By Ben L.
A couple of weeks ago, I held my copy of Project Gotham Racing 4 for the very last time.
It is now in the hands of a gentleman who paid 20 dollars for it, and I hope he would treasure it as much as I did.
As a fan of the racing genre and a car nut in general, PGR4 means a lot to me even though it has spent more time in my cabinet then in the disc tray of my Xbox 360 console in the last three to four years. One, it is one of my most favourite racing games and I still listen to its soundtrack on my iPod. And two, because the PGR franchise has been discontinued indefinitely since the rise to prominence of the Forza Motorsport series. The studio that developed the franchise, Bizzare Creations, has also ceased to exist.
PGR and Forza Motorsport are two completely different animals, even if they offer gamers the thrill of racing on a track in beautiful locations around the world. The latter is very close to a hardcore track sim geared towards the automobile junkies who will make the slightest tweak on their brakes if it improves their cornering speed by a fraction of a second. In essence, Forza is Microsoft’s gladiator in its battle with Sony’s Gran Turismo series on the PlayStation console, and you can see the publisher’s intent just from the big step up from FM3 in 2009 to the fourth title two years later.
Switching from Forza to PGR is like running 10 kilometres on the treadmill and then heading out to play a game of Sunday football with your friends. It is still a serious workout but more entertaining. The cars in PGR suddenly become animals unleashed from their cages, behaving much more aggressive as you approach the corners on the track. That gives you the opportunity to perform a whole range of insane stunts like drifts, jumps and two-wheelies. And you get rewarded handsomely with points for that, as long as you don’t crash.
Do not be fooled though. Being able to slide around a corner without braking to an optimal speed may be arcadey and forgiving on the game’s part, but it is in no way easy or less challenging. Many of the tracks in PGR are modified street circuits in cities like London, New York and Tokyo that feature tight narrow corners that call for skillful maneuvering of your car. Enter the corner too fast and hit the barrier, and the points that you had amassed over the past lap would be blown in an instant. An effective way to promote good clean racing while letting you enjoy the thrills of sliding around a wet track, Kudos points and the cars’ handling make up the soul of a fun racing experience, something that Forza sorely lacks despite its lure of picturesque views and a seductive female voice that guides you through the game. There are times when driving around in a Ferrari in FM4 felt like controlling a plank of wood on a lake. Racing should be fun and not so serious or boring all the time, but the focus and demands of Forza more often than not punish you for being a little cheeky on the wheel.
And let’s not forget the amazing soundtrack that you get to listen to as you earn Kudos points around the track. PGR3 and 4 in particular featured an extensive list of tracks separated into a few distinct genres like classical, electronic and indie, very much like having your own radio station presets in your car.
So it’s a shame that one of the definitive racing franchises has disappeared indefinitely. It would have been splendid to see PGR mark its return since its last appearance in 2009 with a new game on the Xbox One, but unfortunately Microsoft has yet to confirm its plans for the franchise. The lack of backward compatibility on the new console is another blow too, since gamers who do not own an Xbox 360 would not be able to experience what I’ve just described in the last four paragraphs.
If PGR4 is the last in the franchise, then at least we can take heart that the series has left on a high note. I will never comprehend what Gotham actually means, and it is in no way related to Batman, but its name will remain something special. While Forza is probably the closest thing you can get to a track simulator on the Xbox, PGR is in my opinion the best all-round racing franchise.