6 May 2006

















































Project Gotham 3? Sounds a fair score.

A little behind the times here, folks. And sorry, because you really deserved a warning about this one. If your correspondent can ever bring himself to endure the hellish purgatory that is another games industry show/gathering, viewers, people will die for their reviews of the game we're talking about today.

In terms of pure nerve-shredding, white-knuckle thrills, Project Gotham Racing 3 makes Gran Turismo 4 look like riding every one of Alton Towers' most terrifying rollercoasters one after the other with no seatbelt on, while trying to defuse a terrorist bomb full of nails and Ebola, using only a plastic fork and a hammer. With Vaseline all over your hands. Despite what you won't have read, PGR3 is so BELIEF-DEFYINGLY BORING that I don't know if I'm going to be able to find the words to convey it to you. But I'll try.

PGR3: it's all about the fences.

This reviewer quite liked Metropolis Street Racing on the Dreamcast, despite its darkness and design flaws. The first Project Gotham took everything that was good about MSR and fixed most of the problems, coming up with an exciting and challenging game that your reporter spent tens of hours on. PGR2, with its Edinburgh setting, was awaited as keenly as I can ever remember anticipating a game, only for your ever-hopeful correspondent to come away dismayed with its sterile environments, teeny areas and irritating CPU opponents, but it was still played a fair bit just for the sheer pleasure of driving around (a very small, but picturesque, section of) the fairest city on Earth. PGR3 magnifies all the failings of PGR2 tenfold, while taking a big slimy dump on what remained of its good features.

How, armed with the most graphically powerful videogaming machine ever created, do you make a town as spectacular as Las Vegas look boring? You hide it behind big black fences and make most of the races take place in the back alleys, of course.

How, when giving players the fastest, most nerve-jangling road monsters ever designed to play with, do you manage to make them feel like going to the shops in a Nissan Micra for some toilet cleaner? Stick them on narrow two-lane streets lined with solid walls and full of 90-degree turns and hairpin bends, naturally.

How, when faced with the unquenchable primal thrill of the race, do you make the player cry with boredom and frustration? Why, you ensure that for the first HUNDRED YEARS of the game, every time you sleepwalk through another god-awful snail's-pace championship of boring technical trials, you unlock not exciting race events against other people in cars, but a seemingly-limitless procession of cone challenges, timed laps, and at least three other types of mission that are actually just timed laps by different names.

Bizarre Creations have released dozens of "in-game screenshots" like this one. The lying shits.

Incidentally, WoS ought to apologise for several uses of the word "challenge" in this review. If there's one thing that Project Gotham 3 lacks to an almost pathological degree, it's challenge. You simply won't believe how easy this game is. In default difficulty, it's really easy. In Easy mode it's really REALLY easy. In races you'll be three seconds ahead of the opposition by halfway through the first lap, and in time trials you'll typically find yourself crossing the line with a good FORTY-FIVE SECONDS of your allotted limit still left on the clock. This reporter's scared to even try Beginner mode, in case he goes back in time.

Even on Medium you'll be in second place by the end of the first corner in most races (which basically means you've already "won", since 3rd is the qualifying position in Medium), and ahead by halfway through the first lap. And here's what really kills the challenge - after that, the tracks are so narrow and right-angled that once you're in front the opposition has almost no chance of ever getting past you (despite the lack of a rear-view mirror in most  of the camera modes), as long as you drive safely and conservatively and slow almost to a dead stop for corners. (Their only chance is if you go too fast, make a mistake and bounce off a wall at high speed and end up facing the wrong way.)

Ironically, a game that started out being entirely based around doing crazy and reckless manoeuvres for adrenaline-pumping thrills has turned into Super Highway Code Racing. Race as if you were taking your first driving test and you'll win every time.

And this one. Woo! Feel those racing thrills leaping right off the page at you!

So you just crank up the difficulty, right? Except, why would you bother? The default - and indeed the low - settings still unlock the next championship, so there's absolutely no incentive to play at the harder ones except to change the colour of the medals you get from silver to gold to platinum. And, y'know, what kind of tragic, pitiable wanker cares about whether you've finished the game with all silver or all gold?

