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Project Gotham Racing 2

Developer: Bizarre Creations
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Sports / Racing
Players: 1-4
Similar To: Project Gotham Racing
Rating: Everyone
Published: 12 :31 : 03
Reviewed By: Nick Stewart

Overall: 9 = Must Buy


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When discussing the reasons for owning an Xbox, the original Project Gotham Racing inevitably pops up. It was one of the great system exclusives, providing owners of Microsoft's console with some of the best racing action to found this side of the Dreamcast's Metropolis Street Racer, which was PGR's original if unrefined predecessor. Just as the first PGR is hitting the Xbox's Greatest Hits lineup, its sequel is finding its way to store shelves. After considerable anticipation, Project Gotham Racing 2 has finally hit store shelves, bringing with it a host of additions and gameplay tweaks that transforms a great game into a true classic..

Gameplay: 9/10
Realizing that you shouldn't tinker too much with a solid formula, Bizarre Creations have left the core gameplay from the first Project Gotham Racing very much alone when putting together the sequel, and the game is that much stronger for it. What they did change, however, is virtually everything that could have been criticized, sanding off the rougher edges and polishing the duller spots. In other words, the experience is still all about street-racing through blocked-off sections of various world-class cities in some of the greatest, most exciting circuit racing you're ever likely to see. This time, however, there's more of just about everything. There are more cities, which now include Sydney, Florence, Hong Kong, Moscow, Chicago, and several others. There are more racing modes, which include the creative Cone Challenge, and the technique-testing Speed Camera. Instead of the "Kudos Challenge" mode found in the original PGR, players must now work their way through the "Kudos World Series" mode, where they face various challenges centered around different types of cars; in other words, you might be asked to run a series of street races, cone challenges, and overtake challenges using vehicles only from the "Pacific Muscle" class or the "Sports Utility" class. Once you've completed all the challenges in that specific class, you move onto the next one, with each successive class introducing vehicles that are progressively faster and tougher to control. Not that you have automatically have access to all available cars in a given class; no, you have to earn that right. By accumulating Kudos throughout the various races and modes, you slowly increase your Kudos Level, which in turn accords you Kudos Tokens that can then be used to unlock various vehicles within the different car classes. Doing so is necessary to progress through the tougher challenges, not to mention that it's the only way you'll unlock the truly amazing cars available to you in this game. This is actually a fairly good system and provides you with definite incentive for earning as many Kudos as you can.

The new and improved approach to difficulty is also worth mentioning. Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of the original Project Gotham Racing was its unforgiving level of difficulty, which provided little to no learning curve and left genre newcomers out in the cold. This has been nicely rectified in the sequel, as you're now capable of adjusting the difficulty. By deciding whether you wish to shoot for a bronze, silver, gold or the ever-elusive platinum medal, you dictate the level of challenge that you'll have to work through in order to progress. Naturally, the bronze medals are generally a cakewalk and are a great way for players to get their racing legs, as they allow you to make more mistakes and offer you more leeway than the other medals. Silver medals offer more of a standard degree of challenge, while the gold medals are decidedly difficult, and the platinum medals practically require a perfect run. It's a terrific way of allowing players to gradually increase their level of skill, and directly addresses one of the main stumbling blocks of the original PGR. It's quite surprising to see just how accessible it makes the game, as this adjustable level of difficulty allows you to tailor the experience to your own desires. If you just want to power through the game and finish all the car classes as quickly as possible, you can do so. However, if you'd rather try and achieve a set level of medals within a given car class - like, say, achieving all gold medals - then you can do that as well. This offers a certain flexibility that never detracts from the high-powered fun to be had within PGR2, and should allow players of all skill levels to truly enjoy themselves.

There are a number of interesting perks to be found within PGR2. The most obvious of these is the car showroom mode, which allows you to use a first-person viewpoint to explore the grounds of a facility that houses all the cars that are available in the game. Rather than broken into car classes, however, the vehicles are each housed in rooms that are organized by maker. In other words, you can wander down one hall and pop into a showroom dedicated to the PGR2 Ford cars, then wander down the other hall and explore a showroom that features all the PGR2 BMW vehicles. If you like, you can even take each of them out on a countryside test drive, whether or not you actually own the car. That this test drive also saves your ghosts is a nice addition to an already excellent feature, though it would have been nice if the Garage mode, which features all the cars from one class in a single room, would have also incorporated this feature. As it stands, you're forced to check the different rooms one by one in showroom mode and test drive them that way if you want to compare the on-the-road performance of the vehicles from a given class. It would have been much, much simpler to allow test driving from within the Garage itself, but hey, what can you do.

