It’s been a long wait of nearly four years since Geoff Crammond’s remarkable Grand Prix 2 was released. Widely regarded as, far and away, the best Formula One racing simulation on any platform, GP2′s legions of fans will be expecting much from GP3.
Incidentally, anyone not familiar with Geoff Crammond’s work and expecting a PlayStation-style arcade racing game will be disappointed. GP3, like its predecessors, is a serious attempt to simulate driving a Grand Prix racing car on a PC, including qualifying and racing. Realism is what the GPx-series is all about, including the ability to change suspension and aerodynamic settings to change the behaviour of the car. Real racing drivers have used GP2 to get acquainted with actual circuits before they visit them for real.
The list of improvements in GP3 is quite long, but the core of the program and its basic appearance and presentation doesn’t seem radically different to GP2. At a glance, GP3′s familiarity is rather disappointing, but the improvements are subtle and, with time, add up to a major enhancement in the Grand Prix ‘playing’ experience.
New features include 3D graphics hardware acceleration support (using DirectX 7), a realistic rotating steering wheel with integrated information display panel, animated rotating and turning front wheels, variable weather conditions, better quality trackside graphics and landscapes and improved technical realism through a development partnership with the Arrows F1 team.
The cars featured are, surprisingly, from the 1998 season and all the key drivers and teams from that year are there except for the 1997 world champion, Jacques Villeneuve, who is substituted by a character called ‘John Newhouse’, which is a strange translation. Like GP2, there are already signs of activity in the third party designer utilities world and it should only be a matter of time before Villeneuve, cars and circuits from the 1999 and 2000 seasons make an appearance – legally or otherwise!
We tried GP3 on three PCs of differing specification and compared it with GP2. The least powerful, a 266MHz PII notebook, which ran GP2 at 800×600 resolution commendably well, would only run this new version acceptably at 640×480 and was unable to use hardware 3D. A 400MHz AMD K6/2 PC with an NVidia TNT2 graphics card was disappointing, with slow frame rates and broken 3D graphics. Reports indicate latest TNT2 drivers make a big difference to the 3D graphics – TNT2 users, you have been warned! Finally, we tried a 450MHz PIII PC running an ATI Rage 128-based graphics card and this was capable of very acceptable 800×600 action. A 1GHz GeForce GTS PC should make GP3 fly.
Especially entertaining is the new bad weather running, with very realistic wet-look track surfaces. The 20 second instant action replay and hot-lap replay modes work better than ever with 3D hardware support, especially when using track-side camera angles. But anyone hoping for Internet multi-play will have to make do with LAN support only and there has been some criticism of the unchanged cardboard sprite graphics of pit crew action.