The long and winding road.
It was a not so dark and slightly rainy night. I was running a quick errand at the store when the rain had just started to come down. As I sat at a traffic light, I couldn't help but be bummed that, once again, god hates San Francisco, at least in terms of the weather. In what can only be considered a case of instant karmic retribution, I started my turn when all hell broke loose. I hit a patch of black ice and started a drift that any Initial D. fan would have envied - except that my tires were now slick and control was a luxury.
A million things went through my mind, ranging from the practical ("I'm gonna hit the wall!") to the vain ("I JUST installed a new set of lightweight racing rims a few days ago!"). But as a self-appointed Master Of The Road, I was able to keep the car in the right direction and gain control over the spin.
My uncanny driving skill was probably the reason I didn't incur a few thousand dollars in damages, but it would be in bad form not to doff the cap to all the racing games I've played - such as the new Project Gotham Racing 2. Combining speed and style, this strong sequel puts you behind the wheel of a wide range of automobiles, from the everydays to the exotic. Unlike most racers, the way you drive is almost as vital as how fast you drive. Master both, and you'll own the road.
Unlike that dark, stormy night when I almost wrecked my car, the graphics in Project Gotham Racing 2 are clean and pretty. Though it doesn't sport the fancy effects that some other racing games can claim, it has a solid look that doesn't disappoint. Both the cars and various cities in the game are nicely modeled, adequately showing off the power of the Xbox. They even threw in some damage modeling for good measure, though it's pretty skimpy.
The road ahead of you is long and PGR 2 does a great job by not skimping on the miles. To get through the entire game you'll be spending many a sleepless night behind the wheel attacking a myriad of modes, including Arcade, Time Attack, Instant Action and Xbox Live play. The mode you'll be spending the most time with is the Kudos World Series.
As you progress through the different classes of cars in the Kudos World Series, you'll face six types of driving tests. Timed challenges test your ability to get through a course in a set time frame. Street challenges pit you against a field of competitors, while One vs. One lets you go mano a mano. The Cone challenge has you driving through orange cone gates for style points and the Speed Cam trial challenges drivers to reach a certain speed at a specific point on the track. Finally, there's the Overtake challenge where drivers will attempt to pass up a certain number of cars within the time limit.
Naturally, all of these are accompanied by the Project Gotham medal system, which allows you to select the level of difficulty on a per challenge basis. Taking the easy road will gain a Steel medal, while driving perfection will net a Platinum medal.
But like the previous games in the series, the point of it all is to grab all the Kudos you can. For the uninitiated, Kudos are style points awarded for stylish, excellent driving. Performing moves like drafting, drifting and taking good lines will increase your point total. Just don't crash or you'll lose your current combo.
The first PGR game had a nice number of tracks but only five cities, whereas PGR 2 doubles that to ten. The car list is pretty impressive as well, providing new and old wheels from a wide variety of manufacturers. From Ferraris to Fords, Lexus to Lotus, PGR 2 certainly doles out enough to please the hardened racer. Grab all the Kudos you can and start unlocking away.
The only problem with the car selection is that you don't really get the full selection at any given time. Since races are based on fourteen different classes, you'll always be restricted to a small group of cars for a given challenge.
Auto freaks might also be disappointed at the lack of customization. Aside from changing the color of your ride, there isn't anything you can do with your car in both visual and performance categories. It's all about the driving.
But with so much of an emphasis on skillful driving, it's a good thing the actual driving physics work. You get a real sense of the handling of each vehicle. Cars slip and slide just like they should and you won't be gaining any time or Kudos by running up against the walls. The game just feels right.
Perhaps the only major thing that really holds back PGR 2 from challenging the likes of Gran Turismo is its lack of real progression. Considering the time I put into the game, I never really felt as if I was working toward a goal. Players just go from one race to another, one class to another, without much tying it all together. You don't really keep your cars because of the class racing and there are no earnings for upgrades. There isn't even a tournament style ranking. It's just one race after another.
I suppose this is remedied in a way thanks to the great Xbox Live play. You can race against up to 7 other gamers and the Kudos tokens you earn here go into the same pot as the single-player. It's just plain fun and really adds life to the game.
Considering the overall lack of really intense competition, Project Gotham Racing 2 owns the Xbox road. Some more polish and depth would make this ride truly shine, but currently it's the best practice you'll get for those sketchy moments driving in the rain.