Project Gotham Racing 2

Project Gotham Racing 2

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 12/9/2003 for Xbox  

When Project Gotham Racing came out for the Xbox as a launch title I didn’t know what to expect. I had devoted a significant amount of time to Bizarre Creations’ Metropolis Street Racer for the Dreamcast but I have to admit, I was expecting a tech demo that would show off the power of the Xbox and not the fantastic racer that I received. Earlier this year I saw Project Gotham 2 at Microsoft’s pre-E3 press conference and I excited about the franchise all over again. I had a renewed interest in what Microsoft was offering us later this year and for a brief moment, Gran Turismo 4 took a back seat in my mind. Now I’ve had the chance to put Project Gotham 2 through its paces and I must admit that I’m quite impressed by what I’ve seen.

Not just a lazy incremental upgrade, Project Gotham 2 comes out with all barrels firing. It’s readily apparent that the guys on the team spent a copious amount of time to ensure that their hardcore fan base wouldn’t be disappointed by the lack of changes from iteration to iteration. Just what is there to appreciate about this new entry? In one word, plenty. PGR2’s car roster makes PGR1’s roster look puny in comparison. Now you’ll be able to step into the driver’s seat of more than 100 of the world’s most popular and renowned vehicles, all of which have been recreated to their real world specifications. If that’s not enough you’ll get to race on an entirely new set of tracks, not a bunch of rehashes from last year’s game. Still not enough to chew your teeth on? Those of you who can’t get enough of the vehicles will be glad to know that you can get up close and personal with these beauties in the new Showroom and Garage modes. Of course there’s the highly touted Xbox Live mode that you’ve been hearing about on the numerous commercials that play throughout the day. Indeed, it is good to play together.

Like PGR1, the game’s core career mode has you racing in various types of events in pursuit of medals. However, unlike the first game, you now choose which goal you’re going for. You’ll participate in a number of different race types as you make your way through the various series. There’s the straight-up Street Race where you race on a track against a number of opponents, the One-On-One where you have to beat an opponent in a race, the Hot Lap where you’ll have to finish a lap within a specified time, the Cone Challenge where you’ll drive through cones to earn Kudos and the Overtake where you have to overtake a number of vehicles in a set period of time. In addition to these the game adds a new mode which challenges you to pass through a speed camera at a designated speed. It sounds pretty neat in theory but it’s rather boring and pointless in execution.

The game’s career mode is divided up by car classification. When you begin you’ll race on easier tracks with some of the game’s slower vehicles. Upon completing that series of races you’ll move up to the next level and so forth. Your primary motivation in this mode, and the rest of the game, is to earn Kudos through racing. When you earn a certain amount of Kudos you’ll “level up” and earn Kudos tokens that can be used to unlock more power vehicles. When you step into a new class you’ll generally have two vehicles at your disposal. It’s feasible to complete the courses with the slower starting vehicles but unlocking the faster beauties will definitely make your life a whole lot easier.

At first I was very pleased with the career mode’s pacing but as the game wore on I began to feel more indifferent to it. Starting off you’ll have to finish about six or seven races in order to move up to the next class. I loved this pacing as it made me really want to stick with the game to see what new vehicles would become available to me. This all changed when I reached the halfway point of the game. When you get to the mid-level classes you’ll have to complete about 10 races while the latter classes ask you to complete about 15-20 tasks. It’s fun to drive around and all but when a game has a roster this large and prominent, one has to understand that the primary allure here is to unlock newer and more expensive beauties, not drive the same cars over and over again. Also, having mixed classes where vehicles from different types would race against each other could have helped as well.Although you’ll definitely want to partake in the career mode you’ll have another method of moving up the Kudos rankings at your disposal, the Arcade Mode. In this mode you’re thrown onto a track with a set vehicle and an objective. Which medal you choose to vie for dictates just how difficult the goal will be to accomplish. As you complete harder tasks you’ll unlock more of them, all of which will help increase your Kudos ranking within the game. You can also race in car-specific challenges which will help you unlock some of the game’s harder to ascertain goodies. If you want you can choose to engage in vehicle-specific challenges which will also unlock more secrets.

As was the case with Project Gotham and Metropolis Street Racer, PGR2 employs a Kudos system for the unlocking of new vehicles and features. As you race and compete you can earn Kudos by performing a number of driving maneuvers. Essentially concentrating on your style and panache, you can earn these little guys by power sliding, gaining air, riding on two wheels, completing laps without hitting anything and completing sections without hitting anything. New to this year’s game is the ability to earn points by drafting and performing 360s in the middle of the race. The new additions are rather lame at best as the game doesn’t really emphasize the use of drafting all that much and performing 360s in the midst of a race is pretty self explanatory.

If you’re in the market for some frantic and exciting white knuckled racing then you’ve come to the right place. For reasons that I can’t fully express in words, driving around these tracks is just an orgy of gaming goodness. When it comes to Arcade racing, Project Gotham 2 offers the perfect blend of excitement and realism. You’ll be able to pull off some truly amazing driving maneuvers as you drag your beast through some of the smallest streets that the world has to offer. There’s just something inherently exhilarating about pulling your Porsche 993 around a hairpin at 90mph, straightening it out, hitting a 90 degree turn at 150mph and escaping unscathed. Even though you’re sliding all over the place you’ll always feel like you’re in complete control of the vehicle. As you become more accustomed to the physics driving these vehicles feels like a natural extension of your body, just the way that it should be.

