I think the time is about right for me to tell you a little story. This is the story of why Enosh bought an Xbox 360. You see, as a kid I was never allowed to own a console. After all, videogames rot your brain and make you afraid of sunshine. I had of course played a good number of videogames, my best friend own a series of consoles beginning with the NES and progressing in a careening line up through the SNES, Playstation, and PS2.
By the time I got to college I was a Playstation fan and the thought of software giant Microsoft trying to wheedle its way into the market offended me. Then my sophomore roommate introduced me to the Halo and more importantly a little racing game called Project Gotham Racing 2.
In my opinion Xbox live killed the fun of Halo. Nothing beat stretching cat5 down the hall and hearing your friends cursing you as you sniped them from across the level with a pistol the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the golden gun.
But anyway, back to the case at hand. My roommate and I were, and really still are, big car nuts. In 2003 the pinnacle of motoring was the unbelievably beautiful Ferrari Enzo and Bizzare Creations was well aware of this fact. It was the penultimate car in the game. The TVR Cerbera Speed 12 may have been better but I’ll never know it. You had to be amazingly good at the game to unlock it.
PGR2 is a racing simulator without the tediousness of car modification found in Gran Turismo. Instead the game forces you to become a very skilled driver in a large array of vehicles through the memorization of tracks. Well, they’re actually courses through picturesque cities with the exception of the mighty Nürburgring. The game progresses from the likes of the Renault Clio and Ford Focus all the way up to the Saleen S7 and Pagani Zonda S. This is the main selling point of the game for me; the sheer variety of cars. No other racing game since has matched PGR2 in that regard. Newer PGR games have focused on super cars and motorcycles and most games simply focus on exotics, or if you’re into the Burnout series, highly flammable cars. I always wondered why there was never a Corvair or Pinto knockoff in the Burnout series.
The wide variety of vehicles in PGR2 forces drivers to learn new techniques each time they progress to the next level of competition. The little gocarts in the beginning like the Mini Cooper can practically get around the tracks flat-out without much effort put into learning when to brake. The main concern with those cars is staying off the guard rails in Florence to avoid the random jutting out pieces that cause you to suddenly lose karma and either come to a complete stop or spin out.
The American Muscle Cars require players to learn how to swing the wheel around and let the back-end hang out around the corner as they speed through Chicago’s Lower Wacker Drive in a cloud of tire smoke and Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levy Breaks” blaring on the car’s CD player. As you work closer and closer to the Enzo the brakes become more and more important. Finally in the Enzo I got to the point where I never let off the gas and slammed on the brakes just before a curve as the car cut around the corner like a fighter jet. My sister would say I drive like this in real life, but then she’s never ridden in a Ferrari.
PGR2 is not for the faint of heart. The game can be infuriatingly difficult, especially in the cone races. You can spend hours trying to get just the right amount of drift around a corner to earn the extra couple bits of Karma needed to earn a gold medal. This was something else PGR2 introduced me to, the concept of in-game achievements. Those gold, and if you’re really good, platinum medals come in very handy when you unlock better cars by getting them. The Delfino Feroce for example makes many of the non-race challenges a breeze in the super car class. I used to think the car was made up for the game, but apparently some crazy Brits actually built the thing and slapped on a nice Italian sounding name.
Speaking of infuriating difficulty, the single most frustrating aspect of the game is by far the computer cars. When my roommate and I raced each other on split screen, which was a royal pain in the but back in the days of standard TVs, we courteously passed each other and zipped around the course. The jerks who designed the AI decided to throw this concept out the window. I was in a race last night to refresh my memory and attempt to stir up some nostalgia when this moron in a yellow viper slammed on the brakes as we approached a minor dip in the road in Edinburgh just so I would slam into his rear. How do I know it was intentional? Because I after I spun out and restarted the race I came upon the same dip and found my self offset instead of drafting Mr. yellow viper thinking I’d zoom past him when he mashed the brake. But no! He never touches the brake and zooms right on through the next curve. My roommate and I joked that there should be a GTA mode so we could pull up beside the computer drivers and blast away. In fact we often switched to San Andreas after a few dozen attempts at the same race. Road rage was certainly prevalent.
There was also an issue with the manual gearbox. Basically, the controls were ridiculous. You could set it up so the triggers switched gears like a flappy paddle gearbox, which was nice until you realized that you completely lost your fine touch in the braking and acceleration department. There was also an option to make either red and yellow or blue and green do something, but who can remember what at these speeds? The logical choice would have been the white and black buttons, which would have perfectly translated to the right bumper and left bumper, but this never occurred to anyone at Bizzare Creations. Rats.
So as you can see I enjoyed this game and played it obsessively in the fall of 2003 and spring of 2004. After graduation I got married and decided it was about time for me to buy my first console. I had a lot of friends from college that were eagerly anticipating the release of the 360 and still had a live ID I’d made in college. I had even bought a memory card so I could carry my saved games from one friend’s console to the next. Then came the announcement. The 360 would not be backwards compatible. What kind of crap was this? Who wants to buy a next-gen that only has like three good games (ahem, PS3, ahem) when you can’t even play the games you already have? What is this 1992? I was furious. And so were a lot of people. Eventually Microsoft said they would get around to updating the 360 OS so it could read certain games, of course Halo CE and Halo 2 were at the top of the list (really? the stupid thing couldn’t even play the two best-selling games for the original?) and they threw us a few more bones for good measure. But no PGR2. That meant no sale for Enosh. I literally refused to buy the thing until I was assured it would play PGR2. Now, I will admit, I got the console for Christmas about three months or so before the update came, but I didn’t pay for it and I got what I wanted. Well, almost. I was annoyed when I learned my precious memory card complete with days worth of saved games was not compatible. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this so I let it slide. I think that memory card is still in a drawer somewhere. So I finally had my PGR2 playing on the 360, which was great right up to the point where the stupid thing started lagging during crashes. How is it possible for a single player game not connected to the internet in anyway shape or form to lag? Poor program. Sheer laziness. Aside from that the game runs alright. But wait, remember that CD player blaring Led Zep through the streets of Chicago? Well good news everyone! The 360 has no mechanism for playing tunes in an Xbox game. Sure, you can put music on it. Sure, you can play it in the background of your 360 games. But the originals? Ha! No. You’re stuck with the crappy excuses for local radio stations in whatever city you happen to be in. If they really play that crap on the radio I really feel sorry for Italians.
At least I can still jump on xbox live and play a game of cat and mouse every once and again. Though it’s becoming harder and harder to find other players these days. It’s almost bad as TF2. Does Microsoft still support that game? I should have bought the Orange Box for the PC. Oh well.