Midnight Club II Review

Midnight Club II is a game of illegal street racing.  "Street" as in you race through traffic on city streets, alleys, and highways, and "illegal" in that you do so while violating every traffic law known to man and with the cops in hot pursuit.  Midnight Club II lets you compete in a variety of different races on the streets of Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo.  The races are Fast and Furious, and a whole lot of fun.

In creating its race environments the game has taken the major locations and landmarks from LA, Paris, and Tokyo and added a closed network of roads and highways.  In addition to the main thoroughfares, the game is packed with shortcuts in the form of hidden alleyways, pedestrian malls, and ramps.  You can even take shortcuts through parking structures and the lobbies of some buildings.  This all means that there are plenty of routes to take to get from Point A to Point B, and a big part of the game's challenge is looking for the best path to take to victory and seeking out the shortcuts that will give you an edge over your competition.  You'll very, very rarely win a race on your first try because each one is going to take an investment in time to really find the optimal route between the checkpoints.

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Once you've scoped out the ideal route you still won't be guaranteed victory.  The city streets are filled with all kinds of traffic, other cars, busses, vans, and trucks, that are a constant hazard.  You'll have to weave around slower moving vehicles and avoid others making turns or crossing intersections if you want to have any hope of finishing in first.  Also, the local police force won't appreciate you turning city streets into race courses and will do what they can to stop you.  They'll do more than try to chase you down -  they'll attempt to force you from the road, cut you off at intersections, and even set up roadblocks.  If you're stopped by the police, you'll be arrested and the race will be over as far as you're concerned.

Midnight Club II is made even more challenging by your opponents.  First of all, in the campaign you're always racing against opponents with better cars than yours.  Winning races will help you to win pink slips, essentially unlocking better cars as you make your way through the campaign.  As soon as you upgrade, though, you're up against a new set of opponents with more powerful cars.  This makes it a lot harder for you to make up for mistakes during a race than it is for your competition.

Not only is the AI better-equipped, it's also very aggressive and unpredictable.  In many racing games, your opponents always open a race in the same way and, barring collisions, will run the same race each time out.  This is not the case in Midnight Club II where every race is different.  The game makes use of a new technology known as "railbranching", which means that the AI is aware that there are multiple paths to the checkpoints and is able to choose the best route on the fly.  The races are very unpredictable, and the order of finish is never a given.  Railbranching works quite well and watching the other racers make decisions on the fly based on the ever changing race conditions adds a good deal of excitement and realism to the game.