previews\ Sep 3, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Project Gotham Racing 2 - XB - Preview

D’oh .... screech ... crash ... wince!

Car racing games can be a lot of fun, but they can also be a roller coaster ride of emotions if particularly well done.

The hairpin looms. Two cars in front nudge the brakes. There is no room to pass, so you nudge them as well. Just as you coax the wheel into the corner, a fourth car zooms up, slams into your right rear taillights and plants you in the wall. Aaarrgghhh! By the time you reverse out of the wall, two other cars have passed you and you’ve dropped from third to sixth place with half a lap remaining.

Bizarre Creations and Microsoft Game Studios have teamed up for Project Gotham Racing 2, an Xbox release slated for release around the holidays. The game sports three main racing styles - kudos world series, arcade racing or timed attack. Each of these three main style breaks down further. The idea is, obviously enough, to win your races and advance.

You can earn kudos (the awards system) along the way to unlock other cars and move tracks. was invited to buckle in behind the wheel and take the beta of the game out for test drive.

Project Gotham Racing 2 is a jaw-dropper graphically, with stunning photo-realistic courses, and dynamic lighting and shadows. You will see individual cobblestones catching the fading sunlight, feel the unevenness of Barcelona’s aging streets, or slide recklessly on the slick pavement of Washington, D.C.

There are 14 classes of cars, and a bonus class. From the compact class Volkswagen New Beetle RSi, to the Mazda Miata MX-5 and BMW Z4 3.0i in sports convertibles, to roadster class Lotus Elise, with classics offering Datsun 240Z mixed in with Jaguars, Lancias and Ferraris, Porsches, Pontiacs and Mustangs - there is so many different cars to choose from in this game.

Each car is lovingly rendered and handles differently - not to mention sounds different.

If there was one drawback to this game, it did occur in the handling. These cars do not grip overly well, and one would think that aspect would have been addressed by the car’s owners when setting up these street bullets for racing.

PGR2 will allow multiplayer racing and will be supported by Xbox Live.

The points system (kudos) is rather involved. Each race type presents a challenge and you can earn points for placing in the top 3 in a race. But you can also earn kudos for your driving skills. Bang a wall, and you could lose your kudos stash. Execute a perfect line through a series of corners, or slide around a corner flawlessly and you can also earn kudos.

It is apparent that the developers paid great attention to detail in more than just the look of the game. As you traverse these world courses, you will be treated to regional music. Most of it is pulse-pounding music, styled to keep the flavor of the game intact, but if you are in Hong Kong expect to hear the local language spoken.

Some of the tracks, at this stage, were much better looking than others, but when you have tracks brought up to the standard of the Barcelona track, or Washington, this game will prove a great distraction for those who like high-quality graphics. It is almost worth a slow tour of the track just to look at this game, to see how the light and buildings are reflected off the high sheen of the cars.

The environmental effects are rather nice as well, with skid marks not only showing the treachery of the courses, but maybe providing a clue as to what lays ahead and how to negotiate it.

The control elements are very simple. The gamepad control uses the left trigger for brake, the right trigger for accelerate and the X button for handbrake. Other controls will alter your view, or shift, if you enable the manual transmission aspect. Each car has its own idiosyncracies and learning how each handles is half the fun.

The other car AI seems somewhat average in the single-player game.

Project Gotham Racing 2 is a feast for the eyes. This is a racing game that is option rich, and a whole lot of fun to play. Damage is realistic, and will likely have you cringing as you try to take that cutback a little too fast and end replicating a pinball slamming (but not bouncing too far) into the walls.

Still months from release, this game is revving up for a fast start, and should be near the forefront of console racing fans’ wish lists for the holidays.

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