Project Gotham Racing 4 Review - 15/01/2008

It's hard to believe that we've already had four Project Gotham games grom Bizarre Creations now. One was the Xbox's first great racing game, and an example of the system's technology. Two added online, Three showcased next-gen graphics and dashboards, but was off the mark. What does Four bring to the table to make you ditch the predecessors?

On paper, not a lot, but it has fixed a lot of the problems with PGR3, and added bits and pieces to plump up the longevity and overall quality of the game. It's a shame that PGR3 has soured a lot of people's opinions of the series, because while the game looked brilliant, it lacked the content and addictive gameplay of PGR2 - it was probably too similar really, even with the great graphics.

Thankfully, the graphics are intact, or improved in fact. Amazing weather effects, which almost warrant buying the game themselves, are undoubtedly the highlight, while some textures do look a little low-res and somewhat outdated now. As you are racing along, the sky will change tone, and showers or snow could follow, or stop and the sun come out, if the conditions when you started were overcast. It certainly effects the way you race, the speed you go into corners, the distance you are willing to follow behind the car in front, and is a great feature. You'll even feel the car aqua-plane courtesy of rumble, should puddles have time to collect on the course.

Using the in-car view, which remains very good (your driver can now be seen changing gear, though not a lot else), the weather adds to the already intense experience of racing through city-streets at high speeds. Speaking of which, all the cities from PGR3 are back, with the weather effects, and five new areas have been added, including: Quebec City, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Macau, and the Michelin Test Track. There are more than enough new tracks to welcome back those of us who bought Gotham 3 too, and now the overall catalogue is mighty impressive. Some great undulating tracks, with hills, steep ridges, low jumps and more interesting designs are very welcome indeed.

The weather effects set the game apart from the rest

As for the cars, there are bikes as well now. They aren't particularly amazing to drive/ride, and let's face it, if you've bought all of the previous PGR installments then you'll know that it's all about the cars. Racing against motorbikes is fun though, and you're never forced into racing as a bike - it's all balanced pretty well too. You don't get thrown off at the slightest bump by a car, and the cornering is far, far, far more forgiving than in Moto GP, if that's your only experience of biking in games so far.

The Kudos system has been reworked slightly, which was needed as it was feeling fairly stale by the end of Gotham 3. A trendy new red display beefs up the system, and on bikes AI opponents will also do endos and wheelies to gain points as well as yourself. The Kudos system works both ways now. Kudos Stars are awarded based on the skill required and the duration of the move; earning five stars reaps huge rewards in Superstar events, and Kudos collection in general.

The career mode has been revolutionised with the Gotham Career mode. Arcade mode remains, which allows you to collect medals for each of the sixty stages set by the developers, but Gotham Career however, uses a calendar system to show you which events and championships you can enter. Finish 2nd or lower in a race, and you won't be able to retry to get that elusive 1st place until the next year. It makes races a lot tenser, as you can't just hit the retry button. You unlock more events and can buy vehicles with your Kudos points as you go, and a mock-leaderboard is in place for you to climb up and gain ranks. It's a little rough around the edges, but is a definite improvement.

Beautiful in so many ways!

Online sees a new mode, called Bulldog, which is a little like Halo's Zombies. One vehicle starts as the bulldog, and must tag the other racers to make them bulldogs too. The cities are opened so you can choose different routes to evade or cut off your prey. Imagine seven motorbikes and one Enzo in this mode and you have a great recipe for fun.

Photo mode and all the PGR3 online innovations remain, and you can now vote to rate players' replays and screenshots, and a great search function is available to search for photos or replays of certain vehicles or shots.

This is a definite step-up over Project Gotham Racing 3. The move away from super-car only to production vehicles is a welcome one, and while the bikes don't add that much to the gameplay, it breathes fresh air into the series that it has long since needed. Throw in Geometry Wars: Waves, 120 vehicles, 10 cities, 8 player Live and the superb dynamic weather, and you're getting great value for money. It may still be too soon for some, however.

- Mike Hazleton


Bizarre Creations
Xbox 360