And while the races are always exciting they’re hampered by the game’s insane AI. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen AI opponents behave so recklessly. Don’t think about invading their private space because they’ll do everything in their power to knock you out of the way. In fact, most of the time your opponents will act like you don’t even exist as they plow your $80,000 ride into a guard rail without any hesitation. This is because PGR2 employs an AI system that hearkens back to the days of Mario Kart where the vehicles are placed on rails and will do nearly everything in their power to maintain that line. This causes them to do a number of inane things such as ramming you from behind, side swiping you as you try to pass and just hitting you whenever you come within the near vicinity. Perhaps the largest annoyance comes after they engage in a collision and spin out. When they’re kicked off their path or are facing the wrong way they’ll take up the entire road to turn their vehicle around, causing a huge gridlock behind them. In real life I can’t envision a professional driver would be so inconsiderate as to hold up a race just to turn his vehicle around. It’s also highly dangerous as an opponent could easily plow into the driver side of the vehicle at high speeds without being able to avoid him. The AI has some huge problems for sure and it really needs to undergo some major overhauls.

Thankfully you’ll be able to take your game online to compete with up to seven other human opponents. For the most part the races are lag free and I noticed very little, if any, warping of opponent’s vehicles. Like the other Xbox Live titles you can choose to join a random match, engage in an optimatch with specific conditions or create your own game. One of the problems that I had with the online play was the manner in which the players conducted themselves. I swear, I felt like I was playing with a bunch of 12-year-olds who had never been to an arcade in their lives. They’d smash, crash and crush their way to victory, not caring about whom they might piss off. For the most part the players on XBL are very reckless and exhibit no professionalism or etiquette. It’s not the fault of the actual game itself but it would be nice if there were rules to help govern the races to make them feel more professional and realistic. I liked playing against my friends across the country but I basically choose not to play against random opponents, basically on the account that really can’t conduct themselves properly.

In order to see how you compare against the competition you can log onto Xbox Live and view a real-time scoreboard that ranks all of the players who are currently online. All you do is scroll to a track, play through it and match up your best score against the rest of the community. I applaud this as it gives you a nice barometer of just how good you are, but I’m a little disappointed that the designers chose to use Kudos as the measuring stick as opposed to lap times. Actually, it’s downright lame to believe that players look at Kudos as a measure of how good their opponents are. Thankfully you can download the ghosts of other opponents so that you can race against them and see what kind of techniques that they used to earn their points. At least that way you can tell if they were actually racing or were just driving for the sole purpose of gaining points and ignoring the stage goal.When Ferrari chose PGR2 as the means for showcasing its never before seen Enzo I knew that we were in for a hell of a treat. The fact that one of the world’s most renowned manufacturers would trust such a beauty to a game developer spoke volumes about its faith in a group of artists. This game is beautiful, jaw-dropping beautiful. We have never seen such beauty in a racing game before. How detailed are the vehicles? When you brake you can see each of the individual grooves on the tail lights. How much attention was paid to the cars? Vehicles with extruding taillights cast shadows onto the rear of the vehicle. Even roll bars from convertibles cast realistic shadows that shift and morph as you hit the turns. In what has to be a first you’ll even see shadows that roll and skulk along the interiors of the vehicles. You’ll even see your driver reach over to the center console whenever you fidget with the radio settings.

I wouldn’t say that PGR2 is the best looking game that I’ve ever played, but it’s damn near close. There are so many little touches and details here that make this such an attractive package. Little additions such as shaded water, trash that exhibits realistic physics and fluttering flags really gives this game a rather complete look. Real-time shadows, bump mapped terrain, it’s all here. Every trick that we’ve seen the Xbox pull off is utilized here with excellent results. What really amazes me is just how much variety there is in the look of the game. Tracks aren’t comprised of a simple and often repeated texture. There is plenty of variation in the track surfaces, whether it be normal pavement, cement, mosaic tiles or bricks, you can be certain that you’ll see one or more of them in each race. All of the surrounding buildings look great too as you’ll easily recognize the capitol building and a number of other landmarks.

Not just a one-trick pony, the artists paid copious amounts of attention to the surrounding environments as well. Every trick that we’ve seen in the top-notch Xbox games has been utilized here. Every single vehicle features reflective surface mapping that accurately shows the surrounding environment on the car’s glossy finish. PGR1 featured a similar technique but it was far less refined and showed only general details, PGR2 shows almost every single portion of the environment including trees and structures. It’s still a bummer to see that the reflections of other vehicles are missing but that’s something to work on for next year. Instead of copping out and giving the windows some limo dark tint the artists show that they have absolutely nothing to hide by providing transparent windows. This allows us to see a fully rendered driver as well as the vehicle’s actual dash and interior.

