As long as there have been video games there have been Racing titles. The racing genre in my opinion is one of the 2 Bread & Butter genres of the gaming industry, the other being sports titles. If you consider yourself any kind of gamer you must have some sort of racing title in your gaming library, yes I said MUST. The interesting thing is that as time has passed the racing genre has kind of sprouted a bit of a sub-genre. You have your Street Racing, NASCAR, Simulation, and every aggressive drivers favorite, smash the crap out of everything you canand actually are rewarded for it. So my point is, now a day there seems to be something for everyone, regardless of your talent level and or the racing style you prefer. So where does Bizarre Creations Project Gotham Racing 3 for the spanking new Xbox 360 fit into this racing pile up? Lets start with a bit of history.
The PGR series has been around for quite some time, originally released for the Sega Dreamcast in 2001 as Metropolis Street Racer; it was immensely popular on the system until the DCs unfortunate demise. Bizarre Creations was then picked up by Microsoft Game Studios and changed the title of the game to Project Gotham Racing, and was then released as a launch title for the original Xbox system. So now on its 4th incarnation, how does the game stack up and has it stood the test of time?
PGR has always been one of my favorite games since it was MSR, and Im not a huge racing fan by any means, but fun games are fun no matter what the genre. PGR3 offers a wide variety of game play modes, a huge inventory of vehicles ranging from popular street racers, classic muscle cars, and exotic dream cars. The 2 main game play modes are the single player Career Mode, and the on-line Career mode via Xbox Live. The Single player game offers 22 un-lockable Championships, each one consisting of 2 or more objectives, meaning youll be busy for a while. Aside form the usual Street Race; you have challenges based on precision, and speed in the form of Cone Challenges which have you running an obstacle course of sorts having to meet your target goal in the allotted time or Kudos total. The Top Speed challenge that has you Pedal to the metal to hit your Target speed within a given time on a given track, no straight-aways here gang. One of my favorites, the Overtake challenge, were you need to pass the Target number of cars within a given time period, and a new wrinkle to the PGR series, Time over Kudos were the kudos you earn add time to your run, sounds easier than it is, do you gamble on spinning out of control or do you try a clean run just to hit your time.
The championships are devided up into 5 medal rounds, or simply put, difficulty levels. The lowest difficulty level is the Novice level with a Steel medal, then Bronze, Silver, Gold, and the holy grail of PGR3, the Platinum Medal, being the hardest difficulty level. At first glance that seems like a cop out, but I feel it gives the player a nice learning curve to work with, giving you a chance to actually accomplish something while getting comfortable with the game itself. Aside from earning trophies for completing championships, you earn medals for a plethora of Achievements; everything from catching some air to Kudos combos, earns you a new medal. Of course I mentioned Kudos; yes the Kudos system is back, although I have to admit its a little more forgiving than prior PGR games. You can actually progress with skilled driving over power slides this time around. Dont get me wrong, if you master the power slide and drifting youre definitely on your way to greatness, but at least the game remains entertaining to those of us who dont sleep with a steering wheel under our pillow. Your accomplishments in the single player mode do roll into you XBL achievements, which is a great little plus for the closet racer who is a little shy to hop onto a Live race but likes showing off stats with their Gamer Card.
With all of this being said, the controls on PGR3 are just as responsive as ever, actually they feel a little tighter this time around. In the past you tried really hard not to use your brakes and just kept that acceleration trigger pressed all the way in. This time you can really feel the difference, especially when you get to the B and A class cars that have some uber power, when changing the pressure on the accelerator subtly as It were. You can toggle your view between a few camera angles with a few that put you right in the drivers seat, there is sure to be one that will suite you well. The association between the emergency brake and the Kudos system is still something to master to rack up big Kudos scores, but again, the controls seem a little more tuned so if you beginners are tired of just spinning out of control you can avoid the E-Brake and still get somewhere in the game.
Another new addition to PGR3 is the track editor, now for the first time you can design your own custom tracks, and use them not only on your local machine, but also via system link or XBL. You can choose the weather conditions, the time of day, vehicle class, even who can race with you. You work off of an interface with several starting points and way points, choose the start position, then click a way points until your course is complete, then save it for all to enjoy.
