GAME REVIEW: Kudos to 'Project Gotham Racing 4'

It took a while, but I think I got it.

When I first fired up "Project Gotham Racing 4" for the Xbox 360, I faced the reality that all my experience with the "Gran Turismo" series meant zilch when it came to winning with this style of racing game. No matter how much precision I used while navigating the tracks, it always seemed that I fell short of first place - and most of the time, even fourth.

The fact is, the reason I couldn't win races is because few of the races in PGR4 require precision driving in the sense of braking and smooth cornering. Rather, PGR4 utilizes a street style of racing similar to what is seen in the "Need for Speed' series, known as arcade-style racing.

For those who are familiar with Microsoft's "Forza" games or Sony's "Gran Turismo," those games utilize a simulation style of racing in which gamers must play as if they are truly driving a car. Often you can feel the weight of the car, how it responds to the road, the distribution in its suspension and even the quality of the tires. All the while, these factors must be taken into account while maneuvering around corners and overtaking other racers.

What is so appealing about PGR4 is the game still retains those racing physics that make its simulation-style counterparts so successful; however, it adds the allure of flare driving that is typically frowned upon in the less flashy games. No longer does one have to focus on only beating opposing drivers - you can opt to compete for "Kudos" to win the races. These Kudos are handed out based on how fast you drive; how you come out of a corner; how you approach a corner; how long you draft an opponent; how long you burnout and how long you drift through a curve. In the instance of motorcycle races, one can earn Kudos by performing extended wheelies or endos (also known as stoppies).

A feature that is new to the "Project Gotham" racing series is Kudos stars. For every 100 Kudos accumulated in a single "trick," you are awarded a Kudos star. These come into play when trying to compete in events that require the gamer to earn a certain number of stars to win the race. Also, for those who take Xbox Live achievements seriously, mastering the stars system is essential to earning the 5-Star Racer and Superstar achievements. I've found it easiest to earn these stars with a good approach, followed by a hand-brake drift and finally a powerslide through a corner.

The detail that goes into each car design is certainly not as intricate as what is seen in the "Gran Turismo" and "Forza" games, but the weather physics are definitely some of the most precise I've seen in a game. Everything from the way your car reacts to the different climates, to the way the water rolls off your windshield, PGR4 blurs the line between reality and video games. It is such a fine detail that each race requires a unique driving style rather than the tired grip it and rip it of most arcade racers. By utilizing the weather - such as rain puddles, ice-covered roads or just black ice - further Kudos can be earned by performing powerslides and hand-brake drifts in the altered conditions. Just remember to steer through the slides so you don't plow your car through a wall.

Unique also to PGR4 are genre-specific playlists for the in-game music. While one may choose to use music stored on their Xbox 360's hard drive or an external music player, "Project Gotham" has a wide variety of music choices that can be added or removed as well. While racing in arcade mode, I often felt the background music was too distracting. However, this changed when Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5" began blaring from my home theater speakers. I instantly had a rush of exhilaration that also probably spawned from the fact that I was driving on the right side of an Aston Martin. I felt like James Bond racing through the streets of London. After the experience, I turned off all of the other genre choices and relished in Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries" as I successfully finished my first Time vs. Kudos competition.

Despite forcing me to relearn how to drive, PGR4 offers a non-stop action experience that rivals its simulation-style racing counterparts, 4 out of 5