Project Gotham Racing 2 Review

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Metropolis Street Racer introduced us to the world of racing for Kudos. It’s a racing game that encourages the player to not only win but drive well. Despite being one of the best racing games on the Dreamcast, Metropolis Street Racer was released towards the end of the console’s life and didn’t sell very well. It was succeeded by Project Gotham Racing which refined the Kudos system and left behind some of the more questionable design choices of its predecessor. Project Gotham Racing was a launch title for the Xbox and ended up reaching a larger audience than Metropolis. It was followed up by Project Gotham Racing 2 which is a bigger and more ambitious title that retains the Kudos system and features more cars, new cities, and supported online multiplayer via Xbox Live. Developed by Bizarre Creations and published by Microsoft Game Studios, Project Gotham Racing 2 was released for Xbox in November, 2003. It received downloadable content in the form of booster packs which includes new vehicles and cities; Long Beach and Paris, complete with their own tracks or circuits.

Just like it’s predecessors, Project Gotham Racing 2 wants you to drive fast but also carefully. You’re rewarded with Kudos for driving well. That means not bumping or crashing into walls or barriers. During an event, you’ll earn Kudos points by power sliding, drafting, driving on two wheels, getting air, overtaking opponents, and you can rack up combos and your combo will be lost if you crash. There’s over one hundred vehicles to drive, most of which need to be unlocked, and they all handle differently and have different stats in top speed, acceleration, power sliding, and handling. And it should be noted that the game does support wheels which can be used as an alternative to the standard controller.

There are several game modes to select from and play through – Kudos World Series, Arcade Racing, Time Attack, and Instant Action which immediately puts you into a race. The vehicles are split up into different categories ranging from Compact Sports cars to Ultimate cars. In the Kudos World Series mode, you participate in events for each series of vehicles. You have to earn medals in all the events of a series to unlock the next series. Arcade Racing is split up into three categories – Street Racing, Timed Run, and Cone Challenge. Each category features multiple series of events which also need to be completed in order.

These games have always been known for their details and atmosphere. PGR 2 builds upon that by going all out when it comes to how vehicles are presented. After choosing an event, you’re given a list of vehicles to select from and in addition to being able to choose a color or paint job for whatever vehicle you select, you can also view each series of vehicles in a Garage or view all of the vehicles in a Showroom. You can actually walk around these areas and the Showroom features different rooms with the vehicles on display in front of windows. The actual Garage contains nice little details like a tool chest, tires, cabinets, a radio, and other things you might actually see in a Garage. Furthermore, this is where you can access a minigame called Geometry Wars. It’s a dual-stick shooter where you shoot shapes for high scores. It’s a lot of fun and quite addictive and ended up turning into its own series of standalone games. I had no idea this is where it originated so that was a fun discovery.

Compared to the last game, progression works a little differently in Project Gotham Racing 2. First, I’m going to go over what should be familiar to series veterans. Progression is based on medals. You need to earn to medals to progress through the Kudos World Series and Arcade Racing modes. Each event has a target you must meet in order to complete it and the higher the difficulty, the more bonus Kudos you will earn. You can change the difficulty of any event in the Kudos World Series mode and any Kudos you earn are added to your overall score.

Now I’ll go over what’s different. For one thing, there’s more medals you can earn. It goes from Steel to Platinum and each difficulty equates to a medal. Steel reflects the easiest or novice difficulty and Platinum reflects the most challenging or expert difficulty. In the last game, medals were based on how many Kudos you earned. The difficulty determined the target you must meet and amount of Bonus Kudos you could earn so even if you lowered the difficulty, if you earned enough Kudos during the event, you could still earn a Silver or Gold medal. In PGR 2, it doesn’t matter how many Kudos you earn during the event. Whatever difficulty you select, that’s the medal you’re going to win if you meet the target. It is somewhat of a bummer because the medals you earned in PGR primarily reflected your performance. But in PGR 2, that’s not exactly the case. I got over it pretty quick and ended up liking the change because I think it’s a little more forgiving and you’re guaranteed a medal if you meet the target. The difficulty not only determines the medal but also the challenge of your opponents. Higher difficulties not only means they drive better but can also mean you’ll race against different and faster vehicles.

Changes have also been made to how vehicles are unlocked and in the Kudos World Series and Arcade Racing modes, you’re limited to what you can drive. After earning enough Kudos, your Kudos rank increases and with each increase comes Kudos Tokens. The higher the rank, the more Tokens you receive. You can unlock most vehicles by spending tokens. Each series in the Kudos World Series mode focuses on a specific set of vehicles. So if you’re participating in the Pacific Muscle series, you can only select and drive vehicles from that series. Compared to the last game, this is both good and possibly bad, depending on how you look at it. It’s good because the events are designed around the specific series of vehicles and you’ll only go up against opponents that can drive those vehicles. But the downside is you can’t revisit these events with a better car later on. For example, you can’t use a Super Car in a Compact Sports event. In the Arcade Racing modes, you are given a specific vehicle for each event.

