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Project Gotham Racing 4

We're off to Bizarre Creations to do PGR 4 wheelies

Bizarre Creations has the most futuristic hand dryer we've ever seen. "It was just installed yesterday," says an equally-impressed Ged Talbert, who also doubles as the voice of Boom Boom Rocket.

Just like its office toilet, Bizarre wants to surprise with every instalment of Project Gotham, its premier arcade racer and the face of driving on Xbox.

"The devil's in the detail," says Talbert, leading us to a curtained-off corner of Bizarre's Liverpool home, filled with Xbox 360s running 4. "Anyone can make a good looking game but the top games blow you away by being super-realistic, adding things that you didn't expect and surprising you."

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PGR 1, he says, surprised by launching alongside the original Xbox. The second piloted onto Xbox Live, and the third debuting with Xbox 360. And the fourth... well, that's not show boating any new hardware or service. This time, says Talbert, it's all about the content...

On yer bike
The most noticeable additions are the two-wheeled disrupters that've had fans up in arms since the very first screenshots. How can PGR keep its masterful, clean-cut racing style with Ducatis tearing up the track - and what's more; how can they compete with cars when a slight nudge will send them sparking into the barriers?

Talbert says the biggest influence behind Gotham's forgiving and surprisingly responsive bikes is Grand Theft Auto - though we didn't going flying off head-first anywhere near as often (more on that later).

Courses - even familiar tracks - need to be approached differently than if you were on four wheels. Jumps give you more air, different corners present a chance of spinning out if approach wrongly and motors can easily cut you up if you set off from the wrong angle. For most part, it's a case of having to relearn the tracks on two wheels.

Other than the above, the most significant change is the rider himself (of herself), which you can fully customise in the game's options menu right down to the print on their suit, their nationality and visor colour. It's all part of a refocus on bringing more personality to the series.

The B button performs an entirely new feature in PGR4; stunts and taunts. Depending on where you're biking on the track, B will have your rider flick off the competition, salute the crowd or just wave in the air. It looks awesome, makes the bloke on the back of your bike feel alive and is an excellent way of pissing off people you've just overtaken on Xbox Live.

Hold back on the stick and - naturally - you'll perform a wheelie. This gives you Kudos and holding or tapping B will also pull off various stunts (like the rodeo slap!). Stunts are one area that feels a lot more like your traditional bike game (Moto GP or Motorstorm); tight, weighty and easily buggered up.

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Thankfully the balancing team has also been brought back from retirement, and kudos between bikes and cars is tuned; wheelie-ing it all around the track won't give you as much Kudos as a line of decent drifts in an Enzo, but there are definitely different strategies to be adopted.

Rules of the road
Collisions between the two vehicle types have been a delicate issue in PGR4's development. "At first," notes lead designer Ged, "we didn't have you falling off your bike at all. But after testing players complained that it didn't feel right."

What's left are two different physics systems for bikes; one for offline games and one for online competitive matches. When you're playing against AI opponents they seem to keep their distance, not really going in for the type of aggressive scrambles found in FlatOut or Road Rash.

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