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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Project Gotham Racing 4 (Xbox 360)

Refining and expanding the formula that made its previous driving titles so appealing, Bizarre Creations' Project Gotham Racing 4 (PGR4) adds motorcycles along with a vastly improved Kudos ranking system. There are more courses than PGR 3 offered and outstanding visuals featuring truly impressive weather effects to increase the realism. It's extensive selection of racing modes makes for an incredibly deep game either online or solo. PGR4 makes good use of the Xbox 360's processing power with a huge garage of vehicles, varied cities and plenty of different gameplay modes including standard, lapped and elimination races. All these elements combine to make PGR 4 the best in the series to date, for an accomplished and exciting racing title.

So far, it looks like the Xbox 360 owner isn't being neglected when it comes to racing titles. Aside from Microsoft's excellent Forza Motorsport 2 released earlier this year, the console's base is being treated to its second Project Gotham title in a little less than 2 years, and it's a solid installment. Far from being a cut and paste copy of the first game, this is a robust and truly next-generation installment that brings some exciting new elements to the table while not neglecting the things that make the game so appealing in the first place. One of the more interesting elements of the new game is its enhanced Kudos system, which has been expanded in a number of ways. In addition to earning these points in the standard fashion, such as passing other vehicles, completing a section without contact, and drifting, you can also earn additional Kudos Stars. These are earned not merely by completing maneuvers, but doing so with style, for example, you earn a higher Kudos Star ranking by holding a drift longer or burning out after a crash. It's been implemented even better this time around and players will find entire modes where the object is to earn Kudos Stars instead of merely finishing the races. This helps to test not only a player's skill and helps to make the driving experience feel even more natural and enjoyable. As you might expect, this makes for a more entertaining and exciting game with an even deeper sense of driving with flair and style.

That's not to say that PGR 4 is only about showing off special moves. In fact, the game feels quite conventional at first. Players will find a familiar selection of courses and cars and as usual, can select from a variety of urban locations from which to race, including returning favorites including London, Las Vegas, New York and Tokyo along with new locations Quebec, Shanghai and Macau. These varied locations offer plenty of challenges on each of their courses, with each offering about a dozen different routes to drive through. Almost as important to the player's success are the race types - with range from standard wheel-to-wheel battles, to elimination and checkpoint races which add to the variety. Players can choose to race these in a variety of modes ranging from standard single race arcade mode, to multi-race career modes. As players complete these different modes, they'll also unlock additional levels and difficulty settings. When this happens, you are able to choose from additional vehicles and challenges in the main modes. There are several levels of difficulty included in the game ranging from amateur to expert, and the requirement to completing these and winning medals scale up as well. PGR 4's later stages can be incredibly difficult and require a great deal of skill and concentration.

Adding to the game's depth and style even further are its selection of vehicles. While it might seem like the usual selection of high-end exotic sportscars are the main thrust of PGR 4, there are some interesting vehicle selections, such as classic rides from the 50's and 60's, oddball experimental choices and of course, the many motorcycle bikes as well. These come from a variety of European, American and Japanese manufacturers, and each one can be customized with their unique paint jobs and decals for a unique look. This might seem interesting, but rather dull in the abstract, but once you get on the track and begin racing these very different vehicles and classes side-by-side, you can see that it significantly and dramatically affects the strategy and techniques you use during the race. Each vehicle type brings its own mechanics and style to the race, and knowing how they operate and maneuver around the track adds an interesting new strategy to each race. Far from being another predictable sequel, the actual gameplay in Project Gotham 4 feels at points completely different from previous installments, which makes for an excellent change of pace. You can definitely feel the difference between the vehicles now, and the contrasting racing styles between the higher end sportscars, and their smaller bike competitors adds more credibility to the developers's attention to racing style. The fact that each vehicle feels quite authentic and controls accurately only adds to the game's sense of style.

As in previous games, each course has been rendered with meticulous attention to detail, making for an incredibly realistic experience. However, PGR 4 goes the extra mile and implements some impressive new weather and lighting effects ranging from rainy nights, intense thunderstorms, icy and snowy conditions and fog. Each of these new areas brings with it a new set of challenges and the weather conditions offer plenty of challenge in and of themselves. On the whole, PGR 4's graphics engine has been refined from the last installment in a number of ways, with more detailed vehicle rendering, better lighting effects and improved track designs making for an exciting and challenging experience. Add the unpredictability of the weather effects and the racing in PGR 4 is even more intense than before and helps to make the gameplay that much more exciting and visceral. One interesting thing that's been carried over from the previous games is its widely varying soundtrack that includes everything from hip-hop, to dance and techno and even some classical tracks. This means you're more than likely to find a soundtrack that fits your style effortlessly. A series of stylish and easy to navigate menus wraps around the game and helps to blend the different modes, tracks and vehicles together effortlessly, making for an excellent package with slick, hip production values overall.

PGR 4's basic structure and modes of play are fairly predictable at this point and you're probably wondering why you should invest in yet another racing game. There's little here that you don't expect but, the latest installment in the series is excellent. This isn't due to its admittedly minor innovations, instead it's appeal lies in the game's superb execution of existing conventions. The newly re-emphasized Kudos system adds to the game's personality, and this focus on driving style instead of speed allows Project Gotham 4 to differentiate itself and stand apart from the pack. Its still feels a little derivative, but this familiarity allows the player to appreciate its approach to driving even more. This allows the game to springboard in some different directions, with the motorcycles the center of attention. They control and feel very different from the standard 4 wheel sportscars players have become accustomed to and learning them is makes for an almost entirely new challenge that gives the gameplay a refreshingly different appeal. Looking at the broader view, it's obvious that plenty of thought went into PGR 4's design.

There's a seamless approach that ties all the game's elements together. This is evident from the well-balanced selection of vehicles, to its superior implementation of the newly rejuvenated Kudos system makes for a much more enjoyable experience. The game's options are quite extensive, with quick bursts of arcade style fun mixing with deeper tournament and multiplayer modes to create one of the most engaging titles in the franchise to date. This is easily the most-accomplished and deepest title yet, with an extensive array of vehicles, modes and tracks to choose from, there are endless options at your disposal. Where the game really succeeds is on the pavement, where players will find themselves in control of beautifully rendered, accurate recreations of exotic sports cars thrusting through realistic urban locations with incredible handling and some intense battles. Project Gotham 4 could have gone off the track with the inclusion of motorcycles and more exotic two-wheeled vehicles, but instead the added visceral speed thrills add an entirely new dimension to the gameplay. Superficially, it might seem a bit too close thematically and stylistically to the previous PGR titles, but this installment features many under-the-hood revisions and significant changes that make it well worth your time.

- Michael Palisano


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