Reliving The Xbox 360 Launch: Burning Rubber In The City
I was nearly a year late to the Xbox360 party, so I missed out on many of the system's "exciting" launch titles. The year 2005 was rough, not only because I had to do without Joanna Dark, but because I missed out on Peter Moore's lucent dreams and power brick weight lifting sessions.
Well, two years later, I eventually came back to the shoddy FPS that is Perfect Dark Zero, and walked away unimpressed. The bland single-player missions and multiplayer that reeked of the N64 generation did nothing for me, but still, I decided to try one of its contemporaries.
It had been awhile since I'd played a racing game, so I decided to hop in my car and burn rubber on the streets of Project Gotham Racing 3's bustling metropolises. Little did I know, I was in for a surprise.
See, I'd been away from racing games for ages. I loved thrilling arcade racers like Cruis'n USA (okay, it's not so thrilling now), and the gravity-defying San Francisco Rush, but simulations just didn't do it for me. I played the first three Gran Turismos thoroughly, but I couldn't see what the fuss was about. Sure, the absurd level of detail found in the game's cars and race tracks was unparalleled, but I couldn't have fun driving in a game where I felt like I was driving 30 miles per hour.
Unfortunately, Gran Turismo scared me off from the entire racing genre. Well, that isn't entirely true. There's a slight possibility that I would have tried other racing games if there weren't so many great games in other genres, but alas, I left them in the dust.
I even managed to neglect racing sim/arcade hybrids like Metropolis Street Racer. This was a beloved Dreamcast classic that was famous for its fast-paced racing through city streets. It became a hit among racing fans, so MSR managed to give birth to an exclusive Xbox racing series called, Project Gotham Racing.
I missed out on the initial two installments of the series, but eventually, I caught up to the pack, and purchased Project Gotham Racing 3 new, for a measly five bucks.
Even though this 360 racer is now nearly four years old, it still managed to be an invigorating experience. The graphics may not scream at players like Gears of War, but the fantastic gameplay is enough to attract gear-heads and non-motorists alike.
What makes Project Gotham 3 special is its superb controls. In most racing games, it's either too easy to break at 150mph or it's a feat that only the best drivers in the world could accomplish. Project Gotham Racing 3 takes a healthy middle ground.
Accelerating is easy enough, but when it's time to turn around sharp corners, the player must slow down far enough ahead of time and take the corner nice and easy. Once you're familiar with where you're supposed to turn, cutting corners at high speeds is a blast. It's especially fun drifting into other cars and bumping them out of the way when making a sharp turn.
PGR3's racing is so fast-paced that you'll have to meticulously study the city environments. The game's real-world metropolises are all modeled beautifully, so identifying certain streets eventually becomes second nature. Because many of the buildings are modeled in similar colors, it's sometimes difficult to see what's ahead of you, but if you manage to avoid distracting signs and keep your eye on the street, you shouldn't have a problem making most turns.
Taking your favorite real-world car and zooming through one of PGR3's fabulous metropolises is an exhilarating experience. You'll find five different cities: London, New York, Vegas, Tokyo, and Nurburgring (which is actually a German race track), and all are impeccably designed. Each of PGR's cities features a staggering amount of track variations, so it's unlikely that you'll get tired of these five famous cities by the end of the game.
Figuring out how to excel in each track is an enjoyable experience. You'd think that it'd be frustrating, but you'll constantly want to improve your braking and cornering skills to get a better time. Fortunately, this isn't too difficult, so you won't spend hours perfecting these maneuvers as in a game like Gran Turismo.
Drifting around corners is an integral part of the Project Gotham experience, but an excellent feature exclusive to PGR is the Kudos system. In Project Gotham 3, you'll obtain kudos (points) any time you perform an impressive racing maneuver. You'll earn kudos if you successfully drive between consecutive cones without hitting them, you'll obtain them if you manage to gain the lead in each lap, and you'll earn points for drifting around corners.
Kudos are important, because they allow players to earn money after races to purchase new vehicles. If that flaming red Lamborghini Diablo is on your mind, you'll want to earn plenty of kudos, so you can take your whip home. As in most racing games, each vehicle has unique characteristics, so choosing a car with high horse power, solid braking, and fast acceleration will usually work toward your benefit.
If you're someone who likes to have a different ride for each day of the week, you're covered too, because PGR3 features massive garages that can hold as many vehicles as you desire. Gear-heads used to Gran Turismo might miss the five hundred plus cars of previous titles, and the lack of tweaking options, but most people will be satisfied with PGR3's sixty high-powered vehicles.
Once you have the car of your dreams, you'll be able to take on any of PGR3's modes. You'll have the option of choosing between five different difficulty levels, so everyone should be able to find an appropriate challenge. If you find your level of difficulty to be too easy, you can change at any time to receive a greater challenge and earn more money. This is a great option for those new to racing games and experts alike.
I also appreciated PGR3's variety of race modes. In Career, there are standard races against multiple opponents, races versus a single rival, driving between cones, and reaching a destination within a short time limit by drifting. I especially enjoyed the drifting and cone modes. Surprisingly, they were more fun than a license test at the DMV.
In PGR3's drift mode, you'll want to drift as much as possible without spinning out, because then more time will be added to your clock. In order to finish the race and get paid, you'll have to hone your drifting technique.
Cone mode is a bit simpler in concept, but the execution is somewhat more difficult. You'll have to drive through as many cones as you can consecutively to rack up points. Even if you hit a single cone, your point combo rolls back to zero (or what it was before you started), so it's important not to drift too hard.
Even though Project Gotham Racing 3 is nearly four years old, it's a steal for five bucks. I've yet to play recent racing hits like Burnout Paradise, so I'm not sure how it compares to those titles, but regardless, PGR3 is one of the best racing experiences I've ever played. It may not have the ridiculous jumps found in San Francisco Rush, and it may not have road kill to plow through as in the Cruis'n series, but the precise controls impress, and feel less finicky than those found in Gran Turismo. I highly recommend this title to both gear-heads and building jumpers alike. If you've been thinking about picking up any of the 360 launch titles, this is the game to experience.
· Features race tracks in highly detailed metropolitan areas
· Includes a famous German race circuit
· Braking and drifting around corners feels incredibly precise
· Sixty high-speed rides to choose from
· Purchasing a fancy whip doesn't take years, unlike in the popular racing sim, Gran Turismo
· A nice selection of music from genres ranging from classical to rap
· Each city includes numerous tracks that manage to feel fresh despite the similar visuals
· It actually feels like you're driving at 150mph
· Plenty of gameplay for a low price tag
· Geometry Wars makes its first appearance
· The online community no longer exists
· Braking can take a little while to get used to
· One additional city would have been nice
· It's difficult to hear the music at the default setting. When driving fast, it's difficult to see what lies ahead in PGR3's cramped cities