It's strange: PGR 4's competition is, most ilkely, PGR 3
, a game that came out two years ago with the launch of the Xbox 360. The reason? They're both very similar. The PGR lineage, started way back on the Dreamcast with the punshingly difficult Metropolist Street Racer, has had a difficult time inching out a niche among the Burnouts, Need For Speeds, Gran Turismos, Forza Motorsports, and their ilk. It's slightly simulation, slightly arcade game--a true jack of all trades... After the success of PGR 2, PGR 3 brought the series into the new generation, with amazing graphics, but it was rushed out to the public and lacked the standard of tracks and cars of PGR 2. It was, overall, a step backwards. But it sold well as almost all early adopters of Xbox 360 found something in it to love. We're now near the end of 2007, two years later, and although PGR 4 does not usher in a new generation of racing game, it's everything PGR 3 should have been. There's plenty new here to love.
PGR 4 is, essentially, the pinnacle of the PGR series. Since one-upping, not innovation, is really the focus of video games nowadays, it's not surprising that PGR 4 doesn't seem to hold any of its cards, although it's playing with plenty of aces. That is, most know by now what they're getting into with the Gotham series. There are Kudos, style-based points that have served in previous games as a type of currency for rank. And herein you'll drive various exotic cars fast while being stylish about it. The tracks come from twelve cities including New York, Las Vegas, Macau, St. Petersburg, and Tokyo, and each city has around twelve variations of track, some long, some short. The cities are reconstructed from hundreds of photos and videos of the real-life thing, and look gorgeous--even photo realistic. Things are pretty much the same, overall.
That is, at first glance. Fans will quickly notice the dramatically changed interface. It's easier to navigate, and, due to predominant colors, looks more like a graphic novel than a dance club visual. Since the game has, for many years, been about style
it's a little surprising that the menus and the whole feel of the game hadn't, until now, reflected that ideology. The presentation of PGR 4 emanates style. Real style. But it's not until you get into the guts of the game, no, in the marrow
of it, where you'll see the major improvements.
The Kudos system has been, thankfully, reworked. I'm not saying "reworked" and still meaning it'll be reamed apart in a few years. The system has been seriously rethought, and now can't be abused like it could in PGR 1, 2, and 3. Done away with altogether is winning money. Yeah, no money. Kudos
now serve as your basic monetary unit, used to unlock vehicles and tracks. Rank is now increased by earning career points by winning career events.
I had a problem with PGR 3's single player layout. In PGR 3, the races began to blur together, and I got bored long before I got to the end. So far, PGR 4 holds up much better. I'm rank 20 and I can't wait to go back for more. PGR 4 splits the original single-player layout in two: Arcade and Career. Arcade is like PGR 3's single player and here you'll be able to progress through various challenges with pre-defined vehicles.
Career Mode is a different beast altogether. Here you buy cars and circuits (which come in pre-made "packs") as you make your way from the bottom of the racing world to the #1 in the world. Sounds simple enough. This is done through a calendar system, which makes PGR 3's--hell, even Forza 2's--single-player look pedestrian by comparison. And although it's linear, it's clean, and it's clear.
The best change to the single-player mode is that now you don't have to get 1st place in every single event in order to win a championship. Emphasis has been places on amount of kudos earned, which determines your standing. You can actually place around 5th in one event and still win, assuming you did well in the others. And here comes part of the strategy--choosing a vehicle. There are better vehicles for grip and better cars for drift. A fast grip car might be a sure thing for a street-race, but in a drift event you'll struggle to get your bearings. Then there are those middle-of-the-road vehicles which exhibit decent control, but also sliding potential. These types will be the preferred vehicles in most events.
One of the features in PGR 4, the inclusion of motorcycles, while neat, is perhaps not as important or revolutionary as you might think. There are over 120 different vehicles in the game including cars, bikes and, surprisingly, a few trucks. Mostly, you'll be using the cars, but think of the motorcycles as a bonus instead of an outright revolution of gameplay. The bikes control much differently than the cars or trucks. They seem to be stiff when turning in order to balance out their power off the line. And because the bike bonnet cam shakes when you hit anything, it makes them preferably raced from a third person perspective. A case of motion sickness might follow.
But, actually, I wouldn't have it any other way. The balance is there, and the challenge is there, too. Even though bikes are pretty vulnerable to cars, they're a whole lot of fun and offer racing fans something new and exciting to learn. Their size and off-the-line-speed will allow you to stay ahead of the pack through most career races, assuming the opponents don't just outclass you. The motorcycles don't at all dominate the cars; it's a nice balancing act.
And because the Kudos system extends to bikes, you'll have to relearn how to powerslide with those things. But because you'll have some trouble on the straight line, Bizarre has allowed for a "stunt" button which causes your biker personality to pose, as it were, while doing a wheelie, endo, or after passing some unlucky jerk; giggles ensue. It's a small feature that adds if not to the gameplay, than to the enjoyment and style of PGR 4.
