Midnight Club: Los Angeles Review
Midnight Club LA continues the long-running line of street racing games made by Rockstar, a company known for the GTA series. GTA IV had some of the best driving physics and controls of anything not a simulation or hardcore racing game. The driving in that game was easy once you picked it up and after a while it became fun to drive from point A to point B. This game is purely about racing, and when pure racing meets rubberband AI, you get Midnight Club LA.
The driving requires a learning curve if you're not familiar with it, and the controls can be extremely frustrating to learn. Thankfully, you have the option to change the controls, and since I was expecting GTA IV-like controls, I simply mapped the same setup and it worked just fine (although putting up with boosting every time I pressed X to exit the pause menu did suck). Once you choose a good control setup, you will jump right into the racing where you meet the physics and handling of the cars. Of course these change a bit as you tune your car up, but early on it felt like I was controlling an RC racer. It just takes some getting used to, and you also have the option to change the sensitivity.
Racing presents a major turn-off: rubberband AI. Yes, it does help you when you crash early in a race or at any point. But it also ensures that the opponents will always be in position to overtake you, no matter how many laps or miles your lead may be. The difference is obvious in this example: you crash a few seconds after starting and catch up about ten seconds later, and in the same race you stay in the lead for 98% of the race only to crash near the end to take fourth place. You will never be left behind, but they will never crash or fall too far behind you. A simple bad turn or poor path choice most often lets the others catch up if not pass you outright. Not to mention that any race you enter gives your opponents cars that outshine yours no matter how much you spend; makes me wonder if the upgrades help at all. That means you can always compete, but you will never have an edge at any point.
Complaints about racing don't stop there. Most races use smoke markers to guide you around with arrows that are faintly visible atop this smoke. The problem is that these markers are sometimes placed outside of your view, forcing you to basically race inside the mini map, and the moment you don't you will go straight when you should have turned. Then there are the opposing cars that are essentially 50 ton boulders on wheels. Countless times I failed to spin the other racers out of the race and instead ended up crashing, alone. It's clear to see they are on invisible rails when you bump them on a turn and they not only do they keep turning, they take your car with them. Lastly, I appreciate that the collision detection is very forgiving when you rub a street light or tree, but you get no such help with civilian cars. They could come out of nowhere and even the slightest of touch usually rattles your ride off its path. You will forever see a car coming, miles ahead of you even, but the unresponsive steering doesn't seem to move you far enough out of the way. If a CPU car happens to hit a civilian car, of course the civilian car just bounces out of the way.
There are a good variety of race types. You start on basic races against multiple people, and you soon move onto one-on-ones and lapped races. Time trials are extremely hard, where one mistake and you can basically start over because there is no point finishing a failed trial; deliveries are basically the same thing. Most of the meaningful events are series, where you race until someone reaches the desired amount of wins. These are the most frustrating because you could win the first one and then easily be wasting your time on the rest as the CPU will not mess around. Worst of all is how long some of these events last. The series are drawn out by default, but some of the less meaningful races are epic, taking you from one side of the city to the other and back a bit, around in some circles, and the whole time you just want the race to end while you're in first. And all the races recycle the same routes, over and over until you somewhat memorize them, but you really never do. There are also nice online options and even a race creator, both of which you can jump into at any time.