no options to change tyre camber and pressure or measure tyre temperatures). As with GP2 there are three levels of setup, guiding you from wing and gear ratio adjustments all the way to the in-depth intricacies of bump and rebound dampers.
Technical setup in GP3 is no gimmick - it's a must. The car is very sensitive, even more so than in GP2 (thanks no doubt to the assistance and feedback rendered from the Arrows team during development) and, providing you can drive consistently, any changes you make are immediately reflected in the handling, the telemetry and on the stopwatch. Initially it's difficult to know what direction to go in - getting the balance between ride height and suspension spring softness is one example where trial and error is the only way to go. Pounding round the race tracks in Practice mode, testing and adapting your setups, is key to race success in GP3.
On a different note, GP2 veterans should be able to jump straight into Semi-Pro level and be competitive. The invulnerability driving aid still exists in this mode, and provides a useful safety buffer as you get to grips with the more sensitive car handling.
Difficulty Level: Pro
The 1997 Hungarian GP could have gone down as one of the greatest F1 coups of all time. Michael Schumacher started from pole and lead the start of the race, but under the hot conditions the Ferrari quickly blistered its Goodyear tyres, and he fell back into the clutches of none other than Damon Hill in the Arrows Yamaha.
The Arrows was never a good car, but in Damon's hands, and equipped with the superior Bridgestone tyres, it seemed transformed. He caused a sensation by scything past the ailing Ferrari and went on to build up an unassailable lead. But three laps from the end the car was struck by hydraulics failure, causing it to slow by more than 20 seconds a lap. On the 77th and final lap, Jacques Villeneuve swooped past and demoted the unfortunate reigning world champion to second. It was Formula One at its very cruelest.
In Pro and Ace levels, car damage kicks in. Collisions are dealt with realistically and touching cars can go flying (though, try as I might, they don't seem to roll). In an accident it's possible to knock off anything from the wings to tyres and nosecones, and even on occasion to spilt the chassis in half! However the collision system seems a little forgiving -- often it's struck me that anything short of a head-on collision will do no damage at all. It seems a little random as to whether you survive or not, but certainly I've smacked the walls at speeds which would lead to retirements in real life, yet do nothing in the game.
One option that purists may want to enable is that for realistic car failures. Enable this and your car can suddenly become prone to anything from punctures and loose wheels to throttle problems and suspension failures. This sort of borderline realism option is not the sort of thing that everyone will want to enable, so I'm glad that GP3 defaults this to off.
The AI cars are not so lucky, and can be seen spouting smoke (or even flames) from their exhausts. Nor are they immune to the odd mistake, and it's always gratifying to see an opponent spin off in the middle of a hard-fought duel. In fact, GP3 's AI is absolutely superb! - they actually fight you aggressively for position yet always maintain a keen sense of positional awareness. You can run side-by-side with these cars with the confidence that if contact is made, the fault was almost assuredly yours. Sadly the drivers in GP3 don't appear to be modeled upon their real life counterparts - for example Monaco specialists like Giancarlo Fisichella, Jean Alesi and Mika Salo don't always pull anything out of the bag here, and many drivers in the game put blocking maneuvers on you when you're trying to overtake, which I've not seem them do in real life. But put that aside and their behavior is remarkably realistic. You'll be made to fight hard to make the podium, particularly at the Pro and Ace levels, and it's all the more rewarding when you succeed.
Difficulty Level: Ace
During the first 10 laps of the 1997 Belgian Grand Prix, in torrential rain, Michael Schumacher proved his superiority beyond all doubt. In a repeat performance of the Monaco Grand Prix earlier that year, he powered his Ferrari F310B to victory after starting on intermediate rain tyres, with the rest of the field barely coping on full wets.
Michael had struggled for pace in the dry qualifying session, and was hoping for a miracle. He got it. Judging the conditions to perfection, he overtook Jean Alesi and Villeneuve on the first full lap of racing and immediately opened up a lead of 6 seconds. Next time by, it was 16. By the time the rain dried out, he was almost a full minute clear of the next car. The race was won... as was yet another place in the history books.
One of the key developments in GP3 is the introduction of wet weather. And not just wet or dry -- this is variable wet weather, an astonishing feat sublimely executed which serves to add yet another dimension to the game. It's an amazing buzz when you've settled for position some 20 seconds behind the next guy and then the clouds unexpectedly go dark. Suddenly there's an opportunity to close that gap, but now you have to think on your feet. Do you pit for rain tyres (as the AI always do) or do you emulate Rubens Barrichello in the recent German GP and stay out on slicks? As you might imagine, the latter is ferociously difficult, and you have to be on top of your game to realistically consider it. Before starting a race you'll have been shown a weather forecast showing the percentage possibility of rain, and you'd better hope you adjusted your setup right.
The graphics in wet weather conditions are a marvel to behold. You get dark clouds, drizzle, large amounts of spray kicked up by other cars rendering visibility difficult, and puddles on the track surface. Any standing water is easy to pick out as it reflects the scenery (one of GP3's nicest graphical touches). Once the rain dissipates you'll get the formation of a dry line, and here tactics again play a part. Drive for long periods of time on the dry line with rain tyres and you'll overheat them and lose grip in no time -- so you have to keep to the puddles, much like in real life, and hope for another shower. With the weather being very unpredictable in this game, you may actually get it.
The key to the complete GP3 sim experience is the throttle control driving aid. This is available in any mode, and rightly so, for it's the hardest skill to master by some margin. Throttle control is what separates the men from the boys in GP3 -- keep it on and you'll be beating the AI cars in no time. Turn it off however and you level the playing field, whilst making life much more exciting. Ever wondered what it's like to be in an aquaplaning car? Drive in the wet without throttle control and you'll soon find out. At France last year I remember watching H.H. Frentzen steer his Jordan to victory on a rain-soaked track, and in the super-fast Estoril right-hander you could see the car slithering, twitching, and actually hear the delicate variations on the gas pedal as he fought to limit the wheelspin. That is exactly what it is like in GP3! Once you've driven in the wet with throttle control off, you'll really appreciate the skill of these drivers.
Grand Prix 4 Preview?
GP3 is an excellent game, but not a revolutionary one. Everywhere you look, you can see that the game is little more than an evolution of GP2 - some menus such as those for car setup and control configuration are virtually identical! It wouldn't be so bad if it were all up to scratch, but in some areas you can see that the basic architecture is getting very creaky. The graphics frame rates are hard-limited to 25fps, just as in GP2, and this is unnecessary in light of today's cutting edge PCs. Replays are still restricted to 20 seconds, despite other games offering coverage of complete races. Similarly, controller configuration definitely needs an overhaul -- why make us calibrate our gaming devices when Windows does it already, and better? Triple axis support doesn't work in the release version, nor does force feedback on the Microsoft Sidewinder FF Wheel, resulting in having to drive with no wheel resistance. Most important of all, there's no support for Internet play. (LANs are supported, but I wasn't able to test this.) At the end of the day, GP3 gives us little new over GP2 other than wet weather and 3D graphics.
OK, it could have been so much more, and I'm sure that Grand Prix 4, tentatively scheduled for release next year, will be. But GP3's saving grace is that it does what it sets out to do exceptionally well. It lets you take part in some awesome racing, and couples it with longevity that other games would die for - it has an enormous 3rd party fan base from GP2 out there which has already swung into action and begun to produce new tracks and car sets (try or for the latest downloads). Make no mistake - GP3 is big, it's set to get bigger still, and in the process it easily sets the benchmark for today's F1 sims.
Review By GamesDomain
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