Grand Prize 3
The sporting national pride of the Germans is usually defined by two variables. On the one hand there is the Fuâall national team - since the exciting EM presentation of our catastrophe kickers no longer a real source of inflammation. Things are different with Ferrari hero Michael Schumacher. He is well on the way to claiming his first world title for the Reds from Maranello. Ideal prerequisites for Grand Prix 3, whose two predecessors had a major impact on the Formula 1 genre on the PC.
In contrast to most competitors such as Eidos 'F1 World Grand Prix or Psygnosis' F1 '99, the program attaches great importance to the realistic implementation of the Grand Prix circus. The developers were willing to make small cuts for the fun of the game. For example, the seating position is higher and the mirrors are larger than in a real racing car. Unfortunately, small cuts must also be made with the license. Although all original driver and team names are represented (except for Jaques Villeneuve), they still date from the 98 season.
Anyone who has played with Grand Prix 3 for a while will rub their eyes in astonishment at some point. It is astonishingly similar to its predecessor, from the menu system to the game engine and many individual options. This also includes minor details such as the display of processor utilization, which can still be activated with the "O" key, or the fact that laps from and to the box are not timed. The impression quickly crept in that Grand Prix 3 was not programmed from scratch, but that only GP 2 was revised.
Nevertheless, Geoff Crammond's new work goes far beyond a mere update. The new acquisition pays off simply because one of the biggest criticisms of Grand Prix 2 has been thoroughly eliminated. While there was always plenty of sunshine on the 16 routes, the pilots now have to cope with a lot of capricious weather during one season. The rain is not always the same, but varies from small showers to cloudbursts.
Sometimes it only rains in certain sections of the route, which makes choosing the ideal tires a lottery. In addition, the slope does not suddenly become dry or wet: First, only the ideal line dries, which has also been correctly implemented in terms of driving physics. A totally submerged street is beautiful to look at. The environment is reflected on the asphalt, and every gas surge means the greatest risk of spinning. As great as the weather may have been, the artificial intelligence of the computer driver is not that far off: they change tires unnecessarily in fluctuating conditions.
You will be helped here
Thanks to the approximately 800 HP, the feather-light F1 sleds can only be kept under control with a lot of practice, even on dry slopes. The rear always wants to break out, and despite the enormous tire grip and the huge wings, it's hard to get the power on the road. In contrast to the extremely difficult Grand Prix Legends, Grand Prix 3 is also interesting for beginners: The almost legendary driving aids are integrated and help pilots who are overwhelmed. With steering assistance, traction control, and automatic shifting and braking, the speedster drives almost as easily as a road car. With turner you can have the car's nose aligned automatically. Thanks to the optional indestructibility, even kissing a wall intensely doesn't mind the car.
The best way to control Grand Prix 3 is with a steering wheel. The force feedback effects were unusually good for a real simulation. Because of the strong back pressure in fast corners, driving sometimes turns into physical work.
Off to the garage
A lot of testing and adjustment work has to be done before your car fits perfectly to a track. Here too, Grand Prix 3 corresponds to its predecessor except for minor details. Beginners limit themselves to the correct values for spoiler, gear ratio and brake force distribution; Advanced riders pounce on the fine art of chassis adjustment. In a second stage, the really hard can even struggle with different damping values - depending on whether short bumps or long bumps are to be ironed out. While these settings may overwhelm even aspiring mechanics, the only 20 gradations for the spoilers look quite spartan - "stepless" adjustments would have been better here.
Telemetry provides the necessary data for optimal setups. The options for evaluation are sufficient, but they do not match the abundance and benefits of Ascaron's Grand Prix 500.
All are the same
While the rain is a real step forward, you will unfortunately also encounter the second major shortcoming of the predecessor in Grand Prix 3: each car drives absolutely identically, is equally fast and looks the same except for the different team livery. It is therefore not possible, as with the competitor Racing Simulation 2, to influence the level of difficulty by choosing the team. Whether you choose a Minardi or McLaren - the chance of winning the World Cup remains the same. You can only make things a little easier for yourself indirectly by choosing the driver: when you step into the Schumi or Hakkinen cockpit, at least one of the most stubborn opponents is eliminated.
As usual, you can choose the actual level of difficulty in five stages. It determines the maximum number of driving aids you can switch on and how quickly the competing field of computer drivers roars around the course. You can vary the order in three ways: either the strength ratio corresponds to that of 1998, all 21 pilots are equally fast, or the pace is distributed randomly.
The graphics of Grand Prix 3 make a slightly ambiguous impression: It is pretty and underlines the game principle, which is trimmed for realism, with successful background bitmaps and the coloring. On the other hand, it sometimes appears coarse-grained even at high resolutions (up to a maximum of 1280 x 1024 points); the pixel men on the boxes and on the edge of the track are really ugly.
The sound has never been a strength of the Grand Prix series. Even now the engine noise is mediocre and annoying during longer sessions. Annoying: The racing cars have no engine noise, so that a competitor approaching from behind can only be seen through the exterior mirrors, but cannot be heard. The fact that the audience is also silent and that there is no box radio at all contributes to this small atmosphere penalty.
Little has happened with the multiplayer modes: they either take turns making themselves comfortable on a PC or give each other spurs in the LAN; Internet connections are left out. Up to 22 players are possible, with the performance decreasing rapidly with more than six opponents. Alternatively, you can populate the field with computer drivers; but the most fun are purely human arguments. (MG)
The expanded version of the article and additional screenshots can be found in GameStar 9/2000.