Project Gotham Racing 2 (Xbox)
As I reflect upon my time playing Project Gotham Racing 2, the memories of some races waft dreamlike through my consciousness. And it is no wonder since it was this game that caused me to recently play until 3:30 am, crossing the boundary from one day to another as if it was no more than a lap marker. It was only when I realized I wasn't racing against anyone further east than GMT -8 time zone that I began to wonder if I should get some sleep. This is, in fact, one of those reviews that is hard to write because all it does is remind me about how much IÃ‚'d like to be playing the game now. ItÃ‚'s like asking someone how their food is after theyÃ‚'ve taken a bite and all they can do is nod vigorously and make soft little moaning noises while theyÃ‚'re savoring the mouthful. You can probably take that summary as an adequate review in itself, but I will endeavor to elaborate.
Although my Xbox is still less than a week old, I don't suspect the sheer novelty of a new console enhanced the enjoyment of this game to any large degree. Rather, the controller felt cold and unfamiliar to hands used to that of the Gamecube. What has enhanced this game, however, is the X's unique online component. I am new to Xbox Live and have already gushed about it in the forums. And having played PGR2 online, I don't know that I could write a review for someone intending to only play the single-player game other than to say the experience would be incomplete. From the moment you open your profile the game attempts to log you into your Live account. And from that moment on, every breath you take, every lap you make, every time you break will be placed in its correct place, along with your ghost, on the leader board. You will have a mark, for better or for worse, on your permanent record.
A permanent record isnÃ‚'t as bad as it sounds. In fact, itÃ‚'s how you unlock portions of the game. The currency of choice in the PGR2 world is Kudos. It could just as easily have been dollars or credits or gil, but they chose kudos. You earn small amounts of kudos without even trying when you race because you will inevitably slide or pass someone or take a turn on two wheels. You earn additional kudos for placing higher and driving with "style". Stylish moves include taking good lines in turns, drafting, powersliding, etc. Rather than lauding your phenomenal time in a race, the game tallies up your kudos points and the grand total is what gets ranked online. It also keeps track of your running kudos total. Earn enough kudos points and you "level up" to a new kudos rank and earn tokens with which you can buy new cars, hopefully the car that can actually help you compete in the car class youÃ‚'re trying to complete.
You see, there are multiple car classes and you must complete all of the events in one class to unlock the next one. Each class has about a half-dozen cars, but one or two are always frustratingly dominant. So in order to complete the events on anything but the easiest level, youÃ‚'re going to have to buy one of the dominant cars. ItÃ‚'s for the best since anytime you get in a race online, everyone ends up choosing that same car. Admittedly a skilled racer will be a threat in any car, but the Ford Focus will still give you an edge over the MINI Cooper. So earn your kudos to unlock better cars to win more races and kudos with which you can unlock better cars. ItÃ‚'s a tried and true formula, but youÃ‚'ll likely find yourself with more tokens than you need as there isnÃ‚'t too much incentive to go back and purchase all the mediocre cars. ItÃ‚'s a good thing the actual racing is more than enough to keep you playing once your shopping quest is over.
For me this game strikes an exquisite balance between arcade and realistic racer, and has a piquant oaky bouquet. When you find yourself slammed into a barrier and facing the wrong way, itÃ‚'s entirely possible to finish swearing, reverse out from the wall, and actually get back into the race. However, every car has its own distinct feel, from the light and slippery Corvette Sting Ray, to the tank-like stability of the BMW M3. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, you might not ever play half of the cars because they simply arenÃ‚'t competitive enough for the class. And you better know how your car handles when you take it out on the road. A large part of playing well is just being familiar with your car and with the track. And itÃ‚'s tough to get familiar with the track when you canÃ‚'t take your eyes off the scenery.
