Review: Project Gotham Racing 3 - 360

The superb racer arrives in full next-gen glory

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

QuickView

Good: Graphics, controls, everything audio, online, race modes, just about everything

Bad:Damage models

Does it feel "next-gen": Yes

When a console is released there are a few required genres that must be represented on launch day, and one of them is racing. Microsoft knew this fact when it launched the Xbox with Project Gotham Racing. A few years later the sequel, Project Gotham Racing 2, was released and essentially redefined what an arcade racer was supposed to be. It introduced a new way of looking at racing no longer was the focus only on the time the player earned but also on how fancy the racing was. This encouraged the players to drive wildly to rack up the Kudos points which proved to be a huge success. Thankfully Bizarre Creations decided to stay the course with the third installment, but with more online features, slicker graphics, and a myriad of new options to play with.

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The Project Gotham series has always had the best looking car models on the Xbox consoles and number three is no different. The car models are quite impressive with their proclaimed 40,000 polygon exteriors and 40,000 polygon interiors. Most of the time it is impossible to tell there are any vertices on the cars, though a few models have some distinct points to them, however, to see these points takes a concentrated effort. This attention to detail though did not come without a price only 80 cars made it into the final game. Granted these cars are the type of car most people can only dream of owning, but this selection is still limited and the removal of the Mini Cooper does mean the end of the cat and mouse sub game.

However, this does not explain the lack of almost any damage modeling on the cars. For some reason there is almost no way to do damage to the cars. Project Gotham Racing 2 had an amazing damage model for all of the vehicles, yet in PGR3 with its increased polygon count, there is nothing to speak of. This was a poor choice because it removes much of the suspension of disbelief that the models provide.

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The car roster's sacrifice is the game world's gain though because without all those lesser cars taking up disc space there is more room for highly detailed environments. The five cities London, Las Vegas, New York, Tokyo, and Nurburgring, all boast photorealistic cityscapes to tease the driver's eyes as he flies through the courses. These cities are absolutely the best racing environments ever, with some areas so remarkably exact that it would be hard to tell a real photo from the game. It is too bad that so many people will miss these recreations because they just want to drive the hottest cars as fast as possible, but that is the purpose of the game. The weakest part of the environments, though are the crowds. The crowds are fully rendered people that will cheer as the cars pass by and will jump away from the wall as a car crashes, but they are also extremely bland to look at. There was apparently little time put into maximizing these onlookers, and that is forgivable, though unfortunate, because again few people will take the time to watch the crowds.

Equally impressive is the audio. There is no aspect of the sound that is not immaculate. The engine sounds are exhilarating to behold and with a decent sound system will place the player in the driver seat like never before. Bizarre Creations did a great job capturing the sounds of the engines, tires on the road, crowds cheering, and the contact of metal on metal. Here again, the lack of damage models stands out because collisions are just amazing to listen to with breaking of glass, twisting of metal, and scraping of paint. Throw on top of that the best licensed soundtrack ever -- it does not get better than listening to Mozart in one race and then Japanese hip hop in the next, and even the biggest audiophile will have nothing to complain about. The only people that should even think about using a custom soundtrack on this game are those that like country music, because well, that music isn't good enough to be in a million dollar car or this game.

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Everyone knows that a game will only survive a short while if the quality is only skin deep, and thankfully Bizarre Creations has not fallen prey to this. PGR3 takes everything that the previous iteration did correct and turns the intensity up to eleven. This means that instead of just providing a large number of pre-built tracks the player is now able to create his own race track. This feature will definitely become a huge success on Xbox Live in the near future, but it does have a few draw backs. First, there are only certain places that can be start and finish points though they are quite numerous. Second, the markers for the custom tracks are not always the metal railings like the pre-built tracks but are at times just big yellow arrows that can be hard to see and detract from the sense of realism. Third, the custom tracks are only for multiplayer races. And finally, there is no guarantee that the course is not going to suck. But there is the delete option so any bad tracks can be removed and forgotten.

To go with this new ability to create custom routes are the new multiplayer race types. No longer are the players left to make up mini games inside of normal races because now they can play game types like eliminator and capture the track. These new race types will probably see a lot of use because they allow for team games that really do need teamwork. In eliminator the last person to finish a lap is removed from the race; and in capture the track the first person to finish each section of the track is awarded a point and the team with the most points at the end of the race wins. These race types will only be found in the custom games either on Xbox Live, split screen, or system link.

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Not all the additions to Project Gotham Racing 3 are original though; the new online career mode was introduced by Forza Motorsport last year and has become a popular feature. The incorporation in PGR3 is completely different than in Forza though, because now the online and off-line careers are almost completely separate. In PGR3 the off-line career mode is essentially the same as in the last game with all the cone challenges, overtake challenges, street races, and one on one races; but with new models like drift challenges and time vs. kudos challenges. However, the online career mode is just street races against other players of like abilities as determined by the TrueSkill system. This separation would lead one to think that everything would be separate between the two careers, but that isn't the case because all money and cars purchased are cumulative while the Kudos points earned are not.

So, all the career races online will help purchase the next car for the off-line career. The two careers are also arranged in a different manner from each other and from previous titles. In PGR2 the career was arranged based on the car type which has now been replaced with 23 themed Championship Series'. This means that now a player can play through the whole game with one car type or mix it up with any car type he wants. However, the online career adds car class requirements also to narrow the available games down and provide more games to play. The biggest gripe with the off-line career mode is that all leader boards are based on the amount of Kudos points earned in that race. This is a strange situation when many of the races are focused on getting a faster time and not racking up the points.

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Speaking of Kudos, this is the one place in the game that has not changed at all. This is a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is that the Kudos system was an extremely solid implementation in PGR2 because it was a blast to accrue points and that has not changed. The bad thing is that it has not changed at all when there could have been so many more ways to gain Kudos. This lack of improvement is not noticeable but slightly disappointing when so much of the game rides on the Kudos system.

The final additions to the game are what really push the title over the next-gen hump Gotham TV, photo mode, and the achievements. Gotham TV is a new system that allows up to 40,000 people to watch one race. This may at first sound like a useless feature, but when it is possible to watch the top racers compete no one will debate how awesome a feature Gotham TV really is. On top of that, Gotham TV allows anyone to watch any of their friends race. To be honest, it is quite an ego boost to finish a race and have multiple friend requests waiting just because of a broadcast victory.

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Photo mode though is where most people will waste hours of their time. This mode is addicting like nothing else because it allows you to stop any off-line game or replay and roam the track looking for the perfect picture. Not only is the player allowed to aim the camera, but he may also alter the shutter speed, developing time, focus, exposure, sepia, and many other options to create an exciting image to save on the hard drive. Too bad there is no current way to transfer that image to a PC and use it as a background. A word of warning though to those that are looking for a quick way to boost their gamerscore Project Gotham Racing 3 is not the answer because it takes time and dedication to unlock these achievements. The upside though is that there is a distinct sense of accomplishment and pride in doing so, which is what the system was originally designed for.

It is also worth mentioning that there are two hidden demos of Geometry Wars and Geometry Wars Retro Evolved. Everyone that plays Project Gotham Racing 3 owes it to themselves to try out those two demos.

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Anyone that owns an Xbox 360 should play Project Gotham Racing 3. This game demonstrates the power of the system with amazing visuals, audio, and a plethora of gameplay options. And to top off this treat of next-gen goodness are solid controls, the photo mode, Geometry Wars demos, and the most solid online racing to date. This game will be a defining title for the Xbox360 for a long time to come.

Graphics: A+

Sound: A+

First Play: A

Last Play: A

Gameplay: A

Overall: 95% A