Project Gotham Racing 2 Xbox
by Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by Bizarre Creations
Released: 28th November 2003
Over the last two weeks we have had the pleasure of playing the best racing game on the Xbox and arguably one of the best driving games to date on any console. Project Gotham Racing 2 is of course the sequel to Project Gotham Racing which was one of the key Xbox launch titles. PGR 2 is a better game in every respect and with the addition this time of Xbox Live racing, it should become one of the biggest selling titles on the Xbox Console. I actually wanted to review the game only days after receiving it but with PGR 2 not even out in the US then, the Live scene was pretty quiet but in the last week (with the release of the game in the US) it's really kicked into gear and is now buzzing. Anyway, on with the review.
If you've played PGR you'll know exactly what PGR 2 is all about, kudos. Yes it's all about driving with style. Simple speed may win the race but it won't earn sufficient kudos points in most cases. Kudos points are awarded for 360 degree turns, catching air, doing a clean section, passing through cone gates successfully, overtaking, drafting etc. The real trick to attaining big scores is to link the kudos earning moves together to form high scoring combos. After performing a kudos earning move you'll have two seconds to do another one and if this is performed you'll have a combo move. It's possible to link massive combo moves together and this will multiply in score according to how many moves have been linked together. Combo moves are essential to obtain the medium to difficult medals. You'll also earn completion bonus kudos for achieving your goal, for having a clean race, finishing in plenty of time and having the fastest lap. In fact it can be summed up as skilful but risky driving.
One of the big differences between PGR 2 and it's prequel is accessibility. Anyone who played PGR will tell you that they got to a point where they simply hit a full stop and the game suddenly got difficult. In PGR you had to earn a bronze, silver or gold medal in the respective event in order for you to progress and in later levels it proved very difficult to obtain even a bronze medal so it was quite easy to become stuck and not see all the game had to offer. PGR 2 solves this problem by adding two additional medals either side of the original three. A steel medal is now the lowest whilst platinum is now the top medal. All of the medals have their own objectives with the steel medals only asking for the bare basics to complete a challenge while the platinum medals ask for virtual miracles. The steel medals allow novices to play right through the game and enjoy it all in it's fullness whilst the platinum medals will only be attained by the elite drivers out there and will take them many months to collect them all.
As we have already established earning kudos is the name of the game and the single player game comprises three modes, two of which will allow you to earn kudos. The Kudos World Series is divided into 14 categories such as Compact Sports Series, American Muscle Series and Grand Touring Series. You need to achieve at least a steel medal in each of the events that each category has. The events that you will come across are street races, cone challenges (where you have to drive through the red cones as quickly as possible), hot laps, overtake challenges (where a number of cars have to be overtaken), timed runs, speed camera (you have to pass a certain point on the track whilst travelling at a certain speed) and one on one where you simply have to beat your opponent. More often than not you'll have to earn a certain amount of Kudos in these challenges and some have time restrictions which are quite punishing when attempting a gold or platinum medal.
As you amass the kudos points you will gain kudos levels (which works like experience in RPG games in that when you reach a specified amount of kudos points your rank will increase). When your kudos rank increases you'll be given tokens. These tokens can be used to buy/unlock cars. Each category in the Kudos World Series has a couple of cars that are unlocked and a whole lot more that are locked and need to be bought with tokens. To earn the steel medals the given cars are usually OK but to earn the gold and platinum medals you'll probably need to purchase some of the better cars on offer. The cars that you unlock will also be available for online races so you're going to want to get your hands on them as quickly as possible. In total there are over 100 cars in the game and all of the big companies such as Porsche, Ferrari and Lotus are represented.
In addition to the Kudos World Series, you also have the Arcade races which consist of street races, timed runs and cone challenges. Unlike the events in the Kudos World Series though you can't choose your car and you must drive whatever you have been given. These modes are fun (and they have five levels of difficulty too which again uses the medal system) and will keep you busy for months in your pursuit of platinum medals. There is also standard time attack mode but you won't earn any kudos here but nevertheless it's still a great way to enjoy yourself.
The big addition with PGR 2 though is the support for Xbox Live (split screen and system link races are also available) and it's fair to say that it's excellent. There are the usual inclusions of quick match, optimatch and the ability to create your own game where you can invite your friends to join in. You can also take part in a ghost challenge where you can look at the leaderboard for a given circuit and choose any ghost you want, download it, and have a go at beating it. Your effort will in turn be uploaded to the server for others to have a go at. This is actually a good deal of fun. It's rather a clever touch that you can also earn kudos points whilst racing on Xbox Live (although your Xbox Live kudos and rank are separate from your single player game, you can combine them). If you win a race on Xbox Live on a circuit that you hadn't unlocked then you will unlock it for your single player game, which is an excellent touch. I only wish XSN Sports support had been provided for PGR 2 and then it would have been pretty much perfect. Still it's given me with a very enjoyable Xbox Live experience and I'll continue to race against friends and take part in the ghost challenge.
I didn't appreciate just how much PGR 2 had improved over PGR in terms of graphics until I put PGR on for a game. Everything looks much more detailed this time around. The cities included are Washington DC, Florence, Chicago, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Yokohama, Stockholm, Hong Kong, Sydney and Moscow. Whilst I couldn't personally attest to their accuracy they all look brilliant to me. Much has been made about the game running at 30fps instead of 60fps. I don't know if there is any truth in this but to be honest it does seem slightly slower than PGR, but only just. In the games defence though the framerate doesn't waver at all. Eight car pile-ups didn't cause one stutter, which is all you can really ask. The cars do damage this time but the damage modelling is not extensive and doesn't affect the handling of the cars but nevertheless it does look good.
The cars feel much nicer to handle in PGR 2 and so much more satisfying. Whilst most games are perfectly fine for deaf gamers, the excellent use of force feedback enable you to feel the grip the car has on the road and proves an excellent aid in acquiring those quick lap times. All of the games information is shown in text and even the online races don't require speech or the ability to hear speech. That said though a keyboard and provision for text chat in the lobby would be most welcome for all the Live games.
Generally PGR 2 is a superb arcade racer. However it's not perfect, although for the first few days of having the game it certainly seemed that way. I would have liked to have seen a tutorial showing you how to maximise your kudos score. Video clips that detail how to perform 360 degree turns and link together complicated combo chains. I would have liked snowy races too, not essential but would have made the game feel more complete. In terms of scoring kudos points the races encourage you not to simply leave the pack behind but to keep amongst them and continually overtaking or drafting then overtaking as this racks up a lot of kudos points. To me this seems silly as racing is meant to be just that and not having to hold yourself back. However, this isn't an issue on the gold and platinum medal challenges as the AI will always push you. In PGR the AI would stick rigidly to the racing line and knock you out of the way if you were hogging it yourself. In PGR 2 this isn't so much of a problem but it does still occur from time to time particularly on the higher levels.
All things considered this is one heck of driving game, easily the best on the Xbox at the moment and it will become a firm favourite on Xbox Live, where all of my issues in the above paragraph are irrelevant. It's still an arcade racer at heart and it isn't possible to modify your cars but the game doesn't need it as it provides plenty of challenges and variety for you to still be enjoying it when Christmas 2004 comes around. Certainly the best driving game available on any format this year.
Game Rating: 9.5/10
A marvellous sequel that just doesn't stop entertaining you. Without a doubt it's the Xbox's premiere racing title.
No problems at all for deaf gamers.