Project Gotham Racing Review

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In the past, whenever I heard the name “Project Gotham Racing”, I thought it was some kind of Batman racing game. Then I would look it up and be disappointed and this cycle would repeat over the years. Now According to the internet, “Project Gotham” was the codename of the game during its development and it just stuck. Apparently, the name has nothing to do with Batman or DC Comics. Project Gotham Racing is the successor to Metropolis Street Racer which, in my opinion, is one of the best racing games on the Dreamcast. Developed by Bizarre Creations and published by Microsoft Game Studios, Project Gotham Racing was a launch title released for Xbox in November, 2001. Like Metropolis that came before it, it isn’t about how fast you drive but how you drive fast.

Project Gotham Racing is a racing game that encourages the player to drive fast and carefully. You want to win and you want to do it with style. You need to drive well. Driving well earns you Kudos and the more Kudos you earn, the more things you unlock. What does driving well mean? It means not crashing. You want to power slide around turns, brake before taking sharp turns, and try to cross to the finish line as fast as you can.

There are several game modes to play through in Project Gotham Racing. In most of them, you can earn Kudos and if you’ve played Metropolis Street Racer, you might be happy to learn that the Kudos system has seen some changes and is a little more forgiving here. You’ll earn Kudos for power sliding, getting air, driving on two wheels, and overtaking opponents, and you can rack up combos. Colliding with other vehicles does not incur a penalty but crashing into barriers does result in losing your current Kudos combo but you will not risk subtracting Kudos from your total Kudos score. All Kudos earned are added to your total score. You can also quickly restart races this time around and quit races without Kudos being subtracted from your total score.

One thing I don’t like about Project Gotham Racing is that there’s no way to set up a custom race against the AI. For example, there’s no mode that lets you choose a track, opponents, the number of laps, etc. Regardless, there’s enough single player content here to keep you occupied for a while. Another change compared to Metropolis Street Racer is that you are no longer limited to a handful of vehicles. Once you unlock a vehicle, you can drive it.

You’ll have the opportunity to earn Kudos in the Quick Race, Arcade Race, and Kudos Challenge modes. These modes play out in levels and Kudos Challenge offers the most variety. In Quick Race, the goal is to win medals on each track. In Arcade Race, the goal is to rack up as many Kudos as you can by driving through cone gates and performing other stylish maneuvers. The Kudos Challenge mode features different event types, many of which Metropolis Street Racer veterans will be familiar with including Hotlap, Street Races, One On One races, and Timed Runs. You’ll also have to complete specific challenges like overtaking a certain number of vehicles, completing a certain number of laps in a set amount of time, exceeding a top speed, and exceeding an average speed.

You need to earn at least a Bronze medal in each event or race in a level to unlock the next level. In Kudos Challenge, you can adjust the difficulty of the events which does affect the amount of Bonus Kudos you will earn. The the higher the difficulty, the more Bonus Kudos. Each event in Kudos Challenge has a target you must meet and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to win. For example, a Street Race may only require you to finish in third. To earn medals, you not only have to meet the target, but earn the appropriate amount of Kudos and the lower the difficulty, the more Kudos you have to earn during the event. So if a Bronze medal requires eight hundred Kudos and the difficulty you select results in only four hundred bonus Kudos for meeting the target, that means you have to earn at least four hundred during the event. You do have the option to play a Joker before starting an event and it will double the amount of Kudos earned. However, unlike in Metropolis, you only get one per level.

Project Gotham Racing rewards you just for playing. You’ll unlock new helmet styles for your driver just by reaching certain amounts of play time. You’ll unlock additional circuits to race on in the Time Attack mode for driving a certain number of miles. And you’ll unlock new vehicles by earning enough Kudos, completing certain events, and by meeting certain requirements. When selecting your vehicle, you can decide on a paint job or color and unlock additional colors in the Medal Pursuit mode which does need to be unlocked. In this mode you race around a track as fast as you can to try and earn medals. You’ll unlock a color for each medal earned. Every vehicle handles differently and has different stats in handling, acceleration, top speed, and drivetrain. Depending on the event type, the fastest car may not be the best car so you’ll have to experiment and try different vehicles if want to earn all gold medals.

Metropolis Street Racer made you work to progress and unlock things. It is easier to progress in Project Gotham Racing but it will make you work overtime to earn gold medals and unlock certain vehicles. You can progress through the game by meeting the minimum requirements but earning gold medals will take a lot of patience and practice. You will need to memorize the tracks. I would say the difficulty really ramps up when you get to the Professional level of the Kudos Challenge mode and the Hard level of the Arcade Race mode. I would do what I could just to progress and then revisit previous events later on when I had some of the better cars. But even then, the game will make you seriously work for those gold medals. Sometimes it’s hard enough just earning Bronze.

Many of the events in Project Gotham Racing are very challenging. You not only need the right vehicle for the job but also need to perform perfect or near perfect runs. That means driving fast, turning corners perfectly, and not bumping into anything. Ever. Seriously, some of these events require perfection or close to it. Even trying to unlock all the paint jobs for a vehicle is a challenge. I could usually earn the Bronze for most vehicles, sometimes Silver medals, but winning Gold medals often feels impossible. I found the Street Race events to be the easiest because if I raised the difficulty to require me to finish in first, doing so would normally grant me enough Kudos for a gold medal. And if I chose the right vehicle, it usually wasn’t too difficult. It’s the events that solely rely on your driving skills that are really tough.

