Review by Crazyreyn

"An addictive, simplistic and stunning addition to the revered racing series"

After a debatably rushed PGR3 Bizarre Creations have pulled out all the stops to ensure that their final title under Microsoft is their greatest. The Project Gotham series has prided itself on being a self styled ‘kudos racer', where how you drive is what sets you apart from your opponents and indeed other racing titles. Promising new innovative features such as weather and motorbikes, it aims to be the true successor PGR2 deserved.

The first thing that'l hit you are the gorgeous visuals, making skidmarks in your pants as well as on the screen. Every facet is astonishingly detailed - from the vehicles to the surrounding cities, it all looks completely lush and stands up as some of the consoles best. The sense of speed encountered when driving down city streets is staggering and nothing short of breath taking, with elements of over stimulation as you experience the neon havens of Tokyo and Shanghai. Couple this with the likes of the Nurburgring and an array of test tracks, each route presents a diverse and fresh landscape to accompany your efforts. While not streets ahead of PGR3, the new weather system is where the visuals, and gameplay, really shines.

Transforming cities under blankets of snow and fog, the new weather system adds a tactical dynamic to the existing racing rhetoric – along with making things generally more tricky, black ice and puddles are deviously placed at corner braking spots, giving you another obstacle to avoid and add to your strategy. Although these appear mostly in the middle sections of tracks, it feels like they are positioned at corner spots just to give you a hard time. You will soon forgive their placement as it enhances the gameplay to unexpected heights, and coupled with how you have to seriously elevate each straight and corner, it adds an extra element to the tried and tested racing formula. Weather also evolves subtly during races as fog densens, light rain clears to a bright sunny day and icy conditions blossom into snow. It is all these factors that make weather a feature other racing games should seriously consider adopting on a similar scale in order for the discipline to progress.

Motorbikes, another new addition at first seems like the worst thing that has ever happened to the series. However after persisting with the controls and adhering to the racing line it turns out to be an incredibly satisfying aspect of the game. Although it is relatively hard to get knocked off compared to MotoGP, other vehicles can and will send you flying, although as a car you can use this to your (unfair and sadistically amusing) advantage. This means in single player you'll relish the opportunity to race against a set of two wheels, especially those rare one-on-one races, as you can easily win by just making sure you send them packing after a corner or two. As a motorbike user this role is reversed and you will be very careful as not to get anywhere close to another vehicle during the race. It is this unfair balance that puts the strength of this addition under scrutiny, but overall one that is valued despite its annoyances.

As for general difficulty the computer AI is very liberal on the brakes and depends heavily on the racing line; this means that if you are in their way they will almost always shunt you off the track, which is incredibly frustrating on harder difficulties. While this often puts them ahead of the pack early on at the same time as the opposition follows the same route they do not play to the cars' strengths. They will all brake and corner in a similar fashion meaning the only thing that sets them apart is their top speed; the result is that if you are efficient at good starts and tackling corners, you can get a strong lead within half a lap and maintain it easily providing the computer does not have a monstrously fast car on a straight. This occurs even on the hardest difficulties, meaning that getting an early lead and preserving it is all it takes to win the vast majority of the events. Of course this only applies to the racing challenges; others do not suffer such difficulty issues and test your driving abilities in a range of interesting and diverse ways such as speed and the ability to effectively accumulate kudos.

Primarily split into two halves, the single player consists of Arcade and Career. The Arcade Mode are chapters packed with varied challenges with medals awarded upon how successfully they are completed. The Career mode gives you a ranking and various championships to compete in, along with invitational events to win exclusive vehicles and wildcards into higher ranked competitions. The core of this mode is too similar to arcade to justify it as an all new mode, however the invitationals (and achievements) provide enough incentive to play through it to the end. Aside from simple street races the game gives you a range of challenges to attempt throughout both the career and arcade modes. Eliminator has the last placed vehicle removed from the race every few seconds until there is just one man standing; Hot Lap is a simple time trial affair that has you scraping every last millisecond for the win; Breakthrough requires progressing past checkpoints and adds time successively; Overtake demands you utilise drafting to pass as many cars as possible and so on; each challenge provides a diverse means to get points, medals and most importantly, kudos.

