Project Gotham Racing 4 Review
To enjoy Project Gotham Racing 4, you've really gotta enjoy the actual driving mechanics. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it gets a little difficult when you're a reviewer who wants to write about PGR4 but dislikes the racing just as much as all the rest of developer Bizarre Creations' racing games. Maybe it's just me, but I like racing games on both ends of the spectrum: arcade blitzing action like Burnout, highly technical sim like Forza 2 and Gran Turismo - and have never liked the PGR series' emphasis on trying to create balance between arcade and sim racing.
But hey, if you do enjoy that style of driving, then Project Gotham Racing 4 is most definitely a worthy successor to the well-regarded third game. Many things have been tightened up and new modes have been added both online and offline, giving racers tons of goals to complete and Kudos to achieve in Arcade, Career, and Xbox Live modes. From new cone navigation races in Arcade mode to a new calendar-based system with fun, unique invitational events in Career mode, there's a lot here for any PGR fan to dive right into. The enhanced Time Attack mode includes better Ghost functionality with up to three at once and you can snag a ghost from people on your Friends list or from PGR On Demand - more on that later.
And the whole time you'll not only be racing people, but also gaining Kudos for driving with style. Drifts, jumps, and other sweet moves will not only gain you Kudos but also stars, which can be lost if your string of tricks ends in a bump against a wall. Some events will actually throw out Kudos and just ask you to gain stars, a subtly unique challenge after all the racing and Kudos-gaining. You'll be able to customize the paint job on your cars and unlock stuff with the Kudos you gain, but don't expect any serious amount of depth there.
The car selection here ranges from basic Fords and some Chevys to a lot of European cars and finally on the exotics. I appreciate that there is a larger variety of more down-to-Earth cars here, as I always prefer a racing game that includes cars I might actually myself drive someday. Unfortunately, you won't learn much in the way of practical racing expertise in PGR, but sometimes it's just nice to pretend.
As far as new features go, the two biggest ones are the drastically beefed-up weather system and the motorcycles. The weather here is probably the best-simulated in any console racing game yet, where rain can slowly roll in during a race and create puddles, realistically play on your windshield, and create lots of unique challenges in those tough turns on any course. Snow, fog, and ice also play roles at times, causing expected issues as you're trying to barrel around a curve at 80mph.
The motorcycles seem to be a late addition to PGR4 and really don't feel like they fit in with the rest of the game. While their acceleration is ridiculous, their top speeds are often lacking, but it's still pretty easy to get ahead with the generous amount of handling and precision given to the bikes. You'll also find that only a really solid collision with a wall or another car will knock you off of your bike, so they become pretty powerful little machines to use, even on tough races with nasty weather.
Much like in past PGR games, Bizarre Creations has tried to recreate interesting locations around the world. Up this time are Macau, Tokyo, Quebec, Shanghai, Nurburgring, London, NYC, and Las Vegas, and these more realistic environments can range from rather drab and boring (St. Petersburg on an overcast day) to spectacular (Tokyo on a shiny, rainy night). The frame rate is excellent and stable in pretty much everything you can do in the game, online or offline. Cars look excellent overall and reflect the environment nicely, but it's the game's first-person cockpit view that has been my favorite feature since PGR3 and it kept me coming back even if I didn't like the actual racing.
Taking PGR4 online is quite a treat, with a slick online interface that clearly plays up to the fans of past games by giving them modes they want. Not only do you get a party system (much like Halo 3) for bringing your friends together into online games at once, but a variety of new ways to play will keep players coming back. Overall, Bizarre Creations has done an excellent job paying service to their fans and they're hoping to gain even more with the fourth game. I would be surprised if they didn't.
The online observing features in PGR3 were quite interesting, but PGR On Demand takes it further by allowing players to take photos during their games as well as save replays, upload them, and vote on others' photos and replays. And much like YouTube's hottest videos, those with the most votes get bumped up to the top for all to see. Throw in nice touches like the ability to place photos you've taken on the walls of your garage, and even the ability to play a new version of the Xbox Live Arcade hit Geometry Wars (this one is called Geometry Wars: Waves and is a little stripped down, but it also ramps up difficulty more smoothly than Retro Evolved did) whenever you pop over to your garage, and this one seems like it'll have the longevity to last easily until the next Project Gotham Racing title.
As I said at the beginning of this review, all of this is great as long as you actually enjoy the game's mix of arcade and sim racing. If that's not your kind of game, then Project Gotham Racing 4's many gameplay modes and unique features might just pull you in long enough to hook you. It didn't for me, but I can still recognize the appeal of the first person cockpits, dynamic weather, motorcycle-mixing-up, built in arcade shoot-em-up, and further refined Kudos system. Despite my irrational dislike of the racing, I certainly can still see this as a worthy title - even amongst the bigger names out there.