Project Gotham Racing 3 Review
We're now in the post-Burnout 3 age of the racing genre. Developers everywhere are trying to come up with unique features for their racing games, and Bizarre Creations' debut title for the Xbox 360 is no exception. Project Gotham Racing 3 includes not only the unique advancement system that is only found in this series - Kudos - but it also has a few other extras that really make the game shine.
I can't go any further without talking about PGR3's impressive presentation. With the game being a launch title for the the 360, we most certainly expect incredible graphics during races. For the most part Bizarre Creations has delivered, although one might need an HDTV to really appreciate the crisper graphics - especially since this game doesn't have any crazy crashes, destructible environments, or large open areas to drive in. Instead, the game relies on realistic, clean urban environments, high polygon counts, and accurate reflections of the world on the cars themselves. We won't see any overdone special effects like too-shiny streets, and any effects used here are most certainly appropriate and realistic.
While the visuals are some of the best ever seen in a racing game, that doesn't mean that PGR3 is a Gran Turismo knockoff - it's most certainly not. The selection of cars is pretty impressive with an 80-model lineup, but the difference here is that you won't be taking out a Chrysler PT Cruiser or a Honda Civic. PGR3 includes a full library of licensed cars, but only those that can hit 170MPH or higher. This means that pretty much everything you drive is a supercar, and many manufacturers are represented (although there are some notable missing manufacturers, like Porsche, who I've heard charges huge amounts of cash to license in a game).
Even with PGR3's lofty 170MPH requirement, the car selection is far from bare. There are production models, concept cars, and everything in between. And while they don't seem to handle 100% realistically, PGR3 still requires players to stick to the basic tenets of racing cars: get your curves and turns right, brake appropriately, and accelerate at the right times to avoid losing control of the car. Damage to your car is only cosmetic, though, and even then you won't usually see more than a broken side mirror or other very minor scuffs and dings.
What I found pretty amusing was that at least on lower difficulty settings, you could almost play PGR3 like it was a Burnout game - hitting your opponent's cars doesn't really penalize you, and it's not hard to push them out of the way as long as you're moving faster. Now, that dynamic changes drastically as you go up in difficulty levels, as the game manages to penalize overly aggressive driving in ways other than actual damage to the performance of your car.
The game's set up with a career mode that hands you 100,000 "credits" and gives you a pretty nice selection of starting cars to choose from. They're graded on four scales: Acceleration, Top Speed, Braking, and Drift. Drift is going to be important, as it's the best way to generate the Kudos that the game will reward you on (as well as your actual placement in a race). The game also gives you a garage where you can store up to four cars, and will unlock more garages for you as you fill them up with your favorite cars.
Not all of PGR3's races have you trying to beat other opponents in a standard setup. Some events will have you trying to build Kudos, either just by driving around or by driving through sets of pylons. Other events require you to pass a certain number of cars; all in all, the player gets a good variety of events here that test specific areas of your driving ability.
Kudos are a major part of all of the Project Gotham games, and they act here quite a bit like they did in PGR2. Driving fast is not enough, and you've generally got to do a bit of risky driving to earn Kudos. Drifting, drafting behind other cars, passing your opponents, and not touching the walls for sections of a track all nab you Kudos, and if you can put these things together in quick succession, the game will track them all together as a combo for extra points.
While the career mode in PGR3 isn't terribly deep, the game does include a very nice multiplayer mode that can be done in split-screen mode or online over Xbox Live!. The online play is particularly well-done, as the games are lag free and up to eight people can go at it in a number of race types online. The servers track the best players and does a decent job of matching them up, and while I'm generally hideously bad at racing games, PGR3 managed to match me up against equally bad racers.
The unique online feature that PGR3 includes is Gotham TV, a feature that includes not only replays of your own races, but also lets you get online and spectate real races going on with other players. You can go to the Heroes area to see the best-ranked racers go at it, and can change camera settings to any view and watch any racer you want.
The tracks you'll race in are generally city streets in London, Tokyo, Las Vegas, Nurburging (Germany) and New York, with many of the unique sights in each city accurately modelled here. I won't come right out and say that any of these environments are visually spectacular, because they're not much better than what you've seen in past racing games. What you do get is the option to see these in much higher detail on an HDTV (thanks to the power of the 360).
Now, the cars do show a level of detail that's much more impressive, especially in the correctly-drawn reflections on the shiny exteriors of these cars. But it's inside the cars that are also wonderful, as one of the camera views gives you an accurately-done view right from the driver's seat. This is not the easiest of views to employ, as your rearview mirrors aren't always terribly visible, and your overall field of view is reduced by the car's frame, hood, and roof. But each car looks different and you'll see the hands on the steering wheel - this is what I wish we'd seen in Gran Turismo 4 because it takes immersion to a much higher level. Other third- and first-person camera views are included as well if you're not a huge fan of the driver's seat camera.
Sounds in PGR3 are very impressive - like all 360 games, this one supports full 5.1 surround sound. But on top of that, the engines and other effects here were just beautiful. The soundtrack is also very eclectic and interesting, with a total of nine genres covered. While the ease of setting up custom soundtracks on the 360 is so immense that I just couldn't resist doing that, I still got the chance to listen to this soundtrack, and it's really pretty good stuff. There is definitely something for just about everyone in the list, and that's a rare thing for most game soundtracks.
My one major complaint against this game is that the whole Kudos system never really did anything for me, and if one is really going to get into this game, well, then that's a pretty important part. It has something to do with driving dangerously without being able to go over that edge, without being able to just crash into something and get the damn points for it anyway. It's like racing on eggshells. Sure, the racing purists out there will scoff at that sentiment, but I kind of wish that the game would let players go wild sometimes, or maybe on lower difficulty levels at the least (without crippling the opponent AI like it does). For all of PGR3's style, visuals, and smooth online play, one has to ask: "is this game fun?" The only answer I personally can give is an unassured "yes, sort of".
Overall, I'm very impressed with PGR3, even if the changes in this title over its predecessor are largely in the visuals department. The photo editor and "Create-a-route" mode give the player a few creative options, but I doubt these will turn into much time spent for most players. While the racing is certainly fun and online play works great, I still have to question whether this is truly what we'd consider a next-generation game. It's certainly a solid title with some interesting new features, but even with its excellent graphics I think I'd still rather be playing either the arcade-oriented Burnout Revenge or more sim-styled Gran Turismo 4.