A competent racer, if nothing else
Out of the multitude of racing games that launched alongside the Xbox 360, Project Gotham Racing 3 was the best received and constantly used as an example of what the "next-generation of racers" would bring. Looking back at the game five years after its release it's easy to see why it garnered such praise. However, the game has not aged as well as some of the other launch titles, and while it is a competent racing game that can be entertaining at times, the game often feels like a "by the numbers" arcade racer that doesn't offer anything new or exciting to the genre.
The bulk of PGR3 occurs in the career mode, which was originally split between the online career and the solo career. There's one slight problem though: the online community isn't just dead - the servers have been taken completely offline by Bizarre Creations. This is one reason why PGR3 may come off as a bit disappointing to someone who never played it during its heyday, for many of the reviews that were written at the game's launch mention the online aspect of the game as being one of the highlights of the game. The unavailability of this feature definitely impacted my opinion of the game. The player is therefore left with the solo career as the main mode of the game. The solo career is divided into a series of approximately 20 tournaments that will take the average player somewhere around 10 hours to complete on a first play through.
10 hours may seem a bit short, and it is, but Bizarre does a good job of keeping the career interesting for its full length. There's a healthy variety of event types, and tracks are virtually never repeated. Although there are only five different locations that races take place in, the environments never really become stale. The game also offers quite a bit of challenge. Even on "Medium" the game will require a degree of skill to complete, and I found myself retrying events quite a few times. This isn't a negative, for the AI never really seems to play "cheaply" and rubberbanding, if there is any, isn't noticeable at all. This relatively challenging degree of difficulty gives the otherwise short career a good deal of re-playability, since one might find themselves motivated to try the harder difficulties which require lots of practice and patience.
The actual racing itself is also pretty fun, albeit a bit on the standard side. The cars handle pretty much exactly like you would expect them to handle, and even the extremely high-end cars are possible to get a grasp on pretty quickly. By far the most distinctive aspect of PGR3's racing is the "Kudos" system, which returns from previous games in the series. "Kudos" is simply a second currency in the game that is rewarded to players when they are driving stylishly (by pulling off drifts, airtime, overtakes, and other moves). If one manages to pull these stunts off in rapid succession, players will be able to build up a score multiplier and significantly increase the amount of Kudos they earn, but a single crash will instantly void any points earned in the current combo. This simple "risk/reward" model of gameplay works surprisingly well, and keeps the racing interesting. The only real downside of the Kudos system is that the earned points never really go towards anything outside of the races. Only 9 of the 80 cars are unlocked by earning Kudos, and all the cars are purchased with cash earned by winning events.
Graphically the game was a standout among the Xbox 360's launch title, and it still looks great to this day. The cars in particular are modeled well and are pleasing to the eye, and the racing environment's aren't too shabby to look at either. Judging by the presentation alone, it's easy to see why PGR3 was so well received upon release. The audio of the game is also surprisingly good - the game offers an impressive and eclectic soundtrack featuring everything from classical, to "dark electronic" and alternative rock. While most players will probably end up using their own soundtracks, it's refreshing to see a gaming company putting the time and effort into putting together a distinctive soundtrack.
Ultimately, Project Gotham Racing 3 is a competent racing game that does what it does very well, but doesn't really offer anything to modern gamers that hasn't already been seen a thousand times before. The lack of the online component of the game really hurts the game, for once the relatively short solo career has been finished there isn't a whole lot else to do in the game. If you're a hardcore racing fan interested in expanding your game collection you might find this game worth picking up, but everyone else isn't really missing out on much if they pass it by.