Oct 1, 2007
Massive disappointment, the feeling of being cheated, and a nagging sensation that a series is well past its prime: we’re pleased to report that we never once felt any of these emotions whilst merrily plowing through PGR4. This is a sensational racing game, so make yourself comfy and read all about it…
First off, you’ll notice that the Career mode is totally new. The individual racing events have been relegated to the Arcade mode and the Career is more of an involved affair that sees you competing events to clamber up a world ranking board. You still earn Kudos to unlock fresh cars, and yes, you can still strut proudly around your virtual garage to fawn over the supercars you’ve collected along the way. At first, the loss of career medals made us a little sad, but there’s more than enough silverware (or should that be platinum-ware?) to bag in Arcade, so hardcore medal-collectors won’t feel too stinted. Oh, and while you’re in your garage, there’s always the semi-new Geometry Wars Waves to keep you amused for the odd hour or five.
Longtime fans of PGR will be pleased to hear that the changes don’t stop with the Career mode. The actual racing is a big improvement over the sorry affair that was Gotham 3, especially when you get to the high-end vehicles (which mercifully, won’t take too long). The quicker cars and bikes are all very affordable, and there’s a decent selection from the off, so you don’t have to mess around in an MX5 for hours to save up for your first Murcelago.
Plus, when you actually get behind the wheel of a decent car, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for. One criticism leveled at PGR3 was that the vehicles were too similar in the way they handled, and that this didn’t necessarily reflect their stats. PGR4 fixes this problem like the most efficient mechanic. Driving cars like the Saleen S7 Twin Turbo and the Aston DB9 (two of our personal favorites) is an absolute joy, because they look, sound and handle exactly like they’re meant to. Sure, PGR4 doesn’t have the same level of technical detail as Forza 2, but it does take enough realism from the real-life cars to make learning to drive each one a pleasurable challenge.
The balance between realism and arcade driving is what always gives PGR the edge over its four-wheeled competitors, and number four nails the formula perfectly. If Bizarre hadn’t quite managed this, the great new weather effects feature would have lost much of its impact, but thankfully the driving mechanics and the on-track conditions compliment each other well. It takes genuine skill to control your Ferrari when it starts to hydroplane on a giant puddle, or when a sharp corner suddenly emerges from the fog and you’re forced to yank the handbrake and slide so close to the barrier you can count the rain drops on its super-shiny surface. Genuinely thrilling stuff.
If PGR4 has a weak spot, it’s the two-wheelers. On the one hand, the new bike vehicles introduce a new way of playing, but conversely they don’t live up to their hype. From trailers and all the pre-review talk we expected bikes to be glorious playthings capable of mind-boggling stunts and teeth-rattling speeds, but in reality, they’re just a set of overly twitchy vehicles.
In straight street races and timed events the bikes are a novelty, and mastering them does require you to play in an entirely new way. You can’t throw bikes around the course like you can the cars - a gentle touch is needed - but once you master them, the two-wheelers will outpace most of their rivals. The drawback, however, is that you can fall off (or be knocked off by opponents), and that means losing valuable places. It’s trickier to score Kudos on a bike too, so events like Time Versus Kudos and Superstar are tougher to beat.
Bikes are certainly not a failed experiment, but this is one new feature that needs some fine-tuning for the inevitable PGR5. Thankfully, Bizarre isn’t ramming motorbikes down our throats, and you can quite happily complete the entire game without ever touching a butt cheek to the saddle. You’ll miss out on plenty, but if that’s how you want to play it…
Outside the main single-player features, PGR4 has plenty of trimmings that deserve a quick mention in what is fast becoming less of a review, and more of a love note to Bizarre Creations. The option to pause the game at any time and snap a photo, fiddle with the effects, and upload it to Live might sound less than thrilling, but it’s something you’ll spend hours playing with.
Online, PGR4 is as solid as ever. Bizarre encourages tomfoolery as they ask teams to beat opponents by reversing over the finish line in tandem, or pull simultaneous Endos on a bike. One neat little viral unlock requires you to beat a member of the PGR dev team online, or beat someone who has bested them.
In short PGR4 is a complete driving package. As a car racing game it leaves the likes of Juiced 2 and NFS chewing its snow-spray, and as a bike-sim, it’s a more forgiving, accessible alternative to MotoGP. Motorhead or not, you need this game.