Like Clarkson, we caught ourselves repeatedly mumbling “powerrr” whilst zooming through PGR3’s cities in a Ferrari F50GT (due to omission of said Bugatti), hypnotised by the room-shaking engine audio and obsessed with overtaking the car up ahead. PGR3 is definitely the Xbox 360’s flagship launch title – by a mile.
On the surface, Project Gotham Racing 3 plays like any other racer: you pick a car, you hit the streets, and you beat your opponents to the finish line. But in addition to numerous race types that offer challenges far more varied than the usual ‘get first place’ objective, PGR3 has its own particular system of reward: the unique kudos point system that encourages flashy driving during races.
Drifting, clean racing, sticking to a racing line, passing rivals, and stringing such moves together racks up kudos combos. Push your kudos rank high enough and you’ll unlock super-powered concept cars for purchase in the store.Both the car physics and the kudos system have been substantially improved since the second Project Gotham Racing. Control is more intuitive and the cars move a bit more realistically. Bonus kudos are now awarded for special types of drifts and turns – a shallower, less extreme drift that doesn’t look too slick (but allows you to take a turn just the way you need to catch that opponent up ahead) will now earn you far more points than in previous games.
It still doesn’t quite reward good racing on an equal level with showing off, but that’s kind of the point in PGR3. A lengthy solo career takes you on a whirlwind tour of the game’s locales; New York City, Las Vegas, London, Tokyo and the Nurburgring play host to automotive events, ranging from straight-up street races to cone challenge agility tests to the brand-new Time vs. Kudos event, in which earning kudos actually stops the clock from running down. The five difficulty levels should keep just about anyone busy for some time, but Project Gotham Racing 3 really wants you to hop online for some Live competition. Even more modes are available there, spanning team events to a racing permutation of Capture The Flag.
Gotham TV also allows you to spectate races – from observing the top players of the game to sneaking a peek at the people on your friends list. Your saved replays and photos can also be found here, but Gamestyle has yet to find a way to transfer our photos to a USB stick, or even directly to our computer using Windows Media Connect (offered in the Xbox 360 dashboard). A slight oversight by Bizarre/Microsoft perhaps, or a deliberate decision? Whichever, the all-new photo mode is a stroke of genius – it allows you to wander around each city within the track’s boundaries, taking snapshots of the cars in action, or the city’s infrastructure.And that’s where PGR3 undoubtedly makes the leap into the next generation: rendering some of the most amazingly recreated environments ever seen in a videogame.
The detail put into each city is mind-blowing, and Microsoft must have spent months – if not years – taking all the photographic material needed to ensure nearly all the buildings and businesses boast their real-life corporate logos and signage. Viewed from the New York bridges, the Manhattan skyline sprawls out before you like an impossibly moving picture postcard. And then you drive straight into and through it (preferably with the viewpoint set inside the cockpit). The only glitches we found included a little delay before all the high-resolution mapping was in place, and some very distant scenery pop-up – both minor issues, as far as Gamestyle was concerned.
All this graphical splendour does come at a price, however. Load times are a bit of a problem in the game, although it’s nothing that ruins the overall experience. They’re just long enough to be noticeable – particularly the five to seven seconds it takes to restart a race after you’ve failed your objective. Annoying for some, handy for others, as it allows another sip from your cup of coffee or tea.Also in the negative department: the radio stations that have defined each city in past Project Gotham games are now gone, replaced by a virtual CD changer that can accommodate up to six playlists. While the licensed music selection is excellent, the radio stations added a lot to the personality of each city, and they are sorely missed. When it comes to sound effects, PGR3 excels – engine noises are accurate and impressive, and other sound effects like screeching tyres and shattering side mirrors add to the aural experience (with the only let-down being the collision effects, which sounded a bit too plastic for our liking).
Another appeal of the series’ previous incarnations has been the ability to take everyday cars and race them on the city streets. Working your way up the ladder to the exotics made driving a Ferrari feel like a privilege. In PGR3, the lowest performing car in the roster is the Ferrari Testarossa. While the selection of cars is extensive, it’s a Supercars-only club, and the similarity of your automotive choices can feel limited. The roster will disappoint those who enjoyed whipping SUVs and muscle cars around the hairpins in past Gotham games.
Longish load times aside, Project Gotham Racing 3 strikes an excellent balance between arcade and sim gameplay without alienating fans of either, and everyone – from Sunday drivers to Autobahn veterans – will find something to love here. Whether it truly earns the moniker of “next-generation” remains open to debate, but it’s an enjoyable experience and a near-faultless one at that.