It's biggest claim to fame, weather effects, are also the best feature. It's no secret that Metropolis Street Racer allowed you to race at the exact time of day in game that it was in real life, thanks to the Dreamcast's shoddy narrowband. That's back in PGR 4, although you probably won't notice it at first--it's not really advertised. And, anyway, that's small fry compared to the rain and snow effects. Rain, especially, is gorgeous. Rain shreds off your car, off your motorcycle's hood, beads on flat parts. From the in-car view, you can the rain collects on the windsheild as the wipers do their work. And although the snow feels like there's too much traction, I'll still hand it to Bizarre for putting it in the game. Nurburgring in snow screams "winter wonderland" from your childhood, only this time you're piloting a half-million dollar piece of equipment.
There are several weather effects apart from just "rain" and "snow" including "storm" (and an achievement associated with it), "overcast," "fog," and a few other variants. The worst: fog. The best: storm. But everyone has favorites. Unfortunately you can't race certain levels in some of the weather (Huh, no Las Vegas in snow?). Several reviewers have pointed to the career races' use of "puddles" during some matches to dramatically change the way you race. I completely agree--Bizarre did a great job to change up the gameplay, essentially making you tread carefully around some hairpins and elbows.
Graphically, PGR 4 looks almost identical to PGR 3, except for the weather, and except for one other minor thing: the tracks have a more radiant energy about them. Almost characters in their own right, the levels all exude a kind of personality, and track-side fans are not card-board, but actually 3D. They move
and take pictures
like this sort of thing matters. Few games, especially racing games, can lay claim to that sort of thing. Forza 2 focused on the vehicles while PGR 4 focuses on tracks. I, for one, would take the latter over the former; racing from the hood or in-car (which is marvelously done here, by the way) I rarely see my own car, anyway.
To attest to the creators' attention to detail, every single vehicle's real-life speedometers have been re-created and included for Gotham 4. Look closely, some are correctly digital.
The music in PGR 4 is great. That is, assuming you're not partial Country music--shame on you. Here you'll find electro-jazz, electro, underground hip-hop, World Music, Rock, even Classical
. And when Wagner comes on and you hear Ride of the Valkyrie
for the first time, you know this game means business.
Compared to the competition: PGR 4 is just a better game than PGR 3, and it's way more enjoyable than the technical sim Forza 2. There's more variety, more laughs to be had in PGR 4. Your friends might actually like it, although it's still slightly a step apart from the arcade racing of Midnight Club or Need for Speed (although it shares physics traits with the latter). For my money, I've been quite satisfied with PGR 4's blend of sim and arcade gameplay. "4" is an arcade racer with some technical "the-more-you-play-the-better-you-get" fundamentals built in to the racing model. There might not be racing perfection, at least there's satisfaction.
Still, some gamers will find it difficult to be excited for a game that follows so closely after Forza Motorsport 2's reign and right before EA's big Need For Speed: Pro Street hits stores at the end of October. But that's not a slight to Bizarre Studios' superb racer, or it's hard-won Kudos formula, which has undergone enough changes to make this game all we've wanted for a great long time.
Really, Project Gotham Racing 4 just does
it for me. I don't know what that means, exactly. And I can't really explain it. But I really, really love it. Something about the music, the exotic cars and bikes, the multitude of tracks, and the weather effects just get my blood pumping. I'm speaking more as a racing game fan than car addict here: PGR 4 satisfies a deep desire to tear loose and have fun in a way that Forza 2's formula of "customization and patience" doesn't.
It's probably not going to win any awards for innovation. Not with only 120 cars and bikes and trucks, not with the pletora of superb tracks, and not even with the excellent online play, which I have only briefly been, as of yet, intimate with. It's biggest problem is that PGR 4 hasn't changed
dramatically enough to distinguish it from its dad, to give it the marketting potential to go the distance.
I recommend this game to anyone who is not really big on Need For Speed's emphasis on "underground" racing and who don't give a shit for Forza 2's seriousness. There's a healthy career mode that makes sense this time, plenty of arcade challenges, and a wonderful online mode to make anyone happy. But I do wonder at its staying power.
Truthfully, I don't really have any reasons to recommend you not pick up PGR 4, that is, unless you detest racing games, or are just sick of them. It's now just up to gamer preference. PGR 4 is a very solid, very fun game. I'm not bored with it after over thirty hours of play. Its flaws are ones the series has always had--some cars are out-and-out more powerful, no damage, cars can't flip over, et cetera. Some of the older problems with Kudos have been ironed out, for instance you won't lose kudos for barely scraping a wall anymore. I did notice one moment of slowdown during a career race where several cars ran over puddles at the same time, but it wasn't exactly a deal breaker. PGR 4 is a great game that's only real problem is market saturation. Did we need another PGR? Perhaps so, perhaps not. But that's something that the market, not this reviewer, will decide.