- Reviewed on: Xbox 360, viewed through a component connection at 720p on a Panasonic TH-42PX50U 42-inch Plasma Viera HDTV.
- The Good: The beautiful cities we race through are astonishingly realistic; changes to career mode allow you to race with the game's fastest cars right away; has plenty of value outside the standard solo career and online career modes.
- The Bad: Solo career mode is surprisingly short; car selection has been pared down significantly; car damage models are nearly non-existent.
- The Verdict: A visually impressive racer that introduces some welcome changes to the standard PGR formula.
Asking a developer to improve significantly on lifelike realism is a tall order, but that's what the developers at Bizarre Creations were tasked to do when they set about creating Project Gotham Racing 3, one of the flagship launch titles for Xbox 360.
Racing games are always at the leading of edge of graphics for each generation of consoles. I think it has something to do with the fact that they star vehicles rather than people. As opposed to human characters, cars, with their precise geometric shapes and adherence to strict physical laws, can be programmed to look and behave in a manner that seems much more realistic to our eyes and brains.
The point is that cars in previous generation racers like Project Gotham Racing 2 looked remarkably believable … so much so that as I played through my first few races in PGR3 I found myself thinking that the cars didn't look much better than they did on the original Xbox.
So I popped PGR2 into my old black behemoth (it's worth noting that PGR2 is one of many Xbox games that aren't backwards compatible with the Xbox 360) to see if I could pinpoint how the car models were improved upon in the series' first next-generation outing.
I was surprised to find that, as I played through a couple of races in PGR2, I suddenly felt as though I was looking at a very old game.
The edges of cars looked jagged, reflection effects were inconsistent, and cockpits lacked detail. By comparison, the Xbox 360's powerful anti-aliasing capabilities render beautiful, smooth car body lines in high definition. Well-polished paint jobs and windows reflect everything in the environment almost perfectly, from buildings and trees to fireworks and birds. And the cockpits are spot-on replicas of the interiors of the real-world cars they are based on, with working dashboard instrumentation, gear shifts, and even foot pedals (switching to cockpit view a feature lacking in PGR2 provides a great first-person perspective that lets players look around and examine the inside of the car).
Why couldn't I see these enhancements from the start? I think my brain simply painted many of these details into PGR2, in much the same way audiences watching old movies would ignore the strings attached to flying saucers or the lack of scope in soundstage sets.
Speaking of settings, another reason I may not have immediately noticed improvements to PGR3's car models is that they are very subtle compared to the stunning upgrades made to the game's environments.
PGR3 has five race settings: Las Vegas, New York, London, Tokyo, and the Nürburgring, and each one has been meticulously crafted to look like its real world counterpart.
Most racing games provide players with a few routes that wind through cities, but Bizarre Creations took a more open approach to track design. Each city in PGR3 has dozens of turns and intersections that can be joined together to create more than 100 million unique tracks (or so the game boasts).
This results not only in players never or rarely racing the exact same circuit twice, but also in cityscapes that have amazing depth and realism. Tracks don't feel like tunnels in an artificial town, but rather like paths carved through a living, breathing city.
As I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time I could see the peaks of Manhattan's skyscrapers looming before me, and within seconds I was zooming between them on the streets below. As I plowed through the strip at dusk in Las Vegas, I darted around and behind famous hotels, thinking about the memorable water fountain scene in Ocean's 11 as I zipped past the Bellagio and orienting myself by keeping an eye on the Luxor's beam of light shooting into the night sky in the distance.