October 8, 2007 - Bizarre Creations has been an important partner for Microsoft. The Project Gotham series helped launch both Xbox and Xbox 360 along with Xbox Live. Project Gotham Racing 4 marks the first PGR title not connected to a major product or service launch. Without the stress of having to deliver big with all eyes watching, Bizarre had the ability to take a breath and make the ultimate drift racer. Instead, Bizarre took a step backwards, with the weakest entry in the franchise since the series dropped the Metropolis Street Racer name and came to Xbox.
PGR 4 does a number of things well. Once again, the arcade racer puts a focus on earning Kudos for drifts, getting air, and clean racing sections. While the goal is to win races, you'll want to do it in style. If you've played a PGR title before, the basics haven't changed much at all. It's all about drifting, a trick that never gets stale, even on the fifth iteration of the series.
Along with standard races, you'll once again compete in a number of skill events. These include navigating through cone gates, speed challenges that require you to push the speedometer to a certain level when you pass a mark, elimination races, and Kudos challenges that task you with racking up massive Kudos on your way to the finish line. Though there are a couple of new events, for the most part, PGR 4 is more of the same from the past. That's not such a bad thing, since PGR has long been one of the better racers on Xbox.
To spice things up, Bizarre Creations made three significant changes for Project Gotham Racing 4, none of which turned out that great. First, they added motorcycles. Then Bizarre added a new career mode meant to mimic a racing season. The hope, it would seem, was to infuse the series with some new energy and excitement. While the racing season has its plusses and the motorcycles can be fun for a while, both take away more than they add to the series. Lastly, Bizarre introduced a dynamic weather system and, unlike the first two additions, this one actually delivers. The extreme weather variables add quite a bit to the tried and true PGR formula.
PGR 4 pits bikes against cars, having the two racing side-by-side in any event. To its credit, Bizarre did a great job nailing down licenses for some excellent bikes. There are no complaints on the impressive motorcycle list or the faithful recreation of each. Some might expect that a motorcycle could tear up the competition against cars. In a lot of instances, this is true. Bikes are generally easier to handle and, so long as you aren't racing against truly superior cars, you can usually do very well in the single-player events.
The weather plays a big part in PGR 4.
Because cars and bikes are fundamentally different, Bizarre created unique motorcycle Kudos. While bikes can still earn drifting Kudos like cars, they also get bonuses for performing tricks. Pull back for a wheelie or push forward for an endo. You can add some pieces of flair by holding the B button, which does stunts. This is also used to show up opponents when driving normally with fist pumps and the like. The only way to express yourself while driving in a car is to sideswipe the jerk showing you up. Wrecking a bike, by the way, is not such an easy task in PGR 4. To make it fair, so that cars aren't cleaning the clocks of every bike on the road, motorcycles can stay upright from most cheap swipes.
While the idea of motorcycles racing cars sounds intriguing, it's hardly new. Midnight Club did it before and did it better. Though PGR 4 has some of the best bikes around, the thrill from racing on a motorcycle isn't captured. Drifting on a bike doesn't hold a candle to sliding the back of a Diablo around a turn. The wheelies and endos and even the gesticulations when on a bike just don't seem to fit the PGR series. Some will fall in love with the motorcycles, but many more will find them inconsequential.
The other big change is a move away from the traditional career mode set-up. In PGR3, you were given a series of events to choose from, with each having a variety of medals to be earned. The better the medal you sought, the harder the win conditions and AI. Those medal-gaining options still exist in a more limited arcade mode, but the bulk of the single-player, the season mode, is vastly different from what fans are used to from PGR.
The racing season runs from September on through the winter, with all racing events pre-determined by calendar. The goal is to perform well in events, earn points, and move up the rankings. As you progress from Amateur to Pro to Hot Shot to Master, you'll unlock new garages and new challenges. While that sounds good, the implementation is terrible. The biggest problem is that there is no option to repeat an event. This is fairly unheard of in racing games, but if you fail to win an event, the game autosaves and you move on to the next day. While you can pause during a race and restart, once an event is over, it is over for a year.
