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Project Gotham Racing is a racing series that stands on its own even today. There’s a lot of racing games out there but not once while playing these games did I ever feel like they were trying to copy something else. The use of real world cities, attention to detail, and the Kudos system is what makes these games stand out in the pack. Project Gotham Racing 3 was a launch title for the Xbox 360 and despite its rushed development, it turned out to be a solid game and even reviewed well. Unfortunately, the next entry would be the series last. Developed by Bizarre Creations and published by Microsoft Game Studios, Project Gotham Racing 4 was released for Xbox 360 in October, 2007. The developers used the time between PGR 3 and 4 wisely and from what I read, spent more money on development.
One thing I like about the Project Gotham Racing series is that each game does something different. Instead of just re-releasing the same game over and over again, the developers have always changed things or tried something new. Whether it’s how you unlock vehicles or how you progress or changes to event types – something is usually different but also familiar. Project Gotham Racing 4 is no exception. The gameplay will feel familiar, yet fresh, because of changes and new content. You want to drive fast but also carefully and with style so you can accumulate Kudos. That hasn’t changed. That’s what defines the series. But with the addition of new vehicles and now motorcycles, a new career mode, new event types, new weather system, and new cities to race in – it feels like a brand new experience.
Project Gotham Racing 4 features the largest roster of vehicles out of the box and that roster includes motorcycles. All vehicles are split up into different classes and have different stats in acceleration, braking, grip, drifting, and top speed. You can now create your own custom paint jobs and apply them to cars and most new vehicles along with tracks, helmets for your driver, and new game modes can be purchased in the PGR Shop. The currency is Kudos which are earned in certain game modes. You can earn Kudos during events by driving well and with style. That means power sliding, drafting, driving on two wheels, getting air, performing wheelies, driving at high speeds, and not crashing. The combo system returns in the form of stars. Chaining maneuvers together grants you stars but the combo and stars will be lost if you crash.
Project Gotham Racing 4 features several single player and multiplayer game modes. I wasn’t able to get any online games going but, luckily, the single player gives you plenty of things to do. Plus, multiplayer also supports split screen and system link. You can move up the ranks in the Gotham Career mode, win medals in the Arcade Mode, set record times in the Time Attack mode, and set up custom matches. When setting up a custom match, you can select the city, event type, enable teams, and configure different options. You can even set the difficulty for each individual AI opponent.
Before jumping into the career mode, you’ll need to choose a difficulty. You’re objective is to win and move up the ranks until you’re number one and you can earn Kudos in this mode. You compete in Championships for points. Each Championship consists of multiple events and the racer with the most points at the end of a Championship wins. The amount of points you earn is based on your finishing position or how well you do during an event and the better you do, the more Kudos you earn. Winning Championships will move you up the ranks and unlock more Championships. Win or lose, you’ll still earn Kudos and even if you lose a Championship, you’ll have the opportunity to try again in the next season. As you progress through the Career, you’ll get opportunities to participate in Invitational events and winning these means you’ll win new vehicles. Your vehicles are stored in Garages. You can walk around the Garages, take pictures, and the Garages are where you can find and play Geometry Wars: Waves. Another fun and addictive twin stick shooter in the Geometry Wars series.
The Arcade Mode is traditional Project Gotham Racing stuff. Veterans of the series should know exactly what to expect when jumping into this mode. You compete in events for medals and Kudos. There are multiple series of events and most of them need to be unlocked. Before starting an event, you can select the difficulty and each difficulty equates to a medal. The harder it is, the more Kudos you earn. The medals range from Steel to Platinum. Steel being the easiest and Platinum being the hardest. The Gold and Platinum medals will really test your skills and you’ll probably want to revisit earlier events when you unlock new and faster vehicles. You can earn two medals in most events. One for cars and one for bikes.
Most event types from the previous games return and some have been altered. The event type previously known as Cone Challenge is absent in favor of three new Cone event types – Cone Sprint, Super Cone Sprint, and Cone Attack. The objective of Cone Sprint and Super Cone Sprint is to drive through all of the Cone Gates as fast as possible and hitting cones results in a penalty. In Cone Attack, the objective is to knock down the required amount of cones. Another new event type is Superstar where you have to earn as many Kudos as possible before time runs out. The Career mode will sometimes have you participate in Kudos Challenge events. These require you to score the target amount of Kudos by scoring only the target type of Kudos. For example, you’ll have earn Kudos by driving at high speeds or by drafting.
