Project Gotham Racing 4 (Video Game Review)

Video Game Review
Project Gotham Racing 4
Microsoft Xbox 360
Developed by: Bizarre Creations
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios

Racing games are a dime a dozen on the Xbox 360. Microsoft has published almost as many racing games on the system than any other genre combined. Bizarre Creations and Microsoft Game Studios’s Project Gotham Racing 4 is a solid addition to anybody’s 360 racing library. It’s fast, fun, and gorgeous. It’s not perfect and has some serious issues but still stands as one of the superior racing games of the HD generation.

The game is played like a semi-realistic racer. While the controls are not as sensitive as the Gran Turismo games, they’re not as forgiving as the Ridge Racer games. There’s a fair amount of drifting in the game but those who can corner around tight turns without having to drift much or brake too hard will tend to leave the competition in the dust.

That’s not to say that the game doesn’t want you to drift. Not at all. The game employs the Kudos system which rewards the player for long drifts, good cornering, and passing competitors. Kudos can be spent on new tracks, cars, and game modes. Kudos are also earned by winning races and competitions.

The single player mode has two main categories: arcade and season. The arcade mode is split into several chapters consisting of ten races each. Medals are awarded based on the difficulty level the player chooses. Completing a challenge on the highest difficulty level earns the player a platinum medal. It’s nothing new as the arcade mode has been a staple of the Project Gotham Racing franchise since the beginning. It’s fun stuff but not as in-depth as the season mode. Still enjoyable nonetheless.

The season mode puts the player into a racing career where winning tournaments will cause the player to rise through the ranks and gain access to more challenging races. The more challenging the tournament, the more Kudos that can be earned. Once a player has achieved a certain ranking, they are moved up to the next skill level. The higher the skill level, the greater the access to racing events that have more kudos to earn.

The multiplayer aspect of the game is fun. For the most part, it’s online although you can partake in two-player offline split-screen races. The real neat online mode is the tournaments feature that requires players to qualify and then compete in races at the end of the day. It’s entertaining even though new players to the game will find themselves having trouble coming close to winning their first online race.

There are seven classes of cars. They range from A (the fastest and most powerful) through to G (whoa, slow down there grandma). Earlier races in the career mode will only allow for the weaker classes of cars to be used while the more skill-testing tournaments will demand for only the best cars in the game. However, each race has a restriction as to what class of car can be used; you can’t use a higher or lower classed car. This might be a problem for some as there are some great cars that one might grow fond of in the middle levels (like B or C class) but unable to use them in A class tournaments. True, the A class cars might be faster but some of those lower classes have cars that handle so well that it makes up for the loss of speed.

Bikes are also present. They handle differently than cars. Using them strategically during the career mode will be of great benefit since completing a season event with a bike or a car makes no difference. Sometimes the tight handling of a bike is of great advantage. However, very few bikes have high top speeds. So in longer, straighter races they become a problem. To complete the arcade mode, players will have to complete most courses with both a bike and a car which takes away all the strategy.

The game controls very well. The triggers make the controls feel perfect as some of the courses need some finesse with the gas pedal. However, I found myself relying on using the handbrake more than the regular brake. Still, I never found myself once having a problem remembering what button to press and never felt confused by the controls. Even though racing games shouldn’t have complicated controls, some companies can’t get the layout done properly. There should be no complaints by anyone about how this game is configured or handles.

The graphics look great. The cars look highly detailed and look almost like the real thing. The place where the game scores major points is its attention to detail. All nine cities (Well, technically eight cities and a race course) have been perfectly replicated down to the tiniest features. Even though it’s getting a bit annoying to see tons of product placement in video games, it’s still pretty cool to see the actual fast food restaurants line a particular street from a city like they do in real life.

It’s not all pretty. There are some areas where there’s slowdown. It’s a problem on rainy courses in some tight corners. It’s a major issue when you’re trying to perform a tight corner during a cone race only for the game to freeze up and your timing to be thrown off. It’s unnecessary and problematic and prevents this game from being one of the best in its class.

The sounds are great. The roaring of the engines really make you feel like you’re part of a real life race. The soundtrack of the game is excellent too as there’s plenty of options available that will please everyone. From the latest sounds to classical music, this game has it all. It’s one of the few games on the system where you won’t be thinking all that much about putting in your own custom soundtrack (although that option is available).

There were some issues I noticed during the career mode while racing. There were times where it told me incorrect information on the HUD that influenced how I handled my car while racing. It would sometimes tell me during a timed lap or during a cone race that I was either well ahead or way behind in a particular race. Then when I’d finish the race, it would tell me the exact opposite. I can understand if I make a mistake while racing and lose a few seconds but there were a few races where I was supposedly sitting in first with an eight second lead and then I would finish the race only to be sitting dead last twelve seconds behind the leader. It was frustrating in having to deal with this bug since it caused me to react to my position. I shouldn’t have to make a decision on whether to drive more aggressively or cautiously because of poorly written computer code.

Even with the issues, the game is a lot of fun. The season mode is a blast to play through and will keep any racing fan occupied for many hours. On top of that you have the arcade mode and the online play. Add it all up and you can see there’s a ton of content available. The racing in the game is very well done and grabbing the checkered flag feels very satisfying. A great thing about the game is the class system of cars that allow for some of the fast cars to be available right away so that players aren’t stuck with only slow cars at the beginning. It assumes that this is most likely not the first racing game that the player has ever touched so there’s no need to throw in a crawl-before-walking mechanic.

Project Gotham Racing 4 is a very fun game. It feels like a more complete racing experience than the previous three instalments in the series. Bizarre Creations and Microsoft did an admirable job with this title. However, it felt like they still should have delayed its release by a couple of months to iron out the wrinkles (like the graphical slowdowns and the HUD glitches). This could have been one of the best racing games ever but it’s problems do knock it down a few pegs. It’s a great racing game; just not the greatest racing game.



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