Project Gotham Racing 3
There are times when I simply stand back and gawp at games. Admittedly, these times are few and far between, but when something comes along that’s at least 10 times as good as you’d first hoped, there’s not much more we can do than stand speechless, point and stare. Good god, Project Gotham Racing 3 is stunningly sexy.
My money’s on the red car in the back.
I reviewed the last instalment for Thunderbolt two years ago, and boy does time fly. Only yesterday I was racing around the same Barcelona track I so vividly described in the article, throwing my Ferrari 360 Spider (how ironic, and we didn’t even know!) into corners and sliding out of them to earn massive kudos, marvelling at the pigeons flying over head between buildings at the very sound of my powerful engine before squinting as the sun split between the tree’s trackside. It used light much more than any other game before it; there were times when you were blinded by the sun, and then had to wait for the game to focus on the dark shadows you just power slid your vehicle round a corner into. I loved Project Gotham 2 so much in-fact, that I feared for its next-gen update. The handling of each vehicle was sublime, detail in the tracks beautiful, sound of the engines roar-tastic and the precision rumbling feature over cobbled areas immense. How could they possible improve the so-thought un-improvable?
By getting the little things right, that’s how. Criticised by the Australian Government for “encouraging illegal street racing”, Bizarre Creations set about pulling the series away from the murky underworld to a more circuit-racing-but-still-in-cities approach. We’ve seen many times before, not just in this series, how flimsy barriers separate spectators from the tarmac; not here. Full impact barriers along with mesh fencing surround a majority of the courses, in-keeping with Formula One’s style at the infamous Monaco route. Temporary stands are now far more regular than before, packed with cheering people and camera flashes to give the impression that there are not just a few Mafia bosses and their henchmen watching the race, but in fact millions of people. Street racing just became legal.
That’s my mate Dave there in the stand, with the green T-shirt.
Sliding round a bend into the various barriers and tires causes photographers and stewards to jump back in surprise, fans all jump to their feet and your front bumper cracks, along with the light. Cars now have damage models, although cosmetic and therefore of limitation to handling, so back windows can slide off, bumpers crack and bend, lights smash and spoilers even dented. Sadly, there’s no debris left on the track to take your attention off the race momentarily. As has always been the case with the Project Gotham series, there’s an emphasis on being flash and stylish with your driving as opposed to sticking to strict racing lines and procedures – we’ll leave that to Forza. Sliding around corners, wheel spinning, gaining air and two-wheeled driving are just a few of the ways to earn Kudos, which unlocks new cars to buy with credits gained from passing challenges. Credits buy you cars, Kudos earns you the right to drive them. It’s like a reputation; the more Kudos drivers have under their belts the more experienced they are. Of course, all this stylish driving doesn’t just reputations and positive comments from other players; they give the opportunity to use the nifty new Photo Mode. This isn’t the standard, run-of-the-mill pausing of replays and recording the still shot, oh no, that would be too simple. Excuse the pun, but Bizarre went to town by giving users freedom to pause replays of their race, spin the camera angle around the car vertically or horizontally, zoom in and out, wander off up the track for a long shot, much around with sepia strengths and shutter speeds. The funny thing is, even with all these options I found I could make a particular boring shot look like something from a magazine in just 40 seconds of twisting and tuning, and I can barely rotate pictures in Photoshop. The best thing is you can simply save the replay and go photo hunting later on at a time of your choosing, so you’re not sitting around after races.
Earning both Kudos and decent photo opportunities has been made easier by Project Gotham 3’s sudden lean away from simulation and into arcade style gameplay. From the off, you can pick up the controller and be throwing multi-thousand pound machines around corners like Matchbox toy cars, in that over-exaggerated way. Drafting behind cars has a massive elastic-style effect in which your car quite simply “goes like the clappers” in catching up, sliding round and onto the next driver. This keeps races tight and compact, leaving players jostling for position as they draft behind others to advance. One thing I have found is drifting has become more controlled; those wanting Kudos can hold the gas down full tilt to really slide the back end out and spin the wheels, whereas others playing catch up or simply wanting to race can slowly increase the throttle to gain grip faster and pull away in a more conservative fashion. You never feel in any manoeuvre that the car is superior – for every second of the race you are in control and can make any vehicle perform to the absolute limit. This game is awesome.
