Project Gotham Racing 3 Xbox 360 Review

The third instalment of one of the greatest racing series ever created. Starting life as Metropolis Street Racer back on the Sega Dreamcast, Project Gotham Racing is now appearing on its third home console and what an effort it is. One of the most anticipated launch titles since the 360 was announced, Bizarre has done great work in order to ready this title for battle. Perhaps this title more than any other at launch, showcases what the next generation is all about, amazing high definition visuals. The hype for this game started back with one of the Microsoft’s many viral marketing campaigns and since then it has only grown. There were rumours close to launch that this game would not be ready in time. This led some people to believe the game would not be as good as it could be, I am glad to report that is most definitely not the case.

The main theme of the game, which is clearly listed in the manual, is all about speed. Ditching things like minis from Project Gotham Racing 2, PGR 3 only features cars that can do at least 170 miles an hour. That instantly makes you think of speed demons such as Ferrari and Lamborghini, all of these cars are featured in the game and more. Unique to the PGR series has always been the Kudos system and it is again present in this version. The sheer amount of different moves available is mind-boggling; trying to perform them all in the one race is not easy I tell you. Bizarre has also decided to clearly define both the online and offline game modes, so that your offline progress is completely separate from your online progress. In fact the only thing that links the two is in your online career, where you can only choose the cars you have bought in your offline career. Some may argue that the game is not much different from others in the series, but as they say – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The visuals in this game are stunning; there is no way around it. Each car has been built from the ground up, with each individual car pushing over 80,000 polygons’ each, 40,000 for the outside and 40,000 for the interior. Perhaps even more stunning are the surroundings of the tracks, the tracks themselves are not amazing- just standard race tracks. The surrounding areas however are beautiful, they all feature clear and well-detailed textures, there are also some real licensed shops and restaurants depending on what tracks you are racing. For example, racing in Las Vegas you can notice McDonalds, but you will be far too engrossed in the racing too even worry about food. High Definition is where this game shines, it does look nice on SDTV, but its quality is not that far above Project Gotham Racing 2, if you have the game running in 720p or 1080i it looks like a different game altogether.

The lighting on the cars is breathtaking, you can see all the reflections of things such as other cars, your surrounding and even things above you such as railings’ on bridges’. Even more, the reflections are all in real time as well and it is not just the car body that glistens with detail, everything from car alloys to the visor on the drivers’ helmet show amazing reflections of what is around them. Apparently, Bizarre took over 22,000 photographs in order to help them build the game with 10 hours of video footage thrown in as well. To give you a little comparison between this game and the first in the Project Gotham Racing series, the Brooklyn Bridge featured in PGR 3 uses more Polygons than an entire city in PGR1. One of the hyped additions to PGR 3 is the “in-car” view. Bizarre have worked hard to detail the interiors of each car amazingly, it is definitely the greatest in-car view of any racing game created, with the interiors detailed just as thoroughly as the exteriors, you are obviously going to see some great detail. It feels very much like driving a real car, and certainly looks like it as well.

Each city is clearly distinguishable by how detailed some of the surroundings are. For example, even when you’re doing 200 mph round London, you can easily make out Big Ben looking over at you as you whiz round the track. Perhaps the only down point is the crowd. Something that no racing game has ever really nailed is the ability to show realistically looking crowds that actually act like real people. PGR 3’s crowd look in no way bad, there have certainly been a lot worse efforts, they do look a tad bit generic but then again, who really cares that much – you do not buy the game in order to ogle at the crowds. It is all about the cars, and Bizarre has spared no expense in making them look the part. The menus in the game are all clearly laid out and easily navigated. It is all categorised for you, so you can click on your “gotham career” and proceed with what you want to do career wise, or you can click “playtime” and embark on more arcade like adventures.

When playing this game I urge you to use the in-car view, it may take a little while to adjust to but it is what the game is made to do. The sense of immersion you get from it is fantastic, it literally feels so real when your speeding into a tight hairpin corner at near about 200 mph, breaking sharply and flying round the corner trying to keep the traction in your tyres to avoiding crashing into the barriers, words really cannot do the in-car view justice. The cars in the game do not feature much damage modelling, if you crash into a car in front or bang into a barrier, you may scrape the bumper or shatter the windscreen but you will not suffer anything that changes the handling of the car. That really seems to be a continuing theme throughout PGR 3, trying to make things easier, no doubt some of the cars featured in the game handle a little more tougher in real-life than they do in the game, It does make things more enjoyable that it wont take you hours of playing just to get the hang of things. That being said, the game is no way easy. As you get into the realm of the more expensive cars you will start to get more realistic handling, the Ferrari F50GT for example can be real bitch to control; you have to look no further than in many of the online races to see this proven.

