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reviews >> xbox
Project Gotham Racing

written by Shaun McCracken

Game Information
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Year Released: 2001
Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Visuals 8.75
It's a sharper looking version of Metropolis Street Racer from the Dreamcast. The resoultion somehow was increased, the textures aren't as blurry, there are more effects shown thank's to the Xbox hardware and the framerate is smooth and constant. But the textures still look pretty close to what they were in the Dreamcast build, which means they are not as sharp and defined as you would expect out of the Xbox.
Audio 8.75
A good variety of music, but if you hate it, you can always use the custom soundtrack feature. Decent, but similar sounding engine noises.
Gameplay 9
I like this paticular game design where how you drive counts as much as just racing for position. It makes racing a lot less redundant and a lot more challenging. The handling model is pretty good, although I would expect some of the cars with high handling attributes to not slide around so much. The AI is just a complete bastard in this game.
Replay Value 9
There's a lot of races and modes to participate in, and getting just the bronze medal could be a pretty tough task sometimes. 15 hours of overall gameplay time at the least, more if you have to have everything.
Reviewer's Impression 9
This was one of the games I wanted if I were ever to buy an Xbox, and sure enough, I did. I like this style of racing, where it requires more skill than speed to succeed, but I wish the bar was not rasied so high on completing some challenges, and that the AI would take it easier on how often they decide to run me into a wall. It's still a fun racing game to play through, and it's a lot more unique than most racing games out there.
Overall 9
Project Gotham Racing pretty much has brought out the design of Metropolis Street Racer out of obscurity. Not a whole lot has changed except for one new city, a new gameplay mode and some new cars. But, it's one of the better games available on any system.

It may be a little tough for me to review this game, since the sequel is already out on store shelves, and it is significantly better than this installment. But I'll try my best to be fair on this one. In fact, I might end up comparing this to Metropolis Street Racer from the Dreamcast since there are quite a few similarities (actually, Project Gotham was built upon and from MSR). Have I confused you yet? Let's continue.

Project Gotham Racing is one of the first games made avaliable for the Xbox system at it's launch. Basicaly being an overhauled port of MSR from the Dreamcast, it does serve as one of the more unique, challenging and demanding racers available for this or any other system. While it doesn't take full advantage of what the Xbox can do, it's a game that racing enthusiasts will get into, especially if you're tired of the same old "place 1st or rank highest" type of racing.

First, a bit of backstory. Metropolis Street Racer (MSR) was released about 10 or so months before Project Gotham (PGR) on the now-defunct Dreamcast system. It was a very unique racing game at the time. It's motto was "It's not about how fast you drive, but how you drive fast". What this means is that there's more emphasis on how you drive rather than just getting the job done. You would earn points called "Kudos" if you drove with style and care, as well as show a level of skill for a challenge (such as pass X number of cars, or beat a time on a hot lap trial). But you also lost Kudos if you smacked into walls or hit other cars. Challenges would take place in different parts of 3 realistically modelled cities, San Francisco, London and Tokyo. Even more unique in this racer was that it used the Dreamcast's internal clock to provide a real-time experience while you drive. Being on the west coast, the time of day in SF was almost exact as it were here (it didn't take Daylight Savings into consideration, so in the winter, it would still be light at 6pm in SF), which I found really cool and really innovative.

Project Gotham builds upon what made MSR great by giving us one more city, New York to drive around, as well as a new set of cars. But trade-offs were made, with one exclusion I wasn't so thrilled to find. I wasn't so happy to find that they took out the real-time functionality of the first game, by using the systems internal clock. Some may not miss that option, but I did. PGR is set up a lot more differently than MSR. In MSR, the meat of the game was in "Street Racing", where you would go through 25 chapters of events and challenges, and if you completed 10 stages of a chapter, you would earn access to a car (which you would later have to win by completing a time trial). Here, there's a similar mode called the "Kudos Challenge", with 12 chapters rather than 25. But here, if you complete the chapter, you don't win a car. You'll gain access to new cars by one-on-one races. But there are a couple of added modes to help you earn more cars, a standard racing mode, and a style challenge mode (which they call "arcade"). Get four gold medals within the difficulty level of one of those challenges, and you can win a car.

In PGR, you acquire cars differently than you did in MSR. Perhaps it's a change for the better, but it also defeats strategy presented in the first game. In MSR, when you completed a chapter, you had the chance to unlock that car to drive by completing a time trial. Win the race, win the car. But you only had so many spaces in your garage to keep cars, so it took some strategy and planning to see which cars you need for certain challenges. Here, when you unlock a car, it's added to your garage. There's no limit to how many car you get in this game, so there's not much strategy in which cars to keep or dump. Also, the CPF numbers of MSR for cars are gone. The CPF number was pretty much a skill level for the car. The lower the number, the more kudos you would get.

