What's in a name?
Gotham: City of the Night. In its shadows lurk some of the most sinister criminals on the face of the Earth. Beneath the dim lighting of the dank streets, a young boy stands helplessly as common street thugs gun down his parents. But out of this tragedy would come a hero, a Dark Knight that would save the city from evil. His name? Batma…wha? Sorry people, wrong script.
Contrary to what its name implies, Project Gotham Racing has absolutely nothing to do with Batman and very little to do with Gotham City. In truth, it's an updated version of Bizarre Creation's Metropolis Street Racer that was released for the Dreamcast early this year. So put away your Batarang and grab some driving gloves. Let's get this race started.
First, the basics. Like Metropolis Street Racer, Project Gotham is half-racing and half-kudos. Racers must not only finish ahead of the pack, they must do it with style. These style points (called "kudos") are awarded for successful power slides, two-wheel action, and even getting a little air. Just stay clear of the rails and you're all set.
Unlike Metropolis though, Project Gotham's kudos system is a lot more lenient. In MSR, you would lose kudos every time you bumped into the rails. You would even lose kudos every single time you touched a car, making it very tough to be an aggressive driver. And since the only way you could progress in the game was to earn lots of kudos, MSR turned out to be a pretty tough game.
I'm happy to report that Project Gotham has gotten rid of these problems. Now you can use other cars to help with hairpin turns, cut people off, and even ram your opponents with no penalty. The worst that can happen is negating the kudos you were accumulating by running into the rails. It's just like wiping out in Tony Hawk.
Project Gotham's single player experience is split into four gameplay modes - Quick Race, Arcade Race, Time Attack, and Kudos Challenge. Quick Race has you racing against five other cars, Arcade Race sets up a cone obstacle course, and Time Attack pits you against the clock. Kudos Challenge is basically a combination of all other modes and is where you'll spend the most amount of time. Complete challenges, win races, and unlock stuff.
In the beginning, you'll only have a few cars to choose from, but as you progress in the game you'll unlock some fancy pants cars including an Aston Martin Vanquish, a Porsche Carrera GT, and a Ferrari F50. The only downer is that there isn't much else. As far as I've seen, there are only about 30 cars to choose from - a far cry from some of the other racing games we've seen that offer massive amounts of cars. It's definitely enough to get the job done, but more would have been nice, especially since there is no tuning.
An awesome feature that wasn't found in MSR is damage modeling for the cars. I have always been a big fan of destructible cars and Project Gotham just reminded me why. Take aggressive driving to another level as you smash, bash, and crash into other the racers. Broken headlights, massive dents, and scrubbed up sides help bring the driving experience to life. I'm just glad there are no insurance agents to worry about.
For that matter, the graphics are pretty cool. The cars look smooth with nice reflections and some of the surface textures you drive over simply rule due to some top notch bump-mapping.
Controlling the cars is a breeze. They're all pretty responsive and it won't take you long to start driving them like you own them. Bizarre gets a thumbs up in this department.
While MSR had one of the lamest video game soundtracks I've ever heard, Project Gotham manages to scrounge up some very inoffensive tunes. But even better is the ability to play all of your own music straight from the Xbox hard drive. I guess this means you can put your Walkman away while playing this game.
Even though Project Gotham has got a lot of good things going for it, it still has problems - namely, track design While each of the four cities you drive though (San Francisco, London, Tokyo, and New York) looks good, everything feels ultra plain. You drive through empty city streets that are blocked off from everything else. Nothing goes on along the sidelines. There are no pedestrians watching, no birds flying overhead, nothing. Pretty hard to believe these world-class cities are so dead.
For the very first Microsoft Xbox racing title, Project Gotham Racing makes a strong showing. It's got decent (though not thrilling) gameplay enhanced by bang-up damage modeling. It's not a bad start for the Xbox racing genre at all.