|Midnight Club II|
|Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-2 (2-8 via Xbox Live)
If street racing isn't the most exciting form of videogame motorsport then I don't know what is. Whether it's in your Midnight Clubs or your PGRs or Vice Cities, screaming through the streets of a believable cityscape beats nice, safe, purpose-built circuits any day if you ask me.
Illegal road racing may be dangerous and umm... Illegal, but it certainly makes for a fun videogame. Most recently Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 and of course the wonderful Burnout 2 have had most of us at it, and here's another chance to go nipping down alleyways, doing insane jumps and avoiding cops.
The original Midnight Club had sudden and arcade-like handling, and II has clearly had a lot of work done on the handling and physics; the cars now slide, jump and bounce as realistically as some more 'serious' racers. The steering can fell a little twitchy at first but you need it to react quickly to negotiate some of the more extreme bends at speed. The unrealistic part comes when you use a nitro boost, hit one of the many jumps and sail through the air - some of these jumps take you so high that you'll see parts of the city you didn't know existed… The number of sidestreets, flyovers and underpasses in the three cities has to seen to be believed, and the complexity and competitive nature of the races sometimes dauntingly tricky (particularly in the latter races), but learn the best routes and to use the GTA/Vice City style map and you'll be fine.
Visually, Xbox MC2 comes across as a hybrid of the original Midnight Club and Vice City's smoother, more detailed look - without being unkind to game or console, it looks like a PS2 game - that is, until you see them side by side. You soon notice the crisper resolution and better draw distance of the Xbox game - if there is any fogging, then it's a weather effect that's meant to be there, and not a way of hiding pop-up. The game has all the speed of Burnout 2 (and even more traffic) and sees you racing across geographically inaccurate but visually evocative renditions of Los Angeles, Paris and Tokyo. You go for a cruise, find another street racer, flash your headlights at them and then follow them for a while. They'll try and lose you by throwing you a few 'dummies' but if you keep on their tail they'll allow you to challenge their gang in a series of races. Win the races to win their car - simple as that. The races are mostly checkpoint type races and this is where MC2 beats Burnout 2 hands down. MC2 allows you to find your own way, search out your own shortcuts and win the races via hundreds of different possible routes. Every race genuinely seems different, and what at times can be vicious opponent AI makes races competitive and a joy to win. Another delight is the fact that you'll regularly see your opponents mess up and have minor scrapes with the many destructible roadside objects, horrendous head-on crashes and get hassled by the Cops. There's no dopey drone-like AI or cops that only pick on you here.
Win in LA's nice wide streets and storm drains and you'll be off to Paris with its bridges and tunnels. Tokyo has a nice mixture - motorways, overpasses and even train lines to race along. They all have conveniently placed ramps (some less obvious than others) that allow huge jumps (and I mean HUGE), which can be the difference between winning and losing.
The cars may not be licenced real models or be made up from 20,000 polygons each, but they're all look-alikes of many of the cars that you'll have been driving in games like PGR and Need For Speed. I've won cars that look extremely similar to the; Ford Puma, Escort Cosworth, Golf GTi, Motorsport Clio, Porsche 911, RX7, Dodge Viper, Lotus Elise, NSX, Skyline, Supra….. Mercs, BMWs - they're all there and have body damage and can catch fire too.
There are street bikes too, and they handle in a similarly responsive and insanely quick fashion to Vice City's PCJ 600, the difference being that you can shift weight and pull wheelies or turn quicker by holding L1. This takes practice to get right and the bikes always feel blindingly fast, but you always feel realistically vulnerable when riding them. As you progress you unlock various special abilities for the cars too - Nitro boosts, mid-air control (similar to Smuggler's Run's), two-wheel driving and burnout starts are just a few.
In all, Midnight Club II is probably the most race-based fun I've had since Burnout 2. Some fun battle modes (Detonate & Capture the flag) add some variety and the race editor that allows you to set up your own courses with up to 64 (yes, 64!) Checkpoints. The game also supports races with up to seven other nutters on Xbox Live, sadly at the time of writing we haven't been able to try this out yet and can only imagine how much fun it must be to race against real opponents. We'll update the review when we get a chance.
Although not the prettiest of games, the graphics are solid and you have to really look for pop up - no mean feat when you see the draw distance and complexity of the cities. This game supplies a much needed adrenalin rush to a genre that seemed to be losing its way.
- Fantastic speed, mad stunts with hot hatches, supercars and bikes.
- The freedom to cruise 3 huge cities.
- Fun sub games and Xbox Live.
- Smart AI gives some real competition.
- Sometimes feels like no more than a GTA3 or Vice City mission.
- Occasionally indistinct graphics mean it's frustratingly difficult to see where you're going.
- You can't play your own soundtracks as you're cruising, and that's a real shame.