Project Gotham Racing 4

Project Gotham Racing 4

Written by Cyril Lachel on 1/30/2008 for 360  

It seems like it was just a couple of months when I was raving about how much I loved the Microsoft published racer, Forza Motorsport 2. I couldn't get enough of the different races and amazing online community, to the point where I was looking forward to playing it every spare minute of the day. But here we are just a few weeks later and Microsoft is back with yet another solid racing game. This time around it's Project Gotham Racing 4, the sequel to the popular arcade-style racing series that has you racing through real cities at breakneck speeds. While this new game looks great and plays like a dream, part of me has to wonder if it's a little too soon for Microsoft to flood the market with similar racing experiences.

As the title suggests, Project Gotham Racing 4 is the sequel to one of the Xbox 360's best launch games. This time around we're given a new set of cars, the ability to drive motorcycles, cool weather effects, a bunch of new cities, a new campaign mode, and a brand new Geometry Wars sequel. It's a full package that will keep you interested for weeks to come. But while this is a competent racer, it's hard not to compare this game to the superior Forza Motorsport 2. There is nothing particularly wrong with Bizarre's newest racer, but part of me wonders if Microsoft should have spread these two similar games out a little more.

Either way, Project Gotham Racing 4 is a solid game no matter if you're playing with friends or all by yourself. This time around the game is split into two different single player modes, one that resembles what we found in the first three PGR games, and another mode that has you using a calendar to schedule events and compete in exclusive competitions. No matter how you play the game, you will get your money's worth when playing the game by yourself.

The biggest addition this year is something called the Gotham Career; the object of this mode is to create a racer and go from the bottom of the ranks to the top. You do this by using a calendar that has a number of different tournaments and other events throughout the year. The trick to this mode is that you can't possibly do everything in one year, as you go along you're going to have to choose from several different events to compete in. Unfortunately once you've beaten that event it's on to the next week, so you will have to wait a full virtual year for those other events to pop up again. While I certainly like that the developers were trying something a little different with this Project Gotham Racing sequel, it's somewhat annoying to have to play through races you have no interest in just to complete all of the races and win this mode.

Thankfully the races you encounter are as fun as ever. If you've played any of the previous Project Gotham Racing games then you will know that this series is about more than just three-lap races. While the game does have standard races, a lot of your time will be spent dodging cones, racing for kudos, weaving between gates and much, much more. This is the kind of racing game that is hard to get sick of, since you're always being asked to do something different. There aren't really a lot of new ideas found in these various events, but it's hard to be too critical when pretty much all of the different race types are fun.

The gimmick of Project Gotham Racing is that this is about more than just getting to the finish line first, it's also important to finish the race with as much style as possible. "Style" is counted with kudos points, when you perform something daring or tricky you'll earn a small amount of kudos points for your trouble. The trick is to combine these stylish moves (which can include everything from popping a wheelie, performing power slides, passing other vehicles, perform a perfect lap, among other things) with each other, so that your kudos count will continue to grown without a break in the action. It's your job to somehow balance the need to come in first with the need to pull off sweet moves that impress all of the on-looking fans.

While kudos points are nothing new, what you do with them certainly is. This time around the kudos points are for more than just bragging rights, you can also use this currency to buy new cars, extra content and other bonus features. You can still earn stuff the old fashioned way (by earning it), but it's nice to see that in Project Gotham Racing 4 these kudos points actually have a purpose.

Despite what it sounds like, not everything in this Project Gotham Racing game has changed. While the career mode is new and you can use your kudos points as currency, the majority of the sequel is the same old tune you've been whistling since playing the first PGR game back in 2001. You're still racing exotic cars through real-life cities (including Las Vegas, New York, London, Shanghai, Tokyo, etc.) trying to earn medals and points so that you can unlock new cars and go even faster. Bizarre Entertainment has done a good job of adding a few new wrinkles to the festivities, but Project Gotham Racing 4 feels more like an expansion pack than a fully realized sequel.

