Review: Project Gotham Racing 3 (XB 360)


Genre: Racing
Platform: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (Mild Lyrics)
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: 11/16/05
Official Website: http://www.projectgothamracing3.com/

Since the early days of gaming, games involving racing cars have been pretty popular. They have changed quite a bit over the years though. Back near the beginning, one of the most popular games available in the arcades was Pole Position, which was relatively simple. You put in your money, and you didn’t have any real choices, you just played.

As technology progressed, the racing genre evolved. Still, arcades were the best place to see what was possible with the current technology. You had more choices available to you, such as choosing your track and if you wanted the car to be manual or automatic transmission. The next step of the evolution came with Virtua Racing, which not only was one of the first polygonal racing titles, but also introduced multiple camera views to the mix.

Late in the 20th Century, the greatest racing game yet was created, and it truly brought racing to a whole new level. Gran Turismo allowed you to play an “arcade” version (in your own home of course), but the true draw was the simulation mode, where you started out with a crappy car, raced and made more money, and then bought a better car or tricked out your existing car. There has since been 3 more Gran Turismo, and it has become the bar that many people (myself included) judge the entire racing genre against.

Only a few series have come along to challenge the GT dominance. Ridge Racer is a popular series, and has been for a while. Likewise, Need for Speed has a lot of fans, though it appeals to a different crowd. Burnout 3 made a HUGE impact on the genre, though it can be argued that it’s more of a crash simulator than racing game. And then there’s the Project Gotham Racing series.

I will admit, I haven’t played any Project Gotham titles before. I fear racing titles that I don’t know much about because I don’t know what to expect. Some titles I really end up enjoying (like Burnout) and some I really think are dumb (Need for Speed). So I’m going into this like I’m flying blind. I have heard good things about the series, which is why I even gave it a shot. The videos and screenshots didn’t hurt either. So I’m giving it an honest to goodness chance here. It really has a chance of dethroning Gran Turismo 2 as my favorite racing game ever. So let’s see how it stacks up.


Game Modes
In lieu of discussing the story of the game, since there is none, I will talk about the game modes. First and foremost is the Career mode. In Career, there is Solo and Online modes. In Solo, you start out with only some money and a garage. You can then buy your first car and start to race it. For winning or placing individual races, you get money that can be spent on buying more cars. That’s basically the entire purpose of Solo Career: buy cars, earn more money from winning races, and getting trophies from winning series of races. In Online Career, however, you race against other players on Xbox Live. Depending on how well you do, your standing will raise.

There is also Gotham TV, which is really just a way to watch other players race. Up to 30 people can watch a particular race that’s going on as well. It’s a pretty nice feature, but not really a selling point. It is a racing game, after all, and what you want to be doing is racing. Unfortunately, during Solo Career, there are just as many non-racing races as races. For example, there is Cone Challenge, which wants you to pass through cones in a certain amount of time. There is also Hot Lap, which gives you a certain amount of time to make a lap around a course. The races are the most fun, and it just didn’t feel like there were enough of them. I know you can race online, but I wasn’t able to, which I’ll explain later.
Rating: 7.0

Graphics
Bizarre Creations really went out of their way for the graphics in this game. If anything, they wanted it to look good. And it looks REALLY really good. This game EASILY features the best graphics I’ve seen in a racing game, and the best graphics I’ve seen on the Xbox 360 to date. Screenshots really don’t do it justice.

First of all, they did a spectacular job on modeling the cars. Every car looks virtually exactly like their real life counterpart, down to the interiors. And they all look brand spanking new and are really shiny. While you’re racing, they literally look like a real car.

Speaking of reality, they wanted to make sure that you felt like you were where you were racing, so they took tons of photos and videos of the real life locations and modeled them in intricate detail. While zooming through Vegas, you’ll see famous hotel casinos like Excalibur and MGM Grand. While racing in London, you can even see Big Ben. And New York has Central Park. But it’s the even smaller details that are what makes it great. Literally the entire city that you race through is based as much on real life as possible, down to insignificant little inns next to the road. And it all looks as close to reality as you can get, which was even more than I thought possible.

A couple of really cool features can be grouped into this area. First, you can walk around your garage and view all your cars. You can look in the windows and see the interior, and look at it from every angle. Next is photo mode. While you are in your garage OR in the middle of the race, you can stop the action, whip out your trusty camera, and move around your car and snap a shot. This is a really nifty feature, and I personally think they could have done so much more with it. It would be awesome if you could upload your photos through Xbox Live or email them to yourself so you could keep them as a JPG or set them as your background or something. But as it is now it’s really cool.

