Project Gotham Racing 4 Review

As the year 2005 began turning the corner for a new lap, Microsoft released their new ultra-successful console along with a few hit and (mostly) miss game titles. Among one of the hits was the ever-expansive Project Gotham Racing 3. This new chapter in the PGR series was ultimately praised for its countless features and jump to high definition, while keeping the tried and true formula the same. While some people might wonder why we’d need yet another racing title for our 360, Bizarre Creations has delivered yet another sequel to our TV screens with Project Gotham Racing 4.

I’ll say this right now: PGR4 doesn’t change much up from the previous version, so if you’ve played PGR3, you already know what to expect from the core. That being said, there’s a lot to love in this new rendition, especially if this is your first visit to the world of Project Gotham. Everything from the race tracks, to the vehicles, to the overflow of game modes is incredibly polished and helps keep the monotony of constantly racing at bay.

All of the five cities that were featured in the last game make an appearance in PGR4, along with the four brand new locations, Shanghai, St. Petersburg, Quebec, and Macau. Each city incorporates a number of different paths, which make up the various circuits. The new ones feel fresh, while the old tracks have been redone, stepping away from the simple, flat designs of the previous game. With each new locale, you’re presented with a distinctive visual theme; Vegas looks lively and colorful, while Macau is more scenic and open.

The magic of Gotham truly comes alive when you step behind the wheel. Though the gameplay hasn’t really changed from the past versions, it didn’t have to. Any avid racing fan is sure to enjoy speeding around, since PGR4 so delicately combines the greater aspects of simulation and arcade racing styles. While the main goal is to finish the race in first place, it’s crucial to try and rack up as many "kudos" as you can during the match. By launching your car into the air, performing drifts, and drafting behind opponents you earn major kudos, which are ultimately used as a form of currency to purchase new cars and tracks. When you start mixing these slick moves into a more casual simulation style control system, the result is somewhere between playing Ridge Racer and Forza 2.

A pretty intense and intricate element Bizarre Creations tossed into this edition of Project Gotham is the new weather system. Before each race, there will be an indication of what type of weather patterns you’ll be experiencing during your drive. It can be anything from a hailstorm to drizzling rain to a partially cloudy day. But the most dynamic aspect is how the weather can change in real-time, while affecting the course you’re driving on. Your race may start out nice and dry, but halfway through begin to rain. By the end of the race, there may be puddles in the road that cause you to hydroplane if you move fast enough over them. The changing weather alters just enough to be noticeable on the track, but not so much as to completely hamper your current driving style.

Changing things up a bit, PGR4 decided to throw motorcycles into the racing formula, which is a big step since there was a previous four-wheels-only rule. Surprisingly enough, you have the ability to choose whether or not you’d like to pilot a car or a bike before the race. One would think that this would offer a big imbalance since cars and cycles have drastically different driving properties, but everything is smoothed out rather well. The fact that bikes typically have a higher acceleration and easier steering is balanced with how losing control can cause the rider to dismantle from the seat, costing precious seconds in a race. (Though in most cases the riders would be dead in real life.) It’s a pretty simple formula; cars are vast and fast, bikes are agile and fragile.

Another major difference between PGR4 and its past renditions is the inclusion of a career mode. Essentially, you’re a struggling racer who starts out at the bottom and has to slowly work his way up the ladder, race by race. When you start your season, an event pops up and you can choose from a few different types of races. The system is time-based, so you follow a calendar of events and race on the days it allows. Once you complete a race there’s no option to retry, so if you take third place, you take third place. You can, however, retry during a race, but if you’re ever in the final stretch and you think you might have it won, but you’re just a split second too late, tough cookies. The career mode is topped off with invitational races to directly win cars, and your own personal garage, where you can view some of the sick rides you’ve earned. (Also, it’s where you play the new Geometry Wars, but more on that later.)

