Project Gotham Racing 4ESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer – Bizarre Creations
Publisher – Microsoft Game Studios
System Link 2-8
Online Multiplayer 1-8
HDTV – 720p/1080i/1080p
Having had the chance to review Project Gotham 3 during the launch of the 360 I was very happy to get a chance to review the sequel, now two years later. Aptly titled Project Gotham Racing 4 (PGR4), the newest game in the series arrives with some new twists and turns including weather effects, motorcycles, wider tracks and new locations. As I sat down to play this game my first thought was do the new additions manage to make the game a buyer? After my time with it I would have to say yes it does.
Visually PGR4 is a looker. During its development Bizarre Creations has made a lot of noise about its new weather effects and I can honestly say that they also look awesome. From the rain to the snow and ice, all the various weather conditions are visually appealing. There is no doubt that this is some of the best weather I have seen in a racing game. A great example of this is how rain drops start to bead up on the car and actually start to move across the surface as you keep on racing in the nasty wet weather or how a thunder and lightning storm lights up the whole track when the lighting flashes so bright. Even the snow, as it starts to fall, takes on a different look as the faster you go the angle of the snowflakes start to change. If you have ever traveled on a highway during a winter snow storm you will know exactly what I am talking about, if not, well then just play the game to find out.
Along with the great weather effects are the cars and motorcycles themselves. Each one of them is solidly rendered and they all look magnificent. If there is anything worth complaining about it is that they all still have that well known PGR sheen to them, as if they were just freshly waxed. That being said the cars all maintain those sexy angles while the motorcycles, well they look like motorcycles. And when in motion these vehicles manage to continue to look as good as they do when they are sitting still. Bizarre Creations has once again rendered the interiors of each vehicle and the inside of each car has all the detail you could hope for. New to this view is that you now have windshield wipers when the weather gets nasty. Seeing the rain or snow on my window was pretty cool, and then to see my wipers clean it away, while leaving the outer edges of the front window untouched was even cooler. New to the PGR4 is a hood only view. Instead of using the in-car or bumper view for a first person view you now have the option to just have the hood visible. I myself prefer this view as it allows for a great sense of speed and better sound when playing the game.
Along with track destinations from previous games (e.g. New York or the famed Nurburg Ring) are new destinations such as Shanghai, Macau, and Quebec. All the tracks are painstaking detailed and rendered to perfection. Buildings are stunningly realistic while the trackside detail is just as good. Heck, being Canadian I even recognized much of the larger details of the Quebec streets from pictures my wife has shown me. The draw distance is amazing too and you will be hard pressed to see anything draw in at all. Lighting effects also play a major part in the look of the tracks you race on, from the neon lit streets of Shanghai to the snowy streets of Quebec. I would have to say that Bizarre Creations really seem to have an understanding of the 360’s innards.
As previously mentioned I had the chance to review PGR3 when it was released during the launch of the 360. And from then to now the game does looks a touch better. If anything I was somewhat taken back by the fact that the visual jump was not nearly as much as I thought it would be. Regardless the game looks great and it maintains a rock solid framerate. The sense of speed is amazing. I really don’t have anything particularly negative to say about the visuals. Sure, there are some jaggies that are noticeable, but it really doesn’t take away from the visual splendor of the game.
The audio in PGR4 really does compliment the rest of the game’s overall package. The music is quite varied and you have rock, world, hip hop, jazz, and even some classical music. In terms of the recognizability of the artists, well don’t expect any to jump out at you. They seem pretty much unrecognizable, at least to me, but hey, maybe you will know a tune or two. Regardless, I found that I was playing a lot of music directly off of my HDD that I had previously downloaded as I have some music that really does suit my driving style.
As for the rest of the sound effects, everything else is quite strong. The most important part of the game, the engine sounds, are solid and very convincing. Each vehicle sounds very different from one another. The sound of the engines also take on different tones depending on the view you are racing from. So, if you are inside the car or far behind it (3rd person) each view manages to have its own sound and it makes for an even more realistic experience. Bizarre Creations makes use of 5.1 surround too as you can tell when an opposing car is coming up behind you, what side it is on, and even how close it is. If you have a good 5.1 Dolby Digital set-up you won’t be disappointed. Finally the rest of the sounds in this area, such as skids, crashes and the new weather effects, manage to wrap up a pretty impressive audio package. I would have to say that like the graphics side of the 360, Bizarre also knows how to use the audio innards of the Xbox as well.
PGR4 has brought about a couple of new key features to the series, most noteworthy are weather effects and motorcycles. As you venture across the globe you will come across a variety of weather from dense fog, thunder and lightning storms, rain, and snow and ice. These effects are not only visually stunning, but they affect how one will race. For example, this is particularly evident in the rain. Not only does it make for a wet and slippery road, which is to be expected, but the raindrops pool up in specific spots on a track. And of course should you hit one of these puddles to quickly, or try and brake through one of them, well the resulting hydroplaning is quite impressive and actually causes you to rethink your lines and braking techniques. The weather effects can make for a really different experience and I think this new dynamic to the series was quite well done.
