Project Gotham Racing 3
After playing the Xbox 360 version of Project Gotham Racing 3 for a few minutes, my initial reaction was, "This is ... boring." I was also feeling ham-fisted and unable to do much more than run into everything. My driving was so poor I almost crashed into myself, once.
Then the scales fell from my eyes. I hadn't lost all my gaming sense, I'd simply been led astray by other—lesser—games. I realized that there have been so many race-'em, smash-'em, blow-'em-up games released lately that I was expecting to just point and launch. I had forgotten that a driving game could be a game of finesse. This game focused on details, not adrenaline.
Clean It Up and You Clean Up
And that is one of PGR 3's most laudable personality traits. It encourages skillful driving, not visceral destruction. Sure, you want to go blisteringly fast and be the first one across the line, but with this game, how you get there is just as important as when.
This positive reinforcement is built into the heart of the game's Solo Career mode. (And it doesn't change when you connect online with other gamers of like skills and match your favorite cars and moves against theirs.) As you work your way through the challenges and races of 23 Championship rounds you earn credits and kudos. How? Safe and stylish driving earns special kudos points. The more kudos you gain, the faster you rise in the ranks of drivers and the more credits you earn. The more credits you have, the better cars you can buy. In other words, master the skills and reap the rewards.
The rewards of this racing game are incredible cars. PGR 3 features some of the most exotic high-performance cars you've never seen or been able to stand next to without being chased by a guard dog. This game doesn't start you out in a Honda Civic with an Aerosmith decal in the back window, either. No, you start with an Aston Martin and work your way up from there. Jaguar. Mercedes. Lotus. Lamborghini. These are just a handful of the nameplates you'll find among the 75-plus cars at your command.
Just as in real life, every car has a unique road feel. One of the pure joys of this game is the feedback vibrations through the handheld controller. I felt my Ferrari shudder with initial acceleration off the line, and sensed every bump and seam in the road. In fact, I think the only way you could get a more authentic road feel would be to sit on the controller. But that would make the steering a bit more challenging.
The 170 mph Home Theater
The advantage of PGR 3 being released on the Xbox 360 is that it can really stretch the technological boundaries of what we've been used to seeing and hearing. The visuals of this game, in high-definition, are stunning.
The races take place, Grand Prix style, through the streets of London, Las Vegas, New York City, Tokyo and Nurburgring. No police chases and ghetto fire-fights here, just gorgeous cars winging—legally—through a sparkling metropolis. The cars and tracks are so photo-realistic that you sometimes think you're watching a live race (only prettier). And a special photo mode allows you to freeze your car in mid-race and take pictures. It also lets you "walk" around and explore the crowds and shop fronts along the course. (I think one shop in Tokyo had fish cakes on sale, but my Japanese is a little rusty.)
I was also pleased with the embedded music. Typically aggressive and gritty in racing games, PGR 3 supports new and independent bands that were lyrically mild in comparison. The playlist includes rock, hip-hop, industrial, and even Japanese pop and Indian bhangra. Don't like anything on the menu? Download your own tunes. I clicked on Bach's Brandenburg Concerto, while driving in a Wiesmann GT and gazing through the windshield at the emerald German hillsides. Too cool.
Play On, My Brother
It sounds strange to say that one can feel safe while burning rubber at 170 mph. But there it is. No Pursuit Force-style stunt jumps from car to car. No Burnout Revenge-ish vehicular detonations. By the end of my time with Project Gotham Racing 3, I was sold. And I was back in the finesse racing fold. I had learned a lesson, and it was good. So good, in fact, that I decided to play one of those race-'em, smash-'em, blow-'em-up games again, just to see how it compared. It was ... yeah, you guessed it—boring!