Midnight Club: Los Angeles
Genre: Arcade Racing
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: 10/21/08
The Will Farrell movie Talladega Nights featured several great lines, including one from the main character where he sums up his complete motivation for his character for the rest of the film: “I want to go fast”Â. Who doesn’t want to go fast?
Well if you are looking for a game that captures the thrill of driving at high speeds, have I got the game for you.
The original Midnight Club game was a launch title for the PS2, and built off of Angel Studios’ previous experience with the Midtown Madness games. Midnight Club focused more on the night time illegal street racing scene, something that wouldn’t really become popular mainstream until movies like The Fast and The Furious hit theaters. The game featured two open world cities to race through and didn’t contain the racing action to strict courses. It was also one of the first PS2 games I ever played and loved every moment. It was just fun to cruise around the city and find all of the hidden shortcuts.
Since that point in time, Angel Studios has become Rockstar San Diego and the Midnight Club game has spawned three sequels. It wasn’t until Midnight Club 3 that the series featured real car models and had a much higher level of customization than the previous titles in the series. After more than three years the series is back, this time focused on creating just one large scale version of Los Angeles. Since Midnight Club 3 there have been other open world racing games, and just a lot of racing games in general that have tried to corner the fans of both simulation racing and arcade racing.
Most of those racing games don’t even come remotely close to how much fun Midnight Club: Los Angeles is to play.
Set in a fictional version of Los Angeles, there’s barely any story to the game. Not that a racing game needs a story, but Rockstar has provided one here. The main character is mostly a Vin Diesel looking generic guy who wants to race. There are other characters introduced, including other racers who insult you from time to time and the owner of the garage. Of course the main thing to do in the game is race, and as far as racing modes go, MC:LA doesn’t dissapoint when it comes to a variety of race styles. There’s checkpoint, lap races, time trials, highway races, and there are variations such as delivery missions and missions where the goal is to mess up another car. When you add the insane number of unique online modes the variety is just amplified to another level. They’ve gone all out for the multiplayer experience, with several different types of capture the flag modes.
There’s Free-For-All Capture the Flag, a Base variation of that mode, Stockpile which is a Capture the Flag mode where several flags spawn in a cluster and it’s chaos to try and capture multiple flags and return them to a checkpoint. There’s Keepaway, where there’s one flag and the goal is to retain possession of it for the longest period of time, sort of like Oddball from Halo. Of course there’s also the same race types that are available in the single player game, and the ability to create your own races. Plus there’s a Rate-My-Ride mode to post pics of created vehicles online and have them judged. Plus even more, the amount of online modes is mind-boggling.
Graphically the game looks fantastic. The Los Angeles setting works well with the theme of the series, and no amount of effort was sparred in Rockstar’s attempt to re-create the city of Los Angeles. Of course the city in the game is more of an attempt to capture the spirit of the city than a precise map, which I’m glad for. I lived in LA, and while some streets would be fun to virtually cruise down, the version of LA in this game is much more fun to tear around in. This virtual LA features nearly all of the famous landmarks and locations, only with wider streets and far more forgiving traffic patterns. Had they recreated LA traffic…it would be more of a parking simulator than a racing game. The blocks are designed in such a way where you’ll not often see perfectly square blocks, and not enough can be said about how well the street layout is designed in such a way where racing at top speeds is kept fun and rarely frustrating.
The best thing about the graphics is the sense of speed that is conveyed in the game. As the city streaks past the game runs completely smooth. The cars all look amazing. If you do not like the look of the vehicle you are driving in, there are a ton of customization tools in order to pimp your own ride. I started in a gray Nissan, and after earning enough cash I tricked it out in such a way that it was nearly unrecognizable as the car I originally started out with. There’s a massive array of paint styles, colors, vinyl patterns to choose from, and a bunch of different accesories to add onto the car. Everything from different bumpers, doors, interiors, spoilers, hoods, and undercarriage lights, rims, etc. Once you start messing around with these options you can end up with several of the same model of car and yet they’ll barely look like each other.
On top of all of that there is a day/night cycle for the city that changes not only the appearance of the city but also changes the different traffic patterns. The entire city is easily navigated through a map that works a lot like a Google satellite image. When you press the button to bring the map up, the camera will dramatically zoom out to an aerial shot of the city. From there you can select from different races, and once you’ve added a marker for a race the on screen compass HUD will have an arrow directing you to where you want to go. You can also zoom in and out of this map, and personally I like how when you zoom in close the game lowers the camera to a diagonal view.
