Project Gotham Racing 4
Under the radar is the understatement of 2007 with Project Gotham Racing 4. This game was hardly covered by any major media outlet. After the first reveal in early in 2007 by Peugot, people mostly forgot about it. Even after a release date was given, nothing. The game went gold, still nothing. Hands-on articles were tough to come by. Released so soon after Halo 3, and in a year when we had Forza 2, Mass Effect, Rock Band, and a lot of other huge releases, it’s easy to see why it slipped past everyone. But there was never a point that I had any doubts about the quality Bizarre Creations was capable of. In retrospect the sales reflect the amount of coverage it got. It’s a tragedy for a game this good to exist with little fanfare. Even now, we see the poorest selling gems from recent years continue to grow in popularity. Yet, in the barren racing game landscape, Project Gotham Racing 4 just hangs out there waiting to impress people. We all wonder why great games seem to be forgotten, when gamers typically get caught up in their own hype about everything else. There were a number of factors, but none could be as critical as Halo 3’s release right before Project Gotham Racing 4 came out. The game scored well at its release. Reviews were positive. But the people writing these reviews are real gamers, and I feel like they missed the mark. I heard a lot of comparisons to Project Gotham Racing 3, only this time with weather. Just saying that can be a turn-off for people on the fence about picking it up. I really believe that because it was “that kind of year,” this game was not fully played by the people that reviewed it. Those sorts of comments are irresponsible when really, PGR4 just happened to have PGR3 included. Not the other way around. But should anyone be blamed? Who really wants to play a racing game with Halo 3 sitting on their shelf?
Anyway, there is a game here to so I’ll tell you what I thought.
This series really has evolved through the content of the tracks and weather since the beginning. Starting with PGR2, the rain would have very interesting effects on the rest of the game. PGR3, as a launch title, looked really good but it still didn’t have content that was noticeably absent. By the time PGR4 came out, there was probably some series fatigue. But that’s when Bizarre Creations perfected what PGR is. The weather in the game is dynamic enough that you’ll get very unique experiences every race. The courses within each city are not only built well, but the cities themselves are each very different so you’re not getting anything you’ve seen before. Those weather effects offer that depth. So a city like Macau plays very fast and smooth in sunny weather, but on the same course you’ll get rain slicked turns and icy corners. There’s never a point where it’s the same, even racing on the same course more than a few times.
The tracks themselves are the reason I play a PGR. The cities from PGR3 do return here, but that’s what bothered me the most about the reviews for this game. All they did was include content from a previous release. It’s not necessarily the same exact content because they changed the lighting and tweaked the track design. But still, somehow more is less to game reviewers in this case. The weather makes them feel very much like new courses. The newest cities are the real winners though. Macau is probably my favorite. It has a lot of wider sections, but also some very narrow places where you have to drift really well. It’s a challenging and fun place to race. Quebec has some nice elevation changes. Shanghai might be the oddest of the group because each of its courses feel quite strange to me. They aren’t poorly designed or bad per se, but I don’t really have any preference for them.
The cars in the game are always pretty fun. This might be the only racing franchise outside of OutRun that uses high-end cars exclusively. And I imagine by now we’ve all gotten our fill of Saleen’s and Ferrari’s. PGR4 has some pretty unique vehicles in it though, including an electric sports car and that street legal F-1 car. Even a DeLorean if you’re into that sort of thing. The cars are class based but there are a couple of favorites that perform a bit better from each class. The motorcycles on the other hand, are very hit or miss depending on ultimately how good you are with them. They aren’t just cars with two wheels; these really feel like true motorcycles. Whether that’s a good thing or not is up in the air. They accelerate much quicker but unless you’re using a really fast bike you won’t get much top speed out of them. And they can be difficult to handle. Not impossible, and not quite at the level of a Moto GP game, but difficult nonetheless. They do not break the game though. Everything is balanced. Maybe that was an issue at some point but I can’t recall a game attempting it or doing it as well.
On the technical side, it’s one of the better looking games around. I’ve always found those nice blur effects on the sides of the screen with the camera to be really fun. The weather doesn’t normally drop it under the PGR benchmark of 30 FPS. On the other hand, if you happen to be racing in New York with snow turned on, you’ll encounter a lot of slow-down. It’s the only true case of big dips in the frame-rate but even then you only see it on a specific part of the city so the chances of encountering that are pretty low. The AI performs like it always has. PGR can get away with rubber band AI since it wouldn’t make a difference either way. The achievements for the game are put to use in brilliant ways. One of them will have you drive a DeLorean up to 77 MPH in a thunderstorm. How cool is that? I also like the style of the menus and the layout of the different modes. The career is separate from arcade mode. The Xbox Live functions are separated. Everything feels like it’s been arranged much cleaner than in the past. The soundtrack is the weakest in the series though. I don’t think anyone really listens to a racing game soundtrack anymore with custom playlists available. But if you do, you’re probably not going to find much to like about the different kinds of music available. Most of it is international, and is only a shadow of PGR3’s.
The unfortunate truth about a poor selling game is that the community probably won’t be there. I’ve encountered a lot of racing games on the 360 that tend to have a group of people play every night. But you’ll never see many online at any given time. Forza 2 was the rare exception. But PGR4, Moto GP 06 and 07, Test Drive Unlimited, MX vs ATV, that list goes on and on of racing games that don’t have legs online. It’s too bad. PGR4 has some cool modes like cat and mouse, and some modes that take place in the open cities. They gave it a lot of variety.
I think that about covers the game itself. I don’t know what’s happened to the property after Bizarre Creations was bought. I think it may have come back to Microsoft. Who knows if they even want to attempt another one after the sales of PGR4. But if Turn 10 Studios wanted to split development and release a game each year, they could alternate between Forza and PGR. That’s all assuming that they still own the IP. Anyway, point is, I really love this franchise and I think this was the best one to date. I also think it’s one of those rare titles where I couldn’t get my head around what the game’s reviewers didn’t see in it. It won’t be getting any sort of revival. They did release a pack of cars recently but it’s not reasonable to expect news on PGR5 anytime soon. For anyone who decided to read my review, you probably enjoy a great racing game. Go out and find this one. Even if you already have PGR3, I promise you’ll be rewarded with a great experience.