I suppose I ought to just write a proper review of PGR4, but the things that bother me about it are mostly philosophical, and I'd rather talk about that stuff here. It's not a terrible game, by any means; it's just that it seems to have no purpose.
Purpose, in a driving game, would seem to be an irrelevant thing to consider; pretty much every driving game is simply about getting from Point A to Point B faster than the other guy. There are superficial gimmicks and gameplay mechanics to consider, of course, and racing games are usually good opportunities to show off a fancy graphics engine (which is why you generally always see a driving game at the launch of a new console); there are also different kinds of racing (street, off-road, track, etc.) and there's certainly lots of wiggle room there in terms of settling on a definition.
The problem with PGR4, then, is that it really doesn't have any identity of its own. On the surface it feels basically like an upgrade or expansion pack to PGR3, but its single-player career mode has been radically overhauled - to the point where it doesn't really make sense. Sort of. Instead of just picking the next event you want to race, you now have a calendar system, and you are thrown into a new event somewhat blindly. More importantly, you are thrown into events - right at the very beginning - where you will have absolutely no chance of winning because you're driving criminally underpowered cars alongside top-of-the-line machines. The idea here, I suppose, is that when that date comes around again the following year, you'll have a better arsenal of cars and you'll have a much better chance of winning; that's assuming, however, that the player (in this case, me) will have enough patience to stick around through a year's worth of failure.
Getting back to the issue of identity - the defining gimmick in the PGR series is Kudos, which is a points system for risky and aggressive driving. However, in PGR4, the opposing driver AI is pretty much bulletproof - even at the default difficulty level - and so while you're slipping and sliding all over the place, the other drivers are holding the line pretty much perfectly, and so you are less inclined to drive with risk so that you can at least keep from flying off the track.
Not helping matters any is the game's much-vaunted weather system, which - while very attractive and convincing - makes your car's handling even more difficult. The weather effects are this year's big innovation, but frankly I don't see how it enhances the experience - it's very pretty, again, and when you're using the dashboard cam it's alarmingly realistic looking, but it just makes a hard game even harder.
I don't want to sound like I'm whining about the difficulty; it's just that the difficulty level is very inconsistent from race to race, which makes it frustrating. And because the career mode is already unforgiving in its design, there's not a lot of incentive for me to keep slogging through.
Getting back to the philosophical issue about driving games; there was a discussion a while back in someone's blog about Need For Speed: Most Wanted's inclusion of a ridiculously over-the-top story, and if story needed to be present in a driving game to make it more cohesive or accessible - some people need a reason to go from point A to point B, even if it's comically absurd. I maintain that it absolutely is not, and if the day ever comes when I'm doing missions in a Burnout game, I'm going to be very sad.
(This is as good a time as any to say that while I'm a big fan of driving games, there are certain sub-genres that I never, ever play. I have less than zero interest in NASCAR driving, or underground street-racing, or ultra-sims which require vast knowledges of tuning minutia. Basically, I really like travelling at high rates of speed, in visually pleasing surroundings, and if crashing is inevitable, it should at least be fun to look at.)
But certainly there's room to explore, here, without being overwrought or forced. PGR4 attempts this by its calendar system, and by giving you subtle incentives to be the #1 driver in the world; it's just that this calendar system allows for computer AIs pursing their own careers, and so all of them already have a big head start on you when you first pop in the game, and they're driving cars that you won't get to own yourself until quite a few "months" have passed you by, so your first few races are guaranteed losses. Who wants to play a game where you lose? How is that a reason to keep playing?
I was prepared to buy this game from GameFly; I was sure I was going to love it, as I'm a fan of the series since its days on the Xbox. But to be honest, I'm really glad I rented it, and that's something I never thought I'd say about a PGR title.