Let's get into the race modes. Here's a breakdown of the types of challenges you'll face in PGR:

  1. Hot Lap - Beat the time you've alloted yourself to win the race. Basically a time trial with a goal. There are single lap trials and average time Hot Lap trials, which you set the goal on the average of the time it takes you to finish the time trial.

  2. Timed Run - It's a type of time trial in which you need to complete the course with the given number of laps in a given time. Beat the time it takes you to complete the challenge to win.

  3. Syle Challenge - New in PGR, the style challenge is kind of like the stunt mode in Waverace 64, except there's no flips and such. You will race within a given time on a coruse lined with cones and cone gates that yield points. Look for Speed Gates that give more points depending on how fast you go. Success in winning these challenges rely on connecting cone gate passes, slides, jumps, two wheel turns and clean section clearings.

  4. Challenge - What you need to do veries by chapter. One challenge may ask you to pas a certain number of cars, complete a certain number of laps, hit a certain speed or beat an average speed.

  5. Street Race - Place 3rd, 2nd or 1st to win. Depending on how you set the difficulty, you may NEED to place 2nd or higher, or 1st place.

  6. One On One - Go against another car in a one on one race. Win the race, win the car.

These challenges get progressivley harder as you move along in the chapters of the game, where completing the challenge is just not enough. To really move on, you need to acquire a medal, and you do this by hitting a number of kudos shown before you start the race. Increasing the difficulty will give you more kudos, but just remember that you need to finish the race in order to get the points.

Getting Kudos is tougher here than it was in MSR. In MSR, there was a way that you could get kudos easily by just sliding around in a hot lap challenge. Here, hot lap challenges have limits on how long you can be there. You won't lose kudos by hitting cars anymore, but you won't recive any clean section bonuses if you do hit a car or wall. Getting kudos is quite a challenge, especially in the style challenges. You pretty much need to drive like you're drunk in order to score big. What I mean is that you need to learn how to swerve around and rack up kudos to increase your combo score. Once you've been on a course a few times, and have the right car, getting kudos on style challenges seem to be prety easy. If you're wondering, you earn kudos by sliding/drifiting, driving on two wheels, getting air from jumps (happens more often in San Francisco) and pulling a 360 spin (I still haven't figured out how to do that one). Link those up one after the other to get a big combo score. Clean sections and extra time on the clock (certain races) will also yield kudos.

The control/handling in PGR is more arcade than sim. Cars handle pretty well, and are respective to the handling displayed on the graph during car selection. I should note that sliding does occur quite a bit in this game, and a lot of sliding reuslts in spinning out. The AI opponents don't help by trying to make you fishtail, either. On a whole, the game controls pretty well. You just need to watch out for the cars that might give you trouble.

Now, on to the graphics. Being on the Xbox, there's some pretty high expectations on how an Xbox game should look. PGR doesn't really look like an Xbox game, maybe Gamecube, but not much of an Xbox title. This is due in part to the texturing. It was impressive on the Dreamcast, but not so much here. It looks like a lot of the MSR textures are used here in PGR. Some have been cleaned up, but others look almost like they did on the DC. But PGR doesn't look like a Dreamcast game. I went back and played MSR on the DC, then I went to the same location in the Xbox "version" and there was a difference. Obviously, the framerate is much better and smoother. The car models look better and have better reflection effects. The fogging seems to be done a bit better. There's some shine to the roads when the sun hits it a certain way. The lighting is also better and more realistic. It's not a terrible looking game, but when you see what's done in PGR 2, the difference is very noticeable.

The sound is pretty good. The cars sound decent, there's a good number of ambiebent effects on the courses and the radio is back. This time, they've licensed some music than do it themselves. But, if you get sick of what they provide, you can always bring in your own music. You can even have the radio DJ introductions for your music. Problem with that is, the DJ may not match the genre of music you have. The station ID will come on as an alternative station, but a Janet Jackson song plays. Not a big quibble.

Final Thought

This was one of the games I really wanted to get whenever I was able to get an Xbox, and lo and behold, it was one of my first. I pretty much knew what to expect out of this game, since I've played the hell out of MSR. But there were new elements that made the game a lot harder that it was before, which is good if you thought the first was too easy (and it was once you figured out how to exploit the kudos flaw). Here, it's nothing but hard work that will get you your prize. Some things, such as the style challenge, can give you a great sense of satisfaction when you finally get that gold medal, because it does take a lot of skill to win in this game. However, I'm disappointed that they took out the real-time functionallity of MSR. It was one of the things that really impressed me in that game, was that the time of day matches the actual time. Of course, it only matched if you lived in the time zones where San Francisco, London or Tokyo were located. Still, this is a very worthwhile game to play through. It may not be for everyone, since it's not just about ranking in the top place. It takes skill and style to win this game, and if you've got that, then you're set.