Project Gotham Racing 4 - game review
Project Gotham Racing 4 is a continuation of the series started on the Dreamcast console. From the second part, it is associated with the Xbox brand, two of which were released for the older device, while the next two for the next-gen. This part is unique, not because of the new features, but for a completely different reason. As it turned out shortly before the premiere, the Bizarre Creations studio that made up the series was taken over by Activision, while the PGR brand remained in the hands of the publisher, Microsoft. In other words, the new version is also the last one developed by the old team, and although the console manufacturer has already announced that it does not intend to give up the popular brand, it is certain that the next parts will more or less deviate from the direction chosen by Bizarre. So what does the British manufacturer say goodbye to the series? Are we dealing with a simple coupon cutoff, an evolution or a revolution? I invite you to read.
At the beginning, some information for those unfamiliar with this rather specific series. Simply put, we are dealing here with arcade races with an original, semi-realistic driving model, in which it is not only that we got to the finish line first, but also in what style we did it. The key word to understand the gameplay in PGR is Kudos, a term introduced by Bizarre to describe the points earned for an effective drive. As the creators themselves say, "the game is not about going fast, but about going fast".
Fans of the series playing PGR4 will feel at home, because the majority of solutions used in the predecessor released as the starting title on the X360 remained unchanged. However, the creators did not rest on their laurels and introduced some variations to the game, which give a new flavor to the game. Among them, two new products immediately catch your eye - perfectly made variable weather conditions and a revolution in the series - the introduction of motorcycles. Among other changes, it is also worth mentioning the new career path. It is one of the single player game modes. The others are the Arcade mode (forgive me for inaccuracy, but I can't bring myself to write "Arcade mode", as the Polish translator intended) and the fight against time. While the latter does not require much attention, it is worth devoting a few words to the aforementioned.
As I mentioned, a career in the form that is present in PGR 4 is a novelty. We compete in 72nd position and work our way up the career ladder by participating in tournaments around the world. These are held on individual days of the month and are available to players with a specific position in the ranking. Usually, there are several tournaments on a given day and you have to choose the one that suits you at the moment, of course if your position allows you to choose. This solution forces players to repeat the season several times in order to participate in all cups. A quite controversial solution is the inability to freely improve the results achieved during individual races. If our leg collapses and we do not achieve satisfactory results, we will have no choice but to accept the situation and wait for the next edition of the tournament. Many people may not like it, I personally liked this solution as a nod to realism. I would like to add that the creators made sure that the players did not get bored, thus arranging the competition so that races with different rules would follow each other directly. Sometimes you just have to outrun your opponents, other times our task is to complete the route within a certain time (it is interesting to introduce a solution to some of these types of races that stops the clock for a moment as a reward for getting Kudos points), achieving the highest total speed read by cameras or also crazy slalom between the posts. Let us add that the tournaments are designed for cars of different performance. At one point we are driving super-fast sports vehicles, and the next we have to change to much weaker cars. We can also increase the difficulty level at any time, so when we discover in the middle of the season that winning more tournaments is not too much of a problem for us, nothing will stop us from raising the bar a bit. Overall, the career is varied, extensive and, most importantly, addictive, although not being able to quickly return to races you've already done can be irritating.
Drizzle, downpour, storm, snow, fog, ice ... something nice for everyone.
Arcade mode is not new to the series. We have ten chapters to complete, each consisting of six races. In most of them, we can win two medals. The first for driving a car, the second for driving. What irritated me quite a bit is the outdated and too bizarre method of selecting the degree of difficulty in this mode. Well, before starting the struggle, we need to assess our skills and choose the medal we want to apply for. The easiest way to get it is steel, while platinum is quite a challenge. Depending on our choice, the skills of the opponents change, as well as the position that we should have at the finish line to get a given medal. This system seems to work fairly well for typical street racing, but with other challenges, its downsides emerge. Let us imagine such a situation: our task is to cross the route as quickly as possible. We find that we do not feel very confident in the narrow streets of Quebec, so we choose silver. Before the signal to start, we are told that we have to complete two laps in, say, 3 minutes. It turns out, however, that we underestimated our own skills and we reached the finish line thirty seconds early, so we managed to finish the race within the required limit to receive gold. And what? And nothing, fig! We are not winning a better medal, because at the beginning we established that we are fighting for silver and it is irrelevant here that apart from changing the time to finish the route, the choice of the medal has no influence on the course of the race. In other words, it takes a number of repetitions of a given challenge to receive a reward adequate to our skills. It does extend the game time, but it is actually quite frustrating.
It's time to move on to what the tigers like best - driving. Developers from Bizarre Creations made sure that it was neither too realistic nor too arcade. Thanks to many years of experience, they have managed to find a balance between a purely agile driving model and a technical, demanding driving style. In Project Gotham Racing, driving full throttle non-stop is not a smart solution. Anyone who has any experience in racing productions should have no problem taming cars, although they will have to train a lot to achieve the championship. The PGR series has never been the easiest and in the case of the four, nothing has changed in this aspect. The driving model is demanding, but also gives a lot of satisfaction. Words of appreciation should also be given for the mapping of individual vehicles and I am not talking about the graphic design, because it will come later, but about how they are driven. We have a choice of one hundred and several dozen vehicles, and each of them requires a separate approach: differently, he drives super-fast cars that literally break out of their power behind their masks, and otherwise weaker machines. Interestingly, in the vehicle selection window, we have the required driver experience marked. This way, you can easily avoid a situation in which we end up on the track in a machine that we will not be able to control and instead of racing forward to win, we end up spinning the grinders.