During races with checkpoints there are handy smoke screens so that it will be easy to figure out where you are supposed to go next. This is one of the many ways where Rockstar shows off their experience with creating this type of racing game, in other open world racing games (I’m looking at you Burnout) I had issues with going the wrong way simply because I didn’t know where I was going. Between these smoke screens and HUD there’s never really a doubt as to where you are supposed to go next. The biggest problem is when you take your eyes off of the screen for a moment in order to look at the HUD and miss a turn, though that rarely happened to me. There is also an option to turn on a directional arrow above your car, which was the default of past Midnight Club games, in case you have too much trouble navigating the city.
In the audio department MC:LA is no slouch either. There are a wide variety of different musical genres to choose from, and you can customize your own playlist from these different genres if there are particular songs that you would rather listen to. The vehicles sound authentic, and the sounds ARE authentic when you realize that Rockstar recorded the engine sounds from each of the individual vehicles. While this seems like such a small difference, it really helps differentiate some of the vehicles.
As far as gameplay goes, well it’s Midnight Club. If you’ve ever played any Midnight Club game then you know exactly what to expect. Much like MC3 you can completely customize the controls if there is a specific control type you prefer. Otherwise Midnight Club: LA seems to be of the mindset that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
While other racing games have tried to install a greater sense of realism, or try to find a way to market both to simulation fans and arcade style fans alike, make no mistake, Midnight Club is an arcade style racing game. The game puts speed before realism, and I couldn’t be happier. The biggest change between past games and this one is a sense of a little more weight to the vehicles, but otherwise this a game that values powerslides, drafting, and holding down the gas pedal. The game uses the open world structure well within the races as there will occasionally be shortcuts that can help your position. Drafting long enough will provide a speed boost, of course this will also work for the guy behind you so it’s a constant state of trying to get ahead and trying to keep the person behind you from gaining a speed boost in your wake. There are also some different powerup moves, such as the new Zone move, which is much like the Matrix style of bullet time, only with a car. This helps for weaving in and out of traffic a lot, plus it looks really slick. There’s returning moves like Agro, which turns your vehicles into an unstoppable machine, and an EMP pulse that disables vehicles nearby temporarily.
One thing that I just can’t wrap my mind around is how I’ve read about the game being imbalanced in the difficulty. The game will always offer different races of different difficulty levels that are color coded on the map, and the easiest races aren’t that hard to pull ahead and retain a dominant position during the entire race, especially once you start tuning your vehicle. Often it comes down to just choosing the right vehicles, with the right upgrades, for the right race, though that distinction mostly occurs later in the game. The game is balanced just fine, though the races are always kept close due to rubber band AI. This generally keeps that action always tense, though there will be moments when you gain a significant lead over the AI or the computer gains a significant lead over you. Still, even during the most frustrating races the game always gives you the choice to restart the race anytime during the race or if you fail, instead of Burnout: Paradise which required backtracking across the map. Honestly though, read the tips, learn the city, and use the different abilities and both the easy and medium difficulties aren’t that bad at all. The harder challenges are more difficult as they would imply, but not impossible.
Aside from the racing, you can also upgrade your vehicle. Just like with the different options for changing the appearance of the vehicle the options for upgrading different parts of the car is equally as deep, though the interface for this is so well done that it never feels overwhelming. Most of the upgrades need to be unlocked as you play through the career mode, which provides a balance for both the offline and online modes.
The biggest criticism I can say against the game is the fact that there are only 42 different vehicles. While the handling feels different for all of them, including the three motorcycles, in this day and age of racing games 42 is a low number. Still with all of the different upgrade and customization options you can create a lot of different looking vehicles that all handle differently as well. Because of the number of vehicles, it often feels like it takes forever just to unlock some new cars to buy.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles is exactly the kind of racing game that I’ve been waiting for on the 360. The game is blisteringly fast and nearly every moment of a race keeps you on the edge of your seat in a way that the more “realistic” style of racing games just can’t do. The production values are through the roof, and after the initial loading period there are almost no load screens to be found, and when the game does load, it’s minor. The game isn’t too much different than some of the other Midnight Club games, but the additions to the multiplayer and just the overall package is just a much grander experience than what has been seen in the Midnight Club series up until now.
Game Modes/Story: Amazing
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Above Average
Final Score: INCREDIBLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
With Midnight Club: Los Angeles Rockstar has provided us with simply one of the fastest and most enjoyable complete arcade racing experience that can be had on a home video game console. The game captures the feel of what it must be like ripping around the streets of Los Angeles without leaving the comfort of your living room. It looks great, in controls great, and there’s enough content in the game to last you for quite a long time. If you’re tired of playing racing games where you have to slow down around corners, then this is a game you need to play.