Some people like short reviews. Here is the shortest review ever: This game is damned near perfect for a single-player (but okay online) racing game, now go buy it. For those of us who like a little more substance to our review, read on…

Project Gotham Racing 2 is the sequel to Project Gotham Racing, the recently-turned-Platinum smash-hit launch title from Microsoft and Bizarre Creations. Not content to rest on their laurels, Bizarre Creations set out to make a title so ambitious in scope that it would crush any chance of competition by any other realistic racer on the market…did they succeed? Oh yes…in a very big way.

Quite simply, the graphics in Project Gotham Racing 2 (henceforth PGR2) cannot be beat. With over 100 cars modeled, you might think that some of the cars would be generic or lacking; think again. Each car is rendered to near perfection from tip to tail. Each detail including official logos, car profile, and body seams are placed exactly where they are supposed to be.

PGR2 contains four continents for you to race in with cities that are almost photo-realistic including Washington DC, Sydney, Barcelona, Edinburgh, Moscow, Hong Kong, Chicago, Stockholm, Nurburg, and Yokohama. (Rumor has it that there are 94 tracks, but I’ve not stopped to count). Each city is modeled with an attention to realism that will absolutely stun you. Italian streets are narrow and cobblestone covered, Stockholm has all the proper European road markings, and Moscow leads you past traditional Russian goverment buildings. Fountains, advertising, neon lights, water on the roads…it’s all here.

Racing games cannot exist on eye candy alone, you must have a sense of speed or all is lost. PGR2 holds this sense of speed firmly in hand and doesn’t let go. From the most basic of cars like the Ford Focus to the supercars like the Ferarri Enzo, the sense of speed ramps up as it should. With all that speed we get to my next point: damage models.

I hate and usually don’t play racing titles without damage models. I simply cannot stand being able to hit something at 200+ miles an hour and roll away without a scratch. That being said, PGR2 has my complete attention. Not only do the cars get damaged, it doesn’t appear to be ‘scripted’. If you are rear-ended, your windshield shouldn’t crack as it is the first ‘damage spot’. Instead, the rear end crumples a bit and you might lose a tail light. If you like to skip along the guard rails, expect your car to spark and damage as you might imagine. This is your chance to see what it would be like to wreck a BMW Z4, or any of the other 100+ cars that you might carry a grudge against.

In addition to the rest of the graphic package, after a race you are treated to an instant replay. Like many racers, several viewpoints will show you the race in its entirety (or you can skip it) with all of its incredible detail. Your driver looks before he turns, his hands move the steering wheel for turns. You can view this from behind the wheel, a bit further back, or in between. The detailing inside the car is just as perfect. There are Ferarri logos on the shoulder straps and all of the dials are in the right places. When you might think that the game could begin to chop a bit due to all this detail, you will be pleasantly surprised to see the game keep on moving at it’s locked framerate of 30.

Quite simply, if there is something wrong with the graphics in this game, I can’t find it.

With all this attention to graphics, you might think that you would be treated to recycled sound from PGR or beaten over the head with a generic soundtrack, but think again. PGR2 uses real car sounds sampled from all 100+ cars. The roar of the Corvette Stingray sounds real because it is, the tin can sound of the Volkswagon Beetle is real as well. The screech of the tires as your heavier vehicles rip through corners is louder than some of the lighter European cars. The cars sound as good as they look.

The fun doesn’t stop there as PGR2 has brought back the radio station tuner. With the right analog stick you can select through a few real radio stations from each location giving this game an air of authenticity not often reached by racing games. If you aren’t impressed, you can simply use the Custom Sountrack option to change to one of your own. The best part? The whole affair is fully realized in 5.1 surround sound, and it is beautiful.

Car physics play an incredible role in any racing title. If the car floats like it is on ice all of the time it will be impossible to immerse yourself in the race. PGR2 knows this and, to my complete amazement, has modeled every single car as accurately as possible. For example, the Ford Focus isn’t going to corner nearly as quick as a Ford Mustang. How does all this translate to the control section? Quite simply, when your physics engine is this extensive, you have to have spot on controls to take advantage of it.

The controls are well laid out. Left and right triggers control brakes and acceleration respectively. The left analog is for steering and the right controls your radio and occasionally camera movement. The black button is the ever-important downshift and the white one is for changing the camera angle. X is for shifting or reverse, and A is the handbrake. Y looks behind you and B is to upshift.

I didn’t get to try the title with a steering wheel, but fresh off the shelf it is a well done affair even with the standard controller.

PGR2 is built for Live. That being said, alot of the functions that are interwoven into the title have to do with Live. Unfortunately there is a big component missing…Live play akin to Midtown Madness 3 and Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge. We will get back to that in a bit.

PGR2 plays in a very similar fashion to its predecessor. The cars handle in ways I never thought possible. The Corvette has a slight pull to the left due to the rack and pinion type steering on a few of them. The Ferrari Enzo is very easy to spin out at high speed. The Ford Focus handles, well, let’s just say it is a starter car. Each car handles differently and behaves (or misbehaves) as you might expect.

