Midnight Club II Review
Midnight Club II is an arcade racer that takes you into the world of illegal street racing. The emphasis is not on realism, which is a good thing since you'd probably end up dead half the time in a true street racing sim. Instead the game is all about challenging you to successfully navigate streets crawling with traffic, avoid the police, outsmart the top-notch AI of the other racers, and find the best path to the finish line through the streets of LA, Paris, and Tokyo. If all that wasn't enough to deal with, you must win each race to advance. There are no point standings or second place finishes - you either win or you lose.
The game's career mode starts you off as a wannabe street racer with a wimpy car. After you prove your mettle to a veteran street racer, he takes you under his wing and introduces you to the underground world of street racing. You then must try to climb the ladder of street racing success by finding another street racer, winning a series of races against his or her club, winning a final race for the street racer's pink slip, and then seeking out another street racer and starting the process over again. There are several different types of races in the game that challenge you to be the fastest to hit a series of checkpoints, to pass through a set of checkpoints in any order, or to beat the clock between a series of timed checkpoints. Simple, right?
Wrong. The races are quite challenging for several reasons. First of all, unlike most racing games you are not confined to a track. There may be checkpoints that you have to hit, but how you get there is entirely up to you. The cities in the game include street grids, highways, and winding residential roads, so part of the challenge is finding the best route between the checkpoints. There are also plenty of shortcuts that you can take through the cities - pedestrian malls, construction yards, back alleys, and even through the lobbies of large buildings, arenas, and convention centers. If you can drive over or through it, or even jump over it, it's a valid path to the next checkpoint.
Further complicating things is the fact that you are racing on city streets - streets full of traffic in all forms from sub-compacts up to semis. There are also plenty of pedestrians walking the sidewalks and crossing the streets, completely oblivious to the fact that you are trying to run a race. And then there's the police. They don't take kindly to illegal street racing and will give chase both by car and helicopter to try and arrest you and end your racing career prematurely.
Your competition will need to overcome these obstacles as well, but the odds are still stacked against you. First of all your car always seems to be underpowered compared to the cars of your fellow racers. You're racing for pink slips to upgrade your wheels, after all. Secondly, your competition is very good. Many arcade racers use scripted AI, so you can watch for the patterns used by your fellow racers and use that to your advantage to win. That's not the case with Midnight Club II, though. The AI is programmed to take full advantage of the many routes available and to make its decisions on the fly during the race, resulting in races that never play out the same way twice. This makes the races more interesting and challenging, but plenty of gamers will find that this makes things frustrating as well. You'll rarely win a race the first time out, and many races will take quite a few attempts before you win. For some gamers this will provide a welcome challenge and a rush after winning a hard race well run. For other gamers with shorter attention spans or little tolerance for frustration, the game will quickly become an exercise in aggravation. Your enjoyment of the game will depend a lot on which of these categories you fit in.