Slippin', driftin' in the night.

User Rating: 8.5 | Project Gotham Racing 3 X360
Following on from the previous two games on the original XBox, Project Gotham Racing 3 is the third instalment in Microsoft's answer to EA's street racing giants Need for Speed and (to a lesser extent) Burnout. The PGR series is developed as an XBox exclusive by Bizarre Creations, also known for the popular arcade-style title Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (actually a playable game within a game in PGR 3), upcoming action bruiser The Club, and the Dreamcast racer Metropolis Street Racer (a spiritual predecessor to PGR itself).

Project Gotham Racing 3 is a street-racing game, one that revolves about racing around a handful of world cities as fast and as stylishly as possible. The game is successful in it's simplicity: there's no crash-happy chaos à la Burnout, there's no obsessive focus on tuning and whatnot as in some Need for Speed games. Pure speed and racing skill are all that is required here.

The career mode features a number of different race types – from regular races against the computer to time challenges and style challenges. Winning races earns you credits (which are used to buy bigger and better cars) and unlocks the next competitions in your career. In addition to winning cash and the obvious goal of winning each race you are also able to stack up 'kudos' – points gained for pulling off slick, daring maneuvers such as drifting or getting two wheels off the road, and also for achievements such as overtaking cars and setting lap times. The more kudos maneuvers you rack up in a row, the more your combo bonus goes up and the more points you gain in total. But beware; if you crash into a barrier before the combo kudos is transferred to your 'bank' then you lose it all. Kudos is simply a tally that shows how stylish you are, raising your total kudos gains you benefits such as increasing your rank and unlocking new cars.

PGR 3 is to date the only PGR that focuses on supercars, rather than the souped-up production models found in the other three installments. That's not really a big deal – I'm not even particularly knowledgable about cars – but it does mean there's some slightly sweeter machines available. The selection of cars is vast; each one handles differently and most have their quirks that take some getting used to. Speaking of handling, the controls in PGR 3 are some of the tightest I've found in a racing game, responsive and intuitive. Even a complete novice should be able to win a few races – in fact, there are five difficulty levels from novice to hardcore.

Playing alone, the options available to the player are mainly the above-mentioned career mode, and a mode titled Race Against the Clock where you can practice with any car, on any track, and set your own lap times to beat. Bring a friend, and your options expand significantly. Either split-screen, system link or over XBox Live, you can pit your skills against people the world over. As with any multi-player game, PGR 3 brings out the competitive streak in all of us, and is the perfect stage to show off your gaming prowess. And, thanks to Gotham TV, people around the world can watch you at your best.

As with many racing titles, single-player value runs out more or less on completion of the career mode, which thankfully fairly long and varied here. If you have a decent group of friends to play with – online or offline – then PGR 3 will likely remain a favourite multi-player title for a while – if it hasn't already been replaced by PGR 4. For extra value, there are a few additional content packs available, adding extra cars to the already substantial list.

Getting down to the technical side of things, the graphics and physics on show are obviously a huge step up from the previous two games, as befitting a seventh generation title. However, as an XBox 360 launch game, it doesn't look quite up to scratch when compared with newer titles, especially its own sequel PGR 4 and the latest Burnout offering. Not to sound too critical, though. The game looks great: the cars are detailed, shiny and look good on-road or sitting in your garage. The cars no longer look as though they are made of Lego and damage marks no longer look like someone has stuck their finger into a Play-do block. The locations – four cities around the world, namely Tokyo, Las Vegas, London and New York, in addition to the Nürburging – look fantastic and as far as I can tell, are pretty accurate. There's something about obnoxiously racing down Regent Street and burning rubber in front of Buckingham Palace that gets my northern blood pumping.

As for sound effects, well… it's a racing game. That means sound effects are generally limited to road noise, engine noise, squealing tyres and the like. No difference here, and in fact it easily overshadows the music if you don't take the time to fiddle with the volume controls. The music selection leaves me in two minds. While there is thankfully a fair number of different styles available – from electronica to alternative rock, hip-hop to bhangra, and even J-pop – the actual selection of tunes for each are… well, rubbish. There's nothing stopping you putting your own CDs or whatever onto your console, though, and that's what I did most of the time. Highway Star for the win.

In all, Project Gotham Racing 3 is a very enjoyable, if superficial, street racing game that will appeal to any racing fan. There's a lack of depth, but if anything this makes it easier for anyone, even the most casual gamer, to simply pick up and play.