Midnight Club Los Angeles
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Publisher: Take 2 Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1, 2-16 multiplayer
Words By:

The new generation of consoles has finally got a new Midnight Club. Itís been a long time coming and expectations are very high. Midnight Club used to be unique in that it offered a free roaming city with multiple routes to race on, allowing the player to choose between four and two wheel vehicles.

Since the last game came out, Burnout Paradise has come along and made the arcade racing genre rather interesting. Gone is the sluggish, glitchy gameplay of the old Midnight Clubs, and in came sixty frames per second, classic Burnout hell-for-leather racing, but this time in a wide-open cityscape. They even introduced motorbikes as a free download to spice things up a bit, although, unlike in Midnight Club, they only ever race against other bikes, which was probably a good thing because it would have killed the games fine balancing.

So an all-new Midnight Club on the latest consoles is an exciting prospect, so what has changed? Well for starters the game looks, runs and plays very nicely. Gone is the often horrific glitchy, chuggy, and constantly dropping framerate of the old games; ĎLA runs at 30fps and only drops when things get very hairy. This means the racing is now much smoother and hassle-free.

The Los Angeles environment looks fantastic, with a sped-up day/night cycle, which works very nicely indeed. The sun will slowly fall away from the sky, lights will appear in buildings and all the cars light up with working head and tail lights; it looks great!

The gameís story is delivered via in-game cut-scenes. You are a new racer in town and if you want to get to the top you need to prove yourself by being a badass racer on the streets. The story is daft and pointless, but it never gets in the way and I think itís a nice way of pushing the player through various stages and events in the game.

Driving around L.A. you can find a race by either looking on the map or using the waypoint marker on your GPS unit, or by finding a random racer on the streets. To initiate a race you flash your headlights, and then youíre off. You can either race to the start line and potentially earn some more rep points, or simply flash your lights again and skip straight to the start of the race.

From here itís classic Midnight Club game play. Get from A to B by going any way you like as long as you drive through every checkpoint (which are still shown by very handy yellow flares coming out of the ground). Itís great fun taking your own route around the city, dodging traffic, smashing through fences and scaring the pedestrians, who of course always run out of the way in time so there arenít any GTA-style hit & runs.

The cars handle really nicely and it feels very solid. I chose a Mk 1 VW Golf GTI for my first car, and it drove like a dream. Lovely predictable handling, the ability to do cool drifts and it sounded ace. You can even drive in a rather sweet in-car view which looks good and plays very well indeed. There is a subtle movement to the camera and it feels really realistic. In total there are 40 vehicles in 4 different classes; Tuner, Luxury, Exotic, Muscle cars as well as Bikes

One thing MC:LA has thatís a major improvement over Burnout Paradiseís lack of a Ďretryí option in a race is a retry option, whoíd have thought of that! As the game loads you get a neat zoom out and pan of the city with the camera, then it zooms back in to the start of the race. It really is very slick and looks the business, and shows that Criterion really could have done the same with Burnout if they had wanted to. Oddly though, if you are in a race series and you retry the race, it takes you to another race in the series, not the one you were on! This is rather annoying as the game is very challenging even from the beginning, so you rarely get a chance to learn routes because you are taken to another one if you restart. Itís an odd decision for sure.

Along with normal racing in a pack, you also get one-on-one racing, freeway challenges which have lots of traffic to navigate, and even delivery missions where you must get the car to a certain destination in a time limit without damaging the car.

The game still has the driving on two wheels (in a car, not in a bike), and has introduced special attacks such as its own version of 'bullet time', or firing out electric charges to disable the car in front, or smash them off of the road. Itís a little silly, but it does make some of the racing easier;
- 'Zone' allows you to slow down time in order to take sharp turns or weave in-and-out of traffic.
- 'Agro' will give your car added strength and the ability to damage opponents faster, or sometimes knock them completely out of the race.
- 'Roar' sends a shockwave that clears your path by pushing cars off to the side of the road.
- 'EMP' is an electromagnetic pulse that shuts down the engines of the cars around you, bringing them to a complete stop (if you played MC3:DUB Edition you'll be familiar with this).

That brings me onto my biggest gripe with Midnight Club: LA. Itís hard. REALLY hard. Itís so hard and frustrating that I nearly gave up on it on several occasions. Itís so incredibly punishing that one single mistake or error Ė even at the start of the game Ė can and probably will mean you will fail to win the race. Itís the complete opposite of the new Need for Speed: Undercover which is a walk in the park in comparison.

I am not sure why Rockstar decided to make it so difficult. There are no options either to reduce the setting, in fact the only way I found of making the game easier was to buy a Class A motorbike, which then sends the difficulty scale right down to the other side and makes it incredibly easy. Opponent cars cannot touch you, and you simply lose both cars and other bikes in busy traffic. You can see why Burnout Paradise didnít let you mix them up; it totally breaks the balance of the game.

My other issue with Midnight Club: LA is that I didnít find it gripping or very exciting. The racing in a free roaming environment is great, but itís rarely less than hard and the traffic always feels like itís aiming for you, so that you canít help but feel on edge all of the time. Itís not an exciting edge either like being in a close race at the end of Mario Kart or on the last pixel of energy whilst killing a boss in Metal Gear Solid, its more like a ďIf I get shat on by the game I am going to have to do this whole bastard championship againĒ.

Itís simply too frustratingly difficult to get any lasting enjoyment out of it, and I am afraid that totally killed the game for me. Iíd take Burnoutís ultra exciting racing and annoying lack of retry option over Midnight Clubs problems, and with that in mind I really couldnít recommend it to anyone but fans of the series and the very, very dedicated.

Best Bits

- Huge open city to race around in
- Multi-route racing can be really enjoyable
- Lots (40+) of real, licensed vehicles
- Some fun online multiplayer modes
Worst Bits

- Using a motorbike breaks the gameís difficulty balance
- After an easy start it soon gets way too difficult
- Not particularly exciting

by: DC

Copyright © Gamecell 2008