Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Release Date: November 22, 2005
Buy 'PROJECT GOTHAM RACING 3': X360
When the original Xbox hit the gaming scene four years ago, one of the launch titles was a racer called Project Gotham Racing, basically a retooled version of the Dreamcast hit, Metropolis Street Racer. The graphics where good and the gameplay was solid, but developer Bizarre Creations still had a lot of things to iron out and perfect. They did just that with PGR 2, a title that many still consider as one of the best racers ever. The graphics were stunning and near photorealistic at times, the gameplay was about as close to perfection as they could be, and the title brought the series online with one of the best multiplayer experiences on Xbox Live. Microsoft has just released its second game console, the Xbox 360, and the next iteration of the series, Project Gotham Racing 3, is among the launch titles.
For those who aren't in the know, PGR is a driving series that combines your standard white-knuckle racing with a style-based reward system called Kudos. You're awarded Kudos points for skilled driving, such as pulling off good power slides around turns, braking properly, passing other drivers, and a whole host of other moves. The whole game is based around this Kudos system, and it keeps track of your total Kudos points, which you can use like money to buy new cars and unlock new events.
The whole game is pretty much set up like PGR 2. In fact, PGR 3 is largely the same game, but with far better graphics, new cities and tracks, and an even further improved online mode. Some people will argue that if the gameplay is roughly the same as PGR 2, it's not a true next-gen title, but I beg to differ. The PS2 and Xbox consoles were powerful enough that racing titles were brought to a very realistic yet fun level, so don't expect a whole slew of changes in core gameplay, as there's not much room for growth. PGR 2 was already quite realistic, and while its successor could have been made more so, that might have entailed crossing the line between being an arcade racer and a racing simulation.
Having said that, PGR 3's gameplay has been refined. Everything is tighter, more polished, and plays better while still feeling like PGR 2, which isn't a bad thing at all, when you consider just how good that title was. The developers took the already amazing gameplay and tightened up the controls and fine-tuned other areas to near-perfection.
One of the areas that has seen some improvements has been the Career mode. The general setup remains the same: you start out with some money, buy a car, and start competing in a series of events for medals and trophies. Instead of picking a low-end car that is no different from your mom's vehicle, you start out with a selection of dreamy high-end sports cars. There are no bad cars in PGR 3 — every one of the 80+ cars is a high-end machine that you would actually want to drive. As you progress through career mode, you will unlock different concept cars from the manufacturers as bonuses and will start to move up the Kudos ranking until you reach number one.
PGR 3 seems to be focused more on racing than the previous title. You still have your fair share of the Kudos-based events such as the cone challenge and speed test, but there seem to be more actual racing events, striking a better balance between racing and doing Kudos-only events. In addition, the insane level of difficulty that you hit like a brick wall at 200 mph in the PGR 2 has been greatly reduced in this installment. That's not to say that it's easy by any means, but it's far more accessible, and you won't find yourself spending hours on the same event before passing it, unless you are trying for the "hardcore" medal setting.
This is partly due to the extra power that Bizarre Creations has at its fingertips with the Xbox 360, which they put to great use with the new AI. In PGR 2, the AI would drive realistically most of the time, but if you did not get in front of the first-place car early on, you had no chance of catching him for the rest of the race, as it drove so perfectly that it would be out of sight after the second lap. Thankfully, the AI is much more realistic now, and all of the cars play by the same rules. You never feel like you are completely out of it, and you can seem to catch up if you don't mess up too badly.
As fun as the single-player portion is, PGR 3 gets even better when you take it online. The heart of the online segment is the new Online Career mode, which is set up like the offline Career mode, but you now achieve a ranking based on how well you do in the online races. You can also gain online Kudos points, which then allows you to open up new multiplayer events in which to compete. When you select an event, you are sent to a random room where you wait for other people to fill up the slots, and then the event starts. You have no control over any of the settings; you select your car and then get stuck with random opponents in the same class who are also playing on the same event. The Online Career mode really adds a ton of depth to the game and helps extend it by giving you something else to really work for.
Apart from the Online Career mode, you also can do standard online racing, where you are in total control of all of the settings. You can pick the track you race on, the number of laps, time of day, and a whole host of other settings that you can customize to your liking. You can pick from one of three modes of play, Street Race, Eliminator, and Capture the Track. Street Race is where you are all fighting to be first, and Eliminator is where the last-place vehicle at the end of every lap gets eliminated from the race. Capture the Track splits up the track into smaller sections, and the racer with the best time through those portions "captures" that part of the track. At the end of the race, the person with the most sections of captured track captured wins. Making these modes even sweeter is the option to play them as team events, where you can split the racers into two teams.
Rounding out the online portion of the game is the new feature called Gotham TV. This is basically an advanced spectator mode in which you can view any of the races online. Instead of just viewing the game from one or two pre-set camera angles, however, you have full control over how you watch the race. You can select from any of the racers to watch, and you can pick from an abundance of different camera angles. You could also move the camera yourself for the best possible view, all in real-time while the race is going on, which is a great feature to use to see how the pros race (and perhaps steal a few tricks from them). In games like Eliminator where you can get knocked out after the very first lap, Gotham TV is a great feature because it's really pretty fun to sit back and watch the other players race. You can still talk to the people who are racing, so you never get too lonely in Loser Land.
PGR 3 is a great-looking game that definitely screams "next-gen" with its visuals. Saying this game looks nearly photorealistic is no understatement, as throughout most of the race, it could pass as just that. You can actually pause the game and go into photo mode, where you have the ability to freely walk around the tracks and snap photos of anything in the game and then save them to your hard drive. You can view the full-screen photos with no head's-up display, so I took a picture of the Las Vegas strip and put it in full-screen mode right before a friend showed up. He immediately started pointing out all of the places he went to during his Vegas trip a few months ago, and he was completely shocked when I showed him that it was an in-game shot and not an actual photo of the Vegas strip. That about sums up how good PGR 3 looks. Sure, I could tell you about the awesome framerate with no slow down, or how good this game looks in 720p, or go on and on about the insanely detailed textures, or the fact that the cars are made up of an average of 80,000 polygons with 40,000+ on the inside alone … but I think you get the picture.
When all is said and done, Project Gotham Racing 3 is not much different from PGR 2, but it doesn't have to be. It was already an awesome game to begin with, and it's even better on the Xbox 360. This game is so polished that you would have no idea that Bizarre Creations received the final Xbox 360 hardware only two months ago and had to really put in some insane hours to get this wrapped up in time for launch. Kudos (pun intended) to the whole development team for making one of the best racing games even better, and showing off what the Xbox 360 can do. If you are a fan of any of the other PGR titles, then you will absolutely love PGR 3. This is one of the best launch games for the Xbox 360 in all genres, and it's also one of the best racing games to date.
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