It’s one thing to see the curves on these beauties but it’s another thing to feel like you’re able to actually reach out and touch them. All of the grooves, curves, designs and panels all look strikingly realistic. It’s almost as if you could run your hand over them and feel each and ever single facet of the vehicles. We’ve seen some pretty amazing vehicles in the past few years but nothing as impressive as this. Forget about the cars in Apex, forget about Gran Turismo, at this moment Project Gotham 2 features the cleanest and most realistic looking vehicle models on the market. Apparently the guys at Microsoft are great negotiators because they’ve managed to convince every single manufacturer in the game to allow their beauties to be destroyed and mangled. This was a huge problem with early racing games in the late 90s as well as the 3rd Gran Turismo, but it’s non-existent here. Vehicles now exhibit realistic damage modeling that is consistent with real world crashes. Forget about the over-the-top damage model in Apex, this one is as realistic as they come. Cause enough damage to the rear end and you may even see your trunk start bouncing up and down as you brake and shift the weight of the vehicle from the rear to the front.

Even with all of its beauty there is one major flaw that really mars this entire package. On the night levels the car will flicker in and out to simulate the effect of driving underneath and past streetlights. Well the problem is when you hit high speeds the car will flicker at a ridiculous pace, rivaling that of a strobe light. What makes this even worse is that you can actually see your vehicle passing underneath the street lights and the timing of the flicker in regards to the motion is uneven, leading us to believe that the designers predetermined some of the lighting on the basis of your speed as opposed to the actual environment. I wouldn’t usually point something like this out but it’s really distracting and actually forced me to switch to the cockpit view on a few occasions.

It’s kind of disappointing to see that the tracks are so empty though. With so many high-powered vehicles roaming around the streets one would expect to see some spectators or at least film crews or signs of life. There none to be found, no pedestrians, no traffic on non-circuit streets and no animations. Apex did a great job by providing plenty of atmosphere for the player to chew on; vehicles driving on surface streets in the background, balloons being launched to celebrate the beginning of a race. Sadly none of that is to be found here and it makes the world look really plain and empty.While I had some gripes with the visuals I have very few, if any, qualms with the soundtrack. Chances are, if you enjoy music you’ll find something that will cater to your tastes here. The range is so wide that it even features a track from Rufio, a band that I went to high school and junior high with. Plenty of genres are represented too that will help get your adrenalin pumping. You’ll get hip hop, electronica, alternative and some hard rock. If you don’t like the 200+ songs that the game offers you can always build your own custom soundtrack from the MP3s that you’ve ripped to your HD. We also enjoyed how we were able to change radio stations and CDs on the fly without having to interrupt the action. Simply press in the right thumbstick and the Alpine head unit comes down from the top of the screen. There you can change stations and CDs to your heart’s content. A nice thing about this is that you can set radio stations to play your custom soundtracks and the only difference from playing a radio station or a CD is that the radio station randomizes the tracks while the CD plays them in order and gives you more control.

What can be done better? Well for one the game really needs to have a human aspect to it. It’s seriously lacking in emotion and attachment. I don’t really care what happens if I ram my opponents off the road, I don’t think about the consequences of running full speed into the back bumper of my rival. Everyone just sort of brushes it off and continues on their merry way. PGR2 needs to have a set of rivals who have act and react like human opponents would. Take the genericness out of the races, give them names, give them hometowns, sponsors to race for and emotions. If I ram someone I’d expect them to hate me and not let me pass them so easily on the next race. Give the entire game a season feel to it by letting people race the same guys over and over again so that they can get a feel for the various driving styles. The most intense moments in sports and racing events comes from beating your most hated rival, not beating a field of generic look alikes. It’s the reason why watching NASCAR is so compelling and it should be the same fuel that drives this racer.

Also, I want to feel consequences for my actions. I want to care about my vehicle because I know in real life I look at my vehicle as more than just a sheet of scrap metal. I would never think about using a concrete barrier or a metal roadblock as a means for slowing my car down. Make me have an attachment to my car, let me suffer the consequences of my reckless behavior. Something needs to be done to make the gamer feel like they could lose their precious ride at any moment, maybe instill some sort of cost system where gamers have to pay for the damages they concur. Maybe adding a damage system that’s based on more than looks would help matters out. How about reduced top speeds? Reduced traction or even reduced handling ability? How about marathon races that have pit crews? The guys went so far as to put a working odometer in the game, how about realistic gas mileage as well? Of course, being able to hit the garage for some upgrades and tweaks would be pretty nice as well.

But when compared to the positive aspects these gripes are just small potatoes. I really had to search in order to find problems with this title and believe me, it took a long time to really find faults in the product. This game just has so much going for it that you really can’t stand to ask for more, at least not in this point in video gaming. Everything that you could have ever wanted, and more, from an Arcade Racing game is here and it exceeds expectations in nearly every single respect. Project Gotham 2 isn’t just the most technologically sound products on the market, it’s also one of the most entertaining ones that your money can buy. If you want to make someone happy this Christmas get them a copy of this game, it’ll be the best present they ever got.
I didn't think they could do it but Bizarre Creations has created a game that has managed to get my mind off of Gran Turismo. Excellent in nearly every single respect and well worth your $50.

Rating: 9.3 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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