With my level of excitement from E3 now falling back to normal levels (like the passing of a bout of morning glory, I guess), I’m left lamenting the lack of any Project Gotham Racing 5 news from Microsoft. If, of course, there is any news in the first place.
I’m used to beloved gaming franchises of mine falling by the wayside. There aren’t many days that pass whet I don’t hold some kind of mental vigil for Shenmue’s Ryo, stuck in the damp cave on hardware killed off before its time. Project Gotham, however, isn’t such a hopeless case. While there’s been no official word since Bizarre Creations was snapped up by Activision (therefore blocking its work on the franchise), rumour has it former close ally and current Microsoft studio Turn 10 has considered picking up the label and running with it with a new release.
Microsoft’s official statement at the time of Bizarre Creations’ departure was that PGR was a “signature racing franchise for Xbox 360” and that it planned to “continue the series”, but everything has gone quiet since. It’s not hard to see why.
This isn’t a slight against PGR. Both it, and even Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast, remain to this day firm favourites of mine, but from a pure business point of view, furthering the PGR franchise when Microsoft is so keen to bill Forza as the next Gran Turismo would seem to be a bit of a fruitless task.
PGR was always an interesting beast, offering a beautifully toned line between instant arcade thrills and the honed appeal of simulation. Having reviewed the last two PGRs, I rejoiced in the unique middle ground they both occupied and, up until the release of GRID, PGR4 offered the perfect package in my eyes.
But, as a whole, Microsoft never seemed to find it easy to market the franchise.
It’s bizarre when you consider the kind of buzz it could and should have created, with the almost perfect replication of some of the world’s biggest cities providing many a swanky screenshot or two. Project Gotham, though, never seemed to steal the headlines in the same way as some of its rivals, the name – though logical for anyone who bought into MSR – to this day still leads to some confusion when it comes to the mainstream.
I doubt it’s the sole factor behind PGR’s recent lagging behind Forza in terms of sales (estimates suggest the last two PGRs both sold somewhere around the 1.5 million mark worldwide each, which, while healthy, is placed in the shade by the last Forza hitting 2.5 million in North America alone, undoubtedly aided by bundles aplenty), but it does mean Turn 10’s Forza is now Microsoft’s flagship racer in what is increasingly becoming a crowded market. Unless Forza 3 flops, why would either Turn 10 or Microsoft want to spend dollars on another first-party racer that, however good, isn’t likely to shift the units?
I could be being a tad harsh, here. After some barren years, the racing genre appears to be enjoying a post Dirt revival. Codemaster’s GRID made significant inroads into the charts last year, and with sister title Fuel launching today, Bizarre Creations’ own Blur, Disney’s Split Second, Sony’s Gran Turismo 5, the aforementioned Forza Motorsport 3 and the usual collection of Burnouts, Need for Speeds and Midnight Clubs no doubt all making waves either side of Christmas, the racer – both arcade and simulation – could be back as the kind of force it was at the start of the PlayStation generation.
If that’s true, there could be real value in opening up the unique streets of Gotham once again, though with two PGRs already on the 360, chances are any fifth entry in the series could be held back for a new hardware release, which will be…well, with Natal on the way, who knows when?
In truth, putting any fandom aside, the only way I can see Microsoft announcing any kind of PGR progress on current hardware is if Forza 3 fails to live up to its billing as the “definitive racer” in terms of sales and critical acclaim. That’s certainly not a situation I’d welcome, despite my PGR love, because of the genuine progress Forza 3’s E3 trailers seem to suggest Turn 10 is making. Regardless, even if the track does swing by Gotham city once again, without Bizarre Creations at the helm, it’s unlikely any return trip to PGR’s streets would come with quite the same sparkle.