Just so we're all clear from the start, it is my firm conviction that Project Gotham Racing 4 is the single best racing game on the Xbox 360, not to mention the single best street-racing game on the planet.
To say that I didn't expect this is something of an understatement. I loved Metropolis Street Racer when it first appeared, but every iteration of Project Gotham since has left me slightly cold. PGR was solid, but felt a little underdeveloped. PGR2 felt like a more fully realised version of PGR1. It had revolutionary online play and arguably the finest city line-up of the series, yet it still didn't give me quite the racing experience I was hoping for. PGR3 was obviously rushed out for the 360 console launch, and for all its graphical razzle-dazzle still proved slightly weak on the track. We never even bothered to review it, but I remember discussing it with our illustrious editor at the time, and we both felt that the balance between the kudos challenges and the racing had been lost, and that the supercars were handed to you on a plate too early in.
PGR4 sorts that kind of thing out straight away. The team at Bizarre Creations has taken the slightly unexpected step of splitting the main single-player game into two modes; an arcade mode mixing straight street races with all the cone challenges, elimination races, hot laps and kudos challenges that Gothamites have come to expect, and a more straightforward career mode. At first, this second, more meaty option looks horribly conventional. You work your way through the race days marked on a calendar, picking tournaments from a selection, and making your way through the world tour rankings. Kudos points - won both by winning races and sliding your way stylishly around the track - can be taken from either mode and exchanged for themed packs of vehicles, additional tracks or fun, throwaway extras like a 3D photo mode. Basically, if you want to complete the game, this entails finishing all ten chapters of the arcade mode, reaching number one in the career mode world rankings and unlocking all the different cars, tracks and extras. Trust me, it's going to take you an awfully long time.
The good news is that the career mode has a lot of flexibility built in. The various tournaments are ranked in terms of difficulty and themed by style or city, and if you would rather concentrate on races and time trials than on drift or cone challenges, then there's usually a way of doing so. What's more, the career mode seems almost perfectly paced. You're not stuck with old bangers for hour after hour, but you have to earn the kind of kudos that buys a pack of new Ferraris, and you'll have to decide whether that's your one and only priority, or whether it's worth splashing out a few Ks on a package of US muscle cars or a selection of Japanese tarmac-burners as you go. After all, the higher you rise the more speed you'll need to succeed.