The truth is, this game is designed for people who, faced with a choice of taking a four-year engineering degree at Aberystwyth Polytechnic or having a week's torrid sex on heroin with Angelina Jolie in a private jet made of diamonds performing aerobatics over the Himalayas during the world's biggest fireworks-and-lasers display, would opt for the former on the grounds that "You have to be sensible and think practically about the future. All that tiring love-making isn't going to do anything for my pension plan contributions, is it?" (And don't think they wouldn't actually say "love-making", too, the tossers.)

In essence, PGR3 is an entire game made up of GT4's licence tests, and it's every bit as awful a prospect in practice as that sounds - the only difference is that GT4 looks a lot better. No, I'm serious. Oh sure, PGR3 is in higher resolution and has lots more polygons and you can see the individual buttons on the spectators' jackets and everything (why ARE all these people behind the big fences turning out to watch some guy creep through cones at 25mph in a Lamborghini, anyway?) but it's ugly, in the same way that Croydon Town Hall is ugly if you compare it to Durham Cathedral or the Taj Mahal, even when Croydon's bathed in bright summer sunshine and the Taj Mahal is covered in birdshit. The grimy backstreets of Soho aren't one of the Seven Wonders Of The World for good reason.

Here's one of my favourite bits. It's a bridge.

With a partial exception for Las Vegas, every city in PGR3 looks the same - a cluttered mass of grey and brown skyscrapers behind those ubiquitous 12-foot-high black fences. (Oh, how I'd like to punch whichever joyless fuckwit decided that this version needed 12-foot-high black fences all the way around every single course to protect the imaginary spectators from imaginary injury.) The instantly-distinctive architectural styles of Edinburgh, Rome, Moscow, Sydney, Barcelona, Stockholm and Paris are all gone, replaced by identikit office blocks. Drop someone, even someone who's been playing the game for the last 30 hours without stopping, into a random PGR3 course at a random spot and WoS will bet you 50 quid they can't tell you what city they're supposed to be in.

There's barely a landmark or distinguishing feature anywhere, and when every turn is a right angle there's nothing to tell one from the next. In Ridge Racer 6, or Out Run 2, you feel as if you're travelling, actually going somewhere through a wonderful, exotic location. You can tell by the scenery where the track's likely to go next - even on your first run round the course you can feel where the road's heading, so designed for fun are the courses. Ridge Racer 6 wants you to - in fact, demands that you do - take every bend at maximum speed and in a full-sideways powerslide, giggling stupidly as whole mountains pass by in a moment's blur, so it builds tracks that feel like you're crossing a continent in 60 seconds.

In PGR3, even though you're actually visiting painstakingly mapped replications of the real world's most glamorous and exciting cities, you always feel like you're doing what you actually ARE doing - that is, droning in tight little square loops around about 500 square yards of identically drab urban concrete, rarely getting out of what seems like third gear. (Actually, it feels even slower than that - when the in-game speedometer reads 75mph as you creep carefully and diligently round a 90-degree junction, the onscreen action's moving at such a crawl you'd swear you could get out of the car and walk it faster.)

 One of the "screenshots" on this page is actually from PGR2. Can you spot it?

Pals, WoS has often criticised videogames for their lack of the emotional content that marks most other cultural artforms. Games almost never provoke emotions beyond laughing at a bad translation job or the simple fear-shock of a zombie with a chainsaw leaping out at you from behind a tree. But PGR3 has come closer to making your reporter cry than any other game ever has, as he's trudged dutifully through another set of agonisingly dull time trials, unlocked the next championship, and revealed, awaiting the mighty power of his shiny 300mph/200,000 supercar... two new cone challenges and a speed camera test.

I remember when videogames were exciting, accessible and fun. It was last week, when I was playing Ridge Racer 6. Fuck off, PGR3 fans. Seriously, please, fuck off and stop ruining everything for the rest of us.

This was the nearest thing on the entire internet to an actual shot of someone playing the game.
It's clearly still a rendered mock-up, because there's no huge black fence along the trackside.


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