Of course, the arcade mode is a lot different from its career counterpart. In arcade mode, you have the option of choosing any race you want at any time, and you unlock new ones by completing previous races. Competing in challenging events on the most difficult setting will earn you heavy kudos, making arcade a great mode to play if you want to unlock cars quickly. Unlike career mode, you can choose the same races over and over again, and even continue to earn the same number of kudos each time.

While the single player modes of PGR4 are great, I know you don’t just want to sit at home and play with yourself all day. Thankfully, Project Gotham is celebrated as one of the best multiplayer racers available on the Xbox consoles. Your options are either to play split-screen with an immediate friend or jump on Xbox Live for some online races. In both you’re able to play a handful of different modes, but it usually boils down to standard racing. As expected, playing on Live is silky smooth. It did take me a while to find other opponents in even a random match, but I expect that’s because most gamers are still playing Halo 3.

One specific feature that always has impressed me with the PGR series is the aesthetic quality brought to every game, and the fourth installment is no different. Seriously, the graphics are just beautiful in PGR4. Granted they’re not leaps and bounds ahead of PGR3, but even that game still looks good. Everything from the car models to the gorgeous cities to the incredible real-time weather effects are fantastic to look at. I’ve easily spent over 2 hours just in photo mode taking shots of the Vegas sights. The game runs at a smooth 60 frames per second at all times, with the exception of during thunderstorms where it dips a bit below the desired framerate. During cold races, you can see the snow slowly casting a white overlay on the track below, and in wet climates the rain will let puddles form and grow right on the track. It’d be nice to have some updated lighting and shadow effects in the next PGR, but as of now, it’s still much easier to look at than other racing games, like Forza 2.

To go along with some stunning visuals is a stellar audio soundtrack. PGR4 features a seemingly spontaneous selection of songs that spans from old classical music to modern hardcore techno. The songs are randomly chosen, but customizable on the music menu. Each different genre of music has around ten songs each, with includes popular rock artists as well as unknown jazz musicians, and everything in between. My only complaint with the music selection is that there’s simply not enough. Even after a few hours of play, you find yourself listening to the same songs over and over again. While the soundtrack is good enough to rip onto your iPod, using your own custom songs is still a better option.

You know what I love in video games? I love extras. Extras make me feel like I squeezed more out of the game than I should have. And I have to tell you, PGR4 has some pretty sleek extras packed in. First off, there’s just a plethora of cars and bikes to collect. These may not seem like "extras" per say, but there are a good bit of cars that are just pure garbage. What I mean is that no one’s using these four-wheelers for actual racing, and I think the developers acknowledged this. That means they simply threw them in the game to make a few people happy. Maybe you had an old Camero a few years back and would like to see how it holds up against a new Celica. Well, do it.

Another nifty extra is the replay and camera mode. Similar (but not nearly as awesome) to Halo 3’s replay system, you can replay and save all of your races, as well as take pictures using an expansive photo mode. Possibly the coolest (and most useless) feature in this is the ability to take 3D pictures. You know, those blue and red pictures that you need the glasses for? While there’s no need for that in the game, it’s still really cool the developers took the time to throw it in for the few people who are actually going to take advantage of it. (But let me actually race in 3D, next time! Seriously, even Rad Racer on the NES let you race in 3D!) And then there’s Geometry Wars, which has always been a major-minor part of Project Gotham. Sadly, this one is pretty crippled. Your ship only has one life, you get no bombs, and it just doesn’t look as good as its XBLA counterpart. (I’m personally waiting for the Wii version, myself.)

After you sit back and look at everything that comes in the PGR4 package, it really only boils down to one thing: the racing. And you know what? It’s good. It’s damn good. If you’re the type of gamer who wants a little more meat from titles like Burnout and Need for Speed, but don’t want to dive right into the Forza 2 swimming pool, Project Gotham is certainly the series for you. With magnificent visuals, a ton of vehicles, and a beefy single and multiplayer experience, PGR4 is a great way to quench that speed demon thirst.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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