|Project Gotham Racing 2|
|Developer: Bizarre Creations
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4, 2-8 via System Link or XBox Live
PGR (Project Gotham Racing) was a fine launch title but like all the others was rather overshadowed by Halo. It also had the GT3 comparison factor to cope with, and that was a battle it was never going to win. But I enjoyed it more than I expected, and the sheer exhilaration of power sliding a Ferrari F50 through the streets of London, New York, San Francisco or Tokyo was something that no other game could supply.
From the start PGR2 looks great, a title sequence that crawls like a horny lover over the bodywork of the Ferrari Enzo. Then there's the wonderful showroom and garage facility, which may at first seem little more than a gimmick but allows you to view and even test drive every gorgeous car in the game on the purpose built test track (bar ones that aren't yet unlocked or bought). I love the way the cars (even the more mundane ones) look in PGR2, immense detail, realistic reflections and a driver who really looks like he's hard at work. I even love the way that locked cars are enticingly kept under textured wraps until you earn them - seeing them there is a real motivation to keep playing until you own them. Cars built by manufacturers as diverse as Dodge and Caterham, Porsche and Ford, or TVR and Ferrari mean plenty of variety in the looks, sounds and handling departments - PGR2's engines certainly sound meaty enough, but it's the sublime variation in handling (made more tangible by excellent use of the vibration feature) that got me hooked. You feel a car accelerate, you feel it struggle for grip, you feel it scrabble under braking, you feel every join in paved areas - and you really FEEL IT if you smash into a wall.
Out on the track you'll soon doubtless notice that bodywork damage (that ranges from paint scrapes to panel deformation and loss of license plate) is still a little on the conservative side (you won't see anything fall off TOCA or McRae-style), but at least it's there and it's always pleasing to finish a race with a pristine body. The spectator-free cityscapes, the occasional swaying tree and the weather effects (that affect the grip/visibility levels) all look fine, but the cars are (rightly) the stars of the game - get up close behind a car in front and you'll be staggered by the detail on the rear ends of these cars - only a lack of suspension parts lessens the visual impact of some models.
The Kudos World Series is where you earn tokens to buy new cars so that's where most will head; having said that, plenty of Xbox Live equipped racers go straight online to try racing against drivers from all over the world, and few are disappointed as Bizarre Creations give you the keys to two cars from each of the 14 categories (although obviously not the best ones). This World Series consists of a mixture of events; Street Races against up to 7 other cars, Cone Challenges, Hot Laps, Overtake Challenges, Timed Runs, Speed Cameras, and One on Ones. They each require different skills (some demand sheer precision whilst others demand aggressive racing techniques) and each can be completed at Steel (Novice), Bronze (Easy), Silver (Medium), Gold (Hard) and Platinum (Expert) medal/difficulty levels - there's a lot of racing to be done here alone, and the demands of the Platinum challenges could drive you round the bend (both literally and figuratively)… A total completion of the game on any of these settings unlocks one of the bonus cars in the showroom, each of which will make completion at a higher difficulty easier - it's just one instance of PGR2's clever game structure, another is the less restrictive attitude toward the car types and the racing venues, the game mixes it up and allows you to mix it further - in Barcelona, Chicago, Edinburgh, Florence, Hong Kong, Moscow, Stockholm, Sydney, Washington D.C., Yokohama and the awesome 14-mile long Nordschleife 1 circuit at the Nurburgring.
The Arcade modes include more street races, timed runs and cone challenges that unlock subsequent events, and the Time Attack modes let you go for fastest laps on a particular circuit or with a particular car - If connected to Live you can even download a ghost of the best time (or a friend) to see how the heck they did it or simply if you can beat them before uploading your lap time and ghost for bragging rights. And if you're incredibly impatient or just short of time, there's also an 'Instant Action' mode that sets you up in a random race/car combination.
But with all its offline solo game loveliness and longevity - it's the Xbox Live racing that has me (and many other saddos) hooked. I was amazed by the quality of it and the lack of problems with lag (you do get laggy races, but they're rare) and we've had races with the maximum eight cars (with drivers from all over the world) with no problems at all (just take a second to think about that will ya?). I might be struggling to pass a painfully difficult Kudos challenge (or playing another Xbox Live game) but I guarantee that if I get an invite to a PGR2 race then I'm there - the draw is just too strong and this review would have been up days (weeks?) ago if it weren't for the likes of racing buddies and fellow PGR2 junkies Breaksmith (England), DiabloLord (New York), SpeedDemon (Seattle) and "The worst host ever™" Youngking in Charlotte (if he offers you a twenty-second head start, just say no). These guys have given me mostly fair competition and thanks to the Xbox voice communicator headset, amusement, entertainment and outright belly laughs (occasionally with tears rolling down my cheeks) thanks to the high quality voice communication in the game (and in no small part due to their individual senses of what is most easily described as 'humour') - all drivers can speak at any time during the race which adds an atmosphere to the game like no other racer before it (although you can mute abusers or whiners) - just like any other competitive game, you will quite possibly make enemies when playing PGR2 Live, but you will make a lot of friends too…
If you're still in any doubt, listen to this: The fastest cars from PGR (the Porsche Carrera GT and the Ferrari F50) are in this game - but they don't even make it into the fastest category! - Forget searching for the need for speed elsewhere in lesser games, you want PGR2, you need PGR2 believe me, you do!
- Everything - the looks, sounds, handling, gameplay, car line up, the Nurburgring.
- Live racing, downloads - PGR2 is set to become a racing classic.
- We had to think hard but… A lack of tuning options makes the game feel technically shallow to GT3 fans like us.
- The kudos system still isn't perfect, and crash damage doesn't affect the car's handling.
- We like proper racing circuits too, and we want more please.
- Your personal number plate doesn't appear online, and that sucks.