This review originally appeared in E157, Christmas 2005.
Sleek, powerful examples of superior engineering, capable of immense speeds and rendered in a seductive form, offering an exhilarating experience that symbolises passion, attention to detail and, of course, the chance to just plain show off. Words used to describe the supercars that appear in Project Gotham Racing 3 can be just as apt to describe the PGR games themselves (not forgetting Metropolis Street Racer, of course). At its optimum fidelity (see this month’s Review intro on p87), however, PGR3 is a revelation. This is Microsoft’s hi-def mantra in full flow, of heightened states of sensation brought on by a technical touch that exceeds mere texture updates. The impression of speed and detail – and the effect they exert on one another – is tremendous but best enjoyed via PGR3’s most considerable new offering, an in-car view. The game can still be played via bumper and chase cams, but the experience on offer there is best suited to those heavyhanded handbrake whores who like to vandalise the racing line. For those who wish to take the risk/reward ratio even further, to take the risk/reward ratio even further, the in-car viewpoint brings a whole new level of discipline into play. And it’s still one that can be savoured without the need for any delicate skill, but offers incredible satisfaction to those who master it.
The level of feedback available in-car is phenomenal, from the lurch of the driver as brakes are slammed on or the vehicle surges into a higher gear, to the slight shuddering of the interior under heavy acceleration. Ditto the craftsmanship: glinting dashboard furniture, rattling bonnets and windscreens that swim with the reflections of passing structures and lights, and sometimes the slight dusty smear of dirt kicked up by an off-track error on the Nurburgring, all realised with an eye for effective, convincing flourish. And, of course, the audio design – the machine-gun throb of a wheel straying on to a kerb, the bassy whoosh of a Las Vegas overhang, the rocket-fuelled whine of a super-tuned vehicle reaching its stride. And it’s all conveyed via some substantial contact between vehicle and road, with every dimple, crest and bump being felt by the player’s vehicle, if not their pad. It’s this overwhelming attention to bodywork and its interaction with the environment that turns PGR3 into something sensational; race replays become pornography, and the midrace photo mode option becomes a hobby rather than a gimmick. The multiple garages, dazzling distractions more than anything else, exist to show off its cars in some truly flattering light. As per PGR2’s showroom, they can be explored in firstperson for the sake of ogling your collection from all angles, and maybe find an arcade machine or two. And for all this vibrant recreation of reality, PGR3 manages to offer a handling model that’s straightforward and ballsy but open to the application of skill, and not at the cost of denying each car its own personality.
There’s a shift in attitude as well as perspective, and one that’s just as welcome: PGR3’s manifesto of accessibility. Aside from the main career mode is Playtime, an option where every track and the majority of vehicles – including the most powerful performance cars in the game – are available from the off. Racing the F50GT through New York’s White Street Bends route at night via in-car mode is spectacular, and available out of the box. It’s an approach that doesn’t kill off the desire to succeed by giving you access to some of the game’s greatest moments from the very start. Quite the opposite, as it serves as strong encouragement for getting better at the game, instead of simply getting better at going through it.
While competition is emphasised continually in the career mode – badges, achievements and multi-tiered medals are to be earned – the player still has plenty of flexibility, as any car, even the player’s first, can be used to tackle every singe career mode challenge, whose goals are adjusted accordingly. However, the mooted cooperative mode, whereby two players could team up over Live or in splitscreen in order to tackle the goals of the career mode in a mutual manner, has been scrapped. A handful of new career mode goals have been added to the traditional fare of street races, cone challenges and hot laps – Time Vs Kudos (the clock stops counting down while style points are being earned), Breakthrough (checkpoint-fuelled time trial) and Drift Challenge (earn a preset amount of kudos in a very short interval). Incidentally, splitscreen play doesn’t allow in-car view, although that’s an understandable limitation considering that the field of view would be so cramped as to be undrivable.
After being spoiled by the wide range of locations available in PGR2, PGR3’s selection of five environments may seem slim, but each has enough local flavour – tarted up like never before – to compensate in both appearance and topography. The scattering of monuments-as-hazards across London, the slender liabilities that are Tokyo’s roads, the plump, sweeping bends of Vegas and, of course, the bridges of New York – bridges that form exhilarating drag strips and link the canyon walls of neon that make up the city itself at night. The Nurburgring remains a terrifyingly risky event, but it’s visually the weakest thanks to PGR3’s one hobble, the trees that look weak and tattered next to the gleaming, sculpted precision of everything else. Rain is also absent from the game’s weather system, whose range is limited to ëovercast’, a suitably moody and sour alternative to the glare of any daytime track. The lack of a downpour is more of a shame than a simple omission, if only to see it implemented in a manner as striking as the rest of the game’s effects. Night races do offer a slight advantage to in-car drivers, making best use of the vehicle’s headlights, but the luminosity of PGR3’s cities after sundown – lots of dusky yellows and the glare of urban pollution from umpteen glowing billboards and lit storefronts – means the night races just feel more like a different kind of pretty, as opposed to a new experience.
PGR3 hasn’t moved from its niche, not at all – at its core, it’s still pure PGR, a savvy and standalone mixture of real form and hyper-real function – but it’s been transformed into a wondrous and rewarding beauty spot. It’s no contender for the thrones occupied by OutRun 2, Gran Turismo or Ridge Racer, just the true heir to its own. It further closes the gaps between player, pad, console and TV by offering something so luxuriously pliant and gratifying for all standards of player, and sits comfortably among the advantages of high-definition gaming, as was likely to be expected from such a series. But that’s not to rob Bizarre Creations of its entitlement to this achievement, in producing one of the most accessibly intense and outstanding racing experiences ever to be had, and felt.