The visuals are not the only good thing about the games, oh no, it has plenty of things for you to do as well. The main mode in the game is the “Gotham Career” which is split between your online career and offline career. Your online career is made up of over 20 tournaments, featuring locations such as London, Las Vegas, Tokyo, New York and the Nurburgring in Germany. The normal balance of the career is between racing and skill challenges. You start off in the first tournament doing “street races”. These are just straight out races between you and other racers, as you go on you will see slightly different mixtures of this formula, sometimes you will be do straight out 1 vs. 1, which sees you race against another racer, normally over the course of 1 long lap. The other race mode is the eliminator, which features more prominently as you progress in your career. It is similar to the street races at the beginning, however after each lap is completed, the racer in last position will be eliminated.

One of the beauties that the Project Gotham Racing series has over other racing games is that it is not always about how fast you drive, but how skilfully you can handle your car. You will certainly need to be able to handle your car when it comes to the skill challenges. They start of pretty easy, with things such as hot lap – which is just beating a certain lap time and breakthroughs, which consist of beating a number of different checkpoints in a certain time. As things become more difficult you will start to encounter the dreaded cone challenges – which people either hate or love. At the easier difficulty levels, the cone challenges are not too difficult; you only need to perform a few kudos manoeuvres in order to gain the required score. As you reach the platinum levels, you will start to see why people hate these things, the difficulty jump is enormous. From only needing scores of around 1000 on easy, you will have to reach the heights of around 20,000 to pass some. This calls for you to combo every gate on the course and to try to string together as many different kudos manoeuvres as possible. If you get as far as the platinum levels, prepare to spend a little time on these cone challenges, they come thick and fast during later tournaments.

There are around 23 tournaments featured in the game, you unlock later tournaments as you win more trophies, for example the final tournament requires you to have won every prior trophy before gaining access to them. As you progress from the early stages, you will notice how the races not only get harder but also a lot longer. Once you hit the final track – Nurburgring – you will be racking up 7 minute races no problem. Although it may seem like the career will not last too long, it does last a fair while. A lot will depend on the skill of the driver and how many tries it takes to do certain levels. Due to the achievements handed out in PGR 3, it is worthwhile to replay the game in harder difficulties, as you will get an achievement for every difficulty level completed. A neat thing is that the game awards you the achievements from lower difficulty levels than the one you may have completed. For example, if you manage to complete the career on platinum on your first play through, the game awards you all the achievements from the lower difficulty levels as well, saving you from having to play through easier levels.

The online aspect of career mode is made up of different classed races, which all count towards your ranking. The game uses a system called “trueskill”, in order to match you up with similar players in races. It takes into account things such as your ranking, your net connection etc. It will also try to avoid matching you with players that you have decided not to race with. To start with, the trueskill came in for a lot of criticism, due to it failing to accurately match players. According to Bizarre, this is due to the low number of people that actually own a 360, as more people own one and get the game, it will settle down. As I said earlier, the online career is made up of different classed car races. These are split into different scenarios, which feature different tracks, car classes and race types. For example, some scenarios feature straight out dulling between two class D cars, where as another scenario is an eliminator race at the Nurburgring featuring Class B cars. The online career is potentially endless, it will last as long as your desire to improve your ranking does, the scenarios’ are different enough to offer there own individual experience, it would have been nice if a few more could be added, but the ones’ on offer are good enough.

Another addition is the much-talked “Gotham TV”, which allows you to watch live feeds of different races from all across the world. It is possible to get yourself in the featured races, which are known as “gotham heroes”. This consists of races featuring the top ranked racers in the world of Project Gotham Racing 3, one of the achievements in the game is to get yourself featured on gotham heroes (something that I managed to do) According to Bizarre the servers can support up to an incredible 30,000 people watching the one race. It really is a great feature that can be a lot of fun to watch, especially if you manage to get yourself featured on it. Whilst watching the races on gotham heroes, you can change between watching the different cars in the races and also different camera angles. The default camera is very much a TV style one that changes between different panned out views, but you are able to change it to the in-car view if you want.

