Review by Oggy00

"A good game, but nothing special..."

Project Gotham Racing 4 came out roughly two years ago, trying to follow up on the success of its 360 launch title predecessor. The game featured a star-studded lineup of cars, a solid amount of tracks, and an online mode that is still frequented by several diehards today. While PGR3 was an incredible balance of arcade handling and good online features, PGR4 managed to turn the series into yet another bland racer.

Upon booting up the game, the techno beats that were present in PGR3 remain, with a slightly more stylish background. PGR4 definitely went for a more polished look, and the interface seems almost too clean for a PGR game.

Unlike PGR3, you're asked to design your racing suit, pick your nationality, and customize your car skin that will stick with you throughout the game's career mode.

Career mode, which is your next stop, plays out almost like a real racing season. You're up against something like 70 different opponents, each with different tendencies and attributes, all competing for the number one spot on the world charts. In all honesty, PGR4 is the only game to really get a career mode like this right. Even if you completely screw up a race, the different drivers you're running against will all rise and fall in the rankings on their own. You'll get used to seeing the front runners at the top of the charts, and you'll get used to slugging it out with the guys sitting in the middle of the leaderboards.

The career mode can easily consume most of your playtime. The events are all standard PGR races. You'll run some lap knockouts, some tournaments, and some straight-up three lap shootouts, all of which can keep your ranking high or make you bomb. There is no restart button in career mode. Unlike Burnout or other games, the career mode in PGR4 plays out like a season. Occasionally, you'll get asked to run time trials to unlock better cars, but those are few and far between. Every few months in the game or so, you'll reach a championship, or what the game calls an "invitational". These events usually feature high-profile drivers, and winning one can really bump up your rank. Losing them, however, will make you drop pretty far on the leaderboards.

You'll grow accustomed to the career mode in PGR4 rather quickly, and you'll often find yourself struggling to find a good car to use throughout the career mode. While every car is unlocked from the start in quick race and online, you need to buy your cars using kudos points and event winnings to use them in career. The kudos system remains the same, with a few new objectives added or in some cases enhanced, such as hitting top speed or running the racing line properly.

Of course, you need to spend these hard-earned points on some new vehicles, and this is where PGR4 falls flat on its face. While PGR3 boasted an amazing lineup of supercars, even more coming in the form of DLC, PGR4 attempts to recapture the magical variety that was PGR2. This does not work in the game's favor at all.

The first reason being that cars from all types of classes are picked instead of just the fastest cars on earth. You'll find yourself racing old GMC's and Mini Coopers before advancing to the higher tiers in career, which include some of the faster cars. These slow cars aren't fun to drive at all, and they make the early races tedious and boring. The game still includes heavy hitters like the McLaren F1, the Ferrari FXX, and newcomers like the Caparo T1, but several little known cars that were in PGR3, such as the Honda NSX GTR, have disappeared.

And then there are the bikes. PGR4's massive draw was the inclusion of bikes, which works both for the game and against it. On one hand, the bikes are a blast to drive, there's a good variety of them, and a lot of the tracks complement the bikes very well. Macau has some long straights and some flowing turns, Las Vegas has many passing zones that aren't there when in cars, and the Michelin Test Track gives some of the high performance bikes a lot of room to run,

On the flip side, there are very few bike-only events, meaning you're paired up with heavy, often faster cars in the field. I can't complain about the bikes not being fun to drive, but in career mode, when you're stacked up against Corvettes and McLarens, the bikes are not a wise choice. In fact, you'll eventually forget they're there all together.

PGR4's other main draw is the inclusion of weather effects. Very few games do weather right. PGR4 nailed it. On rainy events, puddles will form on the track, and cars will hydroplane over the larger ones, losing traction. On snowy events, the cars become impossible to drive. Every time weather is thrown into the mix, interesting things happen. The cars become completely different beasts, and a whole new racing strategy needs to be developed in order to be successful. Unfortunately, there aren't a whole lot of these kinds of races, and since no one likes to run with weather online, just like the bikes, you tend to forget the game has this feature.

