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Joystiq Review: Project Gotham Racing 3 (Xbox 360)

Vladimir Cole

Like Playboy, Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3) isn't about realism: it's about deliciously impossible bodies glossily reproduced for a mostly male audience sweatily grasping joysticks. PGR3 succeeds because the game's developers packed the game's 75 cars with more polygons than a geometry textbook. And just as the airbrushed beauties in a centerfold spread are never allowed to be seen in an unflattering light, the hot bods in PGR3 are never allowed to be deformed by crashes that would make a car enthusiast cry. (This of course makes a game enthusiast cry. Racing games are more fun when designers allow us to total the vehicles.)

Top five delights offered by PGR3, in addition to the aforementioned sploogetacular car porn:

  1. Loving detail. I've made it a point to take New Yorkers on the bridge tour and their acclaim for it has been universal. "That's really fantastic!" said a buddy. "Can I just stop driving so fast and take it slow? I'm missing the view!" said my non-gamer wife (who was thrilled by the game). Even the crowd in the game has been modeled carefully: each person standing on the other side of the racing barrier has been randomly assembled from a collection of parts so that you'll never see fifty of the same green-shirted, blue-capped, brown-faced fellows clustered in an area. This doesn't sound amazing, but look at EA's crowds in comparison. That Bizarre would spend resources modeling realistic crowds shows a level of artistry and care that many sports titles lack.
  2. Pure driving pleasure. Experienced and novice drivers alike enjoy the experience. A German friend who has driven a performance roadster on the Autobahn felt that the game offers an authentic driving experience. Two friends from NYC, each with under 100 hours cumulative lifetime driving experience, both noted that they felt that they were learning to drive better by playing the game.
  3. Depth. Good games take moments to learn and a lifetime to master. We've played and/or watched others playing the game for over 80 hours. There's just so much to learn here that one could pick this title up and play it to exclusion of every other Xbox 360 launch title. Skill--not luck--makes a tremendous difference in your in-game performance. Though Xbox 360 achievements can extend the life of any game, most games lack the depth that makes playing them for hundreds of hours fun. King Kong has none of this. PGR3 has all of it and it's therefore worth every penny of the $50.00 retail price--maybe even a good portion of the $75,000 you'll spend to slake the burning sensation that Bizarre's car porn creates in your tight little gamer shorts.
  4. Sounds. As has come to be expected in modern sports games, the soundtrack includes an eclectic mix of popular and lesser-known artists from Mozart to Kool Keith. There's hip hop, industrial electronica, Japanese Pop, Rock, Electronica, Alternative Rock and a bunch of other stuff that Bizarre hasn't blogged about yet. It's a lot of work to license this much music for a game-- the game's credits list five individuals who were likely involved with lining up the tracks for the game. The only disappointment here: no Kraftwerk? The game's engine sounds are superbly modeled too, but we're not embarrassed to admit that we actually turned them down so that we could better hear the radio tunes.
  5. Good difficulty calibration. In single-player mode, the game's difficulty scales with the quality of the car under control. A "Speed Test" challenge requires that the driver hit 73.5 miles per hour at the novice level in a Shelby Cobra GT 500, but 90.1 miles per hour driving a Ferrari F50 GT. This calibration adds to the game's replayability and depth. "Hard" and "Hardcore" in this game are truly difficult. None of the drivers I've asked to play the game can complete the Nurburgring challenges at either difficulty.

Top annoyances offered by PGR3, in addition to aforementioned lack of damage modeling:

  1. Load times. The load times in this game are just silly and are the top indicator that the game was rushed to meet the launch window. As our ample praise for the other Bizarre Creations launch title shows, these developers know how to put together a flawless gaming experience. PGR's egregious load times show that the team wasn't able to spend much time optimizing the movement of data from disc to console. On shorter challenges in the single-player campaign, the load time actually exceeds the amount of time it takes to run the short section of track. Ridge Racer (Xbox 360), by comparison, doesn't need to reload the last track you raced if you choose to race it again.
  2. Confusing menu system. The game's menu systems are a crime by any usability textbook. Even after dozens of hours playing the game, it's still difficult to find the right play mode for the right moment.
  3. Crashes. Of all of the Xbox 360 games we've played, PGR3 crashes the most, yet more evidence that this one wasn't done with QA when it was sent to retail. The game crashes about once an hour when playing in multiplayer mode, less often if you avoid looking at other racers' gamertags and avoid submitting player feedback.
  4. Multiplayer glitches. In addition to the abovementioned crashes, the game's multiplayer mode is rife with glitches. When sitting in a multiplayer lobby, for instance, every time a new player joins the lobby the countdown timer resets. This can happen a dozen or more times when waiting for a game to start as players join a match, assess the competition, and determine that the match will be either too easy or too difficult for them, and leave. Frustrating! (For an example of good lobby implementation, see Blizzard's Starcraft waiting room.)
  5. Kudos & credits miscalibration. It's too easy to obtain credits to purchase new cars. Therefore, obtaining new cars doesn't feel like a special event. We were able to obtain the best car (ranked by performance) in the game (the Ferrari F50 GT) before we had even completed the single-player campaign on easy mode. What's more, some of the concept cars can only be unlocked after obtaining a large number of kudos (points for racing with style). Kudos can be much, much harder to come by, but by the time you've obtained enough of them to unlock sub-standard concept cars, you're long past the point of wanting to drive these lesser-performing vehicles.

Few of the game's annoyances affect the actual racing experience. Once you're in a race, it's generally flawless. It's getting there that can be a chore. Still, the game's depth makes this one a keeper, not a renter.

Overall Rating: 8.0 / 10

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