Review by BloodGod65

"Now with Weather, Man!"

While it took longer than I expected, Project Gotham Racing 4 has finally arrived. There have been a few changes since the previous game, namely the addition of weather effects and motorcycles, as well as a decreased emphasis on exotic cars. While these may seem to be relatively minor things, they all combine to create an almost perfect racing game.

If you played Project Gotham 3, the first thing you may have to do is accept the fact that you don't get to drive quarter-million dollar sports cars right away. After that, you'll have to decide whether or not you want to try out the new motorcycles or stick with the regular four-wheeled automobile. For those of you who are curious, I will say that motorcycles have been handled better here than in any other game. While they can't compete with cars in terms of ease of use, they are more stable than in any other racing game. Bizarre also compensated by making very hard to wreck, so you won't be falling off every few seconds.

The racing itself is as fun as ever, and the physics manage to be fun and loose, while still keeping you firmly in control at all times. All the cars are capable of doing much more than their real-world counterparts (sliding around corners at extreme speeds, and so on) but it isn't to the point of being totally unrealistic like Need for Speed.

The kudos system remains as cool as ever, albeit with a few new ways to rack up points. For those who've never played a PGR game before, kudos are essentially style points rewarded for doing cool things such as drifting, drafting, and driving at extreme speeds. You'll also be awarded kudos based on your final position in a race. Kudos also serves as money, meaning that the more kudos you get, the more cool stuff you can buy.

Speaking of buying cool stuff, acquiring new cars is handled differently than it was in PGR3. Whereas that game made the player buy each car for a set amount of money, as you would in any racing game, PGR4 has “packs”. Rather than buying a single car at a time, cars are often grouped together for purchase. After buying the pack, you are free to use everything it contained. These packs are not limited to cars either, as some contain extras for taking pictures of cars or gamer profile pictures.

The career makes a valiant effort at being different and more immersive than its predecessor fails spectacularly. I'll be perfectly honest and say that when I play a racing game, I like to choose exactly what I do and when I do it. Anything that doesn't allow me to do that is a burden. The career is set up on a calendar. On given dates you'll be able to participate in ONE (and only one) championship before being automatically shipped off to the next race day. In between race days there might be invitationals where you can win a new car or a qualifier for some new championship. And if you miss a championship or invitational, guess what? You have to go through the entire calendar before it comes back up! See why I prefer the menu based system?

Other than the addition of motorcycles, the biggest change to the franchise has been the addition of weather effects. So now, instead of driving around in nice, warm, sunny weather, you get to contend with the hazards of doing 200mph in the pouring rain, snow and fog. While my first reaction to the weather effects was a resounding “whoop-ti-do”, it quickly becomes obvious that this adds a whole new layer to the game. Water will pool in the middle of the track, and snow will pile up against the sides of the road, creating a deathtrap for anyone foolish enough to drive straight through it. The effects of weather can be no clearer than when driving around curves and your car suddenly decides to spin out, due to water or ice.

One thing that really irritates me is the de-emphasis of the garage. In PGR3, you had numerous garages to store cars in, and before every race, you could walk around and choose which one you wanted to use. Now, the Garage has been relegated to little more than an oddity. Once I actually found it – because the garage option is now hidden under several menus - I moved a few cars around, left and never came back.

Another thing that still bothers me is the first person mode. While it is definitely a cool idea it still hasn't been executed right. First and foremost, it is usually impossible to even see the gauges because they aren't lit. This means you'll often miss optimal shifting times. Other times it's impossible to see the gauges simply because the wheel is in the way. Another thing that makes it frustrating is there is such a sense of being disconnected (which will never be fully resolved). This is due to the fact that when inside the car you can't actually tell what the rest of the car is doing. For instance, if you drift around a turn you don't know if back end is fishtailing until you've actually hit a wall.

A racing game review is never finished until discussing the cars that appear in the game. As I stated before, there has been a decreased emphasis on the high-end cars (in fact, you won't even be racing them until the tail end of the game). While that's not to say there aren't any of them, you'll just be doing most of your racing in slightly less exotic machines. You'll start out driving things from the sixties and seventies (mostly muscle cars) and will work your way up to cars like RUF, Ferrari and Lamborghini and on into the stratosphere of car performance with specially tuned race cars. The car list is more than complete, and it even managed to introduce me to some cars I had never even heard of.

In typical PGR fashion, the cars, environments and even the weather effects are all exceptionally beautiful. I always hate trying to find the words to describe graphics, but I think it will suffice to say that you could probably go car shopping just using this game. The cars are recreated perfectly (with none of the strange distortions or awkwardness that some racing games have).

The environments are just as impressive because they give a nice backdrop to everything without distracting from the racing itself. It helps that the tracks are based in some of the coolest places on Earth (Tokyo, Las Vegas, etc.).

As I usually state when reviewing games like this, I've never driven any of these cars, but judging from what I know about them, engine noises all sound appropriate. There is always a definite distinction between a V12 and a V8 or whether the engine is in the front or the back. This is especially apparent when driving in first person mode, when the engine is right behind your character's head.

The soundtrack was a bit of a disappointment this time around. Not only did PGR3 have a larger song list, but the bands represented were a lot better. In fact, PGR3 had one of the best electronica selections I've ever seen as well as a cool genre known as bhagra. Here, the electronica is of a substandard flavor, the rock is a lot of overplayed stuff (If I have to hear Disturbed, Saliva or My Chemical Romance one more time I'm going to gouge my ears out) and most of the tracks from Mindbase Dependent Records are questionable, which is unusual.

I think this game can be best described as “Racing for the everyman.” It's not a hardcore simulation, nor is it an over-the-top street racer, but a nice, even blend of the two for people who just want to go fast. It offers up a great selection of cars and cool tracks that are fun to race. Unfortunately, the restrictive career keeps it from perfection.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/14/08, Updated 07/07/10

Game Release: Project Gotham Racing 4 (US, 10/02/07)

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