Project Gotham Racing 3 Review
Project Gotham Racing 3 review
Next generation racing courtesy of Bizarre Creations...
The launch of Xbox 360 has seen both extremes of games journalism. There has been the gushing fantasy of sites and magazines so in Microsoft's pay that you can't trust them to tell you the time, let alone that EA is the world's laziest and cynical publisher of Xbox 360 games.
|Project Gotham Racing 3 Review|
At the other end of the spectrum are the jaded cynicals, they want to prove what serious and intelligent journalists they are. The shortcut to this, rather than getting into games in any depth is to give a very low score, much below what everyone else gives a game. It doesn't really matter if we haven't played the game much, or understood it very well, we'll give it a low score and we look great.
Well let me lay my cards on the table right away. I've been pretty damn excited about the launch of Xbox 360 and most in particularly Project Gotham Racing 3. I got into gaming to have fun, and the by-product of that has been that I've got a career talking about games, but at the very centre of this is fun. And believe me, Project Gotham Racing 3 is a whole lot of fun.
From Here to Eternity
The first impressions aren't great though, the menu system is a little clunky to say the least. Yet once you've got an idea where everything is hidden, it's plain sailing from there. The centre of the game for the single player is the career mode. Progression though the career will be familiar to anyone who's played the previous games.
The career is split into sections; each section of between two and seven races features a theme, such as a location or style of racing. The most common events are straight races between you and several AI cars. But there are also timed runs, breakthrough and hot laps where it's you alone on the track, cone challenges to test your control and eliminator where a competitor is removed from the back of the pack at the end of each lap.
What all these game modes have in common is trying to earn kudos. In straight races it's not that important, winning is all that counts. Other events mark your results based on how much kudos you've earned, for example by sliding through cone gates. Some events require you to earn kudos to progress, say for earning time on the rapidly diminishing clock.
Tried and Tested
Whatever the goal of the event the way to earn kudos is the same. Skidding, sliding, overtaking, breaking, taking the racing line, not crashing, drafting etc. all earn kudos. Stringing combos together will earn you even more kudos as long as you don't crash into a barrier before you've banked the points.
It's a tried and tested formula and works well. I'm not one of those players who goes all out to try and get kudos maximums, only to complete the event. But with a selection of difficulty levels ranging from steel, through the Olympic medal colours to platinum, there's a challenge there for everyone.
Interestingly the game takes an unusual route to car selection in that, prototype cars aside, all the gleaming automotive porn is available right away, you just have to earn the credits to buy them. And as each event's challenge is based on the car you pick, you can in theory play the whole single player career with one car.
It's worth collecting plenty of cars though as some are better at events than others. For cone challenges it's much better to get a tail happy beast like a TVR Sagaris. Whereas if time was of the essence I always plumped for the sure-footed brilliance of a Lamborghini Murciélago 6.2, its four-wheel drive keeping the car glued to the road.
Cars are placed in garages, when each garage is full, another is unlocked. These gorgeous locations show off the car models superbly as you are able to walk around, admire the cars and even take pictures. My favourite is actually the second garage unlocked, the converted barn. Walking around the garages also shows off the game's superb lighting model, of which, more later.
There are other options for single player games, you can set up any of the multiplayer type events and play them against AI cars or you can take part in time trials. There's also a mix of multiplayer and single player with the online career, where you choose events in a similar way to the regular career, but take part against other racers online.
The races against the clock do highlight the failing of the games replay system. Like many racing game fans I like to watch replays, especially from time trials. However this is not possible in PGR3. Time trials and races on custom tracks do not let you watch replays. It is possible to watch solo runs by creating a street race with you as the only player, but otherwise replay choice is limited.
Ironic really, given how we are treated to the ability to save and watch replays from multiplayer races. I can see why, when we use the custom route creator this is not possible, the replay camera system must be manually created for each circuit by Bizarre. The route creator itself is one of the game's disappointments. Sure, it's easy to use and create circuits and point to point events, but the results are somewhat disappointing.