This set-up is actually fine when it comes to your standard races. It even feels like a real season, as you have one shot to come out on top. But most of the events in PGR 4 are skill events. And as anyone who has played previous PGR titles knows, you often beat these events by trying and retrying. Even if you win an event, it would still be nice to be able to go back immediately and attempt a better score. But once that event is finished, kiss it goodbye.
Winning, also, is no longer that big of a deal thanks to the new career mode. You can get fairly high up the rankings just by doing your best. Coming in first will help shoot you up the ladder quicker (and is a necessity when you get close to the top), but for the first few hours, you will continue to gain ground by finishing second or even third.
Where PGR 4 does take a step in the right direction is with the new dynamic weather system. There are ten different weather variants in PGR 4, ranging from heatwave to snowstorm. Because PGR is not a sim, the weather sometimes has an exaggerated effect on cars. Don't expect the heat to make tires get warm faster and affect your ability to get traction on the track. This isn't Forza, this is Project Gotham. The weather is generally used to increase the severity of drifting. When it rains, the track gets more slippery. Through the course of a race, puddles accumulate and can actually slow a car if you run through them. The snow, of course, makes things even more slippery. Some of the more extreme weather conditions will force you to alter your racing strategy to accommodate for the lack of traction. And the rain, sleet, and snow look cool.
As an interesting twist, the weather can change during a race. It won't go from one side of the spectrum to the other, but it can start with a light drizzle and, if it's cold enough, move to heavy snowfall. In this way, races can evolve from lap to lap. Though, in truth, the change doesn't feel as drastic as it may sound. Dynamic weather is a welcome addition to a franchise that is clearly looking a little long in the tooth.
Motorcycles racing cars? It's madness!!
PGR 4 takes you on a tour across the world. You'll race up the misty hills of Macau, battle through the narrow roads of London, and get some air on St. Petersburg's notorious humpback bridges. The cities look impeccable in PGR 4. Step into the photo mode to stop the action and check out all ten beautiful locales. While the cars do suffer from some serious jaggies, the models are spot-on. This isn't the prettiest racer on 360, but it's still a good-looking title.
With all this talk of single-player, you may think that we've forgotten that PGR's strong suit has been the multiplayer. PGR 2 helped launch Xbox Live and both it and PGR 3 were commended for Live integration. Everything has been given a welcome touch-up from PGR 3. PGRTV has evolved into PGR On Demand. The idea is still the same -- watch other people race -- but you can now search for specific clips based on best time, Kudos, and more for every track.
Online racing is solid, though occasionally you will see other cars teleporting around the track due to lag. Never once did I have issues controlling my own car (except when an opponent would teleport and clip through me). So long as you and your competitors have good connections, these issues shouldn't be very prevalent. The racing is enjoyable against others as always, though some will find motorcycles to be an annoyance. Thanks to a high level of customization, these things can be minimized.
PGR 4 is a fun arcade racer, but lacks the polish of previous iterations. The menu system leaves something to be desired, the career mode is not very good, and the addition of motorcycles falls a bit flat. However, the fundamentals of PGR remain intact. It's still wickedly fun to drift. There are elements, such as the new garages and the implementation of the career mode, that seem half-hearted. While it's hard to imagine Bizarre Creations wouldn't put its full effort behind PGR 4, there's a definite lack of polish that was not an issue with previous iterations. Nonetheless, PGR 4 is one of the better arcade racers on 360. It just doesn't do enough new things right to push the series in a positive direction.
Fast cars and motorcycles are a match made in heaven. In fact, its one of the few where I've bothered to play over and over to get as much of the off-line game points as possible, then erase the career and start all over again.
Hopefully BC can pull out the same amount of arcade fun with Blur.