Online is another feature that needs to be talked about, since Xbox Live is a big part of Xbox 360 games. I got this game on launch day, and there was virtually no one online. The few people that did go online tended to stay in the custom match part of the online section. Tournaments still function the same way they did in PGR4, but benefit from the slick presentation boosts the developers have given this game over PGR3. Literally, if you liked PGR3's way of handling online, you'll feel right at home with PGR4.

The DLC that came out for this game, roughly a few months after it was released, added enough to the game to keep it exciting. Dubbed the "Challenge Pack", PGR4 received a few new cars, a new game mode, and an online only mode, "Free Mode". The pack tacked onto arcade mode, what was essentially PGR3's career mode, but made the challenges a lot harder, and was basically only for elite players. Free Mode, a rather strange online addition, opens up each city for players to just drive around in. Ideally, this adds a drag racing mode to the game as long as everyone has mics and is willing to cooperate.

Maybe I should have touched on arcade mode. Basically, if you somehow managed to get bored of career, arcade mode is PGR3's career mode, but in PGR4. Same events, different tracks. Each challenge can be completed twice, with a car and a bike. To put it blatantly, arcade mode is terrible and unless you want to unlock more stuff for career, don't bother going in here

PGR4 is still a sound game. The handling is a weird mix of GRID and Forza, the AI drivers are competent, yet reserved, and every car can be driven with a little bit of practice. The tracks have also been changed slightly, with the rumble strips edited to give more of a professional race track feel. Some locations, such as London and Las Vegas, benefit from this, because it gives the player a clearer racing line.On bikes, this is essential for running a competitive race. In cars, these changes are merely asthetic.

Photo mode, while a quick diversion from the main game, remains the same. You can still upload photos onto the internet, you can still tweak all the light settings, yet you can unlock a 3D mode which is fun as long as you have SpyKids 3D floating around, just in case you want to steal the glasses to check out your Viper on two wheels.

The downside, almost immediately recognizable for fans of PGR, is the complete mess that is cockpit view. Cockpit view in PGR3 was a thing of beauty. That can't be said about PGR4. Each view is positioned in the most annoying away possible. You can't see out of the CLK-GTR's windshield. The F50 GT's windshield support gets in the way. Every car has some little nuance that prevents it from being drivable in cockpit view. This is pathetic, as I loved cockipt view in PGR3.

The tracks remain the same, with some new ones. Every layout from London, Tokyo, the Nurburgring, New York, and Las Vegas return, as well as a handful of new cities and the Michelin test track. There are some strange layouts in some of the new cities, but there are also some really good ones. The new cities have a lot of jumps, elevation changes, and passing sections, something the old cities didn't really have. Everything looks really good, and there is a huge addition of spectators to the tracksides.

The PGR series has always had good music, and PGR4 is no exception. There's a rock station, a punk station, a techno station, a classical station... There's lots of music. Most of the techno played in the menus fits the game nicely, although the permanently red background tends to cause insomnia.

By now, you're wondering if this game is worth picking up, despite being two years old. It's hard to justify a purchase, even if it's only twenty bucks. There is a small, dedicated online community, which is a nice way of saying there's about nine people on it daily from the UK. Single player career mode is fun, especially since it makes you feel as if you're in an actual racing series and not just earning medals like in Burnout. There's really nothing bad about PGR4...

BUT, compared to PGR3, this game suffers a lot. The bikes were a useless addition, the weather effects, for the few times you'll see them, make races interesting, but nothing really major. The lack of high performance cars is a huge turnoff. And while there may be a bit of DLC, it's not enough to keep the game going strong, other than adding in what is basically an elite difficulty to an already existing game mode.

PGR4 is what people would call a "rainy day" game. You won't get hooked like Forza 3, and there's definitely not enough fresh content to keep people interested past a few days, but there's nothing really wrong with the game to not recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in racing games...

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/04/09

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

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