22 Acacia Avenue
Why? Firstly because the areas in the game are much smaller than we are used to in PGR games. London, in particular, uses a very tiny part of the city, really limiting choice. I really do hope that London at least is expanded soon with some downloadable content, because there's really not enough of it. The boundary is limited from Embankment station, to Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. Unlike MSR there's no Leicester Square, no Millbank down to Lambeth Bridge and no chance to cross the river to the south at all.
In contrast there's a generous helping of Tokyo and Las Vegas. New York too is a little limited. Long courses are possible because you can cross the two bridges in either direction, but there's only a limited selection of roads at either end. If PGR3 had as big a play area as the previous games it would seem perfect, but the tracks do seem limited compared to that first brilliant Dreamcast game. The second problem with the route creator is that corners are indicated by pale yellow arrows that can be hard to see compared the bends on Bizarre's own tracks.
The Nurburgring is back, and it's a bumpier and trickier version than we had in PGR2. Purists may scoff as its not entirely accurate, but it has been designed with multiplayer racing in mind. The F1 circuit has been included too, and combinations of the old and new circuit make up for some very long races.
Project Gotham Racing 3 is one of the most realistic driving games I've played. No, it's not about physics, clearly the handling model is an arcade one, albeit one with plenty of convincing depth. The reason it feels so real is the superb in car view. Each vehicle has had its interior lovingly modelled and the results are very impressive.
Usually when racing games take up so much screen real-estate with a car interior it feels limiting, but the details and design of PGR3 somehow keeps one's eyes on the road. Some head sway has been added and combined with the incredibly lighting and bumpy roads it feels so very natural.
The handling has been tweaked since PGR2 and is a real joy. There's a clear difference between cars and most people will have to experiment to find their favourites. Bizarre has done a great job in making these super cars accessible yet giving each its own character. Okay there's still the situation where you'll see people driving cars too fast for them and messing up, Xbox Live is full of kids trying to tame the Ferrari Enzo and failing. But PGR3 succeeds in providing a handling model that feels real, even though you know it isn't. It's like someone doing a brilliant impression of George Bush, rather than being the real president, it feels more convincing.
Built for Online Fun
And since I've mentioned Xbox Live lets take a look at the fun to be had with the game online. The real joy to be had in the game is playing with friends on Xbox Live. As I said earlier, you can even save replays of your moments of glory against rivals online. There are some interesting game modes on offer for online play including team based events.
I would have like to see more though, I'm surprised that Bizarre didn't formalise Cat and Mouse, a game folks made up for themselves to play on PGR2. Hosts may also find a lack of control, there's no option to limit the car class as there was in the second game, meaning that some co-operation is required from players. You can create games that are for your Xbox Live friends only though.
However the net code itself is superb, I've not experienced any lag during play, only the occasional echo through the headset. PGR3's strength lies online and it’s the best way of experiencing it. If you don't have Live then you're losing out, but then if you don't have Live, why bother with Xbox 360?
Finally let's look at the game's graphics. Before the game was released there were plenty of flame wars on games forums about the game's frame rate. Some people will only accept 60 FPS as a minimum. For them, PGR3's 30 FPS doesn't cut the mustard. The final game though, through motion blur, looks as smooth as any racer you'll play. It really doesn't move wonderfully.
There's so much detail to see too. The textures on the buildings are very detailed indeed, perhaps too detailed considering the speed at which you'll be passing it. I'd have accepted a little lower detail for more streets in each city. There are also the occasional odd gaps in buildings, where it seems some polygons are missing. The much vaunted animated 3D crowds look really good, though again you'll not see them much.
It's the lighting though that's the most impressive element of PGR3's graphics. To really see the game in full glory you have to use the in car view, where you're treat to the game's high dynamic ranging (HDR) lighting on full. Coming out of tunnels into sunlight blinds you, every change of natural sunlight as you drive past buildings creates such a natural look to the game. The lighting in PGR3 is the real graphical star and lends a photo quality to the proceedings. It's just such a shame (and a massive oversight) that you can't output the photo mode pictures to jpg format to share. Because with lighting this good you'll take some really gorgeous shots.