One tradition that has been kept for the PGR series is having a Ferrari on the cover. MSR had an Opel on the cover, but that doesn't count. And the much-loved Kudos system still remains; but this time, it's more important than ever.
But one tradition has been broken. Motorbikes are now in the game. Bizarre have decided to follow the Test Drive Unlimited approach, but has it worked, or is this a motorway accident with all the lanes coned off?
In PGR3, the Career mode required you to race a huge load of races split into sections with 5 different medals to win in each race. In PGR4, that's now known as Arcade mode. The new Career mode is known as the Kudos World Series. In this mode, you will be racing in tournaments varying in championship level, where the aim of the game is to earn points in the tournaments to climb up the ranks. You'll also come across the odd challenge or two where you can win new cars/bikes or even wildcard entries into tournaments of your choice, which is essential when you're in the lower ranks, but sadly, these wildcard challenges still pop up, even when you're in the highest level of rankings.
The challenges are pretty varied when you're racing for a new car or bike. You'll be doing one-on-ones, Kudos challenges, and even wheelie challenges! The challenges side of the mode will keep you racing even after you've reached the top rank, because if you haven't won a challenge, you'll have to wait next year in the calendar to take it again. These challenges do contain some vehicles that are vital to each class if you plan to try and dominate in the Live ranks.
Speaking of which, the vehicle classes now go from A - G, instead of the old A - E. I think we're all glad that Bizarre dropped the "Life begins at 170" motive, where some cars in PGR3 were artificially made to go 170MPH (the Mini Cooper, for example), and so it made the game unrealistic. Now, there are cars that will struggle to even get into triple figures. It's all good though, because it brings variety into the game.
The gameplay isn't entirely perfect, though. Kudos is now more important than ever. It's the game's form of credits, which you need to earn to buy cars, tracks, helmets, and even a gamer picture! That's not the problem, though. The problem is that Kudos is now key to winning races. Even though you finish in 1st place, you might now get 1st place, because someone else has earned more Kudos than you. This can be very annoying if it happens to you. It's minor, though. It's very hard to beat someone that way, especially when there's a Kudos limit on races, usually 3000 Kudos. Once you've hit the limit in a race, you don't earn any more for your moves, so you then have to focus on speed.
The track list is huge now, but sadly, it's PGR3 with four new cities, one of which has been brought back from PGR2. The new cities consist of Quebec, the resurrected St. Petersburg, Macau, and Shanghai. There is also the Michelin Test Track, which is great for honing your skills. There are three different tracks on the Michelin Test Track: a "skid pan", where you slide round a figure-of-eight marked out by cones, a high-speed oval, which sadly, isn't long enough for you to reach top speeds on most of the Class A cars, and the test track itself, which has five different routes varying in length and difficulty. Put all that together, and you have a total of 10 cities in the game, which makes up for a huge track list, that's about as big as PGR2, which contained 12 cities!
The cars handle very well, and are pretty realistic, even though it isn't meant to be. There's over 100 vehicles in the game, the majority of them cars. You'll be driving the cream of the crop when it comes to the Class A cars. In this class are such legends as the Koenigsegg CCX (which is the fastest car round the Top Gear Test Track), the Ferrari FXX (a modified Enzo), the SSC Ultimae Aero TT (the fastest car in the world), the Caparo T1 (a road-legal F1 car), and even the iconic McLaren F1 LM. Sadly, still no Bugatti Veyron, so only the richest people in the world, and the Top Gear boys are still the only people to experience it.
Then we come to the bikes. They do have advantages in the game, though. You can earn Kudos more easily, they always have the advantage off the line, but they have disadvantages. You have to brake earlier, the top speeds don't come near the cars, and you can fall off, which costs you vital seconds. Part of me likes the addition of bikes to the game, I must admit. Only because you can knock your opponents off them when you're in a car!
One of my favourite changes to the game is the weather. That may sound dull, but stay with me on this one. There is a dynamic option, where the weather will change, depending on what the weather is actually like in the city itself. This is done thanks to The Weather Channel, who feed updates into the game. You can also choose the weather yourself. The choices include Clear, Rain, Storm, Snow, Fog, and even Ice. And boy, do they change the gameplay. In the rain, puddles are scattered across the track, which when run on, will cause your vehicle to lose speed, or if you're turning, simply spin out most of the time. You can tell if you've hit a puddle thanks to a strong vibration from the controller. The hazards only get worse in the Storm and Ice settings. There aren't any hazards like that in Snow, but the entire track is dangerous. You have to go round with caution, especially if you're in a supercar, because they have a tendency to spin out often. All this is great, though. It increases the amount of skill required to play the game, and can produce some unpredictable results at times. What can I say? They're almost perfect. The vehicles are jaw-droppingly amazing to look at. And it's improved even more with the fact that you've can see the inside of every car, like the previous installment. The interior of each car is completely accurate down to the last detail. A lot of effort has been put into this part of the game. Sadly, there still isn't 60FPS gameplay. Turn 10 Studios cracked this feature effortlessly on the second outing of the Forza Motorsport series, whilst Bizzare is five games in, and they've always been at the half way point. This shouldn't really put you off the game, but it is a bit disappointing to still not have PGR at life-speed.
The sounds of the vehicles are pretty impressive, even though the game's default settings are to drown out the revs with music (and bad music most of the time). Speaking of which, the soundtrack is disappointing, to be honest. The music is split up into playlists for each genre, but most of them are awful. There's world music, which is best if you pretend it doesn't exists. There's the antichrist, known as hip-hop. There are two rock genres, though, but most of the songs in there aren't exactly what you call proper rock. What's even worse is that one of the worst songs in the alternative playlist is key to getting one of the achievements in the game.
There are a few good songs in the soundtrack, but only a few. The majority of them are in the classical section, which is a first. At least now, not only can you choose what playlists to play, you can even go into the playlists and choose what tracks you'd like to hear. It's good, but not good enough. Do yourself a favour here, and make a custom playlist for yourself. You'll be better off.
Online gameplay is just as good as playing on your own. The lobbies are good, but sadly, still only up to 8 players online. One thing I don't understand is why they have a sort of "pre-lobby" section when someone starts up a room. Then the host chooses to go to the lobby, where everyone suits up for the race.
One downside to online play though is a couple of options in the lobby that make the gameplay much harder if you're a n00b. These options force you to use the in-car view, which doesn't sound like much, but it gets worse when the other option is activated, which forces you to use manual gears! This is tough, especially if you have your music on full blast, because you can only see the revs from the vehicle interior, and in most of the cars, it's almost impossible to determine when to change gears purely by sight. Take caution when playing online if you want to avoid this.
Team gameplay is now included in the game as well. Not Cat and Mouse mode, like PGR3. I mean team racing. Basically, just race as usual, but the team with the most Kudos at the end wins. Another thing you might like to know is that if you don't have all the vehicles in the game, don't worry. As long as you're in a room where the host has the cars, you can use them, which levels the playing field for everyone.
PGR4 is by far the best in the series, despite the recycled tracks, the increased Kudos hype, and the bad soundtrack. This game contains some of the best cars in history, some of the best gameplay in a racing game, and some of the craziest achievements ever. I won't spoil them for you, but if you look at the pictures of the secret achievements online, you can get some clues as to what is required for them. This all adds to the brilliant gameplay, and it's also a bit of a nightmare to the achievement whores, so everyone is happy!