Project Gotham Racing 4
Does Bizarre still shine or is it a rainy day in Gotham?
By Adam Doree
If Forza Motorsport 2 offered ultimate substance with all its realism and tuning, then Project Gotham Racing 4 undoubtedly adds unprecedented style. This is possibly the most polished and complete arcade style racing game ever made - but is it significantly better than what you already got with Gotham 3? Bizarre Creations and Microsoft knew it would have to be, so let's take a detailed look at whether or not they've pulled it off.
Gotham is the series that introduced the Kudos scoring system, rewarding players with skilful and stylish driving, not just the fastest lap time. As you powerslide, handbrake turn, grab air, overtake, reach top speed or any other number of cool tricks, a nice clicky-sounding Kudos gage increases, and if you can keep earning it continuously you can reach massive scores. And Kudos points let you buy new stuff - like better cars - to progress.
This system has been tweaked to perfection in PGR4, but there's a lot of other new stuff. Cars and for the first time, bikes, now race together; there are some great new dynamic weather effects which affect the look and strategy of races significantly; and there are a bunch of new cities on top of the set from PGR3.
As with previous Gotham titles, there's a great feeling of loose but realistic driving physics, whether it's the force of a passing supercar on your measly jalopy and its momentary effect on your control, the weighty feel as you ease out of an ambitiously taken corner, or as your wheels land after catching air at top-speed. It always feels fun and edgy.
The game's arcade mode is the familiar singleplayer area where you might spend most time initially, although it's joined by a more expansive, properly structured career mode too. Arcade mode is sort of the classic mode though, and in Gotham 4 it still shines. Race events spread across ten chapters challenge you at a variety of race types - traditional street race, one-on-one, Kudos challenges, attaining a speed target, or driving through cone gates within the time limit. Events are finely balanced and tiered in difficulty across five 'medals' which you can select on a per-event basis. Silver and Gold will mostly feel like a doddle to any sort of experienced racing game players, while Platinum - particularly on Kudos challenge tracks - is for serious aficionados only, and Steel or Bronze, the easiest settings, should allow beginners to enjoy the experience as much as anyone else. The arcade mode is best enjoyed on a difficulty setting that you feel pushes your ability. I breezed through on Silver, but it was most fun when I went for Gold or Platinum medals.
It would have been nice to have some sort of dynamic Kudos difficulty, so that even if you choose Silver (where you're usually only expected to come third) you get a little extra reward if you do in fact come first, even though you didn't race on Platinum which requires first place. Granted, the AI difficulty is harder in the first place if you do go for Platinum, but some sort of point scaling could have worked nicely.
Half way through arcade mode is where the challenge level in your comfort zone will start to actually push you a bit. However, the Ultimate Challenge finale chapter is extremely rewarding, providing a much tougher series of events. There's a tricky cone event, in which scripted weather conditions get worse and reduce both your visibility and your grip, making it harder to avoid three-second penalties when you hit a cone gate, and thus more difficult to get to the finish in time. The 'Time Versus Kudos' event is also excellent, meaningfully linking the Kudos scoring to gameplay; you have to earn continuous Kudos to freeze the timer to stand a chance of completing the race.
Similarly, the speed challenge (now based on multiple speed points around a track with a combined target speed required) in this chapter places all the speed gates right after tricky corners. Meanwhile, the new Kudos challenge, Superstar, now requires you to rack up a number of stars, with a star rewarded for every 100 Kudos, however in principle this is no different to before since a continuous Kudos streak will simply rack up multiple stars ready for you to bank.
However, the opponent based events like eliminator and good old street race are never as proportionately challenging for whatever difficulty you're playing on, mainly because it is so easy to drive 'unethically' against opponents to win by blocking or barging, or simply ploughing through bikes, and also because admittedly the other events focus on more specialised skill than simply driving to be first, particularly the Kudos related ones. This means that every opposition-based event almost feels like a bit of a breather in the midst of the other superhuman challenges, when they could have been some of the most heated in a traditional exciting race format.