Genre: Street Racing
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Release Date: November 17, 2003
Buy 'PROJECT GOTHAM RACING 2': Xbox
Ladies and gentlemen, as mere human beings we are simply not worthy of perfection. As the saying goes nobody is perfect and the same goes for any creation made by the hands of mortal men. However, every once in a blue moon something comes so close to perfection that the saying is almost made false, like a fine painting crafted by a skilled artist or a book written by an imaginative mind. It goes without saying that Bizarre Creations put a lot of time and effort into their upcoming game Project Gotham Racing 2, with the payoff of their work coming in the form of one of the best racing games in recent memory.
Many people purchased the original Project Gotham Racing more as an eye candy title to show off the Xbox's graphical prowess more than to experience its gameplay. Personally, I found the original PGR to be an entertaining title overall, but the game got boring rather quickly in the fact that while the game did feature many cars, they all handled more or less the same and lacked a distinct personality past speed and handling tweaks. Sure, a classy Porsche would beat the pants off of most any other car, but the cars felt like they were more of the same. One of the major improvements in PGR2 is that the cars themselves are much more fleshed out and have not only a much more distinct feel but are also designed to manufacturer specifications to actually handle more like their real life counterparts.
PGR2 has a dizzying array of cars from a heaping handful of manufacturers from around the world. Ferrari, Porsche, Chevrolet, BMW, Ford, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Audi, and many other manufacturers all add some of their best machines to form a stable of around 50 - 60 different cars. The showroom feature is made seemingly explicitly to show off the vehicles, giving the player the ability to walk around a virtual showroom building, looking at the beautiful cars that surround them and even take them for a spin on a test track. When driving the various cars the feeling of the engine rumbling your hands through the steering wheel is simulated through the rumble motors on the controller, so that when you are driving a beautiful Chevrolet Camero through the streets of Sydney, Australia you can close your eyes and literally feel the cars engine as it upshifts, downshifts, and adjusts not only its sound but its feel as you give it a little gas. Bizarre Creations, I plead you to get the guy/gal that programmed this and buy them a steak dinner, geniuses need high quality food.
With all of the cars that you can haul around in, it only makes sense that there is some game modes to show just how skillful you are with them. The main mode of play is the Kudos World Series, which is broken down into classes of cars that can take part and further broken down into different events. Every car has their own class, from Extreme to Coupe, American Muscle to Pacific, to SUVs (Yes, there are actually a few SUV and trucks to round out the palette, and they're definitely not your common road machines). Among the individual events there are street races, one on one races, cone challenges, speed clocks, overtake challenges, and time trials. Street races are fairly straightforward and simply pit you against like-minded racers to see who can reach the finish line the fastest. One on one challenges make it a little more personal, pitting you against only one other car in a usually close and heated race. Making a return from PGR1 are the cone challenges, which pit you against the clock with the goal to not only perform as many tricks as you can but also while avoiding and sliding between cones. Speed clocks simply ask you to pass a certain point of a track at or above a certain speed, making the player weave though a few turns beforehand to see how well they can maintain their speed. Overtake challenges ask you to pass by a specified number of cars in a set time period, and time trials are a relatively simple matter of completing a few laps before time runs out.
In every one of these events you can gain Kudos, which form the overall scoring system in PGR2. Winning races, getting medals, avoiding damage to your car, and getting the fastest lap are all worth a certain amount of kudos, as are any stunts that you perform during the course of the event. The amount of stunts has increased somewhat from PGR1, adding drafting and drafting plus an overtake in addition to the power slides, air time, and two wheels veterans of the original game have come to expect. The Kudos system has been scaled back a bit in difficulty as well. In the original, if you had just performed a stunt and the points hadn't transferred into your kudos total yet, if you even so much as lightly brushed against a guard rail you would lose all of the kudos that you would have gained by that stunt. In PGR2 you can very, very lightly hit guard rails as long as you don't cause physical damage to the car and still keep your kudos points.
Kudos points also do a lot more now than they did in PGR1. Much like an RPG, when you get a certain amount of total kudos points you gain a kudos level, accompanied by a few kudos tokens. Kudos tokens are used to purchase new cars to race with, either on the car select screen or through the afore-mentioned showroom feature, allowing you to test drive a potential purchase before you plunk down your hard earned Kudos tokens. Also, certain cars are only available for purchase once you achieve a certain kudos level. PGR2 supports Xbox Live play, and has a separate level system for that as well, which can be effective gauge for how good a person really is when racing against human beings rather than the AI.
