GC '07: Project Gotham Racing 4 Updated Impressions

What do Norm Peterson and Microsoft's upcoming racing game have in common? Find out in our latest look at this gorgeous-looking game.


Project Gotham Racing 4

LEIPZIG, Germany--We spent an enjoyable half hour this morning chatting with the developers of the upcoming Project Gotham Racing 4, which the team at Bizarre Creations has been working hard on for quite a while now. While we were discussing the online aspects of the next version in the lauded racing series, a familiar reference was brought up more than once: the old NBC comedy Cheers. Now, PGR fans, don't be frightened off by the reference. The game isn't all of a sudden going to feature Cliff Clavin and Norm Peterson tearing through the streets of Tokyo in Cliff's mail truck. Instead, the reference refers to the feeling of unity and teamwork that the people at Bizarre are trying to create with PGR 4's online play. It's just one of the many factors in PGR 4 that make this such an interesting and highly anticipated racing game.

One of the most obvious ways the team is looking to create a sense of unity between players is by playing to our inherent nationalistic tendencies. As soon as you start your career in PGR 4, you'll be asked to declare your nationality and, as producers put it, you'll be able to easily spot your countryfolk in online matches, as everyone's flag will be placed near their gamertag in the game's online menus. While the developers aren't going so far as to automatically team players of the same homeland up for team races, it probably isn't that much of a stretch to think that those from the same country might stick together when race wins are on the line.

There will be more than just country of origin to specify for your created driver in PGR 4. Because your rider will be clearly visible when riding the various motorcycles found in the game, you'll have a good number of customization options to ensure that your created rider is as unique as possible. Options include different leather combinations and helmet types, as well as a ton of color choices for your various accessories. Couple that with a personalized rider number or a personal kudos total etched on the side of your ride, and everyone you pass online will know it's you the second you blow by them.

Project Gotham Racing 4 will feature two main game modes: arcade and Gotham career. Arcade races are your straightforward race events and feature a mixture of different race types spread across all of the various locales found in the game. However, Gotham career mode seems to be where the real meat of the single-player experience will live. This mode uses a calendar-based system with championship racing series available on different dates throughout the month. These championship events are multirace series all set in the same locale (such as the Asia Amateur Open, which is set in the Chinese city of Macau).

The idea in Gotham career mode isn't that far removed from any other career mode you might have played: you start out at the bottom of the rankings and, by skillful driving and winning races, slowly move up through the roster, earning new cars and unlocking new race events as you go. In addition to the standard championship races, you'll also periodically get notices for invitational races. One of the example invitational events we saw during today's demo challenged the player to a time-trial race at a slick, snowy version of Germany's legendary Nürburgring, while driving a classic front-engine Ferrari Formula One car from the 1950s. In this case, if you beat the challenge time, you win the car, which is a handy way to quickly build up your car collection.

The kudos system has been tweaked this time around to take advantage of the motorcycle-specific tricks you can do, such as wheelies, endos, and various tricks on the bike seat. While it might seem that bikes have an easier road to racking up huge kudos totals, cars will still have some distinct advantages, such as the relative ease of drifting around corners (which can earn you serious kudos in the process). In PGR 4, kudos will be more than a point of pride--you'll be able to spend them in the PGR Shop to unlock new race events, tracks, cars, helmets and accessories, and special treats such as filter effects, and a special PGR 4 gamer picture. That last entry on the list will cost you a cool one million kudos, so it's going to take a concerted effort to earn that kind of distinguished reward in the game.

Like the championship-series races in the single-player game, PGR 4's online racing will feature championship events as well, pitting you against multiple online opponents over a series of races. In addition, game modes like cat and mouse and a new mode, bulldog, will also be on hand to help keep the races feeling fresh. In bulldog races, one player is the bulldog; the bulldog's job is to tag every other opponent in the game, thus creating new bulldogs as he goes. The last person on the course is declared winner, and the longer you can go without being turned into a bulldog, the more kudos you'll earn.

One of the more ambitious aspects of PGR 4's approach is the PGR On Demand service, which lets you upload pictures and videos of your favorite cars and bikes, and download media from other PGR 4 players from around the world. In addition to viewing the work of other folks, you'll be able to vote on your favorite photos and videos, as well as add tags for any video or picture you run across.

The 10 locales in PGR 4 are all gorgeously rendered, and the team happily returned to some old PGR favorites such as Saint Petersburg. They've added more details to older tracks, and are continuing to lovingly re-create brand-new urban race courses in Quebec, Shanghai, and Macau. Couple that with dynamic weather effects that can change as a race progresses, and you have a game that's capable of some truly spectacular visual moments--one look at cars ripping through the slushy snow of the Nürburgring is all you need as evidence. Though producers said the weather would affect how the cars handle, they were quick to point out that this was still a Gotham game and that the team is still striving to find that sweet spot between true-to-life handling and arcade fun that has marked the series' driving model since its inception. That, coupled with careful consideration of how cars and bikes are classified, means that you'll have a shot at the checkered flag no matter if you're on two wheels or four.

One other aspect that demonstrates the attention to detail Bizarre is giving PGR 4: by widening the runoff area in many of the game's first corner turns, the team is looking to minimize the first-turn pileups that inevitably occur in online racing games. It's this kind of thing that has us so excited for the release of Project Gotham Racing 4, and we're looking forward to bringing you much more on this game in the coming months.

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