Just for a moment envision yourself at the wheel of your dream car. As the light turns green your machine leaps forward responding to your foot on the gas. Turning up the radio to better hear your favorite song over the engine you blast through the streets, smiling ear to ear. Not just a daydream anymore, this also perfectly describes the XBox’s latest racing game, Project Gotham.
Project Gotham puts you behind the wheel of some of the most desirable cars in the world from the likes of Porsche, BMW, Audi and yes, even Ferrari. A variety of races against opponents and solo trials on the streets of San Francisco, New York, London and Tokyo push your driving skills and these machines to their limits. Using the left thumbstick to steer and the triggers for brakes and accelerator the standard controller handles driving duties very well. Combined with the game’s well tuned response to these inputs driving quickly becomes intuitive without any feeling of the controls getting in the way.
Impressive graphics dominate your attention from the moment you start the game. All the cars enjoy an amazing level of detail and thanks to the use of digital photography all the roadsides from buildings to signs accurately reflect their real world originals. These good looks may lead you to wonder if the game keeps up once it starts moving. Before you can complete that thought Project Gotham emphatically answers as the world races by never once hindered by a slow down in frame rate. After race replays rivet you to the screen watching your last run unfold as the view switches among multiple camera angles like a movie and offering even more detail down to drivers in the cars steering and shifting.
The driving sound effects fail to keep pace with the stunning graphics. While the engine notes vary by car, they lack the fullness and presence to really complete the image. Likewise the squeal of the tires and the crunch of metal on metal also fail to deliver enough punch. The innovative radio system on the other hand goes a long way in capturing the feel of really being in your car. Each city offers three radio stations complete with dj chatter and good music. Press a button on the controller and switch between them just like in your own car. Or even better, rip your favorite songs onto the Xbox hard drive before playing and setup the in game music to feature your songs complete with the DJ’s talk in between.
A unique scoring system called Kudos brings together all the driving modes and focuses on the game’s street racing style. This system forces you to consider style, skill and speed. Every stylish move like a slide around a corner or air caught off a hill earns Kudos points. A combo system lets you chain together your stunts for an added bonus by pulling another before the score from the last one fades. But you must stay in control the entire time because smacking into a wall looses all those points. As your combo meter grows the pressure mounts to keep scoring without wiping out into a wall. Add to that bonus Kudos awarded at the end for any time remaining under the time goal and you get the Project Gotham formula that gets you throwing your car around the street with controlled abandon.
Playability issues keep Project Gotham from combining all the elements into a fantastic game. A high degree of difficulty and essentially no learning curve to build your skills quickly makes advancing in the game hard. While unlocking the first few cars to add to your initial three goes pretty smoothly, getting to the higher end cars will severely challenge even the best racing drivers. One of the flaws comes from how cars rebound abruptly off an impact with the walls or other cars. The exaggerated bounce back makes recovery considerably harder then it should be. Bad enough when on the course alone, add computer-controlled cars with their relentless ramming of you into the wall whenever possible and races become very frustrating.
Multi-player offers a great escape when the solo game gets to be too much. In both two player and four player split screen modes Project Gotham manages to maintain the same graphical beauty of the full screen solo game. You and your friends racing exotic cars through city streets without any threat of speeding tickets plays even better then it sounds. Try setting the race to most Kudos wins to see just how radical street racing gets amongst friends.
The first time you hit a great run; radio jamming, sliding picture perfect around corners, getting the super stylish replay leaves you eager to do it again. That explains why the difficulty issue creates such frustration. With the fantastic graphics, radio style music and real world environments no other game better captures that daydream of racing through the city streets. Race a Ferrari as fast as possible through New York? Come on, how can you not like Project Gotham?