With 2005's Project Gotham Racing 3, Bizarre Creations ushered in a new era of racing on the Xbox 360 with a game that continued the long-standing quality of its Project Gotham series with amazing graphics and extensive online options. Here we are, two years later, and Bizarre has turned in the fourth game in the PGR series, one that opens up the vehicles list a bit and adds to the online fun, yet still follows the tried-and-true PGR formula. In short, Project Gotham Racing 4 continues the series' tradition of brilliant visuals and fun gameplay, and adds to the list with new rides and weather effects that must be driven to be believed.
Racing in the wet, in Shanghai, on two wheels: Welcome to PGR 4.
Weather abounds in Project Gotham Racing 4. In fact, along with motorcycles (more on them in a bit), weather is one of the biggest additions to PGR 4's gameplay. Dense fog, ice and snow, and, of course, lots and lots of rain are examples of the variety of weather conditions you find yourself driving through, and each affects your vehicle in a different way. The most successful weather implementation in the game is the rain effects.
Visually, it's stunning; rain droplets bounce off the hood of your car, or your windshield when driving in first person view, and they'll collect into pools of standing water that become a hydroplaning nightmare for your car or motorbike. In fact, pools of water strategically placed in the optimum braking zones are part and parcel of the tracks the Bizarre crew has carved from real-life locales such as Tokyo, Shanghai, and New York City. Find a way to brake early, or deal with the consequences of slamming your car into a wall after surfing across the water. The water effects in PGR 4 are entirely convincing, while the snow and ice effects are slightly less so--only in a video game would you attempt a lap of the ice-laden NÃ¼rburgring in an Enzo Ferrari and make it across the finish line in one piece--and typically pose a serious challenge for your throttle control skills.
While the game's weather effects are often simlike, PGR 4's car handling still treads the fine line between arcade approachability and simulation depth. You can hop into a car right away in the game and begin turning laps without fear of spinning out or locking your brakes in a tight turn. It also helps that the car list is more varied than the "all exotics, all the time" roster of PGR 3. This time around, the list has opened up a bit more to include everything from the pokey Mini Cooper S to F1 replicas, and even a pickup truck. Certainly at the highest classification, PGR 4's car list is as exotic as it comes; it's nice, however, that the roster includes a more representative sample of low-end models this time around. As in the past, the game doesn't feature vehicular damage beyond the merely cosmetic.
Then there are the motorcycles, which make their series debut here. As with the car list, the two-wheeled choices include everything from the relatively modest Buell RR 1200 to the frighteningly powerful MV Augusta F4 Senna. When it comes to handling, the motorcycles in PGR 4 have their ups and downs. Bikes are extremely easy to drive--there's no split between front and rear brakes to worry about--and it's tougher than you might think to get yourself thrown from the saddle. Toss in the fact that bikes are extremely quick off the starting line (due to their power/weight ratio) and that kudos--the in-game currency you earn as a result of stylish driving in the PGR series--are typically easier to rack up on a bike than in a car (thanks to endos, wheelies, and a responsive drift model), and motorcycles seem almost overpowered.
True, the fastest cars in the game will typically be quicker than the bikes but, in our experience, if you can grab an early lead in PGR 4 on two wheels and can maintain some consistency in your laps, you'll be awfully tough to beat. Bikes have their control quirks; for instance, when coming out of a turn, you'll want to let go of the analog stick in order to bring yourself back up smoothly, as manually bringing your rider upright can result in serious overcorrection errors. But for the most part bikes aren't much of a challenge and, as a result, aren't really as fun as we were hoping.