PGR 4 Review
Written : Wednesday, November 21, 2007
By: Alan Baxter (GT: Bax x360a)
Back in December of 2005, the illustrious Xbox 360 console from Microsoft launched with 18 retail games available; one of these games was the anticipated Project Gotham Racing 3, developed by Bizarre Creations. The arcade racer was a huge success with Xbox 360 owners, and therefore a sequel was inevitable. With the announcement of Project Gotham Racing 4 on the horizon, the excitement in gamers rose dramatically as they eagerly waited for a beautiful racing game they could indulge themselves in; something the Xbox 360 was lacking in many people’s eyes. So, did Project Gotham Racing 4 live up to the hype and exceed its predecessor?
Bizarre Creations recently admitted that they had to rush the production of PGR3 due to having the deadline of the Xbox 360’s launch to get the game into stores across the globe; this restricted them from adding features they previously had intended. With PGR4, Bizarre had all the time in the world to create a masterpiece and add the features us gamers missed out on in PGR3. One of the biggest differences from PGR3 to PGR4 is the addition of motorbikes; something many gamers hoped to see and their wishes came true. The bikes handle differently than the cars, and can take quite awhile to get used to when they are first used; this may put a few users off the bikes, which happened to myself. However, when you have mastered the motorbikes, they provide you with a great gaming experience and different benefits than the cars. These benefits include much faster acceleration, and therefore suit the bikes perfectly to tracks with many short corners. A common high attribute on the motorbikes is their ability to perform impressive drifts; this comes in very useful when attempting to complete events which require you to gain a certain amount of kudos and kudos “stars” which will be explained later on in the review. With all these benefits also come disadvantages with using the motorbikes. These disadvantages are most notably the top speed, and how lightweight the bikes are. Due to their extremely fast acceleration, the bikes lack the higher top speed of the cars. This results in taking the lead early on in a straight, but expect to be overtaken in due course by a McClaren F1 storming past you at 210 MPH whilst your struggling along at a mere 190 MPH. Due to the bikes being so light, they are flimsy which does not help in stabilizing the bike after being hit by a car. If this occurs at high speeds, expect for your driver to fly of the motorcycle and onto the tarmac below. It can take up to 3 or 4 seconds before you are back to a reasonable speed, and therefore this can be a big setback during a race. By simply holding down the B button whilst using a bike, you can perform a stunt; usually where your driver takes his/her hands off of the bike, or stands up on the seat; these can be done during wheeling, performing endo’s or driving normally. Not only do the stunts look impressive, but if you have the guts and the ability to attempt them, you can add some serious kudos to your score. Having the option of using either a car or a motorbike is a nice feature to have in PGR4, and adds a lot of gameplay to the game. Choosing which vehicle to use in certain races can mean the difference between the much wanted 1st position, and the demoted 2nd position. Remember, nobody remembers who finishes in 2nd!
Uh oh, he's catching up!!
Another difference from PGR3 to PGR4 is the graphical improvements; the graphics in PGR4 are incredible. Bizarre’s vision for PGR4 was to create an emotionally-charged racing experience, and these graphics sure help to create just that. Apart from environments being more detailed and the cars having a slick new paint job, the environment has been added to the game in order to create countless different situations for the racer to experience with each track. You are now able to drift around hazardous corners in the rain, snow, ice, and even during a storm. Each different effect has been done ingeniously, looking incredibly realistic. Not only do the weather effects look astonishing, they also have a key effect on the gameplay. Try speeding and throwing your car or bike into corners at ridiculous speeds and coming out successfully on an icy track. It’s just not going to happen, and you’ll likely finish facing the wrong way. Whilst raining, your car or bike will automatically put on its windshield wipers to give you a clearer view, and this looks extremely impressive whilst using an in-car view; the rain dropping onto the windscreen and being pushed off onto the road really does help to add another realistic touch to the game. As you can imagine, having large amounts of rain on the windshield at one time also makes the track harder to see, and therefore harder to race on and keep your hard earned 1st spot that you crave for so much. The storm effects pummel rain down onto your vehicle whilst lightning also crashes the sky with brilliant lighting and sound effects; I really felt like I was driving and handling my car in horrendous weather. Last but not least, the snow again looks brilliant and helps to make the tracks nice and slippery. This will change the way you handle your car, and also help you immensely in kudos events due to being able to slide a considerable amount more! What Bizarre has done especially well with the weather is enabling it to change during a race; you may start out racing in the sunshine of New York, but as the race progresses, rain may start to fall down upon your vehicles, and before you know it, you will be caught thrashing expensive, sports cars with minds of their own around a race track in the middle of a storm! These changing weather effects make you change the way you play during a race, and therefore you cannot predict how a race will panel out; this helps to make the game more enjoyable, and add much more gameplay value. The dynamic weather effects are done terrifically well and really do help to add realism and replayability to PGR4.
