A Tale of Two Cities

Many of the Dreamcast's finest titles lived on after the console's untimely death. Either through being ported to other systems, or having whole new series spawn. The Soul Calibur series, while not really a Dreamcast exclusive as it's roots are on the PlayStation, has gone on to have great success on subsequent hardware generations. Likewise with Jet Set Radio, Virtua Fighter, Crazy Taxi, Virtua Tennis and a whole load of others. It's true that Shenmue still hasn't been granted the final part of it's intended trilogy...but that's a whole different kettle of fish. The point I'm trying to make here, is that the Dreamcast wasn't just a great machine for all the reasons we've been banging on about for the last (almost) decade here at the 'Yard - it was also a springboard for some of the finest games on today's more contemporary systems.

So now the threadbare segue has been reached and jumped like some rickety stile, let's get down to business: Project Gotham Racing is an absolute beast of a racing series on the Xbox and Xbox 360, and was/is a complete masterpiece. The final PGR game in the saga (PGR4) is one of my favourite games ever. Not just favourite racing games - I mean of any genre. It has looks to die for (I'm yet to see a PS4 racing game that looks as good as PGR4, by the way. Drive Club - I'm looking at you) and the car handling is sublime. Tracks are innumerable, the challenge is immense...and above all, the game is super fun. That said, the previous games were also of exceptional pedigree - PGRs 1-3 are all fantastic racing games too. But before this turns into an Xbox love-in, let's go back to the origins of the series - the Dreamcast's magnificent Metropolis Street Racer. At this juncture, I have a confession to make. While I was thinking about writing this post, it suddenly dawned on me that Project Gotham Racing is so-called as it is a reference to the fictional city in which the caped crusader punches creeps' faces in. How did I come to this realisation? Metropolis Street Racer. Project Gotham Racing. PGR's name is a subtle nod to the city of Metropolis (aka Superman's 'hood)! Yes - it's taken me the best part of 15 years for that in-joke to filter down into the inner-reaches of my brain and initiate 'Eureka Mode.'

As you may know, Project Gotham Racing was Bizarre Creations' semi-sequel/love letter to MSR on the original Xbox, and the game took full advantage of the newer, more powerful hardware. The game looks great, even today - but what I wanted to know was how well MSR stood up to it's older brother in the graphics department. I fired both games up (on original hardware, natch) and marvelled at some amazing visuals on both systems - indeed, the Dreamcast game still looks beautiful. Want proof? Here you go:
If you're wondering what B3THNALL means - I used to live on a 'Bethnall Drive' many moons ago!

You can probably tell that I really like MSR. For all it's failings (why do the cars appear to have Jaffa Cakes where the brake disks should be?), it's a really impressive title and really had some innovative ideas. The 'real cities' thing was totally new at the time, as was using the internal clock to apply real-time day/night effects to San Francisco, London and Tokyo. The level of detail to which the developers went was crazy for the era - every street light, kerb and store front was meticulously photographed and then modelled in 3D for the game's engine. Mock radio stations were used for the first time in any game (sorry GTA - you were beaten to the punch) and real-life adverts for Tango and other products belted out of the speakers between DJs introducing music tracks...the FM radio even goes fuzzy when you drive under bridges.

It was this level of detail, and the original 'Kudos' system - where driving with style accrues points - that garnered MSR outstanding critical success, however due to the dwindling public support for the Dreamcast, it didn't sell anywhere near what it needed to to be considered a financial success. I recently read an interesting interview with one of the lead developers from Bizarre Creations in which it was revealed that they had approached Sega with a plan to port the original game to the PS2 in order to boost the game's audience...a request which was met with a resounding "fuck no!"

To be honest, the fact that MSR was never ported to the PS2 didn't hurt it's legacy, as PGR - as I stated earlier - went on to become one of the best racing series ever created. With this in mind, how well does MSR stand up to PGR in the visual stakes? Well happily, I made a little video comparing the two. Now, please raise your glass to Metropolis Street Racer and the outstanding series of Project Gotham titles it helped to create. Enjoy:


Unknown said...

Nice article! I was just re-visiting the game the other day. It is still a sight to behold (and fun to play). PGR2 is my personal favorite in the series. I haven't finished PGR4 for some reason. I need to do that! Bizarre Creations really did know how to make an incredible graphics engine. Every game seems to be pushing the systems beyond what you'd think they're capable of.

Tom Charnock said...

Hey Brandon, thanks for reading. To be honest with you, I haven't finished PGR4 either - I mainly play random races or do the time trials etc more than the main challenges! If a new PGR game was announced for the Xbox One though, I think I'd sell my PS4 and switch consoles...that's how much I love PGR.

Unknown said...

Good job .nice video. Love both games. Dreamcast all day ;)

Tom Charnock said...

Thanks Nino - glad you enjoyed the video!