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Bizarre Creations revs up another entry in the PGR series and there's more than stormy weather on the cards...
As one of the Xbox 360's launch titles, Project Gotham Racing 3 was in another league compared to those alongside it on the shelves in late 2005. If you need more convincing of this, consider the fact that PGR3 still has a decent enough online presence as a computer game, while other big name Xbox 360 launch titles (e.g. Perfect Dark Zero) having long since fallen from grace. In stark contrast to most driving games on the market both then and now, the majority of PGR3's content revolved around online play. A vast array of online game modes, toughly fought competitions and casual lobbies were all integrated seamlessly as features to a game that suffered little or no lag at all.
Unsurprisingly, Bizarre Creations is building on these successes like a fevered colony of termites constructing a colony. The general public has been kept very much in the loop regarding these improvements, with the Bizarre Creations team offering numerous updates on how their work-come-labour of love is going. Just this week we heard about the list of achievements that could be unlocked for gamer points and also that, somewhat inevitably, the title had already gone gold prior to release. Unfortunately, this makes my job as a previewer somewhat more difficult in providing you - the avid PGR fan - information that you don't already know. Nevertheless, the first look we got at Leipzig last month should provide a light dinner of PGR4 info for you all to gorge yourselves upon.
First up, the game modes: on PGR3, online features could be found in the 'Gotham TV' mode - your portal to the online Gotham world, exhibiting replays and pictures etc. There was also the Career mode, which was responsible for most of your single player gaming. This time around there's a new Arcade mode which brings together what we previously knew as the Career mode in PGRs 2 and 3. Gamers will be able to play through various game types such as Race and Kudos events in much the same way as their used to. So, if you don't respond well to change then never fear, PGR4 Arcade mode is here.
Moving on from this, the all new Career mode in PGR4 will provide considerably more depth than we're used to. From what we could garner, it seems to offer the sort of depth you might get from the career mode in a Tiger Woods' PGA Tour game from EA (an obscure analogy yes, but bare with me on this). Gamers will play through championships and seasons that are charted out on a racing calendar. They'll be racing against opponents with characteristics that mirror online drivers (i.e. they'll have names like munkeerench21). Continued progress will attract sponsors and invitations to competitions, etc. There'll also be some unique events; one example that we were told about was a race-off challenge between a Tesla Roadster and Ferrari Testarossa.
'PGR On Demand' will replace 'Gotham TV' and provides a new interface to the Project Gotham community, with gamers being able to upload ghosts (a new feature), photos and replays onto Xbox Live for others to peruse. The ghosts certainly will bring a lot to the series, as gamers will be able to download up to three of them to race against simultaneously. I can just see it now: many sleepless nights spent attempting to beat Gothamgod69's ghost around the Nordschleife. There'll also be a search engine pioneered by Bizarre Creations to help streamline gamers' searches for these new 'On Demand' offerings. Another addition to the online experience is the ability to tie players into multiple race championships.
There are a host of other changes in the PGR's general infrastructure as well. The Kudos system has seen a significant overhaul: while PGR3's Kudos system was merely a tallied score at the end of an event that often left you wondering exactly how well you'd done, PGR4's Kudos system will keep the points and will also provide a star rating out of five for your Kudos score on that event. On a more cosmetic point, the identity of a PGR racer will have much more significance this time around. You can customise the appearance of your driver and car depending upon your nationality of choice. For example, if I were to select Japan as my nationality, then the colour schemes of my driver and car will be white and red. What's more, I can use a selection of different colour scheme options for my car to produce a thoroughly unique paint job.
As you may well have heard, there are a whole load of new featured cities for the circuits in PGR4. Shanghai, Macao, St. Petersburg and Quebec will join the usual suspects from previous PGR games. Another new addition is the Michelin test track, which we were lucky enough to get a tour of during the demonstration at Leipzig. It's a fictional circuit designed specifically for PGR4 which has one large oval around the outside and an assortment of smaller tracks inside the oval. It looks like it'll be a laugh to bomb around the test circuits in that '81 De Lorean you just purchased. Yes indeed, the iconic Back to the Future car will be flux-capaciting its way onto PGR4, although it'll actually be the much more unreliable real-life model - fiddle-sticks!.
Speaking of the circuits, the Nordschleife is in tip-top form. We're being made to work for its lethal twists and turns in PGR4 as the various track segments must be purchased with Kudos points. Visually, it's enough to make you stare gormlessly, jaw dropped and drooling, at its luscious beauty. We saw it covered in snow where we followed a sexily curved Ferrari with some tasty camera angles and, I must say, it pays respect to the circuits rich racing heritage and deadly nature. The build on show at Leipzig looked considerably better than some of the earlier builds that've been on show this year. Our demonstrators pointed out other graphical tweaks such as the unique rev/speed dials for each vehicle (e.g. the Koenigsegg's are white with a touch of 90s Casio watch indiglo).
There have also been some clever little gameplay tweaks as well. Bizarre Creations have made sure that the online game won't be plagued by so-called 'wall-riders' who just ride the barriers at full speed on road circuits. To combat this, the outsides of corners have been made much deeper meaning that instead of unskilfully poaching a few seconds, dirty little cheaters will be made to look like Dastardly at Muttley at the end of every Wacky Racers episode.
One of the major new gameplay features for PGR4 is the addition of bikes (if you don't already know that, what indigenous tribe have you been shutting yourself off from society in for the last few months?). We saw the multitude of tricks available and it made us gleam with joy. Riding along standing on your seat, pulling wheelies and seeing your Kudos points increase like the bank balance of Donald Trump - we simply can't wait.
Finally, a quick word on the soundtrack.PGR3 featured some humdingers from all number of musical spectrums. This instalment promises the same and more. One of the trailers going around at Leipzig featured a track by The Prodigy called Shadow specifically for PGR4 and if Liam Howlett's genius isn't enough to please you, I don't know what is.
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