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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


 

 

 

        

 

 

 


 

Largely based on the foundations of last yearís Dreamcast sleeper hit Metropolis Street Racer, Project Gotham Racing is the semi-sequel to that game. With its unique ĎKudosí system and real-world environments, the game promises an unprecedented amount of realism. This release has been heavily touted as a ĎGranTurismo-killerí but, does it live up to the hype? The Laser takes a spin with this Bizarre Creations racer and finds out if it delivers what it promises.

The Dreamcast played host to a lot of innovative titles in its too-short lifespan and one of the more interesting of these was Metropolis Street Racer from developers Bizarre Creations. While this was an excellent title it suffered because it didnít have the promotion and hype it should have. This is a shame because the game was brilliant in the way it encouraged stunt driving through its ďKudosĒ system. Kudos are basically the gameís elaborate points system where the player earned a high score through stunt driving and doing other tasks. Now, the developers have a second chance and have delivered an amped-up version for the Xbox launch under the title Project Gotham Racing.

  There are several modes of play that make PGR a deep and challenging game. Players can play the arcade mode, where the object is to place third or better in a series of four races. Doing so on all the tracks will unlock harder levels and vehicles. Quick Race mode is similar to Arcade mode, though here the object is to race through a series of gates and the success or failure is judged by how many kudos you earn by successfully navigating the obstacle courses. There is also a free-style mode where you can race around tracks without any pressure. By far, PGRís most interesting mode is its innovative and enjoyable Kudos Challenge mode. Here, the player is given a series of tasks to perform and can earn Kudos by completing them. The catch here is that you can Ďbetí a certain number of kudos on your success. Failure means you lose those kudos Ė adjusting the difficulty means the objectives are harder, such as decreasing the amount of time to finish a lap. You start the game with only a couple of cars but can unlock additional vehicles as you complete challenges and earn more kudos.

The kudos system is a fairly interesting one, but there are other ways to earn Kudos which adds to the challenge and flair of the gameplay. During the actual racing, you can earn additional kudos by power-sliding, avoiding obstacles or driving through a section of track cleanly without hitting the sides of the courses. Of course, additional kudos are available for overtaking opponents and completing a race under the time limit. The system is basically the same as the one in MSR, though this has been refined to make it simpler and less intrusive on the actual racing. Overall, the kudos seem less gimmicky than in the original title, though still distracting, and are integrated nicely into the overall driving experience and is logical and challenging. Speaking of distracting, while itís a cool idea to have a soundtrack from actual radio stations, this can get very annoying in a hurry and doesnít really add much to the overall experience. The tracks from the Chemical Brothers and others are cool, but they only appear in DJ mixes. 

PGR takes everything that was great about MSR and takes it to the next level. While the gameplay has evolved to become less demanding, the real treat of this sequel comes in the unbelievable overhaul the graphics have been given which make the whole experience dynamic and these aesthetic enhancements make for quite a visceral driving experience. This is a showpiece for the Xbox on all levels, giving the power of the system a really good workout and making it all seem effortless. Letís start with the vehicles themselves because they are the main thing car nuts will notice first. As you can tell from the screen shots, Project Gothamís car models look absolutely incredible with shiny finishes and brilliant design making their appearances seem completely convincing. The urban environments are amazing with real-world locales including New York , Tokyo , London and San Francisco recreated with exacting photo-realism making them look exactly as they do in real life. Anyone whoís ever visited Central Park in Manhattan will be amazed by the utterly faithful and convincing representation in this game.

The courses also play as youíd expect urban areas to Ė with large highways quickly turning into tight squeezes and numerous sharp turns making many of the courses quite challenging from a pure driving standpoint. In all, Project Gotham features over 200 different courses which gives it plenty of depth. Still, PGRís graphics engine is also impressive in other areas. Thereís an almost unreal amount of jaw-dropping detail to make the overall experience quite convincing throughout, particularly in first-person mode. Harnessing the power of the Xbox isnít easy and this is pointed out by the different uses of light sourcing and extensive shadow and smoke effects. While some of the effects are subtle, these small touches only enhance the experience making it seem nearly flawless throughout. Sometimes, you swear youíre watching videos of a car race and not playing a console game. The sense of speed in first-person mode is intense, making the visceral thrill of street-racing come right through the screen and in third-person mode, the cars and objects fit in perfectly with the environments making for an extremely believable environment. Whatís most impressive is the smoothness at which all of this is delivered. Thereís almost no pop-in or jaggies and the anti-aliasing is used extensively meaning there are very little suspension of disbelief needed. Overall, the game has an incredible amount of visual polish and outstanding production values that set a new benchmark of graphics quality. Not a bad start considering this is merely a launch title.

All this graphical realism wouldnít work if the gameís controls were ineffective. Luckily, the cars control realistically with precision and responsiveness. The Xbox controller is perfect for racing games and feels fluid in the hand. Its analog stick is very comfortable and responsive while the shift buttons in the back gives the game a realistic sense of acceleration and responsiveness thatís second-to-none. Performing slides isnít as simple as youíd think because the cars have a tendency to skid out and there are many tight single lane areas where trying to perform these flashy stunts is basically suicidal. The controls feel right and make the driving experience feel authentic and realistic allowing the player to concentrate on the action.

The most important question is whether the game lives up to the hype and is the proverbial Killer App everyoneís been talking about. Donít misjudge this Ė itís a solid game in its own right but just lacks the depth and ambition of Gran Turismo 3 on the PS2. One plus is that the vehicles on offer are mostly the cooler models with Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and the usual Corvettes all making appearances. The ambition might be a little limited but PGR performs brilliantly in its sphere. While impressive in their realism, the fact is that the urban environments are too limited to match the diverse course designs in GT3. While the real-world car models are impressive, there just isnít any comparison between PGRís 30 vehicle garage to the massive 100 available cars in GT3. On the other hand, the racing environments are slightly smoother and sharper than in GT3 displaying an even greater degree of accuracy with plenty of small details that make a huge difference. PGRís car models are also slightly better with a more realistic appearance overall. Despite the production values, the game still doesnít play as well as it could and seems to suffer mostly from the distractions caused by the kudos system. While this has been toned down, itís still distracting and not an intuitive way to score the game and detracts from the overall realism the game aims for.

Judged on its own merits, this is an outstanding racing title. Itís a shame that so much effort has gone into promising something that this title clearly is not. For starters, there arenít the extensive car customization features that GT has. If youíre looking to change the drive-train, enhance the braking, optimize the transmission or increase your vehicleís acceleration, youíre out of luck. You are limited to the stock vehicles and about the only thing that can be changed are their colors. Clearly, this isnít a comprehensive simulation of racing and doesnít have the scope of GT and is in fact, more a street-racing action-oriented arcade racer. Itís a solidly entertaining and challenging title with lavish production values, jaw-dropping photo-realism and addictive gameplay and is an excellent showcase for the Xbox console. There arenít a lot of cars offered in the game but the extra modes and kudos challenges add a lot of replay to the game. So, while itís not going to dethrone Gran Turismo, Project Gotham Racing is the undisputed king of Xbox racing and a must-own title for owners of the console.