• PGR3 Review - Microsoft Xbox360 Project Gotham Racing

    There are a few gaming moments that will always be remembered. A first ever game of Space Invaders perhaps, watching the opening sequence of Ocarina of Time maybe, and now sitting on the grid in the first race of Bizarre Creations’ Project Gotham Racing 3 in the cockpit view with Night on a Bare Mountain blaring out of a 5.1 surround system, engines revving, ready to go. It was a spine chilling moment.

    PGR3 is an arcade racer, featuring the cities of London, New York, Tokyo, Las Vegas and a number of variations on the Nurburgring: from the full behemoth to the F1 circuit. The solo career progresses through 23 different cups that include races through all of these locations, earning kudos along the way, eventually leading to the final showdown eliminator on the Nurburgring full F1 circuit.

    The rostrum of cars on offer contains some lovely metal, or in certain cases carbon fibre. There is very little in the way of humdrum here, consisting mostly of exotica from a number of the most desirable manufacturers ever to pen a super-car. Ferrari, Pagani, Lamborghini, RUF, Mercedes, TVR all make an appearance, allowing for a garage of automobiles usually reserved for the rich and famous. There will be something in this game for everyone to cherish or maybe even drool over.

    The arcade-racing approach to the game gives a solid feel for each car, some being easier to work with than others, and some better suited to certain circuits and driving styles. The Enzo, for example, is forever tail happy, whilst others, such as the supercharged Ariel Atom, are a little more lightweight and go-kart like; there's a car for every occasion and the differences are noticeable. It’s definitely not as biased towards simulation, such as in a game like Forza, and so works well with the pad; however, being cack-handed with the inputs will still see crumple zones mesh with barriers, even if this is purely cosmetic. It is possible to get away with cutting across the grass occasionally without too much of a problem, the F1 circuit chicane being a prime example, though it very much depends on the car.

    The amount of detail in PGR3 is mesmerising, and the 30/60 frame rate debate? It’s simply not an issue, the game runs smoother than Teflon-coated silk. Yes, there have been games with decent cockpit views before, but this takes things to another plane. Moving dials, dynamic lighting effects with proper shadows, opponents’ headlights that can be seen partially reflecting off the windshield; it’s almost enough to make one search for the wiper and indicator stalks on the armchair. Then there is the audio: never has a V12 sounded this fantastic outside of owning a real Ferrari F50 GT; something many aspire to but few will ever achieve.

    The structure of the game has changed somewhat since PGR2, so those expecting a carbon copy with fancier graphics might be disappointed. From the start most of the game’s vehicles are available to purchase, any of which will happily complete the entire solo career, with only a few others to unlock through earning kudos. The events will seem familiar to any veteran, bar a few different races modes: Eliminator, Kudos Vs Time and the Drift challenge. Choose a cup, choose a race, choose a skill level from the “I have L-plates, one hand and can barely see” Novice Steel level to the Platinum “I sweat washer fluid and drink motor oil for I am The Stig” mental difficulty level: the echelon of perfection. Completing an event gives a sizable chunk of moolah, and finishing a series more so. This means a garage can grow sizeable, quickly.

    All races in the career mode are based on earning kudos. There are as many as sixteen different manoeuvres to master; stringing these together as combos is the only way to reach the top of league ratings. Manage to do all of these in a single race and a merit badge is earned: the most difficult challenge in the game.

    Everything the player does in PGR3 is rated and recorded. The number of miles driven in each car, the number of different kudos moves performed, the favourite car driven, favourite track, and the number of soiled pants coming into a corner too fast (that last one might not be entirely true). Nonetheless, there is more than just the Live achievement aspect to aspire to: gaining all the trophies, medals and Xbox-live achievements will take some doing, as will collecting every single car in the game, but it’s most definitely possible. Trying to top the leader-boards on the other hand is a hefty challenge indeed.

    Should boredom with driving around in all the flash cars that PGR3 has to offer set in, one can get the camera out and go and take some snaps. The photo mode can show how the settings on an SLR camera change what a picture looks like. Effects aside, proper use of exposure, aperture and shutter speed can transform what might be ordinarily drab photos into the sort of stuff placed in car magazines. It's really a lot of fun, especially for photography fans.

    Not satisfied with the tracks already present in PGR3? No problem, just go and create some more with the track editor. Racing the ad-hoc circuits isn't quite as satisfying as the proper game maps as the barriers are translucent rather than solid: this makes picking out corners on some variations tricky at times. The game claims that over 100 million permutations of circuits can be created in the editor: that may well be true but many of these will be near-identical. It's certainly an excellent feature and very easy to use, if a little restrictive in its mapping.

    Getting a bit too tired from racing? Tune in and zone out with Gotham TV, where one can watch others racing online in real time. This, on the face of it, might seem like a bit of a throwaway option, but it can be a lot of fun watching some of the top players racing against each other; handy for picking up some tips. It’s possible to switch between cars and change the camera angles at anytime; this perhaps gives more time to appreciate the virtual cockpits and cities in their full glory. Get a high enough TrueSkill rating and you may end up being featured on the channel yourself.

    The online modes provide a car boot’s worth of options for up to 8 players at a time; this can either be done as an online career, which then counts towards kudos and TrueSkill™, or via the playtime option, which is just for fun. The usual ‘first to the finish’-type race is available along with the interesting team knockout and capture the track events.

    There is little to say against PGR3 other than some minor niggles; like very occasional texture popup on busy maps in the distance, or initially after the race loads. How much this spoils the experience will depend on how perfect you expected it to be; it’s barely noticeable and doesn’t affect how the game plays in any way. Some may baulk at the lack of lap times in anything other than time-trials: given PGR’s focus has always been about driving with style rather than driving at speed it’s an understandable design decision.

    There is however, a big issue with one aspect of the online game. In the career mode, actually getting into a race can take eons. There is a thirty second countdown until the race automatically starts, the trouble is, every time someone joins, this counter resets: Lobby Hoppers quit and join every few seconds. This means it can take ten minutes or more for a match to begin, if it begins at all. The game will also lock up if you jump to a player’s gamercard to see their information, requiring a system restart. It isn’t a problem in the other online modes as the player controls these, but in the career mode it mares what is otherwise a decent experience. Bizarre are reportedly working on a patch for the game which will hopefully fix these issues. So if you are intending to play a lot of the online career mode, knock a couple of points off the review score, until a fix is implemented.

    Aside from a couple of niggles, the whole package in PGR3 is very well put together and tightly integrated with Live. There are lots of nice touches such as the ticker-tape scroller announcing when someone has broken into the top-ten of the premier league, and there are so many lush cars to collect and lust after. There are numerous different leagues to conquer in both online and offline play: in short, PGR3 is well polished. It’s a shining example of how the arcade-racing genre should be done, and it is an essential purchase for all gear heads with an Xbox360. In fact you probably already own it.

    Score: 9/10
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. MartyG's Avatar
      MartyG -
      Ah yes - it was a great moment playing this on my freshly delivered Xbox360 (which ended up with the RRoD eventually). Took a week off to enjoy the gaming.

      The Xbox One hasn't lived up to its older sibling, definitely didn't have the same launch day magic.