With racing games a plenty, Bizarre Creations and Microsoft brings us an old dog who actually managed to learn some pretty nifty new tricks. Project Gotham Racing 4 takes its tried and true combination of sublime graphics, ingenious Kudos system, and fun racing, and throws in some amazing new features that make this title one of the best racers released this year.
There is no question that PGR4s gameplay favors the more arcade-style of racing. Forza 2, this aint. But the cars (and bikes more on this later) feel very solid, with the pivot points of the vehicles feeling quite appropriate. Racing sim purists might complain that all the cars seem to drift far too easily, or that the cars do not handle realistically enough, but PGR4 does not claim to be a sim. By no means should PGR4 be characterized as a simple Kart Racer though this game seems to have achieved that healthy balance of arcade and realism.
The variety of cars, while not as diverse as Forza 2s available selections, provides a wide experience of racing, from sluggish domestic classics to high-end formula one cars. In addition to the numerous cars (and one truck, incidentally) characterized as Classes A through G, PGR4 introduces motorcycles to the series. At first glance, it might not make sense to race motorcycles and cars. Yes, motorcycle riders can get knocked off their bikes, and bikes do have some advantages (i.e., cornering) over most cars. However, the fun factor is simply undeniable when you throw superbikes into a race between exotic cars. Its almost like pitting a crocodile against a shark (not that Xbox Addict or this reviewer are advocating such activities) a grudge match just waiting to become realized.
Motorcycle racing has been recreated brilliantly in the Moto GP series, but like Forza 2, Moto GP was primarily geared for the simhead. In PGR4, motorcycle racing is much more simplified. The barebones controls are one example of the simplification of the bike racing. There is only one button for brakes (versus a separate front and rear brake), and performing endos as simple as braking and pushing the left thumbstick up. Handling bikes are different from handling the cars, but not by a great deal. All this said however, motorcycle racing in this game has been dumbed-down, if you will, in order to preserve the fun factor throughout the variety of races and challenges. Being able to cut tight corners, squeeze in between cars (your rider will make quirky gestures to drivers as he passes them), and doing little stunts while trying to pull off a long wheelie on a stretch of road are just some of the reasons why motorcycle racing can be exhilarating.
But of course what makes PGR4 truly distinguishable from other racing games is its innovative Kudos system. If youve played other PGR titles, youre familiar with the system that rewards you for driving with style. New to the series is a new star bonus system. Not only will performing long drifts and other driving moves reward you with Kudos, the longer the chain of moves you pull off, the more stars you will earn, giving youyes, even more Kudos. Earning Kudos is relatively easy, and the single player races are so plentiful, saving up for the more exotic car and bike packs never feels like a real grind.
Available gaming modes are the Arcade (where you can attempt a variety of challenges, ranging from cone racing, to Kudos racking), Career, and Multiplayer. Racing for medals in the Arcade mode not only earns you Kudos, but teaches you valuable lessons in racing techniques in PGR4. In the Career mode, as you progress through the rankings, you will gain access to better, more professional-looking garages, where you can display a few of your favorite cars and bikes. There is even an innovative feature where you can view screenshots (displayed as Polaroids taped onto the wall in your garage) taken by people on your Friends List and vote on them.
Bizarre Creations even brought in a sequel to one of the most beloved titles on Xbox Live Arcade, titled Geometry Wars Waves. You can access Geo Wars Waves in your garage, displayed as a cabinet-style Arcade game. Geo Wars Waves takes the core game, strips away extra lives and bombs, and adds spawning waves of enemies to avoid and destroy. It really does feel like an improvement to the classic but only time will tell as to whether gamers-at-large will embrace Waves like they did the original Geo Wars.
The graphics in PGR4 at first glance, may appear to be no different than those found in PGR3. But switch to the cockpit/dashboard view, and the upgraded graphics become readily apparent racing a motorcycle in this viewpoint is even more immersive and impressive. The camera angle, lighting effects, reflections, textures, and shading all serve to make PGR4 look amazingly realistic. Even the crowds are graphically improved gone are the cardboard standups spectators are now fleshed out. And dont worry, PGR4 has also captured the exceedingly important sense of speed for the vehicles. Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, PGR4 does not overuse the blur effect in order to achieve the sense of speed, but instead manages to be more realistic (and more honest) in that sense.
A new graphical feature introduced in this game is the collision effect that disrupts the screen whenever you crash or hit a wall. This feature is only present in the cockpit/dashboard view, and serves not only to act as a deterrent from driving recklessly, but serves to once again bring the player into the game in a fun way.
One of the bigger features introduced by PGR4 is the new weather system. Now, you are not limited to simply driving during the day or at night you can choose to race in the rain, and even in the snow! Graphically, the weather effects are nothing short of amazing. Puddles will collect and splash and the snow will come sweeping in through the air. In the cockpit/dashboard view, the water will bead up on the windshield as the wipers move to clear your view. But in addition to being eye candy, the rain and snow will definitely affect driving conditions on the road. Slick roads may spell disaster for some, but for you, it just means racking up Kudos on those turns!
The sounds of the engines, exhausts, squealing tires, and crashing metal are all accounted for just as they might be expected. The music selection is surprisingly wide and diverse (there are even classical and jazz soundtracks), and you can tailor your selection by genre or by song to deliver the perfect audio companion during your races.
Suggestions: Unfortunately, PGR4 is not perfect. The damage models are very limited, detracting from the realistic graphics. And there is no paint customizer comparable to the amazingly robust paint editor found in Forza 2. Finally, there will be many who simply prefer simulation racers than the more arcade-experience found in this title. However, PGR4 is a step forward in the series, and fans of this series will definitely not be disappointed. Download the demo today from the Xbox Live Marketplace!