In both of the Project Gotham Racing games, you earn what’s known as “Kudos” for driving with style, and performing death defying drifts and stunts which drivers with less skill can’t even dream of completing. With PGR4 Bizarre has introduced a new, and in my opinion, improved kudos system. Not only do you now just earn kudos for drifts and stunts, you can earn up to 5 stars for each drift/stunt you perform. The more impressive your drift or stunt is, the higher amount of stars you will earn; the higher amount of stars, the higher amount of kudos. The new star system helps to motivate the player to produce drifts and stunts which link together for a prolonged period of time, as this allows for more kudos to be achieved. In order to achieve 1 star, you must earn 100 kudos in a certain move, 2 stars equals 200 kudos and so on, until you earn 500 kudos for the maximum of 5 stars. When you earn 5 kudos stars at any one time, you know you’ve performed a kick ass string of moves to be proud of, so save that replay and show your friends via Xbox Live! Achievements are also linked into the kudos system, as you earn 20 gamerpoints for earning 9000 kudos in a single race, 20 kudos points for earning your first 5 kudos stars, and 40 gamerpoints for earning 5 kudos stars on 3 separate occasions in one event. This improved kudos system helped me to enjoy the game more, and earning kudos was no longer a chore, more a charm that the game brought along with its other spectacular features.
Saves washing the car I suppose!
Along with improving the graphics, adding in weather dynamics, introducing motorbikes to the PGR world and improving the Kudos system, Bizarre Creations have also added more cities around the world for you to race those vehicles at ridiculous speeds around. The cities included in PGR4 are as follows; Quebec, Las Vegas, New York City, London, St Petersburg, Shanghai, Tokyo and Macau. 8 choices of cities there, each with approximately 10 different tracks based around the city. Each city has its own individual beautiful style and looks different to the others. Its been said that each city took 2 years to design and make, and this just shows the amount of time, effort and detail they have put in to the environments and the game in general to bring you an incredible driving and gaming experience.
Not only have new cities been added to the game, new vehicles also make an appearance. Vehicles are separated into classes in PGR4, with Class A having the best performing cars and motorbikes, and Class G having the least impressive vehicles. Class A consists of 20 vehicles, Class B 21, Class C 21, Class D 18, Class E 19, Class F 16, and finally Class G 7; making PGR4 have an overall 122 vehicles to drive to your heart's content. This is a poor number of vehicles in comparison to Forza 2 on the Xbox 360, but PGR4’s cars are graphically superior and this helps to make up for the lack of numbers. You can expect to see vehicles such as the Ducati 999R Xerox and Mclaren F1 in Class A, Harley Davidson and Ferrari Enzo in Class B, Lotus Exige and Ford GT in Class C, Audi R8 and Ducati Paul Smart in Class D, Bentley Continental GT and Toyota Supra in Class E, Alfa Romeo SZ and Lamborghini Miura P400 SV in Class F, and last but not least, cars such as the Pontiac Firebird in Class G. There is an extremely good variety of vehicles for you to use in PGR4, and this should ensure you won't be getting tired of the game anytime soon.
The in-car view is gorgeous.
So you’ve named all these impressive new features, but what can I actually do in the game? Bizarre Creations have added a career mode into PGR4; a feature that was not present in PGR3. The aim of the career mode is to go from Rank 72 in the driving world to become the top dog and gain the number 1 rank. To do this, you will participate in an event every week, which if won or placed highly in, will give you ranking points which allow you to rank up on the leaderboards. Before you begin your career, you can choose whether you want to play on the easy, medium or hardcore difficulty setting. Picking which difficulty to play though is not an easy choice; easy mode will be too easy for the average gamer, normal mode will be too hard for the average gamer, and hardcore mode will only suit the best of the best. Bizarre hasn’t managed to get the difficulty spot on in my opinion, and this could lower the enjoyment of the game for some people by either not making it challenging enough, or possibly too challenging. The events you participate in start off at an easy difficulty and progressively get harder as your rank rises. As your rank also rises, more races will be added to each event so you will have to work harder and longer for your ranking points; however, an advantage of participating in these harder and longer events is that you will be rewarded with ranking points, and therefore can rise up the leaderboard at a faster rate. Apart from the weekly event, every few months comes along what is known as a “major”. This is very similar to the majors in Golf, where only the best participate and ludicrous prize money is at stake. The same applies in PGR4, where only the best drivers participate in a major, and if you win or do well, you will be rewarded with a large amount of points and see your name shoot up the ranking table. To keep you from becoming bored during the career mode, not only are the events made up of street races, but also mini-events such as cone sprint, time vs kudos, and more. Cone Sprint is where you have to navigate through a course of cones, and if you hit any, you will be given a time penalty. To earn the maximum amount of kudos, make sure you hit the target time which is set for you, and not the cones! Time vs Kudos is where you have to beat a certain time; however, every time you earn kudos throughout the event, the timer stops. Completing heartstopping drifts and stunts are encouraged in this game. There are more fun mini-events such as these which make up a full event, but you should find these out for yourself and enjoy playing through them. The life-span of the single player career will be between 10-15 hours. When compared to other games of the genre, this is around the same length and therefore very acceptable in my opinion.
