It’s feasible that some may question the need for yet another 360 racer because at first glance PGR4 feels more expansion pack than sequel. After a few hours, however, all becomes clear. This is no mere addition to PGR3, although, arguably, the game PGR3 should have been, when you come to think about it. Gotham 4 is a fully fleshed-out and beautifully realised culmination of everything great about the series, not bogged down by launch deadlines and the cutting of corners. And the result? Well, it’s one of the strongest 360 racers to date.
Take the circuits, for instance: all five cities from PGR3 return, including minor facelifts, except they’re now joined by four exponentially more enjoyable beauties! With its Bladerunner-esque skyscrapers Shanghai stands out particularly with Quebec being extremely hilly going down as the potential pick of the pack.
Since PGR3, though, all tracks have received a makeover, with no longer any kind of emphasis on monotonous flats and simplistic circles. In place they display a far greater range of terrain this time round: there are mountains and slopes aplenty, and narrow chicanes meet wide open expanses with even the odd hillside tunnel sprucing things up a fraction. As a result circuits feel much more enjoyable and a blast to zoom around in a busy group huddle if you compare it to the game’s predecessor.
Adding to the enormous fun is the new all weather system comprising a range of different “patterns” - 12 in all - from good old fashioned sunshine to thunderstorms full-on! From a technical standpoint the weather effects are not only superb - they so impressively alter mid-race! - but they drastically affect the gameplay itself too. Fog, for instance, obscures upcoming bends, which force you to rely on the taillights of the rivals to slice through the confusion. In the interim, ice and rain regularly send you off in wild spins when not handling your vehicle with patience and finesse.
If there’s any complaint it appears that not every weather condition is available for every circuit, yet at the same time these additions still manage to add the atmosphere the series has lacked until now. The snow-covered plains of the Nurburgring come off as looking particularly stunning!
Laying aside weather effects PGR4’s hardly a world ahead of its predecessor in terms of graphics. Discounting the removal of pop-up or some smoothing out jaggies, you’d be hard pushed to tell them apart without close inspection. However, this is no bad thing, if you bear in mind PGR3’s graphical pedigree - it still remains one of the prettiest racers on the market - but this time round some damage modelling wouldn’t have gone amiss.
There’s one especially pleasing feature, though: this is the much touted inclusion of motorbikes which add a whole new dimension to Gotham 4 as far as gameplay is concerned. These two wheelers can take a hammering on the racetrack, and, although far from realistic to wield, you’ll find they can pull off wheelies and stunts with amazing regularity, such stunts, in fact, which will bring a smile to anyone’s face. Of course such tomfoolery provides great opportunity to rack up the all-important kudos factor - such “Kudos” which can be used in the virtual store, and thereby unlocking additional vehicles, circuits and customisable clothing for your driver!
Unfortunately this customisation doesn’t extend to the vehicles themselves and you can certainly apply custom patterns to your cars, except bear in mind it’s certainly no Forza 2. If nothing else, though, fitting your driver out with a wide range of helmets and clothing should provide online multiplayer some extra personality through which to shine.
As far as online features are concerned “PGR On Demand” replaces the old “Gotham TV” and so imbues the game with excellent new community potential on the Live front. You can upload screenshots and videos thanks to a file sharing service, and you can download and vote on those concerning fellow players - in fact, it’s far more fully featured than “Gotham TV” ever was. You can even seek specific videos by preference, from cars used, for instance, to whether they’re involved in crashes or jumps. Whilst elsewhere the inclusion of a party system rounds off the online feature set nicely.
And what of Geometry Wars, you might ask, the cult top-down arcade shooter that has become synonymous with PGR?
A new rendition does indeed appear via the game’s garage, albeit a stripped-down take than previously seen. “Geometry Wars Waves” blesses the player with a single life, no bombs, and a ramped up difficulty curve which increases by the second - yet although perhaps not the true sequel we eagerly await, it should still hopefully provide ample challenge as far as fans and experts of Retro Evolved are concerned.
As far as we’re concerned, however, PGR4 is the series all but perfected. The days of these more linear, streamlined titles may well be numbered with racer starting to head towards a more open-ended sandbox style of play. With the addition of bikes, stunning usage of weather, plus a healthy career mode with tons of added circuits, provide even long-time fans plenty of new content to sink their teeth into. At the same time, whilst it might lack Forza’s detailed customisation and in-depth simulation options, for our money, at least, PGR4 is simply the more flat-out fun game which is an impressive swansong for Bizarre’s Project Gotham series indeed.
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