Bizarre Creations has also added two wheeled pocket rockets to this latest installment of the PGR series. There are quite a few motorcycles to choose from, but as I am definitely a gamer with virtually no knowledge of these two wheeled machines I haven’t the slightest clue if the selection is good or average in terms of the name brands. Regardless, racing with these bikes is very different then the four wheeled vehicles offered in PGR4 as it takes a little getting used to controlling them, but once you do you can pull of different types of moves with them and have some great fun. I was also happy to see that the motorcycles are not easily knocked off the track by cars, so when I decided to race as one I was confident that I could be competitive enough and didn’t have to worry about cars nudging my bike and knocking me flat on my butt. Overall I think the implementation of the motorcycles is a great change and it was good to see them add some new spice to the series with them.
Of course along with the motorcycles comes a large selection of cars as well. PGR4 manages to have a wide selection of vehicles, from lower performance cars (e.g. Cooper Mini), exotic cars (e.g. Lamborghini or Ferrari) to F1 replicas. There is no doubt that there will be something here for everyone as the selection is wide and varied. I for one enjoyed the fact that there were some lower performance cars, because as fun as it is to race the uber-cars I also enjoy racing cars that could realistically be in my garage for one reason or another. Controlling the various cars falls right in the middle of the arcade and simulation styles. While you are able to pull of wild and crazy moves (e.g. tail slides, air time) you still have to find the right line to enter your corners and you have to brake at appropriate times. It is this combination of arcade and sim control which has made the PGR series stand out on its own for so long. Of course the damage models in PGR4 are the same as in previous installments, as the damage is purely cosmetic and does not affect the performance of your vehicle.
PGR4 manages to give any gamer lots to do which brings the game’s replayability up quite a few notches. The traditional race for medals by beating challenges makes its return (e.g. bronze, silver, gold, and platinum) in the form of arcade mode. There is also a time attack mode and online play. Finally there is a career mode as well. Overall there is a lot to do in PGR4 so what I cover in this review is only a brief descriptor of such.
The meat of the game is the career mode known as Gotham Career. Here the main goal is to become the number one driver in the world. This is accomplished by progressing through championships and invitational events that are found throughout the game. Interestingly enough, these are based around a calendar, so you will have access to only a few races at a time. Of course this also means that you cannot go back and re-do those races that you did not finish as well as you hoped. This is because once you have completed a race you move forward in time. Many people will not like this aspect as part of the charm of PGR games of the past is being able to re-do those races you want to improve on. However given the nature of the calendar, this is cannot be done in PGR4.
As you make your way through the career mode you will that this mode alone has a lot to do. The challenges in career mode will immediately be recognizable to any PGR veteran, and to those new to the series, they will become a staple diet of the gameplay. There are cone challenges, gate challenges, hot lap challenges, kudos vs. time challenges and standard race challenges. For those PGR rookies out there kudos are bonus points that are awarded for style and special moves (e.g. air time, perfect corner or clean lap to name a few) which are added to your score when you finish your race. Kudos are an integral part of the PGR series and nothing has changed in PGR4. At the end of any given championship series you are awarded championship points and you move up the ladder as you earn more points. As a bonus you can also buy new items with the kudos you’ve earned in races, such as tracks and cars. There is even an achievement for buying a specific item with your kudos. Along with the standard championship races you will come across other types of races throughout the career. These can range from invitational races or race challenges based on a single type of vehicle (win it and you win the car for your garage).
Beyond the aforementioned career mode, you have an arcade mode that, in many ways, is more similar to the standard career mode of PGR3. Here you can attempt any of the challenges in each ‘chapter’, and should you not do as well as you would have liked to you can re-do them. And of course you are awarded medals for your performance as well. I found the best way to get accustomed to PGR4 was to spend time in the arcade mode, and then make the trip over to the career mode where I was able to stand a better chance placing well in each of those events.
PGR4 also offers online play, which in this day and age should be expected on the Xbox 360. You can race in single and team events through quite a variety of race types such as street race, elimination, a new mode called bulldog, and cat and mouse, a favorite with many PGR veterans. I found that once I hooked up with some of my friends online the experience was quite lag-free. If anything I would have liked to seen more players on a track at a time, even two more people. Sometimes eight people are not enough. Don’t ask me why the current Microsoft published racers only allow eight players at the same time, but maybe the next batch of racing games will allow for more people on the track at the same time. While online you can also check out the new PGR On Demand, which replaces PGR3’s Gotham TV. Here you can upload photos, watch race replays as well as paint your car. In regards to the latter, do not expect the depth of painting that you find in Forza 2. The extra online features found in Gotham On Demand were somewhat enjoyable but I found I didn’t spend too much time playing around with them as my online experience was all about the racing.
The computer AI in the game is a formidable opponent and can make for a really tough challenge at times, especially in the higher skill levels. And although there was some times that I felt like there was some rubber-band AI occurring, the overall experience wasn’t that bad. I was able to challenge the computer on a regular basis, and even though I may not have won all my races, I hung in tough for the majority of them and it was fun doing so. You will find that PGR4 will last as long as you want it too. The career mode can take anywhere from 12 hours or so depending on what skill level you put it on. Beyond the career mode the added benefit of the arcade mode, time attack mode, and online play gives PGR4 even more legs in the replay department.
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