Unfortunately, awesome graphics come at a price. Load times are crazy. It can take a looonnggg time to load a race. I’d say it probably can take at least 3 minutes to load some races. I haven’t actually counted, and it may be that it’s less time, but it certainly felt like a very long time. They should have at least put a progress bar or something, and that would at least give you some sort of indicator. But all that exists now is a single screen with a little static information and a flashing Loading sign. But overall, this game features some of the best graphics I’ve seen in a game.
Rating: 9.0

Sound
The sound effects in this game are superb. Bizarre went out and recorded each car in the game (something that Polyphony does with every Gran Turismo), and it makes all the difference as far as immersion is concerned. Every speeding car sounds like it should, and each car has its own unique sounds. Nothing could be better here.

It’s a pity that the music is a different story. My first complaint is that the music is unusually quiet for me. Even with the in-game volume for music turned up to max, the sound effects usually drown it out. Not that it’s a huge loss, I suppose. None of the music really stood out. There were a few classical tracks that I had heard of before, and a song by Queens of the Stone Age, but none of the other artists were familiar to me, which means they were probably cheap licenses. And they sounded cheap because the quality of the artists wasn’t all that great either. You can go into the settings and set up your playlist by selecting several genres of music (but nowhere could I find an exact list of tracks, though that may be in the manual which I didn’t have since I rented via Gamefly). Even so, it didn’t seem like genres had more than 5 songs each, though maybe I just had a bad shuffle or something.

So while the sound effects are really good, the music just doesn’t live up to what it could be. It doesn’t clash with the game any, and you can always play your own music, but still I would hope for better in the game itself.
Rating: 7.0

Gameplay and Control
The controls are really simple and have probably become the standards for racing games. The Right Trigger Accellerates, the Left Trigger is Brake, the Left Thumbstick Steers. For your Hand Brake you hit the A button and you reverse with X. And if you want to move your camera to see behind you or on your sides, you use the Right Thumbstick. Oh, and Left Bumper changes the camera view. I personally like the default view from behind the car, but it’s neat to play from the actual driver’s seat too. Controls are pretty responsive, but it can be tricky at times using the Left Trigger as a brake but once you get used it, it’s fine.

There are a whole bunch of cars available to drive as, which is nice, but unfortunately there are a lot of seemingly duplicate cars. There are like 3 types of Ford Mustangs, a million Ferraris and Lamborghinis, and several others. Unfortunately, all of the cars are supercars, and there isn’t much in the way of normal cars. While some may like this, I also like to have a bit more variety. It’s understandable though considering the lengths they went to to model the cars. It would have been nice if they had some better grouping options though, like by manufacturer though. Also, there is a distinct lack of Asian cars. There are a few, granted (one Honda, one Nissan, one Toyota or two), but there are many, many more European cars. I’d be willing to bet that there are more Ferraris than Asian cars total.

There are two types of “points” you collect. The first is credits, or money, which is used to buy new cars. You get these by winning races and race series. The other points are called Kudos, which is like style points. You get these mainly from doing nifty turns, like doing a powerslide into a turn or a 360 or even fishtailing. Some races require you to get a certain amount of Kudos, and getting more Kudos overall raises your total rank, and also unlocks some cars for you to buy.

There are also other features you have at your disposal, such as the ability to create a race by setting points in a city, which is really cool.

Overall, the gameplay aspects were really well done. It’s a lot of fun to play. I have to admit, though, that the game slowly started getting boring for me after doing a few race series. The races just weren’t different enough for my tastes, and I think I did a long string of races in the same location. But then again, I’m not a big racing game person.
Rating: 7.0

Replayability
This all depends on how you play. If you are into offline play primarily, you may be disappointed, because this all involves racing the offline races over and over again, and chances are, when you get good at it, it will get boring. Though you may enjoy collecting as many cars as possible, and getting all Platinum trophies (which is no small feat), then you can find yourself playing the game for a long time.

