Project Gotham Racing 2
Like it or not, a huge (and sometimes worrying) percentage of teenage boys have a keen interest in cars. Like me, you may not buy Auto Trader every other week and have big posters on the wall of a Porsche 911 GTI, but my head turned in the high street when a gleaming yellow Ford GT40 roared past, or the family down the road had an uncle turn up in a Ferrari. I have more than one ‘dream’ car, those being a TVR Speed 12, Aston Martin V8 Vantage and that big gleaming yellow GT40. One thing we all share in common though is we will probably never get the opportunity to drive those mega buck sportscars. They’re made for millionaires like Billy Gates and Al Fayed, not spotty university students who could tell you exactly how many parts and seconds it takes to build a Lambourgini Countach. The only chance we had of getting within 3 Feet of one- let alone sit in the drivers seat and feel the steering wheel- was to win one of those phone competitions that cost £3.00 a minute and last for an hour. Until now.
Whereas Gran Turismo let us earn money to race around glistening race courses, Bizarre Creations Project Gotham Racing 2 takes the experience one important step further. Remember watching such films as Bullet and The Italian Job, where car chases would take you through narrow streets with tight corners? Although Metropolis Street Racer bought us stunning courses set in lip-licking locations (wasn’t London just fantastic?) in day and night, the thrilling close street races where you feel the wind brush through your hair and see the barrier glint just a few inches from your paint work were seriously lacking, even into the outstanding sequel, the original Project Gotham Racing
You see, it’s all well and good racing a sooped up modster around Silverstone against other drivers, computer controlled or human, but when you get the chance to bomb it past the shop you walked into a few days earlier the feeling is just immense. All the rules of Grand Prix racing apply along with street races, which means you still have to map out a decent racing line, shift the weight of the car before turning and hide behind cars in higher positions to reduce drag as well as overtaking in narrow streets, powersliding round tight (and narrow) corners and most important of all- mind the paint job. In theory it’s impossible. Just ask any women if a bloke can do any of the above and they’ll laugh out loud; apparently us guys can’t do two things at once (although we can wa** and move the mouse), but put an Xbox controller in your fella’s hand and watch him glide through the streets of Florence like Steve ‘The King of Cool’ McQueen. Ha- nag and moan all you like girls!
Whereas Gran Turismo talks you through the basics of driving, gives over a spanking new helmet and a push start, Project Gotham 2 will beg to differ. It’ll show you the course briefly before shoving you into a sports car and saying “Right, there you go. I’m off for a pint”. And when it staggers back at half three in the morning you’ll still be sat in the exact same position, stinking of piss, tummy rumbling for food and a mouth as dry as a Turkish wrestlers jockstrap.
And your mission, if you wish to accept it
The name Project Gotham Racing would suggest a racing game along the lines of WE Crush Hour, only with characters from the cast of the ever popular Batman series. This is about as far from the truth as Tony Blair and his partner in crime regarding those supposed weapons of mass destruction, as Bizarre Creations’ title is more of a gentle blend of Ridge Racer‘s style of course progression (you have to unlock each sector by completing the one before that) and the world’s second best simulator Gran Turismo.
The jist, if you like, is to beat every challenge on the courses thrown at you, and in the process earn Kudos points (awarded for sections in which you don’t crash, for power slides and gaining air time etc). When you reach a certain level of Kudos, say 4000 of the little blighters, a token is granted to your profile which you can exchange for better cars, of which get more expensive the better model you choose. An added feature this time round is you can select the difficulty level of each challenge, so if you are having trouble beating a course you can ‘lower the bar’ as it seems (at a cost of kudos) and go back to it later on. This is a godsend for people who have a particular challenge favourite like me, for example I feel far more comfortable racing against other cars as I know a few dirty tricks from my early racing days to beat those suckers, whereas time trials have you on the edge, almost scared to get daring incase you lose it and mess up the lap. I can now raise the difficulty of one-on-one races to take advantage of my preference and lower the strictness of those bloody time trials.
I can see my house from here
The first thing about Project Gotham Racing 2 that will punch you in the gut is the glorious visuals. As you prepare yourself for the next challenge the camera sweeps through a part of the course, mostly fixing on a landmark and weaving about through the trees. Nothing has been left out; phone boxes, litter bins, those barriers that stop you crossing certain sections of road and even flower boxes are all here just to make you believe that you will soon be driving through a bustling city. Down narrow streets canopies hang over to create a sort of tunnel, and the light from shop windows lights up on the moist flagstones on the road, whereas in Edinburgh birds fly through parks and the huge castle that bears the same name as the city bears down on all around it. Put short, the courses are simple breathtaking. There are now 11 locations for burning rubber in, making this the largest selection in the title’s short but colourful history (remember the measly three on the Dreamcast?). With courses in Sydney (that’s the place where England won the Rugby World Cup, remember?), Hong Kong and Chicago alone there will always be some kind of location that players will recognise, even screaming along at 200 mph.
