Racing to 31 – 31 racing game greats: #15 Project Gotham Racing 2 (2003)

It’s that time of year again and I find myself racing toward another birthday and to the ripe-old age of 31. In celebration I thought why the hell not have a racing themed countdown – so here we are, counting down 31 racing games that have defined my enjoyment of the genre over the last 31 years. Enjoy!

PGR2Microsoft and its suite of developers aren’t given the credit they deserve for the influence that the Xbox had on console racing games.  At the start of the generation, Sony’s exclusives were, by default, the kings of racing games. From the likes of the driftastic Ridge Racer V, to the ultra hardcore physics-heavy Gran Turismo, the market leader had solidified its place as the ultimate console for racing games.  Not that it had much competition.  But  Microsoft changed that, proving that they had the wherewithal to take the fight to the incumbent on all fronts, with racing being a clear focus for the Redmond-based tech giants.  It was a concerted effort from day one, and one that by most measures, was a pretty successful push, with games like the late generation Forza Motorsport and the series that launched beside the Xbox, Project Gotham Racing, making enormous splashes upon their release.

The impact of these splashes and the influence the Microsoft published games had on racing games is pervasive. Throughout my entire time playing the recently released DriveClub, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the developers were channeling the  Project Gotham Racing series so hard that they forgot to forge an identity for themselves.  Everything from the relatively realistic arcade handling of the cars, to the emphasis on driving with style, the PGR blueprint was everywhere you looked.  While DriveClub was only a poor imitation of Bizarre Creations’ classic racers, I can’t fault them for trying to be the next PGR, because as far as entertaining racers go it ticks all the boxes.

Project Gotham Racing 3 may have been one of the poster children for the power of Microsoft’s now old and underwhelming Xbox 360, but i’m not sure it met the very high standards set by its predecessor, released for the original Xbox in 2003.  And it wouldn’t be fair to hold it up to that high benchmark, after all  Project Gotham Racing 2 is easily one of it not the best racing game of its generation. It may not necessarily have been Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s Gran Turismo behemoth, but what it lacked in enormity and realism, Project Gotham Racing 2 made up for in the sheer magnitude of enjoyment one gets from driving its virtual vehicles.  Bizarre Creations clearly weren’t taking the competition to the Japanese giant, and its decision to carve out its own little niche worked entirely in their favour, because in the end they gave Xbox owners a real gem to flaunt.

You’ve got to wonder though, with all the fascination with resolution and framerate, if Project Gotham Racing 2 would’ve been as well received if it were released today.  It was graphically a good showpiece for the Xbox, moving away from the utilitarian look of the first game, to a more detailed and technically impressive that at its time was probably the best looking console game around.  But the increased ambition, came the sacrifice of frame rate, and the sequel ditched the first game’s silky smooth 60 fps, for a paltry 30 fps.  Of course I’m joking, and most console gamers at the time couldn’t have cared less what a game’s framerate was, but it is an interesting contrast to just how different the market developers and console manufacturers are selling into now is compared to only a couple of generations ago.  In some ways Bizarre Creations settled the frame rate argument over a decade ago by proving that, no matter the framerate, a good game is a good game.  And 30 frames per second or not, Project Gotham Racing 2 was a bloody good game.

We want to hear from you, so leave your Project Gotham Racing memories, or Bizarre Creations tributes in the comments section.  And be sure to check out games #31-#16 in the countdown below!

#31: Stunt Car Racer   #30: Badlands   #29: RVF Honda  #28: Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge  #27: Nitro  #26: Super Grand Prix  #25 Super Cars II  #24 Super RC Pro-Am #23 Sega Rally  #22 Wipeout 2097  #21 Micro Machines V3  #20 Gran Turismo #19 Need For Speed: High Stakes  #18 Colin McRae Rally 2.0  #17 Wave Race: Blue Storm #16 Grand Prix Challenge  #15 Project Gotham Racing 2  #14 F-Zero GX  #13 Mashed #12 Burnout 3: Takedown  #11 Ridge Racer  #10 Outrun 2006: Coast 2 Coast #9 Forza Motorsport 2  #8 Motorstorm: Pacific Rift  #7 Midnight Club: Los Angeles  #6 Dirt 2  #5 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit  #4 Shift 2: Unleashed  #3 Sonic All-Star Racing: Transformed  #2 Forza Horizon  #1 F1 2013: Classic Edition