Like its predecessor, PGR2‘s unlock modes are all about Kudos. You get Kudos from powerslides, 360s, drafting, overtaking other racers, following the most optimized line on the track, and a multitude of other methods. The Kudos earned vary depending on the difficulty level you have selected. For instance, if you race one-on-one on the Novice difficulty (there are five levels on every single race) you will only get 500 Kudos for winning the race. You can add Kudos by doing it without hitting any guard rails, having the fastest lap, getting two wheels off the ground, getting four wheels off the ground, or go for the big numbers by chaining these conditions together. This is one of those things that is easy to pick up and will take a long while to master. As you might imagine, the higher the difficulty level you are attempting, the greater the Kudos bonus will be.

You can earn Kudos in ways other than normal racing. You can complete the Kudos Events which will earn you various amounts of Kudos if you complete them.

Street Race: Race wheel to wheel against opponents while earning Kudos. (Normal race)

Cone Challenge: Earn Kudos by driving with style. (Put the car through the cones and don’t hit them)

Hot Lap: Race alone against a single lap time while earning Kudos. (Think you are fast? Think again)

Timed Run: Race against a total race time while earning Kudos. (It’s Hot Lap several times over)

Speed Camera: Drive past the speed camera at top speed without crashing to earn Kudos (harder than it sounds)

One on One: Race wheel to wheel against a single opponent while earning Kudos. (Just like Street Race, but less crowded)

All of these modes are a part of the single-player Kudos World Series. The series is broken up into 14 different styles of cars (Supercars, American Muscle, Sport Utility, Roadster, Classic, Etc.) As you earn your Kudos you can spend them to purchase more cars in your current class, or when you hit a certain amount, move into the next class (at no cost) and purchase from the next list. You are never required to purchase the first few cars of each car series, but you will want to if you plan on winning.

When you have collected these cars you are going to want to show them off. You can head to the Showroom and check out the cars you have unlocked. The tarps over the tops of the cars that you haven’t unlocked will taunt you, but when you have earned the right to remove that tarp, you can test drive the car before you purchase it. When you have purchased the car it will go into your Garage. The garage has your current stable of cars broken down by specific car class. You can check each car out, change the color, purchase new cars, or walk over to the arcade machine and play a quick game of Geometry Blaster, a fun little distraction with Asteroids graphics and Robotron’s style of gameplay.

Ghost modes are a staple of this title. The game tries to connect to Xbox Live as soon as you put it in so that you can receive invites to other games, but also to enable the Ghost mode. With Ghost mode you can download a ‘ghost’ of another person’s performance on the track you are on. You can race against a ghost in cone challenge, hot lap, speed camera, time attack, or ghost challenge. You can watch how a ghost ran the race in Kudos World Series, Arcade Racing, and Ghost challenge. All of these Kudos are kept track of in the Xbox Live scoreboard system. If you have done particularly well (Top 10 in the world) your ‘ghost’ will become available for others to download.

The actual Live online play side of things is a bit disappointing. After being weened on cool mode options in games like Midtown Madness 3 and Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, Project Gotham Racing 2‘s online race modes and the whole concept is a bit disappointing. You can give it a little leeway since this is a racing game after all and not an open ended drive/fly anywhere type of game like the two I mentioned above. Basically you have 2 modes in online play and can refine options (such as car type, collisions on or off, etc.) in each one of them. The first one is the Exhibition mode. In this mode you can turn collisions on or off, but basically whoever wins the race wins the match. Then there is the Kudos mode where the highest amount of Kudos earned within the time wins. It’s fun to play against your friends and all, but if someone has better cars they will beat the living daylights out of you.

A great thing about the Live online play is that it runs very smooth and I so far haven’t noticed any lagging by anyone. Since this is a racing game, I’m pretty sure people are excluded from being able to just join in the game like they can on other Live games, but I may be wrong on that. The graphics do not take a hit either…the same graphics you see in single-player are duplicated online.

A cool (or not so cool) thing about online play is how the tracks and cars are unlocked on Live. At the start you have certain cars you can play online, while most of them are locked. You have to unlock them in single-player mode. If you win in a circuit in single-player mode, you automatically unlock that entire circuit for Live play. Since this is the case, you don’t have to progress through the entire game to unlock all of the multiplayer racing circuits, you just have to practice enough to win a race. This is a good thing as a novice will not be picking up a Dodge Viper and driving it like a Honda Civic without wrecking himself all over the tracks. You wanna race with the big boys? You have to earn it!

The only other dent in the armor of this title is the tracks. While there are almost 100 tracks, running them multiple times with multiple cars to earn more Kudos might bore some folks to tears. The real longevity of this title is the drive to unlock all of these fantastic vehicles. The feeling of accomplishment when that car moves from the showroom to your garage is a great feeling and it really compels you to make your way through the entire single player experience.