Of course, there are also cars to race around those fabulous circuits in, 14 different classes to be precise. There are about 8 cars to choose from in each class, with the Mazda MX-5, Audi TT Coupe, Lotus Elise, Ferrari F50 and even the big fat lip-licking TVR Speed 12 making appearances. And these sports cars look ****ing fantastic too! In fact, on the replays your fastest lap time could be mistaken for a video of an illegal street race, they look that good. As you race past a group of shop fronts, the lights beam back off the paint work, plus everything goes dark when you go under a bridge. All the detail is here, right down to the wheel trims that actually look as if there are gaps between the rods rather than that of a simple ‘let’s paint them on to save time’ job.
Thing is though, it’s easy for things to look smart on their own, but does the graphical excellence of the courses actually blend together smoothly with the roaring metal machines of the vehicles? Do bears *beep* in the woods? Taking a step back and watching a car do its ‘thing’ around a track, it really does look as if both course and car were made for each other. To explain this I took a Mazda Miata MX-5 for a test drive around the Passeig de Colom in Barcelona. The camera sweeps past a statue whilst She’s Electric by Oasis kicks in. Next the car is in 4th gear down the home straight, ready for you to take over. As you take the reigns, the intensity of the sun is glaring back off the barrier at the first corner, so slowing down a little sees the bonnet dip as the weight shifts to the front, knocking us down a gear. Turn a little inwards, then straighten up as the back tyres begin to screech. Next becomes a problem as you switch from the sun to shadow (has a game ever made you blink to re-focus before?) because the course is going back on itself behind some tall buildings. As you race under a bridge linking two houses, birds fly off the top and away from my terrible driving. Through a chicane, in which I steer into the apex and jump the car into the air before using a little bit of handbrake to slide round the next bend. The left-hand side of the track is now looking a bit drab in contrast to the right side which is bathed in sunlight, birds flying overhead. The next corner is glaring back at us again, and it’s also here where the track surface changes from tarmac to flagstones, making the car slide that little bit more. A gentle left hand turn then which brings us roaring along at a fair old pace towards the final corner.
The developers have made a fantastic feature here which sees the light breaking through a row of trees all the way down the left hand side, so as you race along the shadows bounce all over the car and the sunlight just makes things sparkle. One smooth corner turn later and we’re back on the finishing straight having recorded a respectable lap time of 1:32.398. What enhances the driving experience even more is the level of detail shown to car characteristics, and not just the looks. As I mentioned before, shifting gear makes the bonnet sink down, and accelerating brings the front back up as you roar away. You can almost feel the wind blowing through your hair.
Bizarre Creations have made excellent use of the force feedback too. The standard rumbles of when you brake or hit something are there, but extra little goodies have been included too. As you accelerate the controller gives off a slight twinge, as if the car is shaking from speeding up so fast. On tarmac you’ll just feel the gradual dip in the road whereas on paved streets every nook and cranny your tyres roll over is re-enacted by rumbling. Combine that with the glorious graphics of both track and car and you’ll be left wondering whether you’re actually playing a game or watching a video camera strapped to a super car on one of the courses.
Gimme more, gimme more
At the end of the day racing games can only do so much before the idea of taking a sports car for another spin on the city circuit gets downright tedious. Auto Modellista brought us cell shaded graphics which weren’t exactly easy on the eyes and was slightly confusing. Maybe it was the same novelty factor Grand Theft Auto 3 gave us (I’m going to take over your life and not let go for a very long time!) or the sheer stupidity, we’ll never know unless another 3 or 4 cell shaded racers are released. Gran Turismo had a big fat wallet full of cars, cheap and expensive, along with a good couple of handfuls of courses which kept us all glued to our televisions for a good few months. The problem was all that racing, tuning and then racing some more got a bit annoying after a while which left many of us resorting to ‘dipping in’ to mammoth racing sessions.
So where does this leave Project Gotham Racing 2? The short-ish courses and selection of cars can only last for so long, and the multiplayer abides to the same rule. It’s not just PGR; this happens to every racing title out there, in which there’s only so much you can do. However, Biazzare Creations have a nifty trick up their sleeve: Xbox Live. To accompany team deathmatches on Rainbow Six 3 broadband users can now race against each other online too! What this does is add another level of depth to an already impressive title, as now you have plenty of challenges for solo play, a cool mulitplayer mode plus the seemingly endless cycle of playing other drivers from across the globe. There is currently nothing as exhilarating as coming in first place above two guys from Australia, three from the USA and your mate from down the road. As well as having the potential to download new cars, courses and even challenges, Project Gotham Racing 2 has redefined the way we think about online gaming. Previously reserved for first person shooting games, it was about time driving titles got onto the scene, and this release paves the way for new genres to tread new ground (PES online anyone?).
Bigger, better looking and a longer lasting taste over its brother, Project Gotham 2 has propelled itself into the prestigious ‘must have’ area of Xbox games along with Halo. Even without Live, this will thrill you and your mates well into 2004.