One of the new wrinkles is the addition of motorcycles. While this is no doubt a nice new addition to the Project Gotham Racing franchise, it's hard to be too excited about another popular racing series adding bikes. At this point we've seen a number of other racing franchise (Midnight Club, Test Drive, etc.) add motorcycles to their garage, so it's not nearly as exciting as it once was. Having said that, the motorcycles do add something to the overall experience. As you would expect, the motorcycle handle a little different and it may take a few tries before you can whip around corners without falling off your bike. On the flip side, the motorcycles do have a few obvious advantages, such as being able to weave in and out of traffic and earn kudos points by performing wheelies and other stunts.For the most part you can go the entire career mode without spending much time on the bikes, but you're going to have to get used to the two-wheel vehicles if you're going to beat the Arcade mode. Arcade mode is a more traditional take on the Project Gotham Racing series, in this mode you play through a series of themed races for medals. The nice thing about this mode is that it doesn't feel like a stripped down variation on the career mode, instead it manages to feel like it's own thing. Best of all, the arcade mode rectifies some of the problems I had with the career mode, which made this "classic" mode even more fun for me. Bizarre Entertainment did a wise thing, no matter whether you like the new career mode or not there's going to be something in Project Gotham Racing 4 to keep your attention.

Beyond the new game modes, vehicles and events, Project Gotham Racing 4's other big enhancement is the weather system. While this may not sound like much, Bizarre Entertainment actually spent a lot of time making sure they got all of the weather effects perfect, and it really shows. PGR4 accurately recreates a heavy fog, the snow and the rain. Sure, other games have done this in the past, but there's something authentic about the way they affect the race track. Even though there are three weather conditions, there's one you will see more than any other - the rain. It rains a lot. In fact, there were entire months of the career mode where it felt like rain was the only thing I was racing in. The good news is that the rain is incredibly realistic; it makes you slip and slide, while looking cool as it hits the camera/windshield. If Project Gotham Racing 4 does anything well it's the weather effects, they are simply stunning and just the beginning of a world of racing games (and all games, really) that use realistic weather to heighten their level of authenticity.

Unfortunately that's also the problem with this game; the most innovative thing about Project Gotham Racing 4 is the weather effects. That's not to say that this game isn't fun, it's just not as fresh and new as it probably should have been. There's this sense while playing the game that you've seen and done this all before, even some of the cities from older PGR games make an appearance in this game. It all just feels very recycled, as if Bizarre Entertainment was just going through the motions when making this game. The fact that I can still recommend this game feeling this way is a testament to how much fun the core mechanics of the gameplay are.

The real reason this game is so easy to recommend is because of the amount of content found on this DVD. Not only does this game have a lot of compelling single-player modes (career mode, time attack, arcade mode, etc.), but Project Gotham Racing 4 also comes equipped with a number of exciting multiplayer games. Be it racing by yourself or as a team, there's just nothing like racing against other real people. PGR4 gives gamers a chance to fight it in all kinds of race types, including elimination, street race, cat and mouse, and bulldog mode. While the online modes aren't as meaty as what we saw a few months ago in Forza 2, there is certainly enough content here to keep even the most diehard fan entertained for months to come.

It also doesn't hurt that Project Gotham Racing 4 is easily one of the best looking racing games on the Xbox 360. PGR4 manages to take everything that was good about the third installment and add more details and style. This is a sharp looking game that is only improved by the addition of amazing weather effects, such as the drops of rain on the front of your car and how the snow sits on the real city streets. As good as the game looks in still images, it only looks better when running on a nice high definition television.

Project Gotham Racing 4 is a fun game, there's no doubt about that. It's also an extremely unlucky game. Coming out only months after Forza 2, it's hard to not want to compare these two racing games. But Project Gotham Racing 4 is not Forza 2; these are two different games competing for the same space. Project Gotham Racing may not be as innovative as I would have hoped, but it's still a solid racing game that offers hours of content to play through. If you're the type of gamer who is looking for some diversity in their racers, then Project Gotham Racing 4 is well worth adding to your collection.
Project Gotham Racing 4 is a solid game that delivers a diverse collection of races to complete. Unfortunately it's marred by the fact that it's not all that different from Project Gotham Racing 3 and isn't as much fun as Forza 2. Still, this is an exciting racer that is well worth adding to your collection.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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