All of the events should be familiar to Metropolis and PGR veterans and some have been refined. Head starts were removed from One on One races. Cone Challenges are like the Style Challenges from the last game. You drive through cone gates and power slide when possible, racking up combos for big Kudos points. You’ll still get to participate in Street Race, Timed Run, and Hot Lap events, you’ll have to Overtake a certain number of vehicles, and Speed Camera events require you to reach or exceed a certain speed. The difficulty you select will determine the target you have to meet and I could earn at least the Silver medal for most events. Some of the Gold and Platinum targets will really test your skills. I would say the jump from Gold to Platinum is the biggest, especially in the later events. For example, a Cone Challenge Silver medal may require you to earn one thousand Kudos, three thousand for Gold, but for Platinum, you’ll have to earn fifteen thousand. Yeah, some of these events are no joke. Although, the previous games have shown that these kinds of difficult challenges are not unexpected and because of the change to the difficulty system here, it makes for a more accessible experience. If you’re struggling to earn the Gold, you can try for Silver, Bronze, or Steel instead and then come back later, maybe when you unlock a different or faster car in the series.

As you progress, the amount of Tokens required to unlock vehicles will increase. Basically, the sexier the vehicle, the more Tokens you’ll have to spend to unlock it. For example, it will cost more Tokens to unlock vehicles in the Grand Touring series than vehicles in the Sports Utility series. That said, unless you win the Platinum medal for every event as you go, you’ll probably want to revisit earlier events and go for better medals and basically grind for Kudos so you can increase your rank and earn more Tokens to unlock more and better cars. The car you select is important as is knowing how to handle it and some vehicles are better for certain events. The higher the difficulty, the tougher it is and the better you’ll need to drive. Track memorization will become more important because one mistake could be all it takes for you to fail an event.

For the most part, I would say the AI and difficulty, overall, is fair in PGR 2. In certain races, I was able to gain a significant lead and during one race, I almost lapped my opponents. When going for Gold and Platinum, opponents were usually never too far behind me and during One on One races, my opponent and I were often neck and neck. If you don’t use the right car or are crashing into everything, AI opponents can easily catch up to and pass you and will gain a big lead, and you might never catch up. The Arcade Racing modes also put up a good and fair challenge and because each event gives you a specific vehicle, you don’t have the option of choosing something different that could make an event easier. You have to master the vehicle you’re given.

Project Gotham Racing 2 features multiple cities around the world with their own track or circuit variations. From Chicago to Hong Kong, PGR 2 easily contains the most diverse set of locations in the series. The Time Attack mode gives you the option to set record circuit times with any vehicle you want or set record times for each vehicle class and you can save your ghosts and race against them. Most circuits need to be unlocked by progressing through the Kudos World Series mode or by racing on them against other players online which I didn’t get to try. You’ll race at different times of day and sometimes in the rain and the game features multiple radio stations with licensed music. PGR 2 also supports custom soundtracks and you can actually configure the stations to play your choice of music which is pretty cool.

Project Gotham Racing 2 looks excellent and it does support widescreen resolutions. The environments are detailed and you’ll get to see beautiful cityscapes as you zoom around the circuits. Vehicle models will reflect their surroundings, tires will kick up water when driving on wet roads, and damaged vehicles will show deformities. Because the environments are based on actual real-world urban locations, you’ll see a lot of storefronts, real brands, and advertisements. Some pop-in is noticeable but that’s the only eyesore I can think of in an otherwise phenomenal visual presentation. As for the audio, you’ll hear engines roaring and tires screeching as you burn rubber. On the technical side, I did not notice any issues.

I had a great time with Project Gotham Racing 2. It goes way above and beyond its predecessor. It blows it out of the water. It feels like the developers put a lot more time and care into this and it shows. From the amount of vehicles, to the amount of tracks, to the presentation – it’s a phenomenal racing game. I had to get used to some of the changes but, overall, I think all of them are for the better as are the refinements. I would even say this is a great starting point if you’re looking to get into the series. It will make you work to earn things just like the previous games did but it’s also very accessible thanks to the range of difficulties. Furthermore, it’s a vehicle collect-a-thon. There’s a ton of vehicles to drive from different manufacturers and every time I got to a new series, I was always eager to try each one out. It really is a well made racing game and even though the online features are no longer officially supported, PGR 2 offers a beefy single player experience and a lot of replay value.

I would absolutely recommend Project Gotham Racing 2 to fans of the series and racing genre. It retains the core mechanics of the series so the gameplay is just as fun and addictive as ever. It puts you to work and rewards you for driving well. It’s an ambitious title that takes everything that was great about the previous games and amplifies it. You can find it for pretty cheap nowadays so definitely check it out if you’re looking for a great racing game on the Xbox.

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1 Comment

  1. bronco
    March 24, 2024    

    This game sucked ass, and I was a big fan of the first PGR. Get Rallisport instead!

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