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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Racing

 

Publisher

Microsoft

 

Developer

Bizarre Creations

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q4 2003

 

 

- Xbox Live support
- Improved car graphics
- Revised and much improved Kudos system

 

 

- Music not as good as first game
- Some race goals take over-and-over playing to attain
- No drag racing mode

 

 

Review: Project Gotham Racing (Xbox)

Review: Midnight Club II (Xbox)

Review: Apex (Xbox)

 

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Project Gotham Racing 2

Score: 9.1 / 10

 

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The original Project Gotham Racing sped off the starting line as one of the best of the Xbox’s launch titles. Although it didn’t seriously challenge the overall depth of Sony’s PS2 racing king, Gran Turismo: A-Spec, it was a solid and fun racing game in its own right, and really showed off the amazing graphical power under the Xbox’s hood. Now the sequel, Project Gotham Racing 2 (PGR2) is finally available, with all the gameplay (including an overhaul of the game’s Kudos scoring system) and unbelievably, better visuals than its predecessor. But the biggest addition that sends PGR2 to the pole position of quality racing games is the Xbox Live support that transforms PGR2 from a merely good racer to an amazingly addictive game.

PGR2 is an amazing looking game, especially the cars that you’ll cruise around in being so realistically rendered in every detail with a showroom quality that even the mighty Gran Turismo can’t match. Some of the cars in the game’s 14 classes are ones such as the powerful Enzo Ferrari that most of us not named Bill Gates would only be able to drive in our dreams. There are more than 100 cars, from the

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“average Joe” Volkswagen Beetle to Porches, to classic driving machines and good old Detroit muscle cars of yesteryear, including one that’s quickly become a favorite of mine for cruising the PGR roadways, the Pontiac GTO. Returning again in PGR2 is collision damage that shows on your vehicle if you spend more time careening into guardrails than keeping on the asphalt.

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couldn’t get any better visually in PGR2, the game ups the graphics ante with detailed cityscapes from all over the globe. The game boasts having over 100 tracks, but like the original game, most tracks are only minor variations of others on the same level, with a few new twists here or turns there. But PGR2 does give more “real-world” levels for racing bliss than the first PGR, a total of 10 including Washington D.C., Chicago, Barcelona, Moscow, Sydney and Hong Kong.

A unique feature of the original PGR was the music that played throughout the game. It was set up to play over radio stations that you changed depending on your musical tastes, a la Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. It follows the same formula this time around, but with each city having a distinct radio station that plays the tunes, complete with a native DJ. If you’re racing overseas in say, Hong Kong, the DJ will talk the native tongue in-between musical selections. That’s a nice touch, although I wasn’t as impressed with the overall eclectic music that is heard in PGR2 compared to the first title. (Microsoft has also released a series of soundtracks available on CD.)

A racing game isn’t any good if you don’t have an efficient control system to handle racing at high speeds, and PGR2 has dead-on perfect controls. Each car handles differently, and has its own handling specifications and needed skills for good driving. Some are speed demons that blow away all other vehicles in the race, but handle poorly on sharp turns. Others aren’t very fast, but are proficient at handling heavy curvilinear stop-and-go action.

The Kudos scoring system returns in a refined form, and it is this that dictates the gameplay of PGR2. Kudos points are awarded for nice driving techniques, especially the highly-encouraged power sliding that is a necessity for you to master if you want to achieve many of the game’s goals.

Some goals, like the Cone Challenge, can’t be attained unless you score a required amount of Kudos. But you can get high Kudos points by stringing together Kudos-scoring moves, thereby allowing you to hit the goal. PGR2 has an almost role-playing game feel with the accumulated Kudos, for once you “level up” to a predetermined Kudos total, you’ll get Kudos tokens which you need to purchase and unlock newer, better vehicles. The only negative about gaining new cars is besides the color of the paint job, you can’t tinker with any cars in the garage like you can in Gran Turismo.

The biggest winning addition to PGR2 is online play over Xbox Live. This is where, in the words of that little kid in the television commercials, the game goes “zoom, zoom.” As good as the first game was, PGR2 exponentially accelerates past it with Live gameplay. You never lose the sense of speed from the single-player game transferring to Live. The only mode, online or not, that I wish was in PGR2 is some my-car’s-faster-than-your-car drag racing for “pinks.”

But PGR2 has practically every other style of racing mode available, including a bunch of Kudos Series challenges such as Timed Run, Street Race, Hot Lap, Overtake, Speed Camera and One on One. You can also race arcade race modes, time attack modes, and a randomly generated Instant Action mode. It really doesn’t matter what kind of racing you’re looking for, because PGR2 has it. The challenges are on a difficulty scale, so if you think you’re an expert driver and complete it, you’ll earn more Kudos points than you would on lower difficulty levels. And until you unlock a good selection of cars, you will want to take on certain challenges on lower difficulty settings to avoid the annoyance of replaying a goal over and over.

If you give PGR2 even a quick test drive, you’ll be quickly impressed by all it has to offer. No, you can’t modify the cars in the garage like Gran Turismo titles or take to the streets in Fast and the Furious-style cars like Need for Speed Underground. But PGR2 is a racing video gamers fantasy fulfilled nevertheless, with tight controls, a good variety of tracks, a garage full of excellent looking vehicles and picturesque cityscapes, and great online gameplay through Live that any Live subscriber will immediately appreciate. The high- octane PGR2 is one of the best Xbox titles this year, so get out the driving gloves and gentleman, (and ladies too), start your engines!

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(January 9, 2004)

 

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