Project Gotham on a phone? It'd never work. A console racer that's so dependent on its super-tight handling, with pinpoint corner-drifting essential to progressing through the game, it could surely only turn out disappointing after the translation to mobile.
Want more? Okay, who wants to see the graphical horsepower of Xbox 360 shoehorned into a handset anyway? Plus there won't be any of the cool Xbox Live connectivity. The end result would only be disappointing, I tell ya. What's the point of even trying?
Well, now it's here Project Gotham Racing proves the point. In spades.
And while it's important to stress that we're reviewing here the all-singing all-dancing 3D version for high-end handsets, this game represents a new high for mobile racing games, in terms of presentation AND gameplay. In short, it's brilliant. They even squeezed in the connectivity.
But let's start with the basics. PGR Mobile follows its console parent's structure, sending you street racing in London, Paris and San Francisco.
The meat of the game is the Solo Career mode, where you compete in multi-race Championships in each location, winning medals for your trophy cabinet and credits to buy faster and better cars.
The events are varied, including straight street races, one-lap time trials, one-on-one duels, and a bunch of others revolving around kudos. Yes, another key element of the console game has made it into the mobile version. You gain kudos points for daredevil driving antics, which mostly means drifting around corners, but also takes in overtaking, 'drafting' (lurking in the slipstream of rivals), gaining air, and generally driving without hitting things.
You set the difficulty level for each race, choosing from five levels, Novice to Hardcore, which also defines how many credits you can trouser if you succeed. There's a broad range of real life cars to buy, from the weedy Honda NSX that you start with, up to the 690,000-credit Toyota GT-One, taking in Lambos, Mercedes and Aston Martins in between. Each has stats for acceleration, drifting, top speed and grip, enabling you to choose the one that suits your driving style best.
So what's it like to actually race? Spiffing. As you'll see from the screenshots, PGR Mobile looks great. Each city's courses are recognisably that city, from speeding over Tower Bridge to taking off every time you hit one of San Francisco's steep hills.
There is some pop-up, admittedly. What's pop-up? It's the phrase describing the phenomenon on consoles back in the day where processing limitations meant buildings seemed to 'pop up' from nowhere ahead of you on the track (in the real world, this is called 'falling asleep at the wheel', but that's another story). In PGR Mobile, you will notice the pop-up, but it doesn't affect the gameplay much.
More important is the speed and handling. When you're alone on the track, which for several of the race types you are, it's nippy. When you're jostling round a corner with three other cars, it slows down a little. Again, we're minded to be forgiving on this score, given the way few mobile racers even let you jostle round a corner with three other cars.
But it's the handling that makes PGR Mobile a star. Drifting round corners – which, after all, is the main way to rack up kudos – just feels right. The controls are well-done too, so you press '4' and '6' to turn left and right, but use '7' and '9' to execute the kudos-earning handbrake drifts.
It took us just couple of corners to start pulling off crazy slides round hairpin bends, so natural are the controls. Pull off multiple kudos-earning actions in quick succession (for example: a drift, followed by a jump, followed by an overtake) gives you combo bonuses, which score even more points. It works beautifully, and there's good use of your phone's vibration function to provide feedback along the way.
Connectivity features are the icing on the cake. There's a Leaderboards option letting you compare your accumulated kudos against other players around the world, as well as typing in your friends' names to see how they compare to you. Meanwhile, a seperate Time Trial mode includes a Race Online option that lets you download 'ghost' racers from other players, as well as upload your own best times so that other people can race against you (again, including friends, if they know your nickname).
On a high-end Nokia handset, PGR Mobile is the best mobile racer we've ever played, just edging ahead of EA Mobile's Need For Speed Carbon by a shiny bumper. Who said it'd never work on a phone? Certainly not us.