On the subject of the AI, one of the very few flaws in PGR2 is that the AI is still the same brainless maniacs as featured in PGR1. If you lose control of your vehicle and veer into the path of an AI driver they will do nothing to avoid the collision, instead slamming into your vehicle. Not only is colliding with another vehicle a very bad thing when looked at in racing terms since you lose a chunk of your speed and control for a short time, but honestly who in their right mind would slam a brand new, shiny sports car into the side of another without even attempting an evasive maneuver?
On the multiplayer side of things, PGR2 supports split-screen play, system link, and Xbox Live. Though the Xbox Live side of things was unavailable at the time of review, the split screen and system link play proved to work very well. Unlike other games the split screen mode featured little to no slowdown from a rock solid 60 frames per second, which can be the fatal flaw in any potentially great split screen mode. However, just as in the first PGR game you can still only race against other players and can't add AI racers to the mix. One on one is fine, but the ability to mix and match human and AI racers would have been a nice touch.
Pause for a second, and look up the word "exquisite" in a nearby dictionary. American Heritage dictionary defines the word as "Of such beauty or delicacy as to arouse intense delight", and "Characterized by intricate and beautiful design or execution". It is these very words that sum up the graphical excellence that PGR2 brings to the table. The cars themselves look absolutely, jaw droppingly beautiful, not only accurately depicting the real life machines they are supposed to represent but also look real good doing it. Every cars curvaceous surface casts a pixel-perfect shadow not only on the ground but also upon itself, and the lighting effects are equally as impressive. Driving a pearl white Boxster out of a European alleyway and into the bright sunlight of a street is just as impressive as it would be in real life. Of course, when you take a turn a little too fast and slam into a wall you can expect to see those curvaceous lines smashed like a tin can and watch as your customized license plate gets rip off and cast aside, which almost causes you to feel saddened by the fact you just damaged your beautiful car. An even bigger change from PGR1 is in the tracks themselves, gone are roadways with sharp angles for elevation changes and the same lifeless building over and over again. In PGR2, buildings are much more detailed and diverse and feature windows that give off a realistic sheen. Cafes, bridges, waterways, and overhead passenger train tracks decorate a beautiful landscape as you cruise over a cobblestone roadway. Skyscrapers tower overhead as you power slide around a hairpin turn in Los Angeles, and you can pick out individual buildings blocks away without any artificial barrier such as a short draw distance blocking your view.
PGR2s array of music and sound effects are not to be understated as well. No two cars engines sound alike, and are based largely upon the sounds the actual cars make. When listening carefully one can pick out the noise of not only the engine but also the whine of the turbo in some cars and the occasional backfire when you switch gears rather quickly, all coming together to form a layered sound. Impact sounds aren't quite as impressive as they could be and sometimes seem like the same sound, but thankfully you won't be hearing them too often as long as you keep in mind that it is in fact a game of style and tact rather than a destruction derby. Musically speaking PGR2 is a powerhouse, featuring an included soundtrack with numerous artists, bands, groups, and DJs from around the world. Back from the original PGR2 is the radio mode, which puts a virtual radio DJ behind the music with occasional radio spots and short bits from the DJ. In case the large amount of music bundled with PGR2 doesn't fit your particular style PGR2 fully supports custom soundtracks, allowing you to zoom along the roadways to whatever music you prefer.
All parts being considered, Project Gotham Racing 2 is almost a masterful display of how great a racing title can be. Anyone can pick up the game and have fun with it due to the wide degree of difficulty levels, and people with Xbox Live can take to the streets with people from across the globe to compete in races of style and speed. Project Gotham Racing 2 is probably has some of the best graphics of any game to date, especially when compared to other racing games, but this time around the eye candy comes coupled with compelling, entertaining gameplay that is simply a blast to play. Gamers, buckle your seatbelts and make sure all safety devices are fastened, one of the best racing games to grace video games is ready to tear apart the contenders in the street racing genre and you're coming along for the ride.
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