To some people, integrating a game into Live so deeply that it feels like you have to have it to play is a bad thing. As far as [i]Project Gotham Racing 2[/i] goes, however, this is far from the case. [i]Project Gotham Racing 2[/i](henceforth known as [i]PGR2[/i]) is one of the best games I have seen as far as integrating itself into Live as a way to make it a better game while still keeping it perfectly playable without having a Live account. I’ll get to the details of that in a moment though. I’m not generally a big racing fan. When I think of a fun racing title, it usually involves throwing turtle shells at Nintendo characters. Beyond that, I’m really not big on racing. Because of that, I went into [i]PGR2[/i] expecting the worst, but I was dead wrong. I got what is pretty much the best right from the beginning. I was blown away by this game, and it helped draw my interest back into the racing genre.
Like most racing titles, [i]Project Gotham Racing 2[/i] has quite a large selection of vehicles and tracks. The best part about the cars though is that they are real cars. These aren’t mockups of real cars and then given a different name for trademark reasons. These are real cars with their real names that were licensed by Microsoft for the game. The cars are such a big part of what makes up this game. A seasoned gamer can use a lower classed car and outrace the newbie, but yet a master of faster vehicles will be nearly unstoppable to anyone else. Thankfully, when playing online, there are ways to keep the playing field even.
One of the better features of [i]PGR2[/i] is the Kudos point system. Originally I thought, “How good can a racing game be if it keeps track of your score.?” This however did not take long to figure out. The Kudos point system is very well done, and in many races, your success is actually determined by points and not so much your ranking. Of course like any racing game, the purpose is to get first place, but depending on how well you drive, you can actually beat the first place guy by points while being in third.
The scoring is done in a variety of ways. You get a certain number of points for ranking in certain places, for doing tricks on the track like sliding, two wheels, or doughnuts, but at the same time you can get points simply for driving well. If you don’t touch any of the sides of the tracks, you get bonus points at the end. You also get bonus points for getting through certain sections of track without hitting the sides. Of course with other players, this can be hard to do even on the easy tracks, and that is why you deserve such a bonus when the time comes.
Speaking of not touching the sides, depending on how you feel about racing games, you may or may not like this. While playing this game, I thought I was playing Operation, but on wheels instead of as a board game. With the exception of the Nurburgring track, there is no grass. It’s nothing but pavement and guardrails which is good or bad depending on your view of things. If you touch the sides, the game makes a noise to let you know it, and of course you lose your bonus. You also lose any combo points that way as well.
On the subject of combo points, you can get a lot of points by stringing together tricks. Clean sections, 180’s, sliding, drafting, etc. can all be used to chain together a nice combo. A combo is when you do successive moves within 2 seconds of receiving points for the previous move. Because of this, you can get some mad combo points, spefically in the Cone Challenge.
This brings me to the game’s variety. There are many different types of gameplay. There’s the Kudos World Series, which is basically a class by class championship mode. Once you win on one class, you get to try it on the faster car class. You keep doing this while earning Kudos points and Kudos tokens to unlock more tracks, cars, etc.
In the Arcade Racing, you have a few selections. You can either do the timed runs, the street races, or the cone challenges. In the timed runs, you simply race against time. In the street races, tracks, cars, and weather are pre-selected and you simply have to beat the race. In the cone challenge, there are cone setups you have to pass through as you race. You get so many points per setup, and it’s very little, but if you can string enough moves and cones together to get a good combo, you can get some crazy scores. You have to become quite skillful to accomplish much on the cone challenge levels though.
On the topic of levels, the levels in this game go from country to country in major cities in the world. You are basically taking part in legal street races where sections of the cities are barricaded off for the races. Because of this, some races will get you thinking you are on one track when you are on another because some of the tracks share the same section of the cities. Still, there are a good number of cities, and each city has a fair number of tracks, so even though they may share some similar sections, there is enough variety in the game to really keep things going in that respect.
Back on the topic of skill, the single player mode has several skill levels for you to play at as your skill increases. Steel medals are awarded for winning races on the easiest difficulty. When I first picked this game up, I could barely even get steels because I was so bad. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe I was ever that bad. Steels are nothing now. Then there are Bronze medals, which would be the next difficulty up. From there you have silver, gold, and the hardest(and I mean this is Viewtiful Joe/Ikaruga/Contra: Shattered Soldier hard). Perhaps for experienced players these harder modes are not too tough, but for me, the average racer, they are quite difficult. I have gotten silver medals on everything, which makes me feel like less of a loser because that’s the average difficulty. The goal is to eventually get all platinums, but given that at this point most golds are even too much of a challenge for me, I don’t see this happening.
Now onto Live play. This game plays well on Live, with or without headset. Aside from the occasional jackasses who boot you for not using the car they want you to use even though they can change the race settings accordingly, it’s a very enjoyable experience. When not playng on Live, all your stats are automatically uploaded to Live. You can upload and download ghosts of certain races, and you can use those ghosts to improve upon your own skill in the game.
Live though is where you will really get your skills. When playing against computer opponents offline, they all follow the same basic strategy. Slow down for turns, draft behind opponents, and occasionally bump into you around corners to help you lose control. Online though it’s completely different. When I thought I was getting good at the game, I found out I wasn’t. I was still driving as if I was playing offline, but when getting bounced around like I was playing bumper cars, I couldn’t do a thing about it. After spending some time on Live though, things got much better, and it became an overall enjoyable experience.
I could probably go on and on about the levels, cars, features, Live support, etc. etc. but I’m not going to. Quite simply, this is one of the best racers out there, and the close integration with Live really makes you want to get Live, even if you don’t feel like playing the game online. At less than $4 a month, why not? Live is cheaper than most people realize.
In conclusion, I think [i]Project Gotham Racing 2[/i] is a very solid racer. The graphics and sounds are well done, the music is good and has variety, and the draw distance is more than good in this game. Being able to play split screen multiplayer on Live is just sweet, and makes up for the poor draw distances in offline 3 or 4 player games. Overall this is a very well done racing title and a great reason to buy a Live kit if you don’t already own one. I couldn’t be happier with a racing game that was designed to be realistic, yet still fun to play. Sorry Mario, but as much as I love hurling fireballs at other karts, I still can’t help but love [i]PGR2[/i].