Project Gotham Racing 2 is arguably one of the most anticipated games for the Xbox this fall. The game is a follow-up to the still-impressive Xbox launch title Project Gotham Racing from UK-based Bizarre Creations, a veteran developer whose devotion to and skill at crafting gorgeous and technical racers began with Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast in 2001. For the first Project Gotham game, Bizarre cooked up an impressive title that married an evolution of the technical racing style it experimented with in Metropolis Street Racer with stunning visuals. Bizarre’s commitment to keep the burgeoning Gotham franchise evolving toward perfection continues in a big way in Project Gotham Racing 2–the latest installment in the series refines the gameplay of its predecessor, adds more content, refines its presentation, and, most significantly, takes the action online via Xbox Live. We had the chance to sit down with a preview version of the game, and we have come away suitably impressed by Bizarre’s ambitious sequel. Project Gotham Racing 2 improves on nearly every aspect of its predecessor and should please racing fans greatly.
The first thing that will jump out at you when you fire up the game is the revamped presentation, which is considerably more polished, thanks to a slick interface. As before, you’ll need to create a profile for yourself before hopping into the game. You’ll be honing your skills in several game modes. As you go through the game, your performance in the various modes will be logged into your profile so you can track the ebb and flow of your racing ability through the game. The single-player game will feature four modes: kudos world series, arcade racing, time attack, and leaderboard challenge. Kudos world series is a series of races set around the world. The mode is broken up into 14 individual car series, each of which corresponds to a specific car class. Each series is made up of individual kudos events. As you complete each event, you’ll unlock more in that series. Once you’ve completed all of them, you’ll unlock the next series. You’ll earn medals as you complete the various challenges. Arcade racing will offer three types of races: street racing against AI opponents; timed runs, which require you to beat the best times on a track; and cone challenges, which will send you speeding through a gauntlet of diabolically arranged cones. Time attack forces you to set and beat times on various tracks.
The game’s difficulty will now run from novice to expert, and you can play through the game on any of the difficulty levels. The addition of a new ranking system that scales according to the difficulty you’re playing on makes the game more accessible to players of varying skill. Along the same lines, Bizarre has tweaked the game’s kudos system, which rewards players for skillful driving during a race. This time out, the game will be more forgiving about docking points when you don’t race well. For example, whereas as in the first Project Gotham Racing you would be deprived of points if you bumped a wall, in PGR2 you will be docked only a percentage of points based on the nature of the impact. So slightly scraping a wall will cost you only a few points as opposed to all of them. However, if you smack into a wall hard, you can kiss your points good-bye. The kinder, gentler kudos system will also provide you with ample opportunities to earn points, and you’ll be provided with a breakdown of where you earned them at the end of each race. The game features 12 categories in which you can earn points.
The Xbox Live component of the game is integrated deeply into the game’s modes. If you’re connected to the service during any single-player race mode, PGR2 will show a leaderboard and where your performance would place you in real time. You’ll also be able to download ghosts of top-ranked players on the leaderboard. If you manage to beat their records, the leaderboard will upload a ghost of your race for other players to try to beat. If you manage to improve on your time while racing a top-ranked ghost, the game will show your ghost on the track as well, offering an even greater challenge. Traditional multiplayer games over Xbox Live will support up to eight players. In addition, Microsoft and Bizarre are in the process of sorting out downloadable content for the game–currently the intention is to make cars, tracks, and possibly even cities available
The control in the game remains as tight and responsive as ever. The button layout remains the same, ensuring the same pick-up-and-play experience offered by the original Project Gotham Racing. There have been a few minor additions to the control setup that offer a bit more functionality. You’ll now be able to cycle through music on the fly during a race by using the right analog stick. You’ll have to take some care, of course, since just as in life, if you’re fiddling with the radio while going through a tough stretch of track, you may end up slamming into a wall.
The graphics sport a number of improvements over the graphics in the original game, which results in a better overall look. The cars, always the star of a racing game, are simply stunning, thanks to Bizarre’s wonderfully meticulous attention to detail and the Xbox’s considerable graphical might. As mentioned earlier, you’ll find 14 classes of cars in Project Gotham Racing 2–compact sports, convertible, coupe, utility, pacific muscle, roadster, classics, sports coupe, American muscle, supers, grand touring, track specials, extreme, and ultimate–and a total of roughly 100 cars. While the cars look great in the game, to truly appreciate them you’ll want to log in some time in the game’s showroom, where you can roam in a first-person mode through a series of rooms with the cars on display, or you can hang out in your own personal garage and gaze lovingly at your latest ride.
In addition to the high level of detail, PGR2 also features an impressive damage model that highlights shoddy driving skills by reflecting damage on the cars if you slam into opponents or walls. The environments are large and highly detailed, and the new cities in the game are a sight to behold, thanks to some impressive lighting and subtle elements such as birds flying off in the distance. The only hitch to the game’s visuals is the game’s frame rate, which, while smooth, appears as though it will in fact be locked at 30 frames per second. The frame rate, which is half the original Gotham’s fairly constant 60 frames per second, doesn’t impact the action too badly, but it’s a bit of a downer to see it scaled back.
The audio in the game is shaping up nicely and is poised to improve on the original game’s offerings with the inclusion of more than 150 licensed tracks and more local DJs providing voice for the radio stations you’ll hear in each city. If the plethora of new tunes doesn’t do anything for you, Project Gotham Racing 2 will once again support custom soundtracks, so you can copy any CD you like and listen to the music as you race. The sound effects for the various cars are suitably impressive and are given an extra auditory kick, thanks to the game’s Dolby 5.1 support.
Based on what we’ve played so far, Project Gotham Racing 2 is shaping up to offer just about everything fans would want in a sequel. The game’s improved visuals, refined gameplay, new content, and Xbox Live features make for a significant upgrade over the original Project Gotham Racing. The integration of the online elements in single-player and offline games is especially cool and should ensure the game is being played long after the single-player and offline modes are cleared. In addition, the inclusion of the Geometry Wars minigame is a very nice touch that adds old-school fun to the impressive offerings. The only flaw in the complete package is the frame rate, but, while hardcore racing fans have had their heart attacks and started up their online petitions, the cut to 30 does not look as though it will cripple the game by any means, and the game’s wealth of content and tight gameplay make up for it. Project Gotham Racing 2 is slated to ship this fall for the Xbox. Look for more on the game in the coming months.
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