Not only do you have the career mode to play through by yourself, but also the “Arcade” mode. In the arcade mode, there are numerous amounts of events which have a target to achieve, depending on the difficulty you are aiming for. The difficulties you can choose during arcade mode include, Steel, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum; Steel being the easiest, and Platinum being the hardest to achieve. This wide variety of difficulties will allow you to have fun and complete arcade mode, no matter how good or bad your driving skills are. The arcade mode again consists of fun event such as Street Race, Cone Sprint, Eliminator, and many more. With 10 main categories consisting of 6 individual “races” each, the arcade mode helps to prolong the PGR4 experience by at least another 5 hours.
Apart from these two modes, you are also able to complete time trials on any track that you wish, whilst having any weather effect also on at the same time. This feature allows you to compare your times for each track to other peoples around the world, and therefore challenge yourself to get better at the game and beat your own existing time. That being said, the main other mode apart from the career and arcade modes is multiplayer on Xbox Live. The online side of PGR4 has been vastly improved over PGR3. PGR4 allows you to invite friends into a party and enter Ranked events together; much like a first person shooter game such as Halo 3. This feature makes the online side of PGR4 a lot more enjoyable, as you can play, have fun, and work together with friends instead of having to rely on other people who may not even be able to speak your own language. All the tracks and weather effects are available over Xbox Live, and therefore the possibilities are endless. There are many variations of tracks with different weather effects for you and your friends to speed around. I personally recommend the famous Nurburgring track in the snow and ice. Not only does it look incredible, it is a real challenge trying to keep your vehicle on the road as you venture around the curvaceous track, giving your all in order for your team to completely dominate the event and take the top four positions. Each race online has a maximum of four vs four, and therefore you will be able to invite up to 3 friends in to your party to participate in ranked events. Overall, the online side of PGR4 is a very enjoyable experience and I recommend people to try it out; however, I do have one gripe about it. If you are in first position near the start of the race, expect to be taken out by a fellow competitor of the opposition team, or sometimes by your own! It is very easy to purposely catch an opponents wheel and make them spin out of control, as you pass and wave goodbye to them; leaving them little chance of getting back in the race. This can become very frustrating at times, and may put a few people off venturing onto the online side of things.
Motorbikes are a terrific addition to the game.
Racing is not the only thing you can do though if you are connected to Xbox Live, as Bizarre have introduced the “PGR on Demand” feature. This allows you to save and upload pictures and replays, where your friends and other PGR4 users can view them and give them a rating, saying whether they like them or not. This allows you to show off stunts and drifts you have performed, or super fast laps you want to brag about to the world; a very nice feature. The top 20 voted pictures and replays can also be seen, so you don’t have to waste your own time searching through the archives for the best pictures and videos.
The achievements in this game are very interesting; Bizarre have been very clever with the achievements, and you can see that they must have spent a fair amount of time considering them. You are rewarded a lot of points for the easier achievements, but the harder the achievement, you get less points for it. This is a great way for achievements to work and I congratulate Bizarre for thinking this, and encourage more developers to consider the same approach. This system allows the average gamer and achievement whore to get a reasonably high score in the game, 800+ gamerpoints, whilst at the same time allows us to see the talented and dedicated PGR4 players. A perfect example of this would be in the arcade mode; for completing all of the events with a silver medal, you gain 40 gamerpoints, whereas if you complete every event with a gold or platinum medal, you only get 10 gamerpoints. Only the highly talented and dedicated drivers will get the full 1000 in PGR4, and will have some achievements to truly be proud off.
PGR4 has a great soundtrack with a variety of music to suit everybody's tastes. You can also switch off certain genres of music or just individual songs all together, and this lets you maximize your listening experience. In game, the cars' engines sound terrific, having had help from Turn 10 who made Forza 2. The weather effects also sound terrific. Don’t be afraid to admit you jumped and wet yourself every time there was massive lightning and thunder during a race with storm weather effects.
No doubt about it, Project Gotham Racing 4 is a beautiful game. The road, environments and weather effects are all done to near perfection and add a lot of realism to the game. These graphics are so impressive that I’m going to go out on a limb and say they are the best racing game graphics on the Xbox 360 so far.
With a long and entertaining career mode, arcade mode, time trials, custom races and extremely enjoyable Xbox Live experience, PGR4 will keep you coming back for more and more. 30 hours should be a minimum you will be able to get from the game if you enjoy all of its features.
All the menus are set up beautifully in PGR4; all very neat and with a great design sense. You'll be able to easily navigate them and find what you are looking for before you could say beautiful delivery. The party system for Xbox Live is also very well done and never seems to fail.
The method Bizarre have used for the achievements in PGR4 is second to none, with a reasonable mix of mostly singleplayer achievements and 9 multiplayer achievements; they will keep you busy for quite some time. Only the talented and dedicated will achieve the full 1000 in this game, whereas the average gamer will also have the opportunity to achieve a high score. Everybody's happy!
Bizarre Creations have created a true masterpiece in Project Gotham Racing 4. The visuals and weather effects are incredible, as well as the variety of gameplay this provides. The game has had a complete makeover since Project Gotham Racing 3, with many more tracks and cars added which will help to keep you a happy gamer for many hours to come. Throw in some well-executed online functionality through Xbox Live, and you have yourself one of the best racing games available on the platform.