When it comes to Kudos points, we get them for controlled skidding, smooth cornering, jumps, driving on two wheels, overtaking opponents or passing a section of the route without any collision. The system works similarly to the previous parts of the series, i.e. by performing one of the scored actions, we can quickly move to the next one, and then to the next, thus creating effective combos. However, you have to be careful not to lose the collected points due to greed, because each major crash causes the counter to be reset. This time, however, the authors took pity on the players and opted for a more forgiving system, which, I admit, I liked. So sometimes we get points, even if we hit the side of the road.
It's worth noting that Kudos points are also awarded for a place in the finish, so don't freak out too much during the race, but keep a balance between fast and effective driving.
Until I played PGR4 , I had mixed feelings about the revolution in the series, which was undoubtedly the introduction of two-wheelers to it. I knew from experience that combining such different vehicles in one race was not always good. Fortunately, the game disappointed me positively. Yes, Bizarre Creations had to make some concessions to ensure equal chances for car drivers and motorcyclists, but playing with motorbikes is a lot of fun (although we can forget about such aspects of driving as operating two brakes or transferring body weight - well, it's not is supposed to be a simulator). Thanks to them, you can enter corners (and the routes in PGR4 are winding) at a higher speed, laughing in spirit at car drivers who have to brake hard before most. However, it is not too rosy. Light motorcycles have no chance of a direct collision with a car or the roadside. The rider blows up and precious seconds pass before he can recover. Fortunately, the creators decided to give up realism in this situation and allow slight abrasions and crashes between two-wheelers and heavier vehicles - that is, something that would not end too well for the driver of the motorbike.
At this point, it is worth mentioning a few words about awarding Kudos points. In general, it is the same as for cars, but motorcyclists get additional options. They can get Kudos for braking with standing on the front wheel or a great looking ride on the rear. During it, using the B button, we can additionally perform various gestures at opponents.
The weather effects are amazing: rain, snow and fog. Sometimes we will also race on icy routes. I must admit that I have never come across such a perfectly rendered vagaries of weather in any game. I spent a lot of time traversing the Brooklyn Bridge route in different weather settings. Sometimes I raced in full sun, which at times was even blinding, other times I started the race on a slightly cloudy day. I didn't look back, and it started to drizzle, and during one of the laps in a row, the dripping rain turned into a downpour with thunderbolts. At such moments, switch to the view from inside the vehicle to see how the water is deposited on the windows, turning into small jets, which in turn are smeared by the wipers. It looks amazing. The view from the outside is also impressive when the road, wet with rain, reflects the light and the water drops on the hood of the car. Not only that, people standing on the roadside reach for umbrellas. A kind of detail, but it makes fun. Of course, reflecting changing weather conditions is not only about the appearance, but also the behavior of the vehicles. I will not forget the struggle on the snow-covered Nordschleife track (Nürburgring), which I had to overcome in a racing car from several decades ago. I would never suspect the knowledge of such words that came to mind during this over ten minutes of white hell.
Speaking of the graphic design: as usual in Bizarre productions it is at a high level. However, it does not set new standards when it comes to the capabilities of the X360. Despite everything, the vehicle models look very good, motorcyclists are well animated, and the interior of the cars was rendered with due diligence. It can be worse with the surroundings, although it still looks great. The problem here and there is visible aliasing. It is also worth mentioning the model of damage, which basically boils down to the "artistic embellishments" of our vehicles with tasteful features, broken mirrors and - horrifyingly - broken rear windows.
During the game, we are accompanied by well-rendered sounds of the engine's work and music, which consists of songs from various genres, ranging from obligatory electronics, through hip-hop, classical music, and ending with sharper rock pieces. Some of the songs are catchy and warm to the fight. Unfortunately, most of them play poorly with the events presented on the screen. However, I will not say that breaking the speed record on the Michelin test track alongside Wagner was an uninteresting experience.
PGR 4 is an extremely complex production that can be played for hours. The creators tried to provide a large number of challenges for players in ten locations scattered around the world (Las Vegas, Quebec, New York, London, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Tokyo, Macau and the already mentioned Nürburgring tracks Michelin). Everyone will find something for themselves. From the winding and narrow streets of Quebec to professional racetracks. Add to this an extensive career, Arcade mode and, which has become increasingly important in recent times, online multiplayer. In addition, the game introduces the ability to record races and publish them on the Internet. To this, let's add a simple game of a photographer, the results of which we can boast of in front of our friends who have the game using the PGR Nations social networking site, or by hanging them on the walls of virtual garages, and we will get a real hearty feast for racing enthusiasts. And when we are tired of cars and motorbikes, we want a change, there is always the slot machine with Geometry Wars: Waves in the corner of the garage, definitely more difficult than its predecessor, known from PGR3 and Xbox LIVE Arcade.
Artur "Metatron" Falkowski