The difficulty in the Arcade Race mode really ramps up when you reach the Hard level. I was able to earn gold medals for each event on the Easy and Medium levels but on hard, I was struggling just to earn Bronze. Project Gotham Racing is a game that will require a lot of practice. The Quick Race mode is the only mode in the game that I would say has a somewhat consistent challenge throughout. Despite each level of the mode representing a difficulty, I found these races to be the easiest ones in the game. I was actually able to earn all gold medals in each level. For one thing, the opponents in this mode are based on the vehicle you select and it doesn’t matter what level you’re on. So if you choose a slower car like the Mini Cooper, the opponents will also drive slower cars. And I found that driving a slower car made these races easier to win.

Many of the races in the Kudos Challenge mode will put you up against opponents driving vehicles you haven’t unlocked yet and that could mean they are faster than whatever you’re driving. There is definitely rubber banding and the AI will exhibit cheap behavior from time to tim which often makes some events very frustrating. If the AI passes you, there’s a good chance they can gain a significant lead, making it feel like it’s impossible to catch up. AI opponents can recover from mistakes very quickly and I often questioned their abilities on the road. They’re less of a problem when you revisit the events in a fast car but the later levels really expose their questionable behavior. If you don’t have the handling of your vehicle down, it can be easy to oversteer and fishtail. And if vehicles are clustered together, the AI will often collide with each other and you and if they collide with you during a turn, it can send you spinning out control which I find infuriating. You need to be alert. Sometimes it’s just better to let them pass, especially right before a turn.

With the right car, it is possible to gain a big lead during a race but during the later events, that can be tough to do. One mistake can drop you from first place to last. One bump or crash can be all it takes for the opponents behind you to speed passed you. And it’s not like the AI drives around the tracks perfectly. You’ll see them bump into barriers frequently and yet they’ll maintain their position and blaze around the tracks. One On One events are some of the most challenging. This is when you race a single AI opponent. You can give yourself or them a head start and no matter how much of a head start I would give myself, they would always end up crawling up my ass. And I mean literally on my tail. Bumper to bumper. I actually found it best to block them which I would have to do for a good chunk of these races. The problem is that, just like in Street Races, if the AI opponent passes you, there’s a good chance they will bolt and you may never catch up.

Just like in Metropolis Street Racer, the circuits or tracks in Project Gotham Racing are based on actual real-world urban locations. Metropolis veterans may get a feeling of deja vu because you’ll be racing in the same cities; San Francisco, London, and Tokyo. But PGR also lets you race in New York City. You’ll get to race around Central Park, Times Square, and Wall Street. There’s only a few areas per city but the areas feature tons of route variations, making for a lot of tracks. You will race in different weather conditions like rain and fog and unlike Metropolis, the game does not use your local system time so you’re not limited to racing at whatever the real or system time is. PGR also features its own radio stations with licensed music. I do miss the amusing and cheesy songs created for Metropolis and kind of wish they went in that direction here but, regardless, the stations add to the atmosphere of the game and you can create you’re own virtual CD containing the in-game songs to listen to.

Project Gotham Racing showcases impressive environments, nice car models, and some neat details. You’ll see real brands and advertisements in the backgrounds, vehicle models will reflect their surroundings, wet roads will reflect lights, tires will kick up water and dirt, and crashing and bumping into things will result in sparks flying and vehicles showing deformities. The lighting is excellent and the game does a great job at nailing the look of each city. Even though this was a launch title, it still holds up rather well visually. Some eyesores include jaggies and some blurry building textures but overall, it’s a solid looking game. Most of the sound work includes engines roaring, skidding, and bangs whenever you crash or bump into something. On the technical side, the frame rate would dip occasionally and I did not encounter any major bugs or issues.

I really enjoyed Project Gotham Racing. It rectifies most of the issues I had with Metropolis Street Racer while retaining the same addictive style of gameplay. That feeling you get when you drive a perfect lap or slide perfectly around a bend as that Kudos score increases – that’s what makes it so much fun. If you’re not a patient person, you’re going to get frustrated easily. PGR is a game that makes you work for those gold medals. There’s going to be a lot of trial and error and in certain events, one mistake is often the difference between earning the silver and gold medal. I do think the AI leans towards the cheap side which becomes more evident the further you get into the game. You’re rewarded for just playing so even if you fail events, you can still unlock things and there’s plenty here to keep you occupied. You can accumulate Kudos, try for better scores and times, race against ghosts, and there’s even a local multiplayer mode.

I would recommend Project Gotham Racing to fans of the racing genre. I think it improves upon what was established in Metropolis Street Racer and includes plenty of content to keep you glued to the screen for days. There’s a lot of replay value here. It’s also a challenging game. Project Gotham Racing puts you to work and most of its challenges can be overcome with patience and practice. If you’re looking for a racing game with fun gameplay and depth, definitely check out Project Gotham Racing.

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