Retro Review: Project Gotham Racing

This republished review was originally written in 2002, this review is unedited and appears as it did back then. We hope this review gives you an idea of how the reviewer felt at the time and at the end you’ll see a small review from today where you can see how well the game held up over time.

Speed alone will not win this race, so the question is… what else will?

Project Gotham Racing was one of the earliest titles for Xbox and an important title for Microsoft. It was essential to prove to the gaming public and press that Microsoft had all genres covered at launch and it is in no doubt that racing is one of the most popular of all. In a way, Microsoft played it safe with PGR because this was not the first build of the game. The original version (Metropolis Street Racer) on the ill-fated Dreamcast was a critical success despite the fact it didn’t sell spectacularly well. This is possibly due to the lack of advertising or the fact people were biding their time for the launch of the PS2.

So what do Xbox owners get over the Dreamcast original? Well, despite a name change (possibly Microsoft’s idea to distance their consoles fortune from Sega’s), PGR features a new city to drive around in (the clue’s in the title) taking the total number of cities to four (London, San Francisco, Tokyo and New York). Each city is split into three districts meaning there is a total number of twelve areas in all. Those areas are then used for the racing circuits (around the 200 mark).

Those unfamiliar with Bizzare Creations racer will be slightly at odds with the concept behind the game. It is neither an arcade racer nor a simulation. It is in fact a hybrid of the two. This is an ingenious move by the developer because it means the game very rarely becomes dull. For instance, in one race you might be up against a number of opponents and the aim will be to come first. The next race might have you overtaking a set number of cars on the track in a time limit or getting around a track in record time. The variety from one race to another is excellent.

What makes the game stand out is the Kudos system. These are points earned within a race for skill, style and speed. For example, powersliding around corners rather than carefully braking and accelerating away sees your kudos points rack up, or performing a perfect lap without hitting walls, cars or barriers will also see your points rise. There are numerous ways to gain Kudos and part of the fun is experimenting in a race to find out the best way to earn them.

Kudos can also be gambled at the start of the race. You can make each challenge easier or harder by changing the required goals for the race, thus earning more (or less) Kudos in the process. The points are then used to unlock more cities and cars. This makes the game quite satisfying to play. It should be mentioned though that it is possible to earn huge amounts of Kudos on certain challenges, thus making it easier to unlock new sections of the game.

The game also features licensed vehicles, mainly high-performance cars such as Ferraris, Porsches, Aston Martins and Mitsubishis. And unlike a certain other racing simulation series, these cars feature real-time damage. Sadly, car damage appears to be merely cosmetic as it rarely affects your lap times or handling and is pretty basic in comparison to Codemasters efforts. But it must be said, although the cars physics and handling may not be as advanced or accurate as the Gran Turismo series, they do feel just right, allowing you to navigate the courses as sanely or as insanely as you wish. Which is a good thing in this type of game.

So how does this version on Xbox compare technically to its Dreamcast equivalent? It has to be said the difference is marginal. The visuals still don’t have proper anti-aliasing, although to be fair it’s only really noticeable in the opening fly-by of a circuit. Textures are slightly better, but there is no apparent polygon increase in the cities and only the cars have benefited with a reflection map overlay, which could be argued has been done better elsewhere. The game can still hold its own in the visual stakes despite these criticisms though, and has been blessed with a solid frame-rate at all times, which can’t be said of the Dreamcast original.

What is becoming a feature in nearly all Xbox games is the ability to rip music from your cd collection and have it playing in the background as you play. Alongside this feature Bizzare has included its own international radio stations and licensed music such as The Chemical Brothers and Gorillaz. This is an excellent inclusion and one that many developers could take note of.

Project Gotham Racing is probably the most original racer of this type on the market. It has the accessible arcade edge of the Burnouts and Ridge Racers of gaming, whilst simultaneously featuring realistic circuits and licensed cars from the likes of Gran Turismo et al. On top of all that you have the most original twist in a racer yet and that comes in the form of the Kudos and mission structure.

If you owned Metropolis Street Racer on Dreamcast you might want to think twice about purchasing this instalment though. You might get a serious bout of déjà vu when you start playing. In a way this is no bad thing as it’s one of the finest racers ever created, but those who were expecting more might be best off waiting for PGR2. For those who have never experienced MSR before though, this comes highly recommended.

2012 Re-Review
Racing games are really hard to review years later. The games are technical show offs wrapped around a racing game. The racing feel very slow now compared to current games but it still looks just as pretty with so nice weather effects. If you like any of the PGR games you’ll still like this, its more of the same trapped in a 2001 time warp. If you like MSR you might be interested in this seeing as it is just a high res MSR but we wouldn’t say you have to go to all lengths to check this out. One for fans of nostalgia.

Its interesting to see that the cars can get limited visual damage, probably one of the first games to feature branded cars to do this and at the time it really showed off the power of the Xbox. The real time lighting sadly missing from the Dreamcast version certainly wowed at the time although is slightly less impressive today. Reflections on the cars whilst now looking horrible with a low frames per second again show how advanced this game was at the time. As a game whilst it’s aged compared to modern racers its still a great facer deep down. The tracks work just as well, the AI is just as aggressive and even using the game as a virtual tour still works. This won’t defeat the latest forza or PGR 5 if it ever gets made but it certainly isn’t unplayable.