December 2005. PGR3 on the newly launched 360 is met with plaudits but also some frustration. Not a true HD game, 30 fps and a lack of variety compared to PGR2. What guaranteed it’s success was a lack of competition. It took over 18 months before a game challenged PGR on the 360. That game was Forza 2. However there was never any doubt that Microsoft would cash in with a PGR sequel.
I should point out that I loved the PGR series and it’s predecessor Metropolis Street Racer with PGR2 being the highlight so far. Great track variety and a superb online mode supplemented with downloadable content that extended it’s life. However it was widely known that Bizarre was forced into releasing PGR3 as a launch title which meant corners were cut. With a sequel given the green light I can imagine they wanted to throw as much into PGR4 as they could. Unfortunately too much can detract rather than add to the game.
So What’s New?
There are now 10 cities within the game and this really helps to reduce the repetitiveness of the tracks seen in the previous version. However four of the cities were also in PGR3 so you do feel a little cheated. Before PGR4 was released the dev’s made a big play on how the tracks were now more forgiving and you can see that in some places but in general there are some incredibly tight sections that inevitably lead to contact, especially online. More on that later.
The game modes are almost unchanged from previous versions. Street racing, eliminator, one on one modes and time challenges are still my favourites. This leaves the dreaded cone challenges and kudus star chases. I detest both with a passion and these modes detract from the game.
What is new are the vehicles available. Some older models are now in the game but by far the biggest addition are the bikes. These obviously handle differently from the cars and they just feel a bit odd. When you start to turn a bike the head moves with the first movement of the pad and then the bike starts to turn. It takes some time to get used to and to be honest I’m still not that happy with them. They are also far more resilient than for example Moto GP which is understandable as no one would use them if they fell down at the slightest touch. However use them online at your peril – almost every game online has seen bikes taken out before or during the first corners. It’s a dirty world out there. It’s also amazing how much draft you get from a bike!
Graphics and Sound
The graphics are stunning. The detail of each car is amazing but the bike models show off the graphics to an even higher level. Look at the pic below – bike chain, nuts and bolts…almost too detailed. Cities are also rendered to a far greater detail than PGR3 as are the few tracks that are in the game. The F1 track looks miles better than before.
The game is also very smooth with no pop-up and no glitches seen during both off and online racing. Special mention must go to the weather effects. The rain is stunning. Riding on bumper view and it looks spectacular and the puddles gathering on the tracks not only look realistic but grab your car as well. However swapping to in car view shows an amazing simulation of rain on the windscreen. Streams run up the windscreen as you accelerate and on stormy nights the wipers struggle to give you a view. It really adds to the immersion!
Engines also sound superb with the best reserved for some of the bikes – they sound monstrous apart from maybe the jet bike which just sounds odd.
This is an arcade racer. Get that into your head and you’ll enjoy the game. If you expect handling approaching Forza 2 then you will be disappointed. In saying that it is good fun although I do find the cone and star challenges incredibly dull.
The usual Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum difficulty levels apply but there is also a career mode that allows you to climb a world ranking table taking on challenges over the period of a season. This is a nice mode and much better than the arcade challenges.
Along with the multiplayer, online scoreboards etc it’s a pretty deep game with plenty to keep you occupied with. It’s annoying though that lap times and split times aren’t displayed but that just highlights the lurch to an arcade model. It’s also disappointing that modes like capture the track are missing from the game. I hope it’s not released as a paid for upgrade as it should have been available from the start.
There’s a couple of major changes to the online options in PGR4. Firstly there is now a party mode similar to Halo which allows you to take up to three other friends into opponents rooms and race as a team. Sounds great but in practice it has a number of issues. The matchmaking is slow. Really slow. Amazingly badly slow. We were waiting at least two minutes between finding rooms although there were times that after five minutes we had to stop and start the search…only to wait another couple of minutes. The second issue is that the online world is full of dirty players. Almost every game is ruined by opponents taking you out of the game. I accept this is an arcade game but it is frustrating to be taken out on the start/finish line or the first corner on almost every race. You can see some stats on PGR Nations like the screen below but I’ve no idea how a clean race is calculated.
The third major problem was the graphically fantastic weather. Almost every game was wet or…very wet. While I appreciate the effort that has gone into the weather modes the matchmaking needs a tweak to reduce the rain’s frequency. If only we could do that in real life!
Unfortunately those aren’t the only issues. A gap of a few feet between cars but you still cause a crash? It’s also annoying that spins are so easy online but offline you can’t do the same to AI racers. That sounds to me that spins could be addressed but the developers have chosen to allow spins to easily occur.
The other major new feature is PGR Nations. The site allows you to upload photo’s and see world rankings, you and your friends stats and also enter tournaments and see the worlds best players. It’s a nice addition especially the photo mode. On PGR4 you can also save and view friends video’s and also rate them. Some of the top 20 video’s are superb and well worth a look.
PGR4 is a good game. Not great, but good all the same. If it hadn’t come out during this golden time for games then I may have appreciated it more but it just doesn’t do enough compared to others in the series. Hopefully over a longer period it will show some hidden depths.