Project Gotham Racing 4 (referred to as PGR4 hereafter), though released in 2007, is the latest in the franchise and is still unrivaled in its fabulous driving mechanics. Developed exclusively for Xbox 360, Bizarre Creations’ PGR4 aims to put you in a Ferrari and have you grip your controller till it hurts. Your engine roars and your tires leave thick black rubber on the apex of a tight corner in rainy London. This is driving nirvana.
Overshooting corners, late breaking, and general recklessness are actually encouraged.Racing games are usually about tight racing lines and proper control, but PGR4 allows for some flexibility. Playing PGR4 like a driving simulation can still be a stellar experience, but playing it like a maniac is infinitely more enthralling.
PGR4 is unlike other racing titles in that you race cars and motorcycles around circuits in real-world locations like London, Macau, Las Vegas, New York, and Tokyo. You race in the exquisitely rendered cockpits of Aston Martins and Ferraris, but also more obscure autos like the Pagani Zonda F, Caparo T1, and Gumpert Apollo. Cars are unlocked via an experience system, dubbed “Kudos,” and are awarded constantly through on-track driving skills (like overtaking, handbrake use, cornering, etc.) and event completion.
You can select any car or bike with manual or automatic transmission, and even change the weather, time of day, starting grid, etc. if you’d like. You can play online or offline in a plethora of modes. Notably, offline offers a number of single-player options. PGR4 offers a fairly standard one-off challenge mode, and a more in-depth Season mode. Season mode offers a calendar of events, much like an actual professional driver’s schedule. There is definitely no shortage of modes that put your skills to the test.
The graphics, while six years old, are still stunning. Car models are muscular and brimming with detail and personality. Racing in the interior cockpit view is highly recommended. Environments look beautiful in all different weather settings, particularly rain and snow. Precipitation not only makes the cars and courses pop with great lighting and particles, but also provides a great x-factor to races. Weather can change mid-race, requiring you to constantly adapt your approach to corners while avoiding puddles or ice slicks.
The audio in PGR4 is truly magnificent. Engine noises are burly and brilliantly realized. Every vehicle sounds like it has something to prove — from the decades old Lamborghini Miura, to the sprightly Ariel Atom V8, each car and bike’s throaty rumble sounds as though it can hardly be contained beneath its chassis.
The music and soundtrack are also given premium treatment. PGR4 has numerous radio stations that include Classical, Rock, Electronic, World, and Techno genres. It’s a great feature and really allows for some diverse music selections: without entering menus or pausing, you can seamlessly switch from Mozart, to LCD Soundsystem, to thumping house music.
The menu design is a prime example of Bizarre Creations’ eye for detail, and it’s touches that make PGR4 standout.Even the menu design has received great attention: electronic maestro The Prodigy utilizes different synth and drum loops and layers them over the menus, building in samples and complexity. As you get deeper into the menus, from choosing a play mode, to choosing a track, to setting options, to finally selecting your vehicle, the menu music loops dynamically as you ready for the race. This is a prime example of Bizarre Creations’ eye for detail, and it’s touches like this that make PGR4 standout.
There are a few minor criticisms. Your computer opponents make occasional mistakes, though sadly, rival racers tend to stick to their careful racing lines, rather than the more flamboyant, powerslide-y manic-style that befits PGR4. The Season mode, while realistic, can be a little harsh. If you fail an event, you cannot replay it until the next racing season. A few exclusive cars and bikes can only be unlocked by winning special Season events; it can be frustrating failing these rare events, as you must wait until the next season to even have the opportunity to try again.
PGR4 makes racing extremely fun and accessible to anyone who has a desire to drive the most glamorous and expensive cars and bikes ever produced. It can also be picked up on the cheap, but feels as fresh and dazzling as current racing titles. Although Bizarre Creations has been shuttered, the Project Gotham Racing series offers a uniquely thrilling twist to the racing genre. Even 2012’s Forza Horizons contains some of the DNA from PGR4, as the two titles share some key personnel. With fingers crossed, perhaps Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox successor will see a return of this electrifying racing series.