The staple kudos system returns with a rejuvenated purpose than to just for to race with style. Several challenges have you attaining high amounts of kudos and the Career championships often lie on the kudos you earn to win them. Earning a set amount per position will only get you so far, meaning if you drove with that little extra panache it is possible to steal a victory from a closely contested series of races (literally, with style). Additionally unlocking more vehicles, modes and tracks is performed via spending hard earned kudos at the PGRShop. While initially irritating, you soon rack up enough kudos after a few hours play to feel the benefits the shop can offer. There is enough within there to keep you saving up and spending, and while it encourages you to purchase some quality motors you are already assigned a decent selection in the first place, meaning that you don't have to purchase any if you don't fancy it. This means the shop is practically optional, but an option you will undoubtedly take advantage of. The PGRShop as well as the kudos related challenges ensure that players add a little more thought into just simply winning.

The presentation takes a leap into the simplistic with menus adopting a bright, clear white and red colour scheme, and although the system takes a short while to get used it becomes clear to be miles ahead of its predecessors in overall efficiency. A vulnerability of high definition gaming is that the text appears difficult to read on standard sets, something which this game also suffers, but is easily overlooked as reading the small print becomes a rarity. Extra features such as the car garage and Geometry Wars (Waves) return, but users of the route creator may be disappointed with its removal (although it was not exactly a dazzling addition to the series portfolio in the first place). Along with impressive sound, a delightfully diverse soundtrack and vehicle damage, the overall presentation of the package outshines most other driving games.

Akin to Halo 3 there is a new online service in the form of PGROnDemand. Recycling the best bits of GothamTV while rubbishing the Cat and Mouse chases, it allows you to upload photos and replays for anyone to watch and rate. The simplicity of the service makes it an overwhelming success; pause the game, take a photo and uploading can be done in seconds. Searching through your friends list and seeing their visual treats will soon become your favourite past time, shortly after composing and tweaking a perfect racing moment to show off to the world and download from Bizarre's website. The only gripe is that photograph angles are limited to a few feet above and around the track, meaning longer distance shots are not possible; but it will be a horribly addictive distraction to racing and clocking up kudos.

The greatest strength of PGR4 is also in some ways its biggest weakness – and that is how simple it all is. It doesn't pretend to be a serious realistic racer; despite featuring real life city routes and a host of authentic vehicles it is simply a case of picking a car and passing the objective. This is perfect for short playing sessions; it is incredibly addictive and provides a platform for perfection, from the multiple medal choices in Arcade to letting you restart races in Career, making the game as challenging as you want it to be. Despite the range of weather, cities and challenges in essence all the modes are practically the same and becomes monotonous in longer playing sessions.

Despite this you cannot fault how astoundingly fun it all is, that it plays and looks so damn good and that there is literally months worth of content to play through. Doing everything will have you getting platinum medals in every arcade event, achieving the number one rank in career and a spot of online play; in short you will not be shelving it within a week or two. The range of achievements are in touching distance of perfection offering a mix of skill, madness and moments of genius. From simply winning events to performing stunts and figuring out the puzzle achievements, it is one of the few games you'll actually want to get 1000 points in and is a true showcase of the Gamerscore mantra that every other title should take note of. Add in online play and a host of downloadable content in the coming months, and this will be in your 360 for months to come.

There are more than enough new additions for fans to lap up in this latest installment, but serious racing fanatics wanting a more realistic and deeper drive will yearn for a little more. If you are looking for a racer without having to worry about dampening your suspension, this is it.

Pros
+ Beautiful, beautiful visuals with an amazing sense of speed
+ Weather and Motorbikes are worthy additions to the series
+ Online system that is simple to use with lots of toys to play with
+ Kudos rightfully given more of a purpose this time round
+ Practically perfect range of achievements
+ More than enough to keep you playing for literally months

Cons
- Despite all the content it does feel somewhat simplistic
- Not ideal for long playing sessions
- Motorbikes are too fragile for serious competition
- Competitor AI very rigid and inevertably brutal as a result


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/07/07

Game Release: Project Gotham Racing 4 (EU, 10/12/07)


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