Bizarre Creations simply did a fantastic job of capturing the unique styles of each city you visit. I can only attest to the authenticity of Chicago and Washington D.C., but I raced with one guy from Edinburgh and another from Barcelona who both had the same thing to say about their city. The buildings and roads are detailed, even when you stop for a closer inspection. There are nice little touches like stuff blowing through the streets (always driving too fast to tell if itÃ‚'s trash or leaves) and birds flying overhead, however there doesnÃ‚'t appear to be a single citizen besides your fellow drivers. You probably wonÃ‚'t miss them, but major metropolitan areas feel a little eerie once you remove all the people. Each city has several track configurations that range from a simple oval in Yokohama to a tortuously convoluted knot in Hong Kong. And since legs of one track invariably show up again in legs of another, you end up learning the city in pieces. It also means you end up guessing at the upcoming turns incorrectly every now and then. The mini-map in the corner is usually a lifesaver when planning your attack. However, itÃ‚'s pretty much reduced to useless on the tighter tracks. Again, your best bet is just to know your track and know your city. The immersion is complete with your car stereo tuned to actual local radio stations from each of the cities playing a wide variety of licensed music. If you prefer to be your own DJ, you can rip your own CDs to a custom soundtrack.
To prevent "three laps around the track" from becoming too monotonous, there are a handful of different types of races youÃ‚'re faced with while working your way through each car class. In addition to the basic Street Race, youÃ‚'ll have to beat events such as Overtake (pass x number of cars in x amount of time), Speed Camera (achieve a specific speed by the end of a short piece of track), and the dreaded Cone Challenge (earn x amount of kudos points by stringing together combos while navigating between pairs of cones). These do a decent enough job of mixing the gameplay up and earning a platinum in each requires immeasurable skill, persistence, and / or swearing. But this is all stuff you can learn from reading the back of the box I suppose. The real soul of this game presented itself at the end of my first race when my personal best kudos score was uploaded and nestled into its appropriate online rank. The game instantly opened up and connected me with an enormous community of PGR2 players
While this serves to present your race in a more informative context, it also serves to teach you humility. There is nothing quite like the feeling of driving the race of your life, only to find out that 11,000 other gamers have had better. And then you have to remind yourself that this is only your ranking amongst gamers who are playing it on Live. I prefer to adopt the sour grapes defense by lying quietly to myself, "Yeah, but at least IÃ‚'ve got a life." Time Attack mode is the exception to the kudos rule, rewarding your best lap time with a slap in the face instead. This sort of abuse takes a little getting used to as youÃ‚'re just learning the game and you are beginning to feel as if the guard rails are magnetic. You will eventually begin to post some scores that arenÃ‚'t instantly demoralizing and you will hopefully be ready to take the next step by actually playing online.
Yes, this is my first Xbox Live game. Yes, IÃ‚'m probably giving the game an unfair advantage by letting my feelings for Live influence the review. But the game could just as easily been burdened by this same association if Live hadnÃ‚'t lived up to expectations. A simple interface lets you specify which type of race the game should look for and then a list of games scrolls out before you. Basic information about each game lets you fine tune your selection before you dive in. If the race is already going on, youÃ‚'ll sit in a sort of purgatory screen forced to watch little colored dots race around a mini-map of the course. I donÃ‚'t know why there isnÃ‚'t an observer mode because six minutes can feel like a very long time in there. But once theyÃ‚'re back to the lobby, youÃ‚'ll be able to join in and start talking with your new best friends (or despised foes). once everyone has their car selected, the gentlemen, and everyone else, may start there engines.
Facing live competition and being able to voice your victories and frustrations is a liberating experience in an eight player racing game. It evokes the community youÃ‚'ve probably felt in the arcade playing CruisÃ‚'n USA against the handful of people near you. However, since youÃ‚'ll often stay with this group for several races, that community is a lot stronger. You learn who the skilled players are and who you should avoid being near in the turns. And, of course, you feel a lot more comfortable talking some trash than you would with the random guy next to you at the arcade. Sure there are plenty of bad apples who would prefer just to run people into the rails or block bottlenecks. ItÃ‚'s expected in an online game. However youÃ‚'re about four button-pushes away from a new race and a new group of best friends with which you may laugh and swear.
IÃ‚'m going back over my review and realizing I havenÃ‚'t really said too much about the cons in the game. It just seems a little petty to complain that you canÃ‚'t adjust your volume levels from inside an online game. And I can probably live with the fact that many players have used Action Replay to unlock every car in the game. You will surely spend entire minutes upset by some detail of this game. That hardly seems to matter when you will spend entire weekends thrilled by the rest of it. It is very easy to review very bad games and very good games. Project Gotham Racing 2 was very easy to review.
- by Michael "Sway" Konold