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reviews >> xbox
Project Gotham Racing 2

written by Shaun McCracken

Game Information
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Year Released: 2003
Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Visuals 10
Wow. What an improvment over the first game. Better textures, better lighting, better everything. If looks could kill, PGR 2 would get the death penalty.
Audio 9
Not much different over the first PGR, but the engine noises are improved and more varied. Still has the custom soundtrack support.
Gameplay 9.5
The progression and design has improved for the better, and the Kudos point system is more refined, and dare I say, much more fair. The handling has also improved, where the cars actuall feel like they have some weight to them. I still hate the AI.
Replay Value 10
You can blast through this game quickly on the lowest possible difficulty, but you really don't want to stop there. I beat the Kudos World Series with mostly Bronze medals, and now I'm going back to do better. It's a good 40+ hours of game time offline, but if you go online, you may never leave the house.
Reviewer's Impression 9.5
It's much more improved over the first PGR, and it's also less frustrating, since the progression and the levels of difficulty stem off a lot of frustration. It's not like the curse-fest of the first PGR, it feels like a more balanced game. I kind of wish more was done for racing events, such as a one-make series, or restricting an event to certain cars. But as it is, it's a pretty big racing game.
Overall 9.75
Project Gotham Racing 2 improves everything over it's predecessor. The graphics are sooo much better, the Kudos system is much more refined, the progression is a lot more better, and the car selection is a lot more broad. It's a must-have for the Xbox, and it will be intersting to see how much more Bizarre Creations can push the Xbox in the next installment.

Project Gotham Racing 2 is, obviously, the sequel to the 2001 Xbox hit. With almost two years of development time, PGR returns as something of a whole new game. The graphics are better, the handling is tighter, the Kudos system is more refined and the progression is a lot more balanced, plus there's online support. To put it bluntly, PGR2 is better, and probably one of the best games on the Xbox, as well as one of the better racing games to come along since Burnout 2.

Gotham 2 is set-up a bit more differently than the first PGR. For starters, rather than having four different cities to race in with three different areas to drive in, there's just 10 cities from across the world with one area to drive in (if you've played the first PGR, then you probably understand what I'm talking about). But that could be a good thing, since each city is different. This time around you'll tackle the streets of Chicago (US), Washington DC (US), Edinburgh (Scotland), Barcelona (Spain), Florence(Italy), Stockholm (Sweden), Moscow (Russia), Hong Kong (China), Yokahama (Japan), Sydney (Australia), and the Nurburgring Nordschleife Track (Germany). The second thing that's different is how you earn cars. Bizarre Creations seems to experiment with what works in terms of earning cars in each game starting with Metropolis Street Racer. In MSR, you had to complete all stages in a chapter to have the privledge to race that paticular car in a time trial to get the keys of that car. In the first PGR, you earned cars by either getting four gold medals in a specific arcade stage, earned a car by beating it in a one-on-one trial (which was pretty easy to do, since you could give yourself a huge head start and beat your opponent with ease) or just by hitting a total number of Kudos. Now, you need to earn "Kudos Tokens", which can be acquired by reaching a Kudos Rank when you accrue a specific number of points.

This brings strategy to the table, since for one, you can unlock at least 6 or 7 cars within a stage. Sure, you get two off the bat for each stage you start, but they are not the best cars. So, you then decide which car is better for the job. You could unlock all cars in a stage if you had the tokens, or you can save them for later stages in the game. Speaking of cars, the way you can select them has changed. This kind of goes along on how differently the game progresses as well. No longer is each chapter based upon a city or the un-aptly named "championship" like the first PGR. Each chapter/stage is now based upon a car class. This means you can no longer take your most powerful vehicles to earlier stages and complete the challenges with a better ranking medal. Each stage has cars that only relate to that car type, such as Compact Sports, Pacific Muscle or Sport Utility.

I guess now would be the best time to bring up the selection of cars in the game. Project Gotham Racing 2 has one of the best assortment of vehicles of any game to date. In the previous PGR, we pretty much see super cars or powerful sedans. Here, there's an assortment of comapcts, sedans, SUV's, roadsters, classics, sports cars and super cars. I haven't seen a diverse group of cars like this (that were licensed) since the frustrating as hell Vanashing Point by Acclaim. If I had to gripe about the selection of cars, I would say that it could have used a seperate stage for trucks, rather than sticking them in the SUVs; and that the game could have used more Japanese cars. It's still a great assortment, and a wide range of auto manufacturers that include Subaru, Audi, Dodge, Chevrolet, Porsche, Ferarri, Saleen, BMW and so much more. There's also plans for cars to made available for download via Xbox Live.

