You only really begin to understand the sheer scale of what Bizarre Creations is attempting with Project Gotham Racing 3 once you've familiarised yourself with some of the numbers related to the project. So when you hear that every in-game car exterior and interior is built from 40,000 polygons each (Gran Turismo 4's cars use 5,000), or that New York's Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges are constructed from 600,000 and one million triangles respectively (to put that in perspective, an entire Tokyo street track in predecessor Metropolis Street Racer would use 90,000), or that each car has 30 different components (engine, exhaust, supercharger, etc) that make their own individual noises, then you know we're truly talking about a next-generation videogame here.
It's also evident that this is a project borne of obsession, but then it's never been any different when it came to Bizarre's Project Gotham Racing franchise, which started out life as the aforementioned Metropolis Street Racer on Sega's Dreamcast. That title could throw up some startling statistics itself, though the sheer amount of work being ploughed into Project Gotham 3 must be bewildering. And yet, this is a game that's strongly tipped by many industry insiders to be ready for the launch of Microsoft's Xbox 360, expected around late-November. At the very latest, it'll be appearing within the first six months of the Xbox 360's life.
With three million copies of the two previous Project Gotham Racing games sold, it's hard to imagine many reading this will be newcomers to the franchise. Having said that, the game is hardly unapproachable if this is to be your first Gotham experience, despite boasting the kind of numbers you'd expect to find in a hardcore simulation. For many, the attraction of the Project Gotham games lies in the way they straddle the middle-ground between arcade and simulation. With only Codemasters' excellent V8/TOCA games as serious competition for the same territory, it's no wonder Gotham games fly off the shelves.
Fundamentally, the same philosophy is being preserved for Project Gotham Racing 3 - it's clearly not interested in challenging Gran Turismo 5, for example - though there's been some tweaks applied here and there. For a start, the roster of 80 cars has undergone a considerable face-lift, with Bizarre deciding to scrap the weedier vehicles, and instead design a game which revolves around only hugely desirable supercars. The game's tagline ('Life begins at 170') explains that part every bit as effectively as we could. And of the 80 cars in the game, 70 will be available from the beginning, another departure for the series, which has previously made players unlock the vast majority of vehicles in each game.
Thankfully, the real-world cities are still present and correct, and Bizarre has already confirmed three of the five it intends to include, with Tokyo, New York and London (the latter takes in Piccadilly Circus, the London Eye and Westminster Abbey) making the cut to date. Sydney would certainly be one backdrop that would be greatly appreciated in these parts, though we're not holding our breath. On that note though, holding your breath will quite possibly be the first response you register upon seeing the cities that Bizarre has so painstakingly recreated.
Screenshots alone manage to convey just how much more atmosphere and detail Bizarre has managed to pack in to the backdrops of the game, with the Xbox 360 hardware seemingly pulling out every next-gen graphical trick in the book. The result is unquestionably stunning: sunlight bounces off rows and rows of skyscrapers, a thin, wonderfully subtle haze effect coats the distant horizon (Bizarre estimates there's a draw distance of approximately three kilometres), whilst the windows of buildings you pass by reflect your car's image, right down to the last of those 40,000 polygons. All at sixty frames per second, we might add. It's the best advert we've seen yet for showing off the graphical muscle of Microsoft's next-generation machine.
Then there's the crowds, another first for the series. Whereas previous Gotham games admirably reconstructed real-life cities with laudable levels of detail, driving through one often felt like you were steering your way around a ghost town, with not a spectator in sight. Now, thanks to the extra graphical oomph that the Xbox 360 affords developers, your races are watched by grandstands overflowing with scores and scores of cheering fans, all fully modelled in luscious 3D, and with half-a-dozen different responses to the action on the track.
For example, veering too closely to the crowd will prompt a certain reaction from those watching, whilst crashing into a barrier will garner a rather different reception. There's also different crowd reactions for driving stylishly, or for successfully negotiating an overtaking manouevre. And in possibly the nicest touch of all, the number of spectators who turn up to watch you will all depend on your Xbox Live reputation, with star online players getting far denser crowds than a driver who's just picked the game up.
That's just one example of how Gotham 3 offers players a degree of flexibility that wasn't as apparent in the older games. Another can be found in the game's 'Route Editor' feature, a tool that (you won't be surprised to hear) allows players to lay down their own tracks through any of the five cities (see screenshot above), which can then be used for racing offline or on Xbox Live. In theory, there's millions of possible track combinations, not a boast you see on the press releases of many current-gen racers.
As we highlighted in our opening paragraph though, this is a game where such overwhelming numbers are seemingly par for the course. It's why we barely raised an eyebrow when we first heard that Bizarre was planning to host online Project Gotham 3 tournaments for tens of thousands of players at the same time. Individual races will see a far more sensible twelve cars competing, and Xbox Live itself has been wisely integrated into the Gotham 3 experience, from the way Bizarre will be matching up players online based on individual feedback (meaning the idiotic element of Live will be forced to race together) to the implementation of 'Gotham TV', essentially a spectator mode which allows players to watch online races taking place.
It all points to a heady and brilliant racing package, and a project that sounds like it could be the first must-have next-gen racer. And with all those impressive numbers to get excited about, November can't come soon enough.