What's interesting to note is that within the showroom mode, there are several empty rooms labeled "Xbox Live," so those are subscribed to the service can expect to see any number of downloadable cars in the months to come. In fact, Xbox Live is a huge component of PGR2, and enhances the game in wonderful and surprising ways. For instance, if you're connected to Xbox Live while you play, your racing scores are uploaded to an online scoreboard, where you can see how you perform against the tens of thousands of other PGR2 players - and if they've also connected and uploaded their scores, you can even see how your performance matches up against that of your friends. You can also download ghosts from the top scorers of each race to see which car they selected and how they chose to run each race, which in turn helps immeasurably in improving your own skills as a player. Naturally, there is any number of other ways to compete against others, including the ingenious and constantly updated weekly and monthly challenges. However, the most compelling way to compete is direct multiplayer racing, and PGR2 certainly doesn't disappoint in this regard. If you just want to jump in right away, there are quick match options, though if you'd prefer, you can specify certain tracks and restrictions, such as keeping all competitors within a certain car class. Hosting is equally simple, and it's interesting to note that you can only host tracks and use cars that you've unlocked within the single-player mode - yet another reason to drive you forward through the "campaign", which is another great touch. To give you some idea as to the general level of experience your competitors have had online, each player is accorded a separate Kudos Level for online play that is separate from the Kudos Level earned from individual racing. Merely racing online will net you Kudos, though placing and winning will obviously earn you more - and if you choose to race in a lesser vehicle than those you're competing against, then you'll earn much more than you ordinarily would. The integration of Xbox Live into PGR2 is not only innovative and tremendously entertaining, but it rounds out an already astounding package and certainly sets the bar for all Xbox Live-enabled games to come.

Project Gotham Racing 2 is a terrifically entertaining title, and that's without even mentioning the countless other, lesser details that include Kudos Breakdowns at the end of each race that allow you to note exactly where you earned each point and why, the more pronounced differences in handling between the various cars, the new "draft" technique that allows you to gain speed by closely tailing other drivers, and the increased usefulness of ghosts. PGR2's gameplay is nearly perfect, and nearly anyone with a passing interest in the genre should give it a serious look.

Graphics: 8.5/10
While not exactly the revolutionary, standard-setting godsend they were supposed to be, though they certainly come close. Each car is beautifully curvy, slick and realistic, with each looking exactly as they should, whether they're tearing up the streets of Edinburgh or sitting patiently in your showroom. The environments are equally well done, as each city possesses its own unique and distinct feel; you'll never confuse the claustrophobic twists and turns of Barcelona with those of, say, Chicago. Speaking of the streets, it's hard to ignore the dull sheen of the sun as it beats down on the road in front of you, which nicely complements the various weather effects that occasionally factor into the game. The only slight knock in this department is the night setting, which isn't nearly as impressively realized as the rest of the graphical ensemble. Still, it's a very minor complaint in what is easily a terrific-looking game.

Sound: 8.5/10
Project Gotham Racing 2's excellence continues on through the game's sound department. The soundtrack is fantastic, encompassing a wide variety of smaller, less popular but still talented artists from different genres; in fact, the variety is such that just about everybody should have something to enjoy. The only thing to complain about here is that, when restarting a race, you're often stuck listening to the same song. This means that, if you're forced to restart a given race multiple times - and you will be - then you'll have to listen to that same song over and over and over. Thankfully, you can skip to another "station" or to your own custom soundtrack if you wish, so this problem is somewhat easily overlooked. The other aspects of sound are also admirable, if less obvious: the revving of each individual car's engine is subtly different, as is the horn. The other, more important staples of racing, such as the screeching and crashing, are also done well, and leave little to criticize.

Control: 8.5/10
The fact that Project Gotham Racing 2's menus are considerably more streamlined than those found in the original is certainly something to appreciate. Rather than a tangled mass of options and settings, everything is laid out in a very simple, accessible fashion, and lets you focus on what you want to do rather than how you should go about doing it. The cars have also been tweaked and, as mentioned earlier, the vehicles now possess a much greater sense of difference in terms of how they drive and control, especially between the various car classes. It's certainly a vast improvement over the original's occasionally slippery and muffled control, and makes for a game that has a much better and more natural feel. This time around, you're left with the feeling that you're wrestling with your own skill as a player, rather than with the controls.

Overall: 9/10
With improvements in virtually every possible aspect, Project Gotham Racing 2 not only tops the original in every conceivable way but also takes the lead as the dominant next-generation racing title. The controls are more natural and distinct, the graphics are polished, and the increased amount of cities and gameplay modes lend a much-needed breath of fresh air to a series that began back on the esteemed Dreamcast. Being able to power through Barcelona and Edinburgh in the newest and best that the automotive industry has to offer is a pure thrill, and it's something that is only enhanced by the newly restructured Kudos Challenge mode. And if the wonderful experience of incomparably fun single-player racing action isn't enough, the degree to which Xbox Live has been integrated into virtually every corner of the game will certainly impress and entertain you. Simply put, Project Gotham Racing 2 is now the standard for racing titles, and if you're the least bit interested in the genre, you shouldn't hesitate for a second in picking it up.

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Related Links: Xbox.com