There's so much to talk about this game, and I'm glaring over important things that need to be said about it. Before I do forget, I would like to talk about the Kudos point system. I'm sure those who have played PGR or Metropolis Street Racer know what this system is all about. You earn points for stylish driving, and those points accrue to your point total, which when you earn a specific number of points, you get Kudos tokens. How you earn Kudos this time around is better than your options in the past, plus it's a lot more fair. You can earn Kudos by powersliding/drifting, driving on two wheels, catching air from jumps, mainitaining a good driving line, drafting, overtaking opponents, clearing a clean section, having the fastest lap and having an overall clean race (nice that they brought that last one back). You also earn bonus Kudos if you meet the criteria/goal of the race. Not only are Kudos easier to earn this time around, but they're easier to keep as well. Before (well, in the first Gotham), if you had a certain number of Kudos that hasn't been banked (you were in the process of a combo), and you hit a wall, you lose them all. Now, if you were in a combo, and you hit a wall, you just lose the combo bonus, but keep the Kudos you earned from driving. It's better than nothing.

Challenging a race has changed as well. In the first game, you pretty much had to set your own criteria on completing a race, such as what place you will rank or how many cars you pass. Depending on what you "wager", you will earn a certain number of Kudos. Unfortunatley, what you couldn't adjust was the difficulty. You could go bare-minimum on certain events, or go as low as you can possibly earn a medal, but the race was still pretty difficult. That has now changed. You can now challenge five different difficulty levels that correspond to a paticular medal. You can play it safe through the entire game by challenging only the Steel-medal difficulty, add a little more challenge by going for Bronze or Silver medals, make things difficult by going for a Gold medal, or really give it your all for a Platinum medal. The higher the difficulty, the bigger the bonus, but you HAVE to meet the criteria to win. It seems a lot more balanced, though (except for the return of the a-hole AI), since you're given an idea what is possible and what you can achieve.

If I had a broadband connection, I would tell you about the online play, but since I don't, we'll have to go into this another day.

The visuals this time around are so much more realistic than the first PGR. Textures are cleaner and sharper, the lighting is a lot more effective, the bump-mapping is much more defined, the reflections are improved and the car models are a little better. Some stages just look astoundingly beautiful, and at certain points, it looks like a real-life environment. The framerate rarely ever chops up, which is pretty amazing seeing how much is being pumped out into this game. I do wish there were other weather conditions other than rain. For some reason, they left out foggy days, which was done in PGR. Also, it would have been nice if Bizarre Creations brought back the real-time time-of-day change that was done in Metropolis Street Racer. It would have been cool to see the time of day change right in front of you, and this probably could have lent itself to some really awesome lighting effects. But what was done here is just incredible. The definition of how an Xbox game should look.

The sound hasn't changed much since the last game. The engine noises are better and a little more varied, but that is about it for sound effects. The same "tick" noise that is made when you get Kudos from the first game has returned, as well as some other noises. The radio is back, with DJs for each station and languages that match the country (I have no idea in hell how better I could have put that exact phrase). There's 200 songs that cross a few genres such as rock, R&B and dance, but if you don't like that, use your own music. The radio function does something a bit annoying this time around. Sometimes, when you begin a new race, a song will play right in the middle or towards the end. I would rather have each song start from the beginning than be cut off at some point. You can change that by sticking to CD mode, but you'll lose the station IDs.

Final Thought

Well, we finally make it to the end of the review. Sorry it seems a bit long, but there was so much to talk about in this game, and I really didn't want to leave out anything that has been improved or changed. In some ways, PGR is still the same game as it was in 2001. It's not about how fast you drive, but about how you drive fast. But there were a handful of improvements and changes that really do make this game better than the first installment. It's by no means perfect. There could have been a few more stages in the Kudos World series mode such as a Truck category, a Wagon category and a category that makes use of all the cars you've unlocked at the very end. They could have also tossed in some one-make series races to force you to buy a certain car with your tokens that you probably wouldn't have considered getting before. Then there's the courses that seem not to have much life in them. If this was an actual sanctioned racing event, you would think there would have been screaming fans or spectators on the sidelines. Nope. The most we get are flying birds or trash blowing in the street. But this is just saying what can make a great game even better. I wonder how much harder Bizarre Creations can push the Xbox for the third installment. This is very much well worth getting, especially if you're a racing fan.