Much like the jump from PGR to PGR 2, the jump from PGR 3 to PGR 4 is big. As you may or may not know, the developers admitted they rushed PGR 3 out the door which resulted in some issues including unbalanced gameplay in the later events among some other things. I’m happy to say that most of the issues I had with that game have been resolved in PGR 4. The difficulty is consistent throughout and the vehicle you choose and how well you drive is more important on higher difficulties. The series or Championship will determine what class of vehicles you can pick from and as expected, you will have to work to earn those Gold and Platinum medals. Opponents drive better on higher difficulties and if you don’t have the right vehicle or are crashing into everything, they will pass you and they will gain a big lead. In general, cars and bikes do handle differently and you might do better with a car in one event and a bike in another. Earning all Platinum medals will not only take practice but also require track memorization because one mistake can be all it takes to lose. You want to power slide around corners, brake only when necessary, and zoom around the tracks as fast as you can.
Once again you’ll be racing in many of the same cities we’ve raced in before like New York, London, and Tokyo just to name a few. In fact, Project Gotham Racing 4 features all of the same cities that were present in 3 along with new ones. The tracks look gorgeous and are exceptionally well detailed and one of the biggest additions in PGR 4 is the new dynamic weather system. The weather can change during a race. You’ll race in rain storms, fog, snow, and the weather will affect the road which, in turn, will affect your vehicle. If you’re not careful, puddles and patches of ice can mess you up and racing on snowy roads will result in tires kicking up snow which can make it harder to see. You’ll still race at different times of day and in different directions and each city has it’s own set of tracks or routes. Unfortunately, the route creator that was present in 3 was not carried over into 4.
I thought PGR 3 looked incredible. 4 looks even better. I once again felt like I was driving in these actual cities. Everything ranging from the road textures to the lighting to the weather effects looks incredible. Vehicle models look great and for a more immersive racing experience, you can switch the camera to the behind-the-wheel perspective and view detailed interiors of your vehicles. Even the animations of your driver or rider on bikes looks good and if you crash hard enough, they’ll go flying off the bike. You can save and watch replays, use the game’s photo mode to take pictures, and back during the game’s heyday you could upload your photos to the game’s website and then download them later. Plus, photos your friends took would appear in your garages and you could vote on them.
PGR 4 showcases some of the best looking urban environments I’ve seen in a racing game. The developers have always used real-world locations in this franchise, and that includes Metropolis Street Racer, and it has always added to the atmosphere and immersion. These games do a great job at making you feel like you’re driving in real locations because you basically are. Just like in PGR 3, the environments look almost photorealistic, mainly when you’re in motion. Spectators can be seen on the sides of the tracks and they’ll cheer and take pictures. You will see some pop-in from time to time and if you actually take the time to look around, you’ll notice some blurry textures here and there but, overall, PGR 4 is quite the looker.
The soundtrack consists of licensed music including classical and jazz which I thought was pretty cool and you can configure what you want to hear during races. Just like in PGR 3, vehicle engines sound incredible as do the sounds heard during bumps and crashes. As for the performance, the frame rate would dip whenever there was vehicles clustered together along with weather effects. It would also dip on small portions of certain tracks which I think was the result of the detailed environments combined with the motion blur effect. Luckily, the dips were not frequent. Other than that, I can’t say I encountered any technical problems that hindered the experience.
Project Gotham Racing 4 is my favorite game in the series. It consumed multiple afternoons. Unlocking all the vehicles and trying them all out is addictive. It’s a vehicle collect-a-thon but each vehicle handles differently and because I wanted to try them all, not being able to switch vehicles in between the Arcade Mode events without having to go back to the event selection menu is my only real gripe with this game. If I had to rank the games in this series from best to worst it would go 4, 2, Metropolis, 3, 1. 1 being the first Project Gotham Racing. I want to be clear and say I still enjoyed 3 and 1 despite them being at the bottom of the list. 3 was rushed and often felt like it and I felt the AI in 1 made some events more frustrating than fun. Much like PGR 2, PGR 4 looks as if the developers put more time and care into it and the result is a huge leap in quality and content compared to its predecessor.
I would absolutely recommend Project Gotham Racing 4 to anyone. As of this review, this is the final PGR game which is a shame because I’ve really come to enjoy this series. After this, the developers went on to create Blur and James Bond 007: Blood Stone and were then shut down. It’s disappointing because the Kudos system is unique and the blend of simulation and arcade style driving makes for fun and addictive gameplay. Luckily, all these games still hold up and Project Gotham Racing 4 turned out to be an excellent send off. Definitely check it out.