It’s well and good sliding cars around a course against the computer, but the real fun starts when a friend picks up that second controller or you connect to Xbox Live. There are three modes of play to battle over, from the bog standard Street Race to Capture the Track, in which drivers are divided into two teams. The player that finishes each section first wins it fro their team, and the side with the most sections after a pre-determined amount of laps wins. Think of Territory Deathmatches on Halo 2 and you’re half way there. The favourite around Thunderbolt however is Eliminator; drive around a course and the person in last place at the finishing line on every lap is eliminated, with the person left in first place after everyone has been taken out the winner. It’s so simple, yet immense fun and incredibly contested, with crafty buggers spinning you out and blocking over-taking. This is how F1 should be. Despite all these little adjustments, new ideas and fresh faces, the one thing that sets Project Gotham Racing 3 apart from the other racers is the gorgeous, undeniably sexy graphics. Cars are solid, hearty beasts with bulging body work, stunning streamlined shapes and glorious attention to detail. At the time of writing, I’m sitting on the starting grid of The Bridge Tour circuit in Photo mode, zoomed close up through the window to see that the speedometer reads the same speed and gear as the in-game HUD does. Amazing. The one thing that will separate fans is the difference in TV quality. Having owned my 360 for little over a week, I started off playing PGR3 through the standard supplied RGB cable, and things look not much different than the previous instalments. On the morning of writing this article, however, I managed to find myself a VGA cable, on which Project Gotham 3 looks simply breathtaking. You could go all the way and purchase a new HDTV for a couple of grand, but in all honesty just purchasing the same cable as me for £15 to use on your monitor or TFT TV (mine is the later) is a cheap quick fix, and more than pays dividends.
Let’s face it, the graphics really are something.
The courses are simply stunning. In old Blighty the London Eye is tall and glamorous; Big Ben stands across the Thames in its bold and Gothic tone whereas across the pond Brooklyn Bridge is simply stunning. The course Park to Tillary consists of the bridge itself, a neighbouring bridge various tight corners around the city in-between, so you can really rack up some insane speeds. The reason I love this course so much is because of the return trip over the bridges, which demonstrates once again the influence of light and dark in the game. Having gone over Brooklyn and navigated my way around the twisting streets, I’m back onto the other bridge, thundering down the tarmac. It’s towards the end of this, before the off-ramp, where you’ll encounter a shadowed section. Thundering out of this causes the game to re-focus, making the screen incredibly light for a millisecond before things become clear again. Think of when you’re in a darkened room and someone turns the light on; you can barely see for a few seconds. The level of detail is astounding, and once you’ve experienced it you’ll think “what the hell was that?” and replay the course to find out. Another neat innovation is a nice blurred effect when at speed. Whilst not massively noticeable, locations flash past and give a real essence of speed, with the detail filling in again when your speed comes back down.
Should you not be happy with the course layout in ,Project Gotham 3, there’s a neat little Route Creator, no doubt borrowed from the Midnight Club series, and here it claims you can create more than 100 million custom courses. Choose a city from Tokyo, Las Vegas, New York and London, select a starting point from the various chequered flags and away you go, making small or large courses to tour around. Apart from playing against friends, you can also upload them for use on Live. More games should have this feature, for sure.
Oh my, it might be time to buy on of them sterring wheels you can plug in.
If I went into any more detail, I’d be sitting in your lap with the controller pointing out what is simply great about this game, which is everything. The pick-up-and-play gameplay appeals to newcomers and veterans alike, with insane speeds and ample opportunities to pull of stylish moves, whereas the detail of the numerous cars and courses is just astounding. The original Xbox had Halo to knock the socks off gamers with fun gameplay and ground-breaking graphics, and although Project Gotham 3 is a sequel rather than an entirely new idea, it really shows off the early capabilities more than any other title available for the 360. If you own Microsoft’s powerful little minx, this simply has to be your first port of call, no questions asked.