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by Microsoft

Project Gotham Racing 2 will keep you busy for months. Unlocking all of the cars and winning all of the single player races takes ages, and the addictive Kudos system will keep you coming back to try and beat your top scores. For people with Xbox LIVE the game can potentially last even longer since you can compete online and even download ghosts of the best times on each track so you can see how well you stack up. And underneath all of the features and options, the racing itself is extremely well done, and it is simply a joy to play this game. PGR2 is awesome and deserves a spot in just about any Xbox owner’s collection.

The actual racing itself in PGR2 isn’t all that different from other games in the genre. The cars all handle fairly well and it is pretty easy to drive however you want. What PGR2 does differently is that it asks you to drive with style in order to rack up points known as Kudos. You earn Kudos for passing other cars, sliding around corners, catching air, and completing sections of the track without taking any damage, among other things. You use these Kudos points to unlock new cars, and it is always fun going back to races you have already completed and trying to beat your best Kudos score in order to earn more points so you can pick up that new Ferrari you had your eye on.

The main single player mode in Project Gotham Racing 2 is the Kudos World Series. This mode is organized into different car classes with each class having several races to choose from. There are over a hundred races in all and it is a good bet that you will run some of the races several times, so there is a ton of stuff to do. Something that I absolutely love is that you can choose the difficulty level you want before each and every race. This ensures that you can constantly advance through the game and not get too frustrated when you come to a race that you can’t seem to win. Each difficulty setting changes the requirements to complete that particular race (you don’t always have to win in order to move on) and you will get different Kudos bonuses depending on what difficulty you are on. New classes are opened up only when you beat the one before it, so it is nice to be able to open up everything on easier difficulties and then go back to races on the harder difficulties later on.

There are several different types of races that the game will throw at you in the Kudos World Series. Time trials and hot lap races pit you against the clock as you try to beat your best lap and race times. In street races you’ll compete with between 3 and 7 computer-controlled drivers. Cone challenges place a number of checkpoints on the track that you have to pass through in order to rack up Kudos and reach a certain score. Speed challenges require you to reach a certain speed before you come to a "speed camera" located at the end of the track. All of these modes are a lot of fun and give the game a lot of variety

Other modes found in PGR2 include an arcade mode and time trials and also a fun option called instant action. Arcade mode gives you a predetermined car on a track and it is up to you to win. Time trials see you trying to beat your best time on each track. The instant action mode randomly selects a car and a track and lets you jump right into a race. You have to complete the arcade and time trial modes along with the Kudos World Series in order to fully finish off the game, so in short, there is a lot to do.

There are over 100 different licensed cars in PGR2, and all of them are exact models of their real life counterparts. There are classic sports cars, American muscle cars, high performance cars and many others to choose from. Manufacturers include Ferrari, Porsche, Chevrolet, Dodge, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Mazda, and many, many others. A cool feature in PGR2 is that you can visit a virtual showroom and walk around in a first person view and look at all of the cars in the game. Even better is that more cars will be made available in the future through Xbox LIVE. The car list is already pretty impressive, but I’m looking forward to what new cars we’ll get to play with.

The tracks in PGR2 are extremely well done and there are over a hundred of them in all. The races take place in more than 10 different cities such as Sydney, Tokyo, and Washington D.C. with each city having a large number of different track layouts. The track design is uniformly excellent and there are a lot of different styles of tracks, ranging from tracks with lots of sharp corners to lots of hills to oval races.

Not everything about Project Gotham Racing 2 is perfect, however. The AI isn’t all that interesting in that no matter what difficulty level you play on they always follow the same line and rarely deviate from it. If you do happen to get in their way, the AI cars will bump the back end of your car and cause you to spin out about 90% of the time. This is annoying but it forces you to be a better driver, so it isn’t that big of a problem. Another small annoyance is that the nighttime races are almost too dark. You literally can’t see anything beyond your headlights and it is frustrating to have to feel your way around a track while the AI cars are just breezing through it. It would have been as much of a problem had the races occurred on tracks you had seen before, but more often than not new tracks were introduced during nighttime races. Other than these couple of annoying things about the game, pretty much everything else is a racing fan’s dream.

If you have Xbox LIVE, the game gets even bigger and better. Whether you are competing against other people online or not, your best lap times and Kudos scores are automatically compared to the best in the world on a scoreboard that is constantly updated. It is fun to race just to try and beat the best scores in the world. Online races run very smoothly and give you lots of options so you shouldn’t ever feel outmatched if you haven’t opened up the best cars in the game yet. Your Kudos scores online count towards your overall total as well, and there are some races that can net you huge amounts of Kudos, so it is even easier to unlock all of the best cars if you can compete in both the offline and online game. Project Gotham Racing 2 still offers a ton of things to do if you don’t have LIVE, but there are a lot of little extras in here for subscribers that make it an even more worthy purchase for them.

The graphics in PGR2 are excellent. The cars are very detailed right down to the manufacturer emblems. Likewise, the environments you race in are incredibly realistic and are varied enough from city to city that you can easily tell where in the world you are just by the way the buildings around you look. The lighting effects are particularly impressive because everything looks so realistic. Headlights look like headlights. Streetlights look like streetlights. And it is really exceptional looking when you pull up a hill out of the darkness of city streets and it is still daylight on top of the hill. Some of the races can get a little too dark, but overall the lighting isfantastic. I won’t go so far as to say PGR2 is the best looking racing game ever, but it certainly does look very good.

The sound isn’t quite as impressive, but it is still very good overall. There are over 200 songs on the game soundtrack that span pretty much every genre imaginable, so it is hard not to like the selection. Each of the cities has three unique radio stations where the DJs actually speak in the language of that particular city. This is an amazing touch that adds a lot to the audio portion of the game. You can also use your own custom soundtracks if you want. Where the audio fails for me is in the sounds of the cars themselves. There are lots of different engine sounds, but none of them sound quite right. Other than that, though, the sound is great.

If you are looking for a new Xbox game, Project Gotham Racing 2 is a solid purchase. The racing is incredibly fun and the sheer number of cars, tracks, and race types ensures that you will be playing PGR2 for a long time to come. The game gets even more addictive if you connect to Xbox LIVE, but it isn’t required for an amazing gaming experience. This is an exceptional value for the $50 investment. Rent it first if you must, but you’ll most likely end up purchasing it anyway. Project Gotham Racing 2 is simply one of the best racing games on the market today.


Eric Qualls   (12/14/2003)


Ups: Lots of different types of races; tons of cars and tracks; great graphics; excellent value for the money

Downs: Nighttime races are almost too dark; AI drivers are jerks

Platform: XBox