Project Gotham Racing 4 Xbox 360
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by: Bizarre Creations
Release Date: Out Now
Probably the most important launch title for the Xbox 360 was Project Gotham Racing 3. The first two games on the Xbox had been excellent and with there not being a Halo game in time for the console's launch, it was great to have the next game in the PGR series. Whilst PGR 3 was a very good game, it didn't manage to live up to my expectations for the series. PGR 2 was stunning and I was disappointed to find PGR 3 was actually a small step back for the series. Can PGR 4 actually manage to be as good as PGR 2? Let's take a look at Project Gotham Racing 4, the first game in the series to include motorcycles and weather effects, and see if it can make up for the minor disappointment that PGR 3 was.
The single-player modes in PGR 4 are Arcade Mode, Gotham Career, Time Attack and Custom Match. In Arcade Mode you'll compete in 10 chapters, each of which has 6 different events, to earn Steel, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum medals. The catch is that in eight of the chapters you must win six medals using cars and six using motorcycles. Of the two remaining chapters, one exclusively uses cars and the other motorcycles. Gotham Career sees you rising through the rankings in an attempt to become the number one driver on the Gotham Career leaderboard. Time Attack basically allows you to take a car or motorcycle of your choice and aim for the best times without having to concern yourself with earning Kudos. Custom Match allows you to setup either a Street Race or Eliminator event. You'll get to choose the city in which to race, the route, the weather, the number of laps and the number of AI opponents you'll compete against etc.
PGR 3 was a great online experience and PGR 4 is just as impressive. Up to eight players can take part in online races and even online championships. You can even race as a team if you wish. You're matched with others of similar ability, thanks to the TrueSkill ranking system. PGR 3 gave us Gotham TV and PGR 4 gives us a similar feature known as PGR on Demand which allows you to share your greatest online performances with others and any photos you've taken. You can even create a slideshow of any photos you've taken and watch them at your leisure.
The bulk of your time with PGR 4 will be spent playing through the Gotham Career mode. You'll progress through the race calendar competing in events that are open to you and in addition, Invitational and Major events. During the events you'll earn both Kudos and Gotham Career Points. The Kudos you'll spend on various items such as cars, motorcycles, track packs, vehicle packs, new helmets and so forth. The Gotham Career Points are what you need to move up the leaderboard. You'll begin as an amateur but once you've moved up to sixtieth position on the leaderboard you'll be classed as a professional. Once you're up to forty-forth position you'll be a hot shot and when you've reached the twenty-second position you'll be a master. On each event day there are amateur, professional, hot shot and master events. Naturally you'll need to have reached the required ranking before you can choose that rank's events for that day. The higher ranked events may be more difficult but they yield more Gotham Career Points. Invitational events are optional and don't earn you Gotham Career Points. Instead they will give you the chance to earn new motorcycles, cars and wildcards to enter events you aren't qualified for. Major events can include Knockout Tournaments, Cut Tournaments and Global Cup Tournaments. Each race day on the calendar sees you competing in a variety of Speed, Racing and Style events. These events include Super Cone Sprint, Cone Sprint, Timed Run, Speed Challenge, Eliminator, Overtake, Kudos Challenge and Superstar. The challenge here is that you'll pick a vehicle for that race day and you'll have to complete every event with the vehicle you've chosen, so whilst your vehicle may be the best choice for two or three of the events, it may not be the best choice for the others. When you add the complexities of the different weather conditions into the mix it further complicates matters.
Weather effects and motorcycles are perhaps the two biggest additions to the PGR formula. The weather effects are brilliant, not only in terms of their appearance but also the way it changes how you drive. The game is still an arcade racer but the way the weather affects the handling of your vehicles is actually quite realistic and very satisfying. Motorcycles have been included for the first time and it's actually pretty weird to see them in a PGR game. I was initially against the idea but to be honest they handle pretty similar to the cars, although they do feel slightly easier to handle given the smaller amount of road space they take up when compared to the cars. Motorcycles do feel overpowered however. Many events are far easier to complete when racing with the motorcycles. Sure motorcycles accelerate much more quickly than cars but on the whole, the higher end cars should outpace the motorcycles and that doesn't appear to be the case here. In fact it's slightly the other way around.
PGR 4 is very impressive from a graphical standpoint. Both the car and motorcycle models look great as do the cities you'll race in. Incidentally there are more locations to race in with PGR 4, such as London, Las Vegas, Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, St. Petersburg, Quebec and Macau and they all look great. The in-car views are magnificent and easily the best in any racing game to date. The weather effects are also visually impressive and very realistic looking. The frame rate remains smooth throughout and even the load times seem slightly shorter than they were for PGR 3.
Previous PGR games haven't given deaf gamers any problems and PGR 4 is also fine for deaf gamers. All of the game's instructions are in text and there is no speech in the single-player game. The game uses a mixture of icons, text and numbers to display its information and as such is absolutely fine for deaf gamers. The online elements in the game are a slightly different story however as voice communications are supported but for all intents and purposes the game won't give deaf gamers any problems.
All things considered, I have to say that Project Gotham Racing 4 is a better game than PGR 3 (which itself was a good game) and the addition of various weather effects and the restructuring of the Gotham Career mode definitely helps to freshen up the experience. I still regard PGR 2 as the best game in the series, from a single-player's perspective at least, but PGR 4 is a game that every racing game enthusiast should definitely own. Of course with Activision purchasing Bizarre Creations the future of the PGR series is definitely in question. At this point no one knows if this will be the last title in the series and if there are any more PGR titles, will Bizarre Creations be the developers? Let's hope it's not the last in the series but if it is, then it's definitely a series that's gone out in style.