Reviewed: December 29, 2005
Released: November 22, 2005
I can remember playing PGR when it was called MSR back on the Dreamcast where I was first introduced to the concept of ďclean drivingĒ. Before MSR, racing games meant driving fast, bumping around with other cars and riding walls and rails around corners. Now this new game comes along that rewards you with clean and skillful driving.
Bizarre Creationsí franchise has since developed under the watchful eye of Microsoft into a stunning racing simulation now available on the Xbox 360. Project Gotham Racing 3 is the ultimate evolution of all the games that have come before it, combining those same clean racing values and incorporating a new and improved kudos system.
The garage is fully loaded with 80 super cars and five major racing locations including New York, London, Vegas, Tokyo, and the entire Nurburgring. The medal system is in place and you will be challenged to shave off seconds and add kudos to meet the criteria for gold and platinum medals and the top spot on the Xbox Live leaderboards.
Oddly enough, PGR3 never achieves that next-gen appeal either through gameplay or graphics. Sure, the game looks and plays great, but so did PGR2, and with all this extra horsepower under the 360ís hood, we should have gotten something a bit more special.
PGR3 doesnít try to reinvent itself. You get the same ladder structure of cities and events, each with their own set of challenge criteria to earn the various medals. Some challenges are straight-up street races while others require you to earn a set amount of kudos or turn out record lap times, or race through a speed trap camera at a certain speed.
Kudos are more important than ever and there are at least 16 types of kudos you can earn ranging from drifting to going up on two wheels, catching air, driving clean segments of the track, e-braking, 360ís, and many others. By performing these ďtricksĒ closely together you can string together massive combos for really big points. Watch the replays of the guys in first place on the leaderboard and they are chaining combos for entire laps or even entire races.
As you make your way through the career mode you accumulate both cash and kudos. Kudos unlock your ability to buy new and more powerful cars and cash actually allows you to purchase them. You are free to choose your skill level before each race and higher skill levels reward you with more cash, more kudos, and better trophies.
Unlike past games where you advanced through various car classes, you can now race any event with any available car from any available car class. But donít think that by brining that Ferrari into a beginner race means you will walk all over the competition. The computer will match your class with similar cars in that same class to keep thing fair and challenging. But by using this new system you now get to play many more vehicles much earlier in the game.
One thing I found particularly interesting was the clear division between solo and online gaming. Even though your solo career is tracked on the leaderboards when you are ready to play that career online with real people you will start over with a whole new tally sheet of kudos and awards.
The online career doesnít play any differently than the solo career, but rather than computer opponents you are matched with players in the same ranking and league, as well as car class. You now have to contend with the unpredictable nature of human racers rather than the unforgiving precision of computer A.I.
Racer A.I. is brutal, especially on the gold and platinum races. The computer is not above slamming into you and knocking you around and where any deviation from a perfect lap spells disaster, you must drive clean laps with perfect racing lines and top speeds. The computer seldom makes a mistake, which is a bit discouraging. If your car simply cannot compete, either by acceleration or top speed, then you have almost no hope of winning that race.
Other diversions include the new Photo Editor that allows you to pause the game during a race and snap a screenshot then touch it up using an impressive library of filters and special effects. Itís quite similar to the photo shoot in Gran Turismo 4, but like that mode, there isnít much you can do with the picture once you have it. Being able to transfer these images to my USB data device for use as wallpaper on my PC or printing them off as a digital photo would have been the icing on the cake.
Create-a-Route basically gives you the street layout of the various cities featured in PGR3 and allows you to plot a series of waypoints to create your own custom paths through town. This has untold replay value and is extremely easy to use.
Gotham TV is another new feature and allows you to watch people on your Friends list or just watch the best of the best racing in real-time events. Perhaps the most impressive stat in the game is that up to 30,000 people can be watching a single race. No pressure if you happen to be the one racing. PGR3 just went from being a game to a major sporting event. You also have the option to watch replays for any of the solo challenges, either your own personal ghost, or if you want to be truly humiliated, watch the world record holder for that challenge.
Another subtle touch is the information ticker that scrolls along the bottom of the screen displaying all sorts of information about you and your friends and new records being set and old ones being broken. Of all the launch titles, PGR3 truly taps into the power of Xbox Live.
I made the mistake of playing a whole lot of Ridge Racer 6 before coming over to PGR3, and side by side; this game looks pretty bland at first glance. Everything has that washed out look and there is nothing terribly vibrant. Even the textures fall flat. Some things looked very Xbox while other visual aspects reverted as far back as the Dreamcast.
But once you get into the game, especially the later levels, and access more of the extensive car library, you can really start to appreciate some quality graphics that never get overly flashy, but are clean and precise, much like the driving in the game.
The biggest and best visual feature has to be the cockpit view, something you just donít see on console racers. Each and every one of the 80 cars in this game has a perfectly recreated interior, steering wheel, instrument cluster, seats, doors, and everything else. Itís all there and you can pivot your view with the right stick looking all around the interior or out the side windows.
Other views include the far and near chase cams as well as the instrument and bumper cam views. The cockpit view is the most immersive but you might find some of the challenges (like the cones) easier with the bumper cam or chase view since they give you a broader view of the track.
Car models are insane and built from 80,000 polygons, 40K on the inside and 40K on the exterior guaranteeing smooth curved surfaces and the most realistic cockpits ever shown in a video game. Reflections are mapped in real-time and the lighting and shadows cannot be described with mere words. Just watching the real-time shadows being cast on the interior of the car as it moves through the sunlight is breathtaking.
The cities are massive and so complex that some of the major features in these cities are constructed with more polygons than entire cities in the first PGR. In cities like Vegas and NYC you will see all of the traditional landmarks and there is no repeating textures or buildings, at least none that you will notice. Even the crowds are unique and will even react and fall back if you smack the wall near them. Once they see you are okay they will wave and snap pictures.
PGR3 offers up an impressive soundtrack with nine classifications of music including rock, alternative, electronic, hip-hop, industrial, and even classical. Not that Iím against classical music, but I donít find it that much fun to drive fast to. The D-pad can be used to switch genres and cycle through tracks within that genre.
The rest of the sound package is pretty much engine noises and the occasional squealing of tires. The game does a great job of not only mixing the sounds for a true 3D experience, but it also filters those sounds so engines are muffled when you are in the cockpit, or louder when driving outside the car. Overall, the sound is just as realistic as the driving and the graphics.
The solo career is massive, perhaps not as long if you start going for the gold or platinum rather than working your way up from the bottom, but even setting your sights that high will guarantee plenty of failed attempts and retries. Expect at least 30-40 hours to complete the solo game with at least gold medals. The track editor alone may consume you and your friends for months to come.
The online campaign is pure genius and eliminates any possible complaints about racer A.I., and the other online racing modes and structured ranking system sets this game apart from anything else available on the 360 and Xbox Live. Youíll be playing this until PGR4 arrives.
There are 900 Achievement points spread across 20 individual goals ranging from earning certain ranks to taking pictures of your car in all of the cities or building your own custom tracks. None of these goals are beyond the scope of the dedicated racer.
Project Gotham Racing 3 isnít as next-gen as the hardware you are playing it on, but it is nonetheless a solid and serious racing game and a definite improvement over PGR2. With more racing modes, rewards, cars, tracks, and online options than ever before, this is the ultimate evolution of the PGR franchise, and I canít wait to see where it all goes next year.