This brings us to where PGR3 really lives, on Xbox Live. Even if youre not a die-hard racer youll find the game a lot of fun on line, finding the right group of racers to match your skills is pretty easy, and with the addition of the Preferred gamer to all XBL titles it makes playing with your favorite people easy without filling up your friends list. You can also just jump into any race with an opening and take your chances, which can be fun, but usually you end up in the deep end of the pool without a life preserver. Now I know this sounds like the usual on-line fare, but Gotham TV is now on the air, whats GTV you ask, well, if you want to watch the big dogs race and maybe learn a few tricks of the trade you can now join races as a spectator. You can toggle between each vehicle racing, you can also change the camera angles, and if that were not enough you can save the replays of these races to study more in detail later. I know this sounds goofy to some of you, but I really think Microsoft hit on something here, some gamers stay off the track, as it were, because of fear of getting demolished, yes I know this is a game and not real, but hey, why not watch what others are doing, how they take turns, the vehicles they choose, and so on, it does nothing but make the entire experience appeal to a larger audience. Of course the ultimate achievement for Joe Racer on-line is to be on GTV, if youre good enough you can actually end up as a replay on Gotham TV, this is obviously reserved for the PGR elite, you know the guys I mentioned before, the ones who sleep with a steering wheel under their pillow. The XBL end of PGR3 has it own set of accomplishments set aside just for on-line players, the Kudos system is also intact while playing on-line, in a nut shell PGR3 does a great job of intertwining both single player and on-line play into one main stat screen and career.
Connected to all parts of PGR3 is the Kudos system which helps your ranking, the cash you earn by winning races and completing objectives. You have your own garage to store the vehicles you purchase, when shopping for and just checking out your inventory of Toys the vehicles are sorted not only by Class, A,B,C,D,E, but also by price and performance, which does make your search a little easier when looking for your next purchase, you can also choose from a few colors for your new ride.. Once you have your vehicles parked in their new home you can take pictures of them, zooming in or out and getting just the right angle and composition. You also always have the option of selling your rides when you feel you have no use for them anymore, of course resale value isnt always what it should be. The soundtrack in PGR3 is just as solid as PGRs of the past, a nice mix of styles and genres are great backdrop to the driving experience, of course you can toss your own tunes in if you prefer. The other part of the sound dept. are the actual vehicle sounds, the tires spinning and screeching, are well done, impact sounds when you slam into a rail are also realistic. I always try and pay close attention to the sound of the vehicle itself, PGR3 does a great job of reproducing accurate acceleration and engine sounds that correspond to vehicle makes and models. There is nothing worse in a racing game when a Skyline sounds just like the Ferrari and vice versa.
Well what can I say about the graphics and the look of PGR3? This game has never looked better, everything from the vehicles to the course details are just about flawless. Now there is a little Smoke and Mirrors in PGR3, but you know what, it helps the look and feel of the game so I dont really care how they did it, the motion blurs the environmental effects like rain, smoking tires, and vehicle damage are next to perfect and not over the top keeping everything a little more on the realistic end of the spectrum. Night time driving, shadows during the day, even the neon lit streets of Las Vegas never looked this good. Whether in Single player mode or on XBL the game has no drop in fame rate as far as I could tell during my time with PGR3, it plays very smooth without the slightest hick up. Graphically, you just have to see PGR3 for yourself to appreciate how good this game really looks, especially if you have the means of playing on a High Def screen.
Overall the thing I like most about PGR3 is that it concentrates on racing, and not tweaking your cars, slapping on ground effects and graphics. Again, dont misunderstand what Im saying, that Type of game offers a lot also and are very entertaining and popular, but I prefer not having to figure out which muffler is going to help me in the long run and racing just to swap out parts. PGR3 is simple for all gamers regardless of their skill level in the genre to have fun and accomplish something rather than getting frustrated with failure. The learning curve is perfectly balanced so that with time and practice you can improve at your pace, again, reaping some rewards along the way. Ill mention Gotham TV again, because I think it helps a lot to see how others race, its one thing to tell someone where the apex of a turn is, its much easier for most to understand the apex by seeing it in a race. So basically, ease of use over a broad range of skill levels, tons of un-lockable objectives and vehicles, and a very user friendly XBL experience makes Project Gotham Racing 3 very appealing to the novice gamer as well as offering enough of a challenge and the rush to the die hard racing junky.
Suggestions: More unique tracks and locals, while the reverse track system does give a course a different feel it does seem like the easy out.