Being someone who thought of Project Gotham Racing 2 as a superior driving game to Gran Turismo 4, you can begin to imagine how much I've been looking forward to Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3). Before I lose your interest with such a bold statement, I'll just say this: driving games to me are about racing fast and having fun - GT4 let you do this, but only after 20 hours of driving mini's. I've got nothing against mini's, but if I'm going to choose between them and a Ford Mustang GT, well...
So with all this pent up anticipation, was I appeased by the disc in the slightly transparent green case? No, I was not. But in saying that, PGR3 is a solid racer and still in my mind gives GT4 a run for it's money - its only problem is that it's a prettier version of its predecessor and places more emphasis on Xbox Live. I still love the game, but was just hoping for a little more.
Being a racing game and all, there isn't too much of a story here, so we'll jump straight into gameplay. Project Gotham Racing 3 is best described as a hybrid arcade/simulation racing game with more emphasis on the simulation side. While it is no Gran Turismo 4 in terms of realistic handling and car dynamics, it comes pretty close. The 360 didn't really need another arcade racer anyway, as it already has Need for Speed: Most Wanted and the king of all arcade racers (and about the only game the Japanese have deemed worthy of purchase) Ridge Racer 6.
What PGR3 does do to give the game a more arcade-like feel, is force you to pull off certain drifts, powerslides, etc. in order to earn Kudos. Victory conditions for certain types of races rely solely on how many Kudos you can earn, so the game isn't just about the racing. Don't get me wrong, the game is, for the most part, still about the racing, but there are a few arcade twists thrown in here and there to appeal to the arcade racers too.
Those of you who played the original Need for Speed Underground know that the most powerful car in the game was the Nissan Skyline. Take a look at the PGR3 car list and you'll see that the Nissan Skyline is found in the E class (A being the best, E being the worst) and the car ranks in at number 74 of 80 in terms of top speed. Instead, your top cars are the likes of the McLaren F1 LM or the Ferrari F50 GT which clock in at 225 and 235MPH respectively. This game lets us drive the cars most of us will never even come close to driving in real life. It's almost like you've become a digital version of Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson. So it's not a simulator, but still very grounded in reality.
The bulk of your time will be spent in career mode, either online or offline. Offline career mode features 23 tournaments, each featuring, on average, about five or so races each. Well, "races" might not be the right term, as a good portion of the competition will put straight racing aside and focus on objectives other than winning a race. Other modes include things such as the takeover races where you have to pass a set number of opponents within a restricted frame, hot lap challenges where you have to achieve a certain lap time, and checkpoint races, which are pretty self explanatory.
Online career mode is more of the same, except now you're playing against real opponents and your ranking is real. In the online career mode, the game's Trueskill system is used to match you up against players with similar skill levels and similar latency. For the most part it worked rather well, although it does hiccup every now and then.
In the online career mode, your record is actually tracked and will actually mean something. Online career is all about ranking, so it really never does end until either you get bored of the game or every other player in the world gets bored of the game. It's a good thing the online career is there too, as the offline career really doesn't last too long. On anything up to the medium difficulty setting, you are looking at about 8-10 hours tops. You might even finish the game in a single sitting on the really low difficulties. The harder difficulties are a rather large step up, but the length is still the same, only you'll spend a ton of time repeating races and events.
PGR3 makes excellent use of Xbox Live not only through the online career mode, but also in the way it integrates nearly every aspect of the game with Live. Gotham TV for example, allows you to watch races going on at any point in time. Sure, it's basically your common spectator mode, but if there's nothing on TV on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and you don't feel like playing anymore, it's a good way to kill some time.
To demonstrate the graphical beast that is Project Gotham Racing 3, I decided to try a little experiment. I hooked the Xbox 360 up to the TV and put it on Gotham TV mode right before my housemate walked in. I leave the remote where I know he will sit and then leave the room. He sits down, looks at the TV, decides he doesn't want to watch racing, and attempts to change the channel. Success!
Project Gotham Racing 3 really does look that realistic. If he had taken the time to actually look at the game for a few minutes, he would have noticed it was a game, but without really concentrating on what's happening on the screen, it could easily pass for live racing. It also helps that everything runs at a consistently smooth framerate. There really is no one aspect of the graphics engine that stands out - it's all simply fantastic.
For the previously mentioned experiment to succeed, sound obviously played a large part as well. Not only did my housemate need to believe what he was seeing, but also what he was hearing. The cars’ sound effects give off the raw feeling of power you'd expect from the lineup of cars in PGR3. The sound is most rewarding when playing from one of the interior views with a 5.1 speaker setup. It’s then when you really do feel immersed in the game. I would probably go with Need for Speed: Most Wanted to win the award for sound effects in a car game, but PGR3 is an impressive second.
Project Gotham Racing 3 is an excellent racing title that pretty much lived up to the hype. The game sits up there as one of the best looking titles on the 360, but unlike games like Quake 4, PGR3 also provides solid gameplay. If you don't have Xbox Live, the game may seem a little lacking, but the Xbox 360 really is all about Live anyway, so if you don't have it yet, get out there and buy it. Racing fan or not, if you're looking for a game that will keep you entertained for quite some time, PGR3 is it. I went in expecting the world but only got the wealthiest country - but that's the kind of silver medal you can still be proud of.