On the other hand, a lot of people are more into online racing, and you’re covered there as well. There are a lot of people racing online, and I’m sure it’s a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I was unable to test it myself. For some reason, I would connect to games, get into the lobby and while the race itself was starting, I would get disconnected from Xbox Live. I haven’t been able to figure out why, but I’m sure it’s probably my crappy router. But I don’t count that against the game at all.
Rating: 7.0

Balance
This game is really as difficult as you want it to be, when Solo Career mode is concerned. Each race has 5 different difficulties: Novice, Easy, Medium, Hard and Hardcore. The requirements for the higher ones really ARE hard, so it will take some significant time to get good enough to be able to tackle all of them, especially events that require a certain amount of kudos, because they usually require you to know the track well and be very good at stylish moves. So for a non-racing inclined guy like me, the Easy difficulty was just fine. There were a few times where I was able to get higher scores, and once I even got a Platinum somehow, but for the most part, I stuck with Easy because that was Easy enough for me to not be frustrated. Had I wanted to devote more time to improving my skills, I could have gone up to the next level, but I decided not to. That’s the beauty of it. It’s really tailored to whatever you want.
Rating: 8.0

Originality
I can’t be too generous here, but by the same token, I can’t be too mean. I haven’t played the first two PGR titles, but I’ve heard that they used the Kudos system as well, so that much is the same. I read that PGR2 had more “normal” cars, but many fans preferred to go straight to the faster cars. And based on my experience, this is the first racing game I’ve played that allows you to roam around your garage, view your cars and take photos. And the Xbox Live features (including being able to watch others race) are nice as well. So even for being the third in a series, it’s still fairly unique. At least to me.
Rating: 6.0

Addictiveness
For a while, this game was very addictive and a whole lot of fun. I couldn’t wait to get more money so I could buy another car. But when it got down to it, the cars simply didn’t feel different enough to me. Despite that it was still a lot fun for a while. It simply didn’t have the staying power to me, at least in offline mode. On-line probably would have been pretty much the same way for me, I suppose. Racing games are hard for me to get into unless they have something REALLY different about them, like the ability to upgrade your car parts in Gran Turismo (which I turn into an RPG style adventure) or the crashes in Burnout. What this game really boils down to is simple racing. The Kudos and the little things are fun, but they don’t ultimately make the game addictive for me.
Rating: 6.0

Appeal Factor
This game can appeal to a pretty large audience. Not only is it the most hyped racing game to come out in a while, but it also is easy to pick up and play. Any n00b (like myself) and simply grab a controller, fiddle with the buttons for a while, and figure it out, so it doesn’t have a huge learning curve. Another plus is that this is the type of game you can play just to make people go “ooh” and “ahh” at the graphics. HDTV owners are lucky. This is the type of game that anybody could feasibly own, and maybe not play it all the time, but play sometimes and enjoy.
Rating: 8.0

Miscellaneous
This game has a bunch of little bonus stuff that doesn’t add much to the game itself, but are just a little extra that make it fun. First off is Geometry Wars. PGR2 had the original Geometry Wars, and PGR3 contains that version as well as a trial version the new Geometry Wars: Evolved. This is like Space War or Asteroids kind of, but definitely updated. The Evolved version has some spectacular graphics and music, and is just a lot of fun. To get the unlimited version, you have to buy it from Xbox Live Arcade, but it’s worth it.

The game also includes several Xbox Live Achievements, such as getting all the trophies of a certain difficulty, or even as simple as discovering the Arcade games. There is also an Achievement for watching 10 Gotham TV events, as well as getting an event played on Gotham TV. Overall, the Achievements aren’t the most unique and don’t really hype you on playing the game more, but they’re still cool in a way.

Another thing along the same lines is Badges in the game. They work almost exactly like Achievements. For example, for your first medal and first trophy, you get a badge, in addition for one each for getting your first platinum medal and trophy. They don’t really add anything to the game, but for obsessive completionists, they’re a necessary evil.
Rating: 7.0

Ratings Summary

Story: 7.0
Graphics: 9.0
Sound: 7.0
Gameplay and Control: 7.0
Replayability: 7.0
Balance: 8.0
Originality: 6.0
Addictiveness: 6.0
Appeal Factor: 8.0
Miscellaneous: 7.0

Average: 7.2
Total Score: 7.0 (Good)

Short Attention Span Summary
While this game is not the best racing game I’ve ever played, it’s one of the best. This game is definitely the eye candy game of the 360 launch, and probably one of the best of the bunch overall. And while I grew bored of the game after a while, if you were a fan of PGR2, chances are you’ll enjoy this one just as much if not more. Still, I’d recommend a rental to anyone just to make sure, but it is a very fun game for a while.