Another great live feature is the ability to watch a clip of someone else’s attempt at one of the offline career races. The way this works is as follows, after you successfully complete a race or a skill challenge in your offline career, you will be awarded a position on the leader board depending on what your score was – the score is based on how many kudos you got. So if you are stuck on one of the cone challenges you could go to the leader board of that challenge and watch a clip of how the top guy did it. This is not only a fun feature, but it can be very useful – watching a clip of one of the top guys showed me where I was going wrong and what I needed to do in order to gain the right score. Another new community feature is the inclusion of a ticker at the bottom of the screen, which keeps you updated on what is happening in the PGR 3 world such as who just achieved a new rank or who is being featured on Gotham TV. It is a pretty nice feeling to see your name scrolling across the screen.

The other gameplay modes can be found under the “playtime” section. A couple of new modes that have been added to the game are the route creator, in which you can create over a million different routes. You take a city and then pick the different race points in it; you can have it going anywhere and feature all sorts of hills and hairpins. The other new mode is the photo mode, which allows you to take photos during a race. This is done by pressing the pause button and then clicking the photo mode, you can play around with the different angles and option until you are happy with the picture. Also available in the playtime menu is the race against the clock mode, this allows you to attempt laps at any circuit, in any city. You can even choose to race against ghosts of the best players in the world. If you want to play an online race but do not want to race on your career, you can play unranked matches as well; doing this allows you to narrow down what racers you get by changing the options to something that you may prefer.

PGR 3 hits the high note again with an awesomely diverse soundtrack. Songs range from the usual R’n’B, Rock and Electra to classic masters such as Vivaldi and Bach. Driving past Big Ben at 208 mph in a Ferrari F50 GT while relaxing to some Bach is an oddly amazing experience, the soundtrack features something for everyone on it, it’s pretty long also – so you won’t hear the same song repeated constantly. Even if you cannot find anything to your liking on the soundtrack, PGR 3 like any other 360 game supports custom soundtracks, so you can cruise to your own tunes. Each car in PGR 3 features very life like engine noise. Rev up the Ferrari and it will sound completely different to a Lamborghini, each car also differs in its braking, with some sounding harsher than others. This game really excels in surround sound, supporting Dolby 5.1 – it really adds to the enjoyment when playing.

Another plus point of this game is its replay value. As you strive to complete all the achievements in the game, you will no doubt find yourself replaying the offline career a few times, unless you’re gifted enough to complete the career on platinum on your first attempt. I rarely replay the main modes in most games, but for some reason I found myself actually enjoying the career the more times I did it, I am still enjoying it – even though some of the platinum challenges are trying my patience. Another incentive is to get your rank up to the illusive rank 1, this can take a while and lot of kudos points to do so, but it is a worthy achievement and the ability to say you’re rank 1. If you get the career done with, there are a whole host of other modes available to you, from the route creator to the photo mode. Trying to set a lap time in every race against the clock can take up a few hours of your time. You can also spend time buying different cars and testing them out on the test track, useful for gaining an insight into each car’s individual abilities. If you wade through all of that, you then are left with the online modes, which are never ending. If you are obsessed with being the best, you will spend a lot of time racing in order to keep up your rank, as not racing will see you slide down. I would not be surprised if PGR 3 receives some downloadable content in the near future, perhaps a booster pack akin to PGR 2, no doubt PGR 3 will at least feature something new in the future, be it tracks or cars.

I will make it clear to you; anyone who was lucky enough to get an Xbox 360 should own this game. It is perhaps the greatest of the launch titles, certainly the ones published by Microsoft – It has great depth and playability and will last you as long as you want it to. Bizarre have crafted a wonderful title that is rightly one of the greatest racing games we have ever witnessed. I would be surprised if PGR 3 did not take over from PGR 2 as one of the best games played on Xbox Live, it certainly possesses features that no other game has. I recommend this game to everyone, it is a great title for newcomers to the racing genre, I was not a massive racing fan before playing this game, but as some of our forumers may tell you – this game has not been out of my Xbox 360. So the Project Gotham Racing series once again lays down the marker for others to catch up to, roll on PGR 4!

9.5 out of 10

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