Project Gotham Racing 4 E3 2007 Preshow Hands-On

From the streets of Shanghai to the mountains of Macau, we take in this gorgeous racing game for the first time.


With Microsoft's two big console racing franchises, Forza Motorsport and Project Gotham Racing, getting released is a matter of taking turns. Hot on the heels of Project Gotham Racing 3's release came news of the recently released Forza Motorsport 2. Now that Turn 10's racing game is on store shelves, it's time to head back to Bizarre Creations for a look at its latest high-speed offering, Project Gotham Racing 4. Though the game was teased at last year's X06 in Barcelona and a few screenshots and movies have since begun to trickle out, we haven't had a chance to get the full picture of the game until now. We recently tried out PGR4 for the first time and found that the game is still just as fun as we remember it, whether on four wheels or two.

Whether on two wheels or four, PGR 4 will fill your high-speed needs.
Whether on two wheels or four, PGR 4 will fill your high-speed needs.

One of the biggest pieces of news with PGR4 is the arrival of motorcycles to the lineup of vehicles. Past games have been solely focused on cars, so the arrival of bikes in the game means a whole new set of challenges for the developer. For one thing, bikes handle much differently than automobiles, and this is certainly the case in the game. The extreme acceleration of the bike we tried during our hands-on time with the game took some getting used to, as did its extremely twitchy nature while making turns. Second, in addition to taking extreme detail when modeling motorcycles from makers like Ducati and Honda (among others), the team behind PGR4 had to model the riders themselves. When popping a wheelie, you can have your rider pull off more advanced tricks such as bringing his right leg over to the left side of the bike simply by keeping the wheelie going for an extended period of time. During a stoppie, you can have your rider extend his arm to "wave" at opponents by pressing the A button.

Motorcycles will account for roughly a quarter of the approximately 130 vehicles that will be part of PGR4. While PGR3 was focused solely on exotic sports cars that were all about speed, the keyword for inclusion in PGR4 is "iconic." You'll still have a huge variety of hot cars to choose from--the Corvette Stingray, Jaguar S-Type, and the obligatory Enzo Ferrari being a few examples--but the focus this time around is less on all-around speed demons than on classic, timeless models that have made an impact on the automotive world.

You'll be able to take those hot cars around any of 10 locales, five of which return from the previous game--New York City, Tokyo, London, Las Vegas, and the Nürburgring--and five of which are new to the game: Macau, Shanghai, Saint Petersburg, Quebec, and the Michelin test track. Of course, longtime PGR fans know that Saint Petersburg, with its high speed and incredibly wide streets, is actually a returning track from PGR2. What will set it--and all the rest of the tracks in PGR4--apart from previous games are the weather effects, which are the next new ingredient in the PGR pot. Weather is going to play a big role in all the different locales. From light or thick fog to rain and even snow and ice, road conditions will most definitely affect how your car handles. Think drifting is fun on regular asphalt? Try drifting around the wide, sweeping turns in Saint Petersburg for an entirely new take on getting sideways.

But the weather effects aren't always as in-your-face as sliding around on ice. While zipping around the streets of Macau, for instance, we noticed a layer of fog hanging around the city; if you drive into the hills that surround the city, however, you drive up and out of the haze, as the fog sticks to the lower elevations in the city, much as it often does in real life. Weather will also be dynamic as you progress through a race, so fog can turn into rain or a thunderstorm, and spots where puddles build up can become slippery sheets of ice when the mercury dips below the freezing point.

Whether you're a four- or two-wheel fan, you'll be able to fly your colors in PGR4, thanks to a team-livery system that will let you create not only a team of drivers between you and your friends, but also a livery you can wear when out on the virtual roads either offline or online. We didn't get a look at the livery editor, but we understand it won't be as flexible as the paint/vinyl tools in Forza 2; still, it should be a nice way to give you and your buddies an online identity you can all rally behind. Teams in PGR4 can be made up of drivers who prefer bikes to cars or vice versa, and you'll be able to test your vehicular loyalties on the track, as the game will let you pit cars against bikes in any combination. In the single-player game's career mode, as you rack up some wins, you'll begin to see crowd members wearing your team colors in an indication of your team's growing reputation.

One of the biggest attractions in the PGR series has always been the attention to visual detail--whether in the exacting cockpit views from the many cars in the game, or the true-to-life representations of the cities you race around. This certainly looks to be the case with PGR4. Not only do the game's cars and bikes look great (as well as the first-person in-car or on-bike views), but the cities themselves look amazing. We were bowled over by a nighttime version of the new Shanghai track we drove, sections of which were so lit up in neon splendor that they looked like something out of a science fiction movie. Though the lighting on the Shanghai track was still a work in progress--it was tough to tell where to go in the darker sections of town--if it's any indication of where the game is heading, this is going to be another graphical powerhouse.

Photo mode will also be part of PGR4, and you'll be able to share both your pictures and video of your best drives with an online service dubbed PGR On Demand--essentially a YouTube-like feature that will let you share clips and pictures with other PGR fans. Producers said the game will have a Web presence that will tie in to this feature but haven't released details yet on how it will all work together.

While the Project Gotham series has always been about driving fast, just as important as speed is style. The kudos system will be back in PGR4, and as you earn kudos for your stylish spins, drifts, and burnouts, you'll see your kudos rack up in the very middle of the screen--a subtle shift from previous entries, where your kudos totals were found in the corner. The game's artificial intelligence has been improved as well, such that opponent cars will have their own personalities; some of them will be just as concerned with driving with flair as you will be.

The racing locales--from Shanghai to Saint Petersburg--are uniformly gorgeous, though you might not notice at 130 mph.
The racing locales--from Shanghai to Saint Petersburg--are uniformly gorgeous, though you might not notice at 130 mph.

The team system in PGR4 looks to add some new wrinkles to the kudos system as well. In addition to standard individual kudos you can earn for fancy driving, you'll be able to earn team-based kudos as you compete. Examples might include letting a teammate get a draft off of you, or blocking an opponent to keep him away from your fragile but fast motorcycle-riding teammate. The team kudos look to open up an entirely new level of gameplay and strategy for the game, and it's one we can't wait to explore in more depth in the future.

With online races supporting up to eight cars, gorgeous graphics, and the same addictive gameplay you've come to expect from the series, PGR4 can't get here soon enough. The new twists to the gameplay formula--from motorcycles to weather effects and the team-based concepts--all seem like positive additions and are likely going to add a whole new layer of excitement to this successful driving series. With several months to go before release, we'll be bringing you more information on PGR4 as it becomes available.

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