Unlike so many of the benchmark products at E3, Bizarre Creations actually bothered to conjure up a playable demo of its latest baby, and we were only too happy to make a beeline for it. With four tracks on show across Florence, Barcelona, Edinburgh and Moscow, the demo gave us a chance to sample two races, a cone challenge and a Hot Lap trial.
Cars, guns and girls! Except without the guns and girls.
The ten cars give you a glimpse of what to expect from the full version, with a varied, but swanky selection comprising of Porsche GT2 and Cayenne Turbo, BMW X5 and Z4, Ferrari Enzo and Dino GT, Pontiac GTO and Trans Am, Lotus 340R, and a Mini Cooper S, while the five levels of difficulty allow even the lamest driver to get stand a chance to burn up the streets as well as challenging the Kudos kings among you.
The first thing that will surprise both newcomers and Gotham veterans is quite how impressive the visuals are. While we were playing, passers by would continually gasp "look at that!", and it's no wonder. The level of photo realism leaves Gotham 2's competition trailing in its wake (yes, even the mighty GT4), but not at the expense of speed or special effects. In addition, the rock solid frame rate makes for an assured, convincing driving experience, and the sensation of speed is truly hairy, especially in the 'bumper cam' viewpoint. Even damage is a factor this time around, with windows shattering convincingly, although we assume that licensing restrictions have limited the extent to which you can cripple your car, so don't expect Burnout 2 pyrotechnics.
If we had one overriding criticism of the previous Gotham, it was the lack of zest in the palette. It was as if the sun never shone, no matter which city you were burning around in, but this has been addressed in the sequel. Cars glisten, and the excellently constructed tracks consistently impress with the level of attention to detail to the trackside architecture. It's at the level that you'd imagine Team Soho at Sony wanted to get to with The Getaway, but the power of the Xbox allows Bizarre Creations to really let rip with visual niceties.
The Kudos system has received a minor overhaul, now allowing drivers to gain points drifting on the race line, and keeping car damage to a minimum, while also maintaining the familiar point scoring system for cornering like a loon and 360s, and our relatively brief experiences with the game revealed the handling to be slightly more forgiving from the off, although it would naturally take hours to really appreciate the subtleties of the sequel.
But its the addition of Live support that will be having die hard fans palpitating. Not only can players hook up with players from around the world in street races, you'll be able to download ghosts to race against, or even learn new tricks from. Bizarre Creations is also promising a continually updated Leaderboard system, so that solo players can see how they fare against the best in the world - providing they're connected to Live, of course. System link is also supported.
The number of cities appears to have been more than doubled, with Chicago joining the new additions of Barcelona, Edinburgh, Florence, and Moscow, with the existing cities from the original also thought to have been retained.
In terms of our actual play experiences so far, Project Gotham 2 stood out at the show, not only as the best Xbox racer, but in our opinion the best looking and most accessible 'serious' driving game out there. The addition of Live support promises to elevate the game's appeal even